Alexis Stevens, Senior Strategic Partnerships Officer, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Schizophrenia and money problems: breaking the link

25 July 2023

  • 25 July is National Schizophrenia Awareness Day, an awareness day run by our friends at Rethink
  • Schizophrenia is still highly stigmatised in some parts of the media and popular culture
  • Alongside tackling this stigma, there are steps we would like to see the government, the NHS and essential services firms take to disrupt the cycle between schizophrenia and money problems.

Today is National Schizophrenia Awareness Day. Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness characterised by disruptions in thought processes, perceptions, emotional responsiveness and social interactions. Although experiences of schizophrenia vary among individuals, schizophrenia is typically persistent and can be both severe and disabling. 

This blog explores some of the ways people’s finances can be affected by schizophrenia – and what changes the healthcare system and the essential services industry can make to reduce the devastating consequences that can arise from living with this condition.

Unhelpful narratives

Film, TV, and tabloids seem keen on keeping up old tropes about schizophrenia – perpetuating the misconception that people with illnesses like this are violent and dangerous, rather than victims of crime, which sadly is far more likely

In parallel to this, other narratives are seeking to normalise the conversation around mental health. We often hear statements such as ‘we all have mental health,’ and ‘mental health is your superpower.’ And solutions like ‘inclusive design’ are regularly presented as a solution that will solve all the problems all of the time. 

It is in the media’s offensive and inaccurate depictions of this illness, and other well-intentioned rhetoric that the reality of the unique experiences, and complex needs of those living with schizophrenia is getting lost.

The reality of living with schizophrenia

This enduring illness can impact someone’s ability to manage their money. Impairments in reasoning and problem-solving abilities can make understanding complex instructions difficult. 

Delusions and hallucinations can make it difficult for people to concentrate on other tasks, therefore managing finances or budgeting can be impossible. And disorganised thoughts and speech can make talking with creditors incredibly hard.

Schizophrenia and money

Schizophrenia also impacts the ability to earn money. Symptoms of psychosis can be highly distressing, and make it impossible for people to engage with work and earn money whilst they are acutely unwell. For some people, their illness may be such that they are unable to hold down employment for any significant period of time. And other people may need to take periods of time off work due to a period of mental health crisis or hospitalisation. 

Worse still, we know from our research it is commonplace for people to experience financial harm while under the care of secondary mental health services, with more than eight in ten people with mental health problems reporting that they experienced devastating financial consequences while receiving secondary care services. 

Over half of people have missed a payment for an essential bill like rent or council tax, and seven in ten people struggled to pay for essentials such as food or heating. For some people, who are acutely unwell for prolonged periods of time, the financial impact of missing bills and payments can accumulate and leave people in overwhelming levels of problem debt.

To disrupt the cycle of money and mental health problems for people living with schizophrenia:

  • The Department of Health and Social Care should automatically offer Mental Health Breathing Space to people detained in hospital due to their mental health, to ensure that more people experiencing a mental health crisis can benefit from this vital support.
  • The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England should ensure that money worries are embedded in Care and Treatment plans, physical health checks, and other support plans. This would see healthcare professionals routinely ask people about their financial position, and to signpost and refer people to support services. 
  • Essential services firms should review and develop their suite of third-party access mechanisms to ensure they offer people more granular levels of flexibility when their mental capacity fluctuates. Empowering people with mental health problems to retain control of their accounts when unwell and simultaneously balancing their need for support. Enhanced mechanisms may include the ability to easily switch on and off third-party access, temporarily granting a trusted person view-only access, or view and transact – when they are in need of support.