People receiving treatment for mental health problems should be routinely asked about their finances as part of urgent action needed to stop a devastating debt cycle, according to a charity.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said links between debt, mental health problems and suicide must be a priority in coronavirus pandemic recovery plans.
GPs, A&E departments and community mental health services should routinely ask people receiving treatment for mental health problems about their finances, and provide clear signposting to help those who need it, the charity said.
Banks, energy companies and other essential services providers should proactively identify customers who may be struggling and improve support, it added.
Money and Mental Health, a charity set up by consumer champion Martin Lewis, said people with mental health problems were more likely to have fallen into serious debt during the pandemic.
A survey in the summer found that over the previous 12 months, people with mental health problems were more than twice as likely to have been behind on at least one payment (37% compared to 14% of those without mental health problems).
The charity reported the findings after commissioning a survey of more than 5,000 people with lived experience of a mental health problem and 1,000 people without mental health issues.
The State We’re In report also said that one in four (25%) people with mental health problems have no savings that they could use for an urgent or emergency expense, a higher proportion than those without mental health problems, at 18%.
Nearly half (46%) of people with a mental health problem agreed with the statement, “I can’t afford to regularly save money”, compared with a third (33%) of those without mental health issues.
People with mental health problems were more than twice as likely as those without to have relied on credit or borrowing to cover everyday spending such as on food or heating (26% compared with 11%).
More than two-fifths (44%) of UK adults with mental health problems who fell behind on bills last year either considered or attempted to take their own life, the report found.
It added that many people with mental health and financial problems had missed out on payment holidays during the pandemic.
Commenting on the research, Mr Lewis, chairman of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “The pandemic financially split the nation. Many gained – those who had support and lower costs often built up savings.
“Yet for others, it was catastrophic, and it’s a national tragedy that a disproportionate number of that group are those struggling with their mental health who missed out on the support they need to avoid reaching crisis point.
“We’re only beginning to understand the full impact of the pandemic on our lives. But these shocking findings make it clear that too many people with mental health and debt problems were excluded from help and allowed to slip through the cracks, and the results have been disastrous.
“This is about raising an alarm. Government, health professionals and essential services need to double down on efforts to stop people with mental health problems falling further into financial hardship. Prevention is better, and in the long run cheaper for the nation, than cure.
“I hope the rhetoric about ‘building back better’ from the pandemic is more than just a soundbite, as there is no time to waste – lives are at stake.”
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