Rachel Braverman, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Introducing: Rachel Braverman

I’ve always wanted to make a difference to people’s lives. The need to effect change drew me into the wonderful world of advice, where I worked for around 20 years as a money adviser, manager and consultant. I’ve worked for small independent charities, as well as CABx (as Citizens Advice were known in the olden days). Some focused on advice, others offered a range of services for a particular area or client group. For around nine years, until November 2016, I worked as CEO for a local Citizens Advice. Then my own mental health problems, and those of several people I care for, meant I needed to take a break.

How amazing, then, that a job at the Money and Mental Health Institute appeared, just when I was ready to go back to work. I’ve been sold on their (now our) work from the start, having become a member of the Research Community early on. What particularly attracted me was the focus on putting the lived experience of people with mental health problems and their carers at the heart of every piece of research. As a professional, I was very well used to advocating on behalf of other people. Personally, I often found it hard to raise my voice.

Advice and mental health

I am deeply interested in exploring the relationship between financial difficulties and mental health problems. It was certainly a substantial part of my experience working in the voluntary advice sector. We helped a lot of people with mental health problems. Throughout the Citizens Advice service, for example, mental ill health is the number one health issue affecting clients.  

As a money adviser, I saw many clients drag in bin bags, backpacks, even suitcases full of unopened scary brown envelopes. People would regularly berate themselves, saying “I bet you think I’m really stupid.” I never did. People made unhelpful choices because they were confused at impenetrable terms and conditions, they didn’t know what to pay off first, they were intimidated by collection agencies. They ended up feeling overwhelmed, despairing and scared.

Mental health problems made the task of tackling debt and financial difficulties even harder. One client, who experienced hearing voices, struggled to differentiate between those voices and the bailiffs shouting through the letterbox. Another client diagnosed with clinical depression told me she felt suicidal when she was turned down for disability living allowance (now replaced by personal independence payment) on the grounds that it was normal to feel low when facing her level of debt.

It’s all very well to advise someone to fill in a budget sheet and get in touch with all their creditors. But if you’re depressed, the numbers on the sheets can seem to jumble themselves up. The phone weighs a tonne, far too heavy to lift. You just know the person on the other end of the line isn’t going to listen.

If nothing changes, nothing changes

One of the biggest frustrations of advice work for me was battling against unhelpful policies and navigating inadequate systems. Of course, lack of resources was and is a constant issue. However, all too often, it seemed to me that all sorts of interventions could be implemented to help not only individuals, but also businesses and authorities.

Enter the Money and Mental Health Institute. Our Money On Your Mind report revealed that people often lose control over their finances when they have a mental health crisis. Tasneem Clarke, Nikki Bond and I will be working together on a project exploring what happens at these difficult times. We need to understand how and why control over finances gets lost. What are the consequences of poor financial management during a mental health crisis? What is the impact on people’s finances? How is their mental health affected?

We will be talking to people with mental health problems, their carers and the professionals helping them, so that we can get a rounded picture of what is happening and what could be done better.

This understanding will help us to identify where things can change and, most important, to build the case for action.