Why I am doing this job
Polly Mackenzie on turning positive words into practical action
“Surely the recession will cause mental health problems,” someone said, back in 2009. “Let’s write something about that.”
I was a speechwriter at the time, and I took my orders. To really bring the speech to life, I wanted to get in touch with someone who’d lived through mental health problems and financial difficulties. I used the excuse to reach out to someone I’d never met, but thought was brilliant: Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert.
Martin was already known to be interested in mental health and he helped me find, through the MSE forum, an incredible woman who told me about her experiences. She was a carer for her husband, who had schizophrenia and personality disorder. She herself had battled depression. Together they lived on less money than you can imagine. They’d been through good periods, when her husband had worked, and bad periods when they’d both been out of a job.
She told me about the misery of living without. And she told me how she tried, so hard, to be a savvy consumer “like Martin Lewis” – but her illness and her husband’s got in the way of every decision. She somehow felt she was letting Martin down by not being more like him – which broke my heart.
As I wrote down her story in my notepad, she brought me to tears.
Her courage and commitment, and through it all, the love she had for her husband, were truly astonishing. My definition of adversity changed that day. Our casual, Westminster chit-chat about the recession seemed callow. This wasn’t new. And it wasn’t easy to fix.
I can’t find a copy of the speech. It is probably lost somewhere in the hard drive equivalent of down the back of the sofa. But the process taught me how knotty, how complex, how intractable the relationship is between money and mental health.
Nearly eight years later, I found myself sitting in Martin’s office.
He was determined to break the link between money and mental health problems. He was willing to put millions of pounds behind the initiative. And he wanted me to take responsibility for sorting it all out. I was excited and intimidated in equal measure, as you can imagine. But opportunities to change lives – potentially millions of lives – don’t come along many times in a lifetime. So I said yes, and six months later, here we are.
Money and Mental Health is our new policy institute. Every day we will think of the woman I spoke to in 2009, and of the millions like her, who battle through adversity every day. With cutting-edge research and new ideas, we will do our best to change the system in their name. We would love your help on that journey.