May 12, 2008

Some Mentally Ill Brits Can’t Afford Food

A recent study shows that almost three-quarters of people with mental health problems run out of money at the end of each week.

A poll of 1,800 people showed half had gone without food because of money worries, according to the charity Mind.

The majority of those questioned (91%) said debt worsened their health problems.

Mind contacted banks and other creditors and asked them not to overload those with mental problems and to find ways to help them with their debt. Those who suffer from mental problems are up to three times more likely to be in debt than the general population.

Amongst those surveyed, two-thirds told Mind that they felt unable to tell creditors about any mental health problems. Eighty-three percent of those who did tell creditors said they had been harassed about debt repayments despite the organization knowing of their issues.

Mind called the issue "particularly pertinent" since all kinds of households face rising fuel and food prices.

Amongst half of those surveyed said they had been contacted by bailiffs"”some of whom threatened them with jail or seizure of their property.

"People living with mental health problems are particularly vulnerable to being trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty," said Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind.

Mind found that many were unable to work due to their mental health and had become dependent on credit to take care of daily essentials.

Many on lower incomes were more likely to get credit from lenders who charge astronomical interest rates"”which developed into worrying trends as they are left facing a mountain of debt they have no means to repay it with.

The charity has a section on its website to help people with financial problems.

Farmer wants banks and creditors to help people with mental problems that are behind on payments.

He wants to see changes such as waiving fees when customers have been too unwell to manage their finances as well as mental health awareness training for bank staff.

"Creditors have a duty to help not hound their customers, especially when they are coping with serious health problems," said Farmer.

However, a spokeswoman for the British Banker's Association said help was available and that "banks will have staff who are specifically able to help with mental health issues, and we try to help people before they get into really difficult situations."

But she stressed that bank staff are not health practitioners and cannot diagnose or assess the likely impact these problems may cause customers.

"Customers who no longer have the ability to look after their own affairs have their banking needs looked after for them, but less serious health issues can be a silent problem unless the customer wishes to let their bank know. Then the bank can flag accounts and will be able to factor this into any debt help required," she added.

"Mental health problems can make the challenge of handling money and debt far harder," said Susan Kramer, a Liberal Democrat families spokeswoman.
She said for others, "the depressing realities of living with debt can lead to a downward spiral into hopelessness and despair."

"Financial organizations must train staff to support clients with mental health issues, and mental health workers need training to advise on issues of debt," said Kramer.


On the Net:


Citizens Advice Bureau

British Bankers' Association