Rachel Braverman, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

How small changes can make a big difference

2 April 2019

I arrived at Money and Mental Health in October 2017, initially to work on the Recovery Space project, and was then asked to stay on to cover maternity leave. Now, it’s time for me to move on.

In my introductory blog, I wrote about the frustration of delivering advice services, where so much time is spent helping people battle their way through systems designed to make their lives more and unnecessarily difficult. I had seen over and over again how these difficulties were greater for people already experiencing mental health problems, and that they could have a devastating impact on anyone’s mental health. I loved to rail about how our various infrastructures should be completely overhauled. (Still do, to be honest.)

I was looking forward to being part of a team dedicated to exploring exactly how these systems create problems for people experiencing mental health difficulties, what could be done to change them and then persuading decision makers to act.

But I was somewhat cynical about that last crucial part. I’ve been around long enough to see how difficult change can be, especially for monolithic institutions, weighted down by centuries of history. In my heart of hearts, I wondered whether such a small charity could really make that much of an impact. However, I’ve seen  how a small change to one part of one system can make a huge difference to thousands of people.

Making change happen

My first project explored what happens to people’s finances when they experience a mental health crisis. The results led to the successful Recovery Space campaign. This achievement could sound modest – a simple break from debt collection activity for anyone using NHS mental health crisis services. Yet it has the potential to help tens of thousands of individuals to recover more quickly, to prevent relapse and to keep their homes. Recovery Space may also have a positive impact on the NHS, by allowing health care professionals to use precious clinical appointments to help people recover, rather than spending time battling with financial services about their patients’ debts. I’m delighted the campaign has just won the Best Consumer Campaign award at the National Campaigner Awards. A fantastic leaving present.

There have been many other wins, where a small change could make a big difference. The BMA’s commitment to stop GPs from charging for a form to prove they have mental health issues will mean that many more people with mental health problems will be able to provide proof to creditors about their mental illness, allowing them to access relief from being chased for debt. Money and Mental Health research inspired Barclays to become the first high street bank to enable its customers to block certain types of spending, such as gambling websites and premium phone lines. As Research Community members consistently report problems with gambling and impulse spending, this could again make a significant difference to thousands of people experiencing mental health problems.

The joy of incrementalism

Having got the message myself, I am now passing it on. As an Expert By Experience Adviser to the Mental Health Safety Improvement Programme, I am talking to a lot of decision makers at mental health trusts. I find myself pointing out the connections between financial difficulty, suicide, homelessness and deterioration in mental health at every available opportunity. I recently developed a training course around helping people with mental health problems in rent arrears for Lewisham Homes income officers, based on the good practice checklist for social landlords. Being part of the Money and Mental Health team has made me see the small role I can play in improving practice in mental health trusts, for social landlords and others could change the lives of significant numbers of individuals.

When I started here, I declared I wanted to effect change. I’m so grateful not only for the opportunity to have been able to do just that for the last year and a half, but for the confidence and knowledge to continue to do so.

Incremental change is here to stay. Watch this space. I intend to.