UK charities warn on high debt levels among mental health patients

‘Breathing space’ needed to allow heavily indebted to manage their debts.
Thousands of patients hospitalised for mental illness in England are in debt, with many facing pressure from creditors that exacerbates distress and increases the risk of suicide, say mental health charities calling for a new debt-respite scheme to include people suffering a mental health crisis.
A coalition of non-profit organisations — including Mind and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, a think-tank chaired by founder Martin Lewis — said almost a quarter of those admitted to hospital each year with mental illness, some 23,000, are grappling with financial problems alongside conditions such as bipolar disorder or severe depression.
“This group is likely to be receiving calls and emails from banks, credit card companies, local authorities and other creditors whilst in acute distress, potentially feeling suicidal,” said the charities.
The research, led by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, found instances of people who received court summons for debt while they were in hospital for mental health treatment, and others who attempted suicide after being pursued by bailiffs.
The government has been consulting on a set of new rules, called “breathing space”, that would allow heavily indebted individuals a six week respite from creditors in order to try and manage their debts.
The charities are urging policymakers to include people with a mental health crisis in the scheme. “It’s time to stop people in mental health crisis being hassled over debt, which risks making recovery harder, and means they’ll be even less likely to repay creditors in future,” Mr Lewis said.
Previous UK studies show that mental health problems and financial crises often coexist, placing strain on the National Health Service as well as the financial sector and the welfare system.
According to Citizens Advice, eight out of 10 NHS mental health practitioners treating anxiety and depression also deal with their patients’ non-health issues — most commonly debt and money problems.
Research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has shown that mental health problems can affect how people interact with money.
Many spend to cope with anxiety or low self esteem, for example, or when experiencing manic episodes.
Sufferers may also let bills pile up or stop reading bank statements to avoid provoking anxiety.
Lee Brookes, a 41-year-old IT manager with bipolar disorder, explained how he would spend compulsively during manic episodes when he was earning “in the high five figures” as owner of an IT company.
“In 2004, I went to Paris 14 times, and I remember one trip where I spent £1,700 shopping, buying I’ve no idea what.” Mr Brookes said he could no longer sustain the binges when his salary dropped after he sold his business and became an employee.
He declared himself bankrupt in 2014, a process that further damaged his mental health. “I had two suicide attempts during the bankruptcy,” he said. “It was the bailiffs knocking at the door, the debt collectors — it just became horrific.”
A spokesman for UK Finance, the banking trade body, said: “Lenders want to help customers struggling with their finances including those with mental health issues.
“We agree that lenders should give customers a ‘breathing space’ to get advice, while taking individual circumstances into account to agree the most appropriate course of action.”

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