John Casserly: Money’s too tight to mention for many with mental health issues

John Casserly, Mental Health and Money Advice Adviser
John Casserly, Mental Health and Money Advice Adviser
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I remember the first person I supported through Mental Health and Money Advice. Meg (not her real name) rang up as she was feeling very anxious and frightened at the thought of going through the assessment process for the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment, to help her cope with her severe mental and physical health difficulties.

She was worried about the 42-page form she had to complete which asked her to describe in detail her ­difficulties in managing daily life. She didn’t know where to begin as it was long, complicated, and asked some intrusive questions.

People who are unwell with mental health often find it easier to talk to an adviser on the phone

People who are unwell with mental health often find it easier to talk to an adviser on the phone

Meg lived with her husband in a remote part of Scotland. Her ­husband also struggled with his health so it was difficult for them to leave the house and there were no advice ­agencies near where they lived. Our service is tailor-made for clients like this and that’s part of what makes it so important.

She was initially wary of talking about her other money worries as she felt that there may be a perception of her being feckless. However, after we worked through the form together and built up some trust, she felt comfortable enough to tell me she also had credit card debts which ­concerned her. I was able to work with her to deal with these as well.

Our service, the first of its kind, was launched in November last year by ­Mental Health UK, a partnership of four mental health charities across the UK, including Support in Mind Scotland.

Research shows that in the UK, one in four people are affected by poor mental health. Of these, around four million, like Meg, will also struggle with their financial wellbeing. Poor mental health can make it difficult to manage spending. On the other hand, if you are experiencing financial ­difficulty it can make you ­worried and stressed, creating new mental health issues for people.

Mental Health and Money Advice runs a website with information ­specific to each UK nation. Working this way means we can provide ­tailored information for everyone, as laws and regulations differ slightly depending on where you live. The service is free and includes guides to accessing benefits, managing debt and legal issues, budget calculators and sample letters.

The launch of the service was made possible due to more than £4.8 ­million of fundraising from Lloyds Banking Group staff as part of the group’s two-year charity partnership with Mental Health UK.

There’s also an advice line which is where I work. Calls come from people who have been referred to us by Support in Mind Scotland and ­other organisations working with people severely affected by mental illness.

I’ve worked as a welfare rights advisor for several years now and this is a great opportunity to help even more people. I work with people who have mental health difficulties, as well as their families and carers. They vary in age and background but they are all struggling in some way with finances.

I phone people by appointment and work through their worries with them. I also do case work which means that, with the client’s ­permission, I negotiate with creditors and official bodies such as the Department of Work and ­Pensions.

The prospect of a telephone-based service appeals to me as a way of ­supporting people who may have been put off coming to a face-to-face meeting. Sometimes when you are unwell, travelling to meet someone face-to-face can feel like another ­mountain to climb. Our approach certainly seems to be the way ­forward.

Many cases involve people being reassessed for disability benefits. Others have been told they are fit for work following an assessment when they’re still too unwell. We can help by getting the decision reconsidered and working with the client’s own health care ­professionals to get evidence of the client’s inability to work.

All clients get a benefit check to make sure they are receiving their correct entitlement as every penny counts.

Clients having difficulties with debts also contact us, and we work with them to find out what options they have. Many call looking for help in an emergency, like being in rent arrears and in danger of losing their home. We can help to resolve the ­crisis and put their finances on a more robust footing. Some will call because they might be earning less because of health ­problems, are ­worried about their bills, and want a plan in place to help them manage.

With Meg, over the course of ­several conversations, her mood lifted significantly, and she became much more optimistic. She was awarded the ­benefits she needed and is ­confidently managing her debts, leaving her feeling a lot less anxious.

If you have a mental health problem that affects how you manage your money – or you have a money problem that affects your mental health – then get in touch for advice and support.

Call 0131 662 4359 to book your appointment. Please be aware appointments are limited. For more information visit www.mhma.org.uk

John Casserly, Mental Health and Money Advice adviser.