Opinion  

Debt: it’s all in the mind

Tony Hazell

Tony Hazell

If you hop into the office with a broken leg, you would immediately be surrounded by curious and sympathetic colleagues.

Cataracts, a bad back or stomach ulcer are all legitimate topics of conversation.

But if someone brings up their mental health it can lead to staring at shoes, awkward silences and even scepticism.

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This attitude can operate at a business as well as a personal level. Hence someone with a physical disease can find it much easier to get sympathetic treatment than someone with a mental health problem.

I have seen too many cases when banks and other organisations can be very unwilling to take mental health problems seriously when dealing with debt.

But there is a clear connection between mental health and money difficulties, as a report, Money on Your Mind, published by the new Money and Mental Health Policy Institute makes clear.

Of those interviewed for this report, 93 per cent said mental health problems led them to spend more than usual.

Almost as many – 92 per cent – said they find it harder to make financial decisions during periods of poor mental health.

It is a matter of record half of British adults with a debt problem also have a mental health problem.

While this report deals mainly with debt, it must not be forgotten that pensions, savings and investments built up over many years could be squandered during a period of poor mental health.

We, the public, are often very poorly educated about mental health problems and their consequences. Challenges can come in many guises including dementia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolarism, depression or substance dependence.

I know it can be difficult for the families of people with ADHD or who are bipolar, to convince their bank there is a problem – or to get them to respond at all.

Financial advisers and institutions such as banks can face confidentiality issues. They have a relationship with their client not with their client’s parents, siblings or friends.

The Court of Protection is a last resort, and not something that would figure in the vast majority of cases – yet that does not mean the issue should be ignored or overlooked as it often is.

So I am pleased to see Moneysavingexpert’s Martin Lewis has thrown his weight behind this issue by becoming chairman of the Mental Health Policy Institute.

He is, without doubt, the most recognised financial commentator and carries weight where it matters.

Hopefully, his attention will focus not only on financial institutions, but also on those who help drag people into debt, such as the betting firms whose advertisements saturate the breaks in sports programmes.

I myself have personal experience of a depressed friend who gambled away thousands at the touch of a button on his phone. So I know this is an important campaign.