The cold winter days can be difficult for everyone, and the start of a new year can present its challenges, but thankfully for mental health, the year has had a promising start. I was invited to hear the Prime Minister Theresa May's speech on social justice and I was very pleased to hear her re-emphasise a commitment to improving mental health care across society, as well as transforming public attitudes to mental illness. While we need these changes to be felt on the ground before we can truly celebrate, it does give us cause for cautious optimism. At Rethink Mental Illness, the New Year has also kicked off with an exciting announcement.
For the next two years Mental Health UK, a new charity which has brought together the strength and expertise of Rethink Mental Illness in England, Hafal in Wales, Support in Mind Scotland and MindWise in Northern Ireland, will partner with Lloyds Banking Group to promote awareness of the link between mental health and money problems, and encourage discussion between customers and colleagues. During this time, the Group's colleagues will also engage in a range of fundraising activities with the aim of raising at least £2 million per year.
I think this partnership is just one example of how far public awareness and understanding of mental health problems has come. Mental illness has begun to move away from being a topic that was avoided or talked about in hushed tones to being something which people recognise as important, concerning and even interesting. Colleagues have demonstrated that they are not afraid to speak out about mental health, overwhelmingly voting (62%) for it to be the focus of their new charity partnership.
There is still some distance to travel on this front but national campaigns, such as Time to Change, run by Rethink Mental Illness and Mind, have created a growing social movement of people who are changing how we all think and act about mental health. Paired with national partnerships such as this one, these initiatives are certainly helping to chip away at the isolation and stigma that can so often accompany a mental illness.
Alongside raising awareness, and supporting both customers and colleagues with their mental health, a particularly exciting part of the partnership will be the creation of a pioneering Mental Health and Money Advice Service, which will offer support for people experiencing both mental health and money problems. And as the research suggests, this couldn't come soon enough.
Studies show that one in four people are affected by poor mental health and, of these, around four million will also struggle with their financial wellbeing. This partnership, by bringing together the issues of mental health and money, will hopefully begin to address this increasing need within today's society.
Nowadays, money is intertwined with all aspects of our lives - our work, home, and our social lives. Perhaps it is no wonder then that problems with money can have an impact on more than just our bank balance; the stress and anxiety caused by financial worries can have a knock-on effect on areas such as our mental health - for example causing anxiety, stress, or sleepless nights. Imagine, then, what it's like to have these worries if you are already severely affected by mental illness.
Managing your money is important, but sometimes this is often easier said than done, particularly for anyone who is also experiencing problems with their mental health. My son has schizophrenia, which is an illness that affects the way you think. It affects him in all sorts of ways, in relation to money, he can struggle with the bureaucracy and form filing that can often accompany benefits and bank accounts. Some years ago, when my son was first ill, his situation put great strain on his finances. The daily costs of living ultimately got on top of him, and he got into debt. This was over 20 years ago now, at a time when and there wasn't the understanding or awareness about mental health problems that there is now in industries such as banks. Just as many others would, my son went to his bank for help, and was offered a loan. Although for many this would've been a suitable short term solution, given my son's situation, this was not the best option. We have come a long way since then, and it is great to see that banks are now, even more so than ever before, taking into account mental health in their interactions with customers to provide them with the best possible service.
At the time, the information and advice I received from Rethink Mental Illness' Advice and Information Service enabled me to appropriately support my son. Now, he is no longer in debt, he lives semi-independently and does two hours of work each week in a charity shop, but if we had access to the type of support which will come from the Mental Health UK and Lloyds Banking Group partnership, this would have happened much faster.
The partnership has many exciting and promising elements - from building on existing support for customers with mental health problems, to increasing employee awareness of mental illness, and equipping colleagues to understand and look after both their own mental health and that of their colleagues. Finally, the creation of a pioneering Mental Health and Money Advice Service will hopefully ensure that this much needed area of support is available to the millions of people in the UK who are currently experiencing problems with money that are linked to a mental health issue.
For more information about the partnership visit - www.mentalhealth-uk.org
For further information and advice, visit www.rethink.org.
You can also call the Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service on 0300 5000 927 (lines open Monday to Friday 09:30-4:00pm and calls charged at local rate).