Dr Billy Boland

Dr Billy Boland, Consultant Psychiatrist & Associate Medical Director for Quality and Safety at Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust

Why I’m joining the Money and Mental Health advisory board

If you’ve never watched the movie ‘I, Daniel Blake’, I encourage you to see it. A brilliant, poignant Ken Loach film on one man’s journey through ill health and the benefits system, it is compelling and moving in equal measure. Just don’t take a date. I did, and I cried four times. It’s not a good look.

Whilst the protagonist’s health problem was physical, his challenges in achieving an adequate income were all too familiar to me as a psychiatrist. People I see who experience mental health problems frequently have to sort out access to benefits when they are feeling unwell. It always seems like further unnecessary suffering to me; having to deal with one’s financial situation when you are already feeling vulnerable.

An added injustice

That is one of the great injustices that goes along with mental health problems. Not only do people have to deal with the misery and pain that mental health problems can bring, but dealing with their practical consequences – from managing money to applying for benefits – becomes harder too. From where I sit, as a professional on the outside, applying for benefits seems daunting, time consuming and stressful. I wouldn’t want to do it. So making someone go through that when they are ill is an added burden people could do without.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the current system requires a degree of assessment of eligibility to be taken. But the irony is that whilst health services are aiming to be proactive, finding ways to promote self-esteem, confidence and helping people remove barriers, new barriers and obstacles are created by applying for state support. I’d like to see a benefits system that is proactive and assertive too. One that reaches out to people when they are in need and asks what they can do to help, or signposts people to where they can get support.

We still lack understanding

I know that good work is done, as I see it and the difference it makes to people’s lives. But all too often I see people bitterly disappointed by the process and left without meaningful financial support. Often, and most shockingly when you think about it, it seems it’s because of a poor quality assessment of the person’s issues and an apparent lack of understanding of mental health problems. There is a bias towards physical health conditions in the process of assessment which means mental health problems get overlooked, or their impact minimised. I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months writing letters to support reconsideration of benefit decisions with some success. A colleague who is an expert in benefits has helped me to structure and explain these letters to make it easier for the benefits assessors to appreciate all of an individual’s problems, and them give appropriate access to income. It has made me think that there is something wrong with the system if it requires a consultant psychiatrist to intervene. People applying for benefits know their mental health problems far better than I do. So what makes it so hard for their stories to be heard?

Joining Money and Mental Health

I’m really pleased to have joined the advisory board of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. The link between financial difficulties and mental health problems is a long neglected area, and one that has a real impact on people’s lives. I hope that I’ll be able to support work that empowers individuals with mental health problems to tackle challenges where money is concerned, and works towards creating a level playing field, so that people with mental health problems don’t inevitably end up in a life of financial difficulty.

You can see who Billy joins on our advisory board here