Working with clients dealing with both money and mental health problems

13 May 2019

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, Rethink Mental Illness, part of Mental Health and Money Advice, give their top five key pieces of advice for debt advisers when supporting clients who are dealing with money and mental health problems. 

It’s fairly widespread knowledge these days that having money problems and having mental health problems are inextricably linked, with almost half of people in problem debt likely to experience a mental health problem.

The stress of dealing with multiple creditors, the fear of losing your home or other possessions, dreading the phone ringing or the knock on the door is a common theme for most debt advice clients. So, as money advisers, it’s not hard to see why dealing with money issues has a negative impact on someone’s mental health.

It’s also the case that living with a long-term mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and others, can make managing and dealing with money more difficult. This can result in difficulties with day to day budgeting, lack of impulse control and overspending and lack of confidence or ability to manage debt.

Having worked exclusively with clients who have both mental health and money problems for over ten years, and having set up the first UK wide service dedicated to providing advice and information on these two issues- Mental Health & Money Advice– what would be the five key pieces of advice I would give in relation to working with clients dealing with both money and mental health problems?

1. Take your time

When a client tells you they are struggling with their mental health or have a diagnosed mental health problem that’s quite a big deal. They have trusted you with some very personal and sensitive information. Sometimes, you might be the first person they have ever disclosed this to. This is when using the TEXAS model is really useful, particularly thanking the client for sharing this with you.
Being able to explain their situation to you might be hard for them for a number of reasons such as:

  • anxiety,
  • memory problems,
  • disordered thinking,
  • fear

This could be linked to the condition itself or any medication they might be taking. So, take your time. They might not have all of the information you need from them to be able to provide full debt advice and options- be patient. Offer another appointment, make a clear, bullet pointed list of the information they need to gather and give it to them in a format they prefer. The research done by Bristol Personal Finance Research Centre in to debt advisers’ experiences of working with clients with mental health problems also has some great tips for money advisers, including dealing with disclosures and using the TEXAS model.

2. Explore Income Maximisation

The most popular area of our Mental Health and Money Advice website and the topic we advise the most on is Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Many clients living with a mental illness aren’t aware they could be eligible for PIP as they think of it as a benefit for physical health problems. Signpost them to our information dedicated solely to claiming PIP for a mental health problem as it talks through each question of the application form from a mental health perspective.

Another area to explore which is often forgotten, is whether the client would be eligible for the Severe Mental Impairment exemption from council tax. Not everyone living with a mental health problem will be, but if your client has a long term and severe mental illness it’s one worth exploring. You can find suggestions based on our experiences of advising on this on our website too, along with lots of other information on benefits related to mental health, including Universal Credit.

3. Utilise Codes of Practice, Guidelines and Tools

Depending on the debts the client has and where they are in the collections and enforcement process, there may be a number of codes of practice, guidelines or tools that can help you and the client negotiate. We’ve listed the ones we use most in relation to mental health on our website.

The Debt & Mental Health Evidence Form is also a tool we use a lot, but it’s only really effective if the client has a mental health professional who really understands their condition and how it impacts on their ability to manage their money, or how the money problem is negatively impacting on their mental health. If the client sees a psychiatrist, has regular visits from a psychiatric nurse or mental health social worker, they are often better options for completing this form than the client’s GP. So we’d recommend asking if the client does have anyone they see regularly who understands their mental health who can help with this.

4. Explore mental health support

If a client isn’t getting any support for their mental health then working through the debt advice process is likely to be harder for them. Ideally there would be a pincer approach in terms of both the mental health support and the money advice.

Check whether the client has seen their GP or is getting mental health support from anywhere else. If not, the starting point is generally always the client’s GP, although in some areas, if someone is experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, they can refer themselves for talking therapy- this will depend on where the client lives. Depending on whether the client is in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the mental health care and support system looks a bit different, so ideally, signpost the client to sources of support that are relevant for them and where they live.

5. Look after yourself

Working in debt advice is stressful. Particularly when you are regularly listening to the experiences of your clients which can often be very sad. Therefore, it’s important to look after yourself.

Research has shown there are 5 ways to wellbeing;

  1. Keep active
  2. Connect with others
  3. Be mindful
  4. Give back
  5. Keep learning

Perhaps see how many of these you can do on one week. Some activities, like going for a walk outside with colleagues on your lunch break, can tick off quite a few!

During Mental Health Awareness Week, Mental Health UK have a number of tools and resources for being mental healthy and living your best working life. Keep checking back over the week as new hints and tips will be posted everyday.

Sarah Murphy

Written by
Sarah Murphy


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