Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs, Money and Mental Health.
Introducing: Brian Semple
18 January 2019
My first few weeks at Money and Mental Health seemed to fly by in seconds. On day one, I met with many of the UK’s biggest financial firms, to discuss how they can empower customers to avoid problem gambling. On day two, I took part in a round-table event with colleagues from the mental health, debt and financial sectors – as well as members of our Research Community – to shape recommendations for our A Silent Killer report, which focuses on tackling the link between financial difficulty and suicide. Days later, we published our Too ill to work, too broke not to report, bringing together a host of leading speakers for the launch event and gaining significant national media coverage.
It was a busy start, but confirmed a lot of what had attracted me to work for the charity in the first place: the fast-paced and impactful way it operates; the central role of the Research Community in everything it does; and the collaborative approach it takes with other organisations. Above all, it demonstrated to me the incredible commitment of the whole team to bringing about changes that improve the lives of those of us affected by money and mental health problems.
My professional background is in mental health and public policy, and before that in journalism. I worked for over five years in a variety of roles at the national charity Rethink Mental Illness, before focusing on urban economic policy as Head of Communications at the think tank Centre for Cities. Like most of us, I’ve also seen firsthand how our finances can affect our mental health, and vice versa.
Given this background, I’ve observed the impact Money and Mental Health has had since its inception in 2016 with keen interest (you can read more about this here). There are many fantastic organisations offering support to people affected by mental health problems. But it struck me that by focusing on the link between money and our mental health, the charity had carved out a distinctive and much needed role in the sector. When the opportunity arose to come and lead the organisation’s campaigning and communications work, I was desperate not to miss out on it.
The increasing focus on mental health issues
Coming back into the mental health sector after three years away, it seems very clear to me that public appetite for discussing issues around our mental health has grown in that time. That’s certainly been evident to me in the conversations I’ve had in recent months with journalists, politicians and essential services firms, who are keen to engage in these issues in a way that would not have been so common ten or even five years ago.
When I tell people that I work for Money and Mental Health, it’s also striking how many mention their own experiences of the issues we work in – from the anxiety that they’ve experienced dealing with their energy provider, to the toll that debt has taken on their mental health. That in part reflects how, as a society, we’ve got better and more open about discussing our mental health and the way it affects our lives. But it also points to how prevalent and persistent the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems is, and the importance of working to address it.
Ambitions for 2019
Three months on from those busy initial weeks, it’s fair to say that the pace hasn’t let up. But that’s exactly how it should be, given the urgency and importance of the issues we’re working to address. I’m proud of the work we’ve done in my time here so far, especially the launch of our Debt Threats campaign, which 25 organisations and more than 3,500 people have backed already (please click here to sign our campaign petition if you haven’t already).
I’m also really excited about what we can achieve in 2019 with the help of our supporters.
If you have personal experience of financial difficulty and mental health problems – or of working with people in that position – please do consider joining our Research Community or Professional Network. With your continued support, we know we can go much further in tackling the toxic link between money and mental health problems.