Dom Taylor, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
Three ways firms can make it easier for people to disclose a mental health problem
18 November 2022
When living with a mental health problem, getting extra help from your essential service provider can make all the difference in reaching a positive outcome. But as our latest research reveals, only a small minority of people with mental health problems have ever disclosed to their provider.
Last week we launched a new set of practical guides, written in collaboration with the Money Advice Trust, for firms setting out why this is and what they can do to ease the process of disclosing a mental health problem. To coincide with the report launch, we held an online panel discussion, bringing together an array of researchers and sector professionals. Here’s what we learnt.
Backing up good intentions with action
No bank, energy provider or telecoms company ever sets out with the intention of subjecting a vulnerable person to a poor and demeaning experience. But when firms limit certain communications to telephone helplines, or fail to inform the customer of what support they can expect, that can be the outcome
Relaying their previous experiences of attempted mental health disclosure, we heard from Dan Holloway, a researcher, mental health campaigner and expert by experience who co-authored the guides. They described how living with bipolar disorder, dyspraxia and ADHD impacts their working memory and ability to process some forms of communication – for instance, over the phone. Yet even when they disclosed their mental health and accessibility needs to their provider, too often this disclosure was ignored.
“[A good disclosure process] would start with receiving the support we need, be given upon request and ideally built into the structure of the platform. It should be given without questioning why, without asking intimate medical details and without a hint of judgement.” – Dan Holloway, expert by experience
Poor outcomes in the past can decide whether someone bothers to disclose to their provider. Breaking this cycle requires firms to take the first step in offering opportunities to disclose, but also ensure that the disclosure is acted upon.
Using personal data effectively and responsibly
A history of poor outcomes isn’t the only factor that might influence someone’s decision not to disclose. Many of our research participants identified concerns about the use of their personal data by firms, following disclosure. As Chris Fitch (Vulnerability Lead at the Money Advice Trust, who also co-authored the guides) set out, consumers with mental health problems want choice about how their data is being recorded and an explanation as to how it’s going to be used.
Using personal data is vital to preventing repeat inquiries into the customer’s personal life, which can be an uncomfortable experience for people with mental health problems. But firms must also ensure that the customer feels at ease with their provider handling this data. Catherine Rutter, Director of Group Customer Inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group, described a recurring obstacle her team encountered: a customer will appear satisfied with the outcome of a disclosure, up until the point their provider attempts to explain why they want to record their data.
For a mental health disclosure to be effective, firms need to ensure that relevant staff are trained in how disclosed data is to be recorded and used — all issues that are covered in the third of our guides. More importantly, staff must know how and when to communicate this to the consumer, through a channel that works for them.
Urgent action needed
As the cost of living crisis deepens, so too does the risk of more people being exposed to the toxic cycle of financial difficulties and mental health problems. This is worrying for many, but also presents firms an incentive to get the mental health disclosure process right.
“If people are making those difficult decisions about cutting back on heating, or the amount of meals they have, that’s not going to be good for people’s mental health. The potential opportunity of getting disclosure right is bigger than it’s ever been.” Conor D’Arcy, Head of Research and Policy
It’s important not to underestimate the challenge for firms of establishing an effective disclosure process. Firms must not only put the right tools in place to effectively handle the disclosure process, but pursue a transformation of their organisational culture as well, which goes beyond a reliance on these tools. That’s why it was encouraging to hear Virgin Media O2’s Charlotte Hall and other representatives of firms express their enthusiasm for the guidance.
We’ll continue working alongside essential services firms, guiding them in the journey to a more accessible service for people with mental health problems, through our Mental Health Accessible programme.