Faith and Zarrah, work experience, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Work experience and work coaches: our week at Money and Mental Health

14 August 2023

  • Faith and Zarrah joined Money and Mental Health for a week of work experience, focusing on a research project exploring people’s experiences of engaging with a work coach and how support within the benefits system can be improved for people with mental health problems.
  • In this blog, they summarise the findings and reflect on what they learnt during their week at Money and Mental Health.

Two weeks ago, we joined the Money and Mental Health team on a summer work experience placement. We both study at a state school in East London. Zarrah has finished her A levels and is currently awaiting her offer to study at the University of Cambridge, while Faith is yet to sit her A level exams and is currently completing her personal statement, which includes a section focusing directly on the issues Money and Mental Health explore.

This particular placement sparked interest in us because mental health problems and financial issues are growing in the UK as a result of the cost of living crisis. We wanted to gain an insight into Money and Mental Health’s work and explore these coupled problems in more depth. 

We also have a first hand insight into the current state of the benefits system – a key area of Money and Mental Health’s work. It’s clear how the system can cause anxiety and stress, especially for those of us who are in vulnerable situations or struggle with mental health problems.

Our research project

During our week, we’ve been researching the experiences of engaging with work coaches among people with mental health problems. Work coaches provide employment support for those who receive benefits. Money and Mental Health were keen to understand whether people are receiving appropriate support from their coaches and to hear thoughts and ideas on how that support could be improved. 

During our research it became apparent that work coaches who understand how mental health problems can affect our ability to prepare for work or look for jobs can be a huge source of support for those of us seeking employment. Equally, work coaches who lack this understanding risk creating more stress and difficulties for those who may already be struggling.

Better training, better support, better outcomes

Research Community respondents who’ve engaged with a work coach often spoke about how they failed to understand how their mental health problem affects them.

“People in their jobs need to understand the impact of choosing wrong jobs for us. Also they need a good understanding of how this illness affects us in different ways and be supportive.” Expert by experience

We also heard that the ways in which work coaches tried to support people with mental health problems were sometimes inappropriate. For example, people shared that they struggled with the high number of telephone appointments and follow ups, particularly during poor periods of mental health.

Having the constant telephone appointments was exhausting & made my depression worse.” Expert by experience

To dig deeper into the issue, and what might help improve the support offered, people were asked about mental health training for work coaches. Many members of our Research Community felt that specialist training would enhance a work coach’s ability to truly help those of us who experience mental health problems to find and secure appropriate work.

Team away day and reflections

We also got the chance to attend the charity’s annual away day, which took place at Roots and Shoots in Lambeth. We were able to sit it on the discussion of potential research topics and plans for the coming year. 

The day was interactive and an opportunity to meet other members of the Money and Mental Health team. It was also an opportunity to explore some of the social and political factors that may impact the link between mental health and money problems over the next year – and how they might shape the charity’s work. 

Overall, this five day placement has been incredibly valuable for both of us. We have learnt a lot about the charity and the various roles carried out by members of the team to ensure everything works smoothly. We thank Money and Mental Health for this opportunity.