The stress and stigma around crippling debt has always left people feeling isolated, lonely and desperate.

Financial difficulties are a common cause of stress, and the impact on people’s mental health can be particularly severe if they resort to cutting back on essentials, such as heating and eating.

According to a report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute charity, one in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and of people living with mental health problems, almost one in five simultaneously experience problem debt.

This has been further exacerbated by the lockdown, with many people further affected by reduced income through the furlough scheme or even losing their job during the crisis.

Common symptoms of mental health problems, such as increased impulsivity and memory problems, can make it harder to keep on top of financial management. This can then make it harder to get a good deal on basic needs like energy and insurance, increasing the likelihood of financial difficulty.

According to the report, people who live with common mental health problems (like anxiety and depression) earn on average £8,400 less than those without.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, two in five people with mental health problems have experienced an income drop, with around one in three of those having to cut back on essentials.

These staggering figures should be a stark warning to all businesses and employers. Barriers to employment and limits on job progression, ranging from direct and indirect discrimination to inflexible working practices, are a key factor driving this mental health income gap.

Over two-thirds of people who requested a reasonable adjustment from their employer to support their mental health said their request was rejected or only partly met.

This is the difference between someone being able to work more effectively and feeling supported, or feeling like they are not important enough to be heard and listened to, and consequently not having the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

The good news is that there are practical steps employers can take and some  have already begun to implement changes, most notably, a shift to remote working and offering extra support around mental health and wellbeing for staff.

However, if we are to ensure that these existing inequalities for people with mental health problems are not further entrenched by the pandemic, there are other steps that  organisations can take.

The Mental Health Income Commission earlier this year put forward three recommendations that they felt were relatively easy to put into practice and would substantially improve the experiences of people living with mental health problems in the short term:

  • Ensuring that employers support the mental health and incomes of staff while furloughed and when they return by maintaining regular contact during furlough and routinely providing signposting to income maximisation and debt advice services when incomes are reduced
  • Providing mental health training to line managers, giving them the skills and resources to help better support employees. This has the additional benefit of creating a compassionate and kind attitude and ethos from the top down
  • Expanding on flexible working to include options such as condensed hours or facilitating more breaks by reducing lunch hours, as well as offering flexible roles from the outset.

While it can seem like there is a lot to do to bridge the mental health income gap, some of the changes needed can be made relatively easily, and mainly require a willingness to be more compassionate towards employees that might be experiencing mental health problems.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is an independent charity, committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems.

Posted in Blog.