Tasneem Clarke, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Mummy and mental health

9 May 2019

Hello world, I'm back!

After a year’s maternity leave, I’m delighted to return to work at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.  Much as I love my children, it feels fantastic to be back in a world where I can enjoy the luxuries of conversing with people who don’t see me as a snack-producing machine; where I can drink a cup of tea while it’s still warm; and where I can use my brain to think about a different set of challenges and opportunities.

My first task was to get familiar with all the great work that happened here while I was busy changing nappies. Becoming a parent can be a vulnerable time for both mental health and finances, so it’s reassuring to know that work on breaking the link between these issues continues to make great strides.

Turning research into action

In particular I’ve been impressed by the way the organisation has built on the research we’ve carried out so far to gather specific commitments for positive action from people in power.  

The government’s commitments last year to our proposals for a recovery space for people experiencing a mental health crisis were especially welcome to my ears. At the same time as returning to Money and Mental Health, I have resumed working in a mental health crisis team, where I continue to witness the impossibility for some people of dealing with finances while acutely unwell. To be able to tell them they can have a break from this when it is most needed is a relief I am eagerly awaiting. It could have made all the difference to the someone like Mark*, who I supported to return home from hospital last week, and whose debts have piled up at home while he was too unwell to function, to the extent that his tenancy is now at risk.

Similarly, to be able to inform people that they can get evidence of their mental health problem to share with creditors without being charged for it would be so helpful. Even small charges can make a difference to the people I work with, who sometimes have to choose between food for their kids or heating the home. They have no spare £15 to spend on paperwork, even if they know it could help resolve their financial difficulties in the longer term. Eliminating this problem now feels tantalisingly close following commitments from the Prime Minister and the British Medical Association to stop GPs charging for the relevant form.

Another key change I can’t wait to see become reality is a stop to the debt threats which our work identifies as one important element in the devastating link between financial difficulty and suicide. For the woman I assessed last week whose anxiety skyrocketed after receiving a letter telling her that the bailiffs would be coming round, information about how the debt could still be resolved could have reassured her, rather than sending her into a paralysing panic which prevented her from picking up the phone to ask for help. The good news is that the Financial Conduct Authority, the UK’s main financial regulator, has now also confirmed to the government that it should be possible to change the wording of such letters by amending the Consumer Credit Act. We are currently still waiting for the government’s response to this report, but you can still sign our petition asking them to update this out-of-date legislation.

The road ahead

The thought of watching these commitments and possibilities slowly becoming a practical reality that I can use to make a tangible difference for the people I work with daily is encouraging, to say the least.

It gives me hope for all the challenges that still lie ahead. The team is currently working on a number of exciting projects, including: making it easier for friends and family to help someone experiencing mental health problems with financial management; exploring minimum standards for essential services providers; and working out how technology and data can best be used to support people’s money and mental health.

Like my daughter in a sweet shop, it’s hard to know which of these enticing opportunities to start with – I think I’d better just get stuck in!