Rachel Braverman, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Caring through a mental health crisis: how to help the helper

When a loved one experiences a mental health crisis, family and friends may find themselves having to act very quickly. As our new Recovery Space report shows, carers may have to take complete control over someone else’s finances at a time when they may also be liaising with mental health services, providing emotional support and coping with the effects of crisis on others. No wonder carers often end up exhausted, ill and poor.

“I managed to get financial control signed over to me while he was in hospital, so I could begin limiting his access to spending so much money and ensure we had some left for food… I spent 9-12 months trying to deal with his creditors myself, care for him 24/7 and look after our two young children.”


Our latest research shows that carers face a number of challenges when looking after someone going through a mental health crisis. They often struggle to get permission from the people they care for to act on their behalf, just at the point they desperately need it. Many people with mental health problems know when they need help and can ask for it, but this can change during a crisis.  People with conditions such as paranoid or borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia can become extremely mistrustful. Others find they are unable to engage with their finances at all at this time.

“It was very tricky. She had this paranoia that her finances were being interfered with. She had a very real belief.”

Without the authority to act (and, sadly, sometimes with it) just being able to speak to the various organisations involved can prove a nightmare of hanging on the phone, filling in long and complicated forms and being barred from finding out vital information. Carers told us they were sometimes not even able to get the relevant organisations to record that the person they care for was in hospital. They reported particular difficulties with the DWP, who often require carers to be with the person they care for and for that person to answer security questions when they were too ill to be able to do so.

“Nobody was prepared to wait, nobody was listening to me when I’m saying, ‘I can’t give it to you just yet, because he can’t sign anything, he can’t talk to you’.”

Impact on carers

Meanwhile, carers know that unpaid bills must be piling up. There may be swingeing charges and interest adding to the burden. They worry about what might be going on, with or without their knowledge. How do they protect their loved ones? Unsurprisingly, carers often resort to unofficial workarounds. Among carers for someone with a mental health problem:

Using this information to access someone else’s account can sometimes be the only way carers can quickly ensure that essential bills are paid, but there are dangers here both for carers and the people they are caring for.

The knock on effect on carers can be profound. Caring in general can impact substantially on carers’ wellbeing, with 70% reporting they have mental health problems themselves. Caring at a time of mental health crisis can be particularly stressful and impact carers’ finances, in both the long and short term. They are often forced to reduce their working hours or give up work completely. With the difficulties of liaising with third parties, carers told us they sometimes lend or give money to the person they care for to prevent potentially disastrous consequences.

“I suffer from a variety of stress-related things. I’m on quite a deal of medication. I had to give up work and take early retirement, so obviously that’s had a financial effect. It’s cost me a small fortune, from my pension, in order to bail her out and then keep her stable.”

Ways to ease the burden

It doesn’t have to be quite so hard. In our report Recovery Space: Minimising the financial harm caused by mental health crisis, we make recommendations that could greatly help carers.

  • The government should extend their proposed Breathing Space, which would allow people in debt to to freeze interest, charges and enforcement action for a time limited period while seeking help, to cover those experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • The government should review Power of Attorney to make it more flexible.
  • All benefits agencies and essential services firms should build systems which allow a third party to be given limited powers to manage an account in an emergency.
  • The DWP should reinstate the principle of Implied Consent for Universal Credit and develop similar processes for other out of work benefits.
  • All benefits and essential services firms should routinely collect emergency contact details for service users.