Conor D’Arcy, Head of Research and Policy, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
How firms can help customers with mental health problems share their needs
9 November 2022
After nearly three years here at Money and Mental Health, there’s one part of the job that continues to amaze me: the openness of our Research Community. They’re a group of nearly 5,000 people, all of whom have had a mental health problem or care for someone who does. Their decision to share with us the challenges they face and the changes they want to see makes our work possible.
But telling an essential service provider, like your bank or energy supplier, about your mental health problem and the difficulties it throws up is a very different proposition. We’ve unfortunately heard too many stories of how disclosing your condition to a company often feels risky, upsetting or just pointless. When firms can do so much to make life smoother for their customers with mental health problems, particularly in light of the cost of living, getting this right should be an urgent priority.
To help essential service providers do that, Money and Mental Health and the Money Advice Trust have today launched three new guides. The guides walk firms through making it easier to disclose a mental health problem, how staff can best respond and recording that information. There’s a huge amount of new research, lived experience insight and practical recommendations in the guides, but I wanted to pick out a few headlines that firms need to be thinking about.
Proactively encouraging disclosure
Speaking to staff in firms, I’ve occasionally heard frustrations that customers with mental health problems choose not to come forward. The logic runs that there’s lots of help available and the missing piece of the puzzle is people’s decision to not disclose. But this misses how much uncertainty can surround making a disclosure.
“It was a difficult choice to disclose – I wasn’t sure if I would end up in a better position, or just live to regret ever telling them.” Expert by experience
Proactively encouraging customers to share any additional needs, routinely referencing disclosure in standard communications and being clear on the kind of support the firm can give in response to disclosure can help make that choice less difficult.
Recognising how difficult the build-up to disclosing can be, the next step – how staff respond – can be make or break. Being welcoming of the disclosure, empathetic and reassuring should be a prerequisite. But those of us with mental health problems don’t all have the same needs, so staff need to actively ask and listen to what would be most useful.
“Sometimes… you feel they’re just rattling through… those questions are coming up on the screen and they’re following a patter… But it’s that feeling of actually engaging with somebody. It’s… how they actually… engage with that person on a personal level and they’re not just trying to get a number of calls in.” Expert by experience
The follow-up – making sure people actually get the support they’ve been promised – is crucial.
Respecting people’s privacy and data
One of the concerns people cite when it comes to disclosure is not knowing how their data will be used, for instance whether it will be used against them when they’re applying for a loan or credit card. Staff need to know how disclosed data will be recorded, used and shared and be able to communicate this clearly to the customer.
Getting the above right isn’t a panacea; whatever firms do, some people will always choose not to discuss their mental health. That’s why the design of universal journeys and default options remains important. But by following the advice in the guides, firms can raise the odds that more people share their needs.