My mental health and income story

28 April 2021

People with experience of common mental disorders have a typical income £8400 less than the general population. In this blog our Research Community member Catherine shares how her mental health has affected her income, and what support is needed to improve things. 

Growing up

I’ve experienced mental health problems since I was a teenager – and this was at a time when there was still a huge stigma around mental health which made things even more difficult. Experiencing poor mental health significantly impacted my education; I had little motivation, dropped out of school and ended up in a young person’s unit when I was 16. That put me on a stepping stone to lifelong financial and mental health challenges.

When your mental health impacts your education, it means you don’t have the same opportunities in adulthood compared to those who haven’t experienced mental health problems. I didn’t actually enter employment until I was in my 30s. An inability to access employment has a knock on effect through your whole life – it impacts your ability to afford holidays, social activities, even decent housing. You become used to counting every penny and set very low expectations on what you can afford. 

Setting up my own organisation

When I did manage to enter the workplace in my 30s, I worked my way up to earning £23,000 which was a huge amount of money to me. However, a combination of physical and mental health problems meant that I had to leave full time employment shortly after entering. After that I set up my own small organisation that offers training and wellbeing workshops to employers. I had to set up my own organisation because my mental health meant I needed a level of flexibility that other employers weren’t offering. Setting up your own business can be scary, especially if you already experience anxiety, but it was a risk I had to take because I knew other types of employment wouldn’t work for me.

Now I have the flexibility I need, more autonomy over my wellbeing and a positive working environment which is great- but setting up your own organisations has other implications. It has affected my financial future: I don’t have a pension and have struggled to get any income protection insurance. Moreover, the pandemic has shown the precarity that comes with managing your own organisation. I’m fortunate enough to not be self-employed, and as I am on my organisation’s payroll I’ve had access to the furlough scheme. But for a small organisation, the effect that the pandemic has had on cash flow has been quite stressful. In general, the pandemic had created a sense of stress, anxiety and fear for the future.

Improving support

If things don’t work out with my organisation, it would be very difficult for me to enter the workplace. It can be hard for people with mental health problems to even bring this up in interviews. I have definitely never felt comfortable doing so. Until you’ve figured out what a company’s approach to mental health is, you don’t know what the reaction will be. It’s something I’d be conscious of if I was looking for a job, for example I would look at an organisation’s website to see if they had any commitment to mental health and wellbeing.

But even when a job advert says that an organisation is open to people with mental health problems, that can’t be the end of things. Will mental health be discussed in your induction? Will your line manager have the right mental health training? Will there be access to counselling if you need it? There can be a lot of talk about mental health and wellbeing from companies, but then they don’t always operate in a way which is supportive – for example many employers really struggle with offering reasonable adjustments. There needs to be action, not just talk when it comes to mental health at work.