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Research shows mental health professionals are fighting fires, rather than delivering treatment

17 October 2017

New research published today has found that mental health professionals are being forced to deal with patients’ wider problems rather than treating their illness, as more and more of them struggle with issues such as debt and benefits.

A report by the Money and Mental Health Institute reveals mental health professionals - including psychiatrists and mental health nurses - feel they have to tackle these urgent practical issues before they can focus on their patients’ mental health. The practical tasks being done by mental health professionals include:

  • Filling in benefits paperwork

  • Making telephone calls or writing letters to creditors

  • Accompanying service users to advice appointments

  • Giving practical advice about budgeting and managing debts.

The findings come as Citizens Advice releases new research showing the number of people turning to the charity for help who report having a mental health problem has increased by 9% in the past year.

The new report also shows that people with mental health problems are more likely to face a web of complex issues, each dealing with an average of five problems ranging from money worries to problems at work.

Debt is a particular problem and Citizens Advice finds that of people with mental health problems who it supports:

  • A third need advice on debts, compared with a fifth of all people it helps.

  • Almost a third (31%) are finding it difficult to manage financially, compared with fewer than 1 in 9 (12%) of the general UK population.

  • More than two thirds (67%) have needed advice on multiple debts in the same year, compared to less than half (45%) of people the charity helps who don’t have mental health problems. These issues are especially evident for ‘priority debt’, such as rent or council tax, putting them at greater risk of eviction, or visits from bailiffs, being cut off from energy supplies and even prison.

The charities have joined forces to warn that, in the face of increased consumer borrowing, the introduction of Universal Credit, and ongoing issues around insecure work, it’s more important than ever that people with mental health problems can get the help they need to tackle the complex challenges life can throw at them.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Complex issues like managing debts or dealing with employment problems can be so much harder to cope with if you have a mental health problem, but left unaddressed they can undermine treatment and make it harder to recover - creating a vicious cycle that is incredibly difficult to escape from.

“Practical advice and support can be invaluable to people’s financial and mental wellbeing, but this burden should not fall on mental health professionals who are already overstretched.”

Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said:

“Financial worries can hugely exacerbate mental health conditions and vice versa – the two are often intrinsically linked. Yet we’re all too aware that the NHS has only limited resources.  Specialist mental health professionals spending precious clinical time on practical tasks, like filling in benefits forms or calling energy providers, is a waste of those resources.  It’s understandable though, often people with nowhere else to turn in a crisis – such as when they've not received their benefits, or the bailiffs are on the phone, get in touch with their compassionate mental health professional – who feels duty bound to help.

 

“Yet this isn’t joined up.  We need commissioners to make sure that specialist financial help and support is speedily available to people using mental health services, allowing highly-trained and let’s be honest, expensive, mental health professionals to focus on the day job of treating patients.  And we need to help provide training to ensure that the specialists themselves know where to signpost people so they get help quickly."

In its new report ‘Joining the Dots’ Citizens Advice finds that 1 in 3 people (64%) said that receiving practical advice on issues such debt would have helped with their mental health problems. But more than half this number (37%) were not offered practical advice while receiving treatment for their mental health issues.

As these complex problems are left unaddressed it often falls to healthcare professionals to try and help. In ‘Whose job is it anyway?’ Money and Mental Health finds that mental health professionals acknowledge that they don’t have the appropriate training and don't believe they are the best people to help with these issues, but feel they can't focus on a patient's mental health until they are resolved.

Citizens Advice and Money and Mental Health are calling on commissioners to provide good quality specialist advice to people using mental health services, to free-up professionals to deliver the mental health support they are trained to provide and ultimately make savings to the taxpayer.

Notes to editors

  1. ‘Joining the dots’ based on analysis of client data from across the local Citizens Advice network in England and a nationally representative survey was conducted by ComRes from 2nd-13th February of 2,000 people across England, including 1,000 people with recent experience of poor mental health. This was supplemented with a survey of 256 Citizens Advice advisers and findings from Citizens Advice outcomes and impact research. This consisted of follow-up telephone interviews with 3,600 Citizens Advice clients in February and March 2017, 3-5 months after they received advice.

  2. ‘Whose job is it anyway’ research based on 22 in-depth interviews with mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, social workers, mental health nurses, support workers and occupational therapists; a survey of 216 mental health professionals, and a separate survey of 420 adults with experience of mental health problems.

  3. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute was set up by Martin Lewis in spring 2016, registered charity number 1166493.

  4. It conducts research and develops policies for banks, lenders, regulators, the health service and government to help people with mental health problems protect themselves from financial difficulties and get out of debt.

  5. Further details about the research can be found at www.moneyandmentalhealth.org

  6. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  7. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  8. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  9. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  10. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  11. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.