Providers told to tackle debt damaging mental health

The majority of the UK population have suffered with their mental health as a result of debt and financial difficulties, according to a national health study.

In a YouGov survey, 61 per cent of respondents claimed debt had negatively affected their mental health and 59 per cent predicted the number of people struggling with debt will rise over the next decade.

The survey was commissioned by health tech company SilverCloud Health to mark the 10-year anniversary of the global financial crisis and found an expectation that financial institutions address the relationship between debt and mental health.

Of the 1,962 participants interviewed, 42 per cent believed financial institutions should be responsible for supporting the mental wellbeing of customers in financial difficulty with an emphasis on providing online mental health resources to those in debt.

The survey found 71 per cent of respondents believe people suffering from poor mental health are less able to effectively manage financial difficulties.

In recent years the Financial Conduct Authority has demonstrated an increased interest in how firms are treating vulnerable clients, including those struggling with poor mental health, and is expected to implement further assessment early next year.

Ken Cahill, chief executive of SilverCloud, said he hopes more financial institutions will work to provide services which are mindful or supporting customer mental health.

He said: “The results of this British survey clearly demonstrates that British mental health has greatly suffered over the past decade as a result of financial difficulty stemming from the global crisis.”

Dr Thomas Richardson, psychologist and co-designer of SilverCloud’s mental health programme ‘Space From Money Worries’, said financial difficulties and mental health problems are often incorrectly treated separately.

He said: “Financial difficulties and mental health problems are often part of the same problem, but most support options treat them individually, offering debt advice separately from mental health help.

“So, for example, you might be offered a debt advice appointment but if you are so anxious you cannot face it then it will not help.”

Dr Richardson said the root psychological mechanisms which lead to a cycle of financial difficulties and poor mental health must be addressed.

He added: “The negative thinking patterns which prevent you tackling your debt, the worry and avoidance which stops you seeking financial help and the impulse spending which digs you deeper into a debt hole.”

Anna Sofat, founder at Addidi Wealth, said she feels there is definitely a link between mental and financial wellbeing so the survey findings should not be a surprise to anyone in the financial industry.

She said: “What is surprising is that the link and the appalling statistics, that 25 per cent of people in the UK have no savings at all and 1 in 10 spend more than they earn, reported by Skipton Building Society in March, are not used by the regulator or government to determine societal benefit or economic output.

“I am hoping that as impact investing becomes more mainstream, the impact of debt products on communities will be used to make investment judgement about individual companies.”