Adenike Adebiyi, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health

Event catch-up: launching the Mental Health Accessible standards

2 July 2019

Last week we launched the first ever Mental Health Accessible standards, our exciting new initiative to make essential services firms more accessible for people with mental health problems. As our Chief Executive, Helen Undy, wrote in her blog introducing the standards, mental health problems and their treatments can have cognitive and psychological effects that impact our ability to keep up with ‘life admin’, including choosing, using and paying for essential services like banking, energy, water and broadband. 

So, in typical Money and Mental Health style, hands have been put to the plough to produce a set of standards against which firms will be scrutinised and given recommendations for making their services more accessible for people with mental health problems (and improving their services for the benefit of everyone).

To mark the occasion, we held a launch event in Westminster, attended by government officials, policymakers, debt advice and mental health professionals, as well as representatives from a wide range of essential services firms – including Lloyds Bank, with whom we are piloting the project. Here’s a flavour of the breakfast event:

To kick off, Helen described the context in which we are introducing these standards, namely the difficulties people experience when engaging with essential services during periods of poor mental health. For example, more than half of people with mental health problems face serious difficulties using the phone to carry out essential admin, and one in five people with a recent mental health problem have experienced a panic attack while dealing with essential services. Just as firms rightly make reasonable adjustments for people with physical accessibility needs, so, too, should they make provision for people with mental health problems. This is what the Mental Health Accessible standards are all about: making essential services more accessible for people with mental health problems.

As with all of Money and Mental Health’s work, the Standards could not exist without the input of members of our Research Community of experts by experience, who have highlighted the problems with accessing essential services, and helped shape the solutions. We were therefore delighted that Hayley Martin from the Research Community was able to speak at the event about the difficulties she had faced in using essential services. She explained, for example, that she prefers to do banking in-person, but her experience struggling to deposit a cheque at a local bank branch while experiencing anxiety has put her off going altogether – the deciding factor being negative encounters with staff, who showed little empathy or understanding of her situation.

Mental health problems, she said, are not immediately obvious or easily visible like many physical illnesses or disabilities. But giving adequate training to staff to help them understand and identify when someone may need help can make things less stressful. In addition, offering a range of communication channels and third party access to accounts could help someone in her situation.

Following brief words from Helen about the need to make systems work for everyone without the need for disclosure, we heard from Fiona Cannon, the Group Director for Responsible Business, Sustainability and Inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group. She spoke about how piloting the standards fits into Lloyds’ broader aim to better support the wellbeing needs of customers and colleagues, and discussed the various initiatives and partnerships they’ve established to that end – including with Money and Mental Health. 

Our next speaker was Shevaun Haviland, who is Head of Business Relations for 10 Downing Street, and also runs the government’s Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP). This is a collaborative initiative by businesses, civil society and the government to make the UK economy more inclusive, and its support was crucial in the development of the Mental Health Accessible standards. Shevaun highlighted some of the IEP’s efforts to solve complex social issues like debt and mental health problems, describing the Standards as a “perfect example” of what they hope to achieve through working with firms to identify best practice that makes a difference.  

Finally, we heard from the Director of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Adam Land, who spoke about the CMA’s work to address the diversity of experience of consumer markets. In particular, he highlighted the CMA’s efforts to improve the treatment of vulnerable consumers of essential services, including those with mental health problems. He spoke about the importance of universal design – the idea that systems should be conceptualised and created to work for everyone – as a remedy for customer vulnerability, which isn’t determined only by “internal characteristics” such as disability and homelessness, but can also be compounded by markets. If, he stressed, we recognise people are different, and we factor into the creation and operation of systems the different ways people might engage with markets, then we’ll deliver and receive good customer service by default.

The event wrapped up with a short acknowledgements speech from Helen, who concluded the event the way it started – by crediting the Research Community as “the reason why we did it, how we do what we do, and how we’ll continue to.”

All this – over some delicious pastries! It was truly an inspiring morning. On a personal level, this felt like a career highlight. Having seen friends and family struggle over the years with the issues with essential services described here, it was a great honour to be able to contribute to improving their experiences going forward, and to help ensure that, in future, there are fewer people losing out due to ineffective and insensitive systems.