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Friday, 16 February 2018

Mental health practitioners spending more time helping patients with money issues

Written by Vicky Shaw

More than half of mental health practitioners say the proportion of time they are spending on patients' non-health issues such as money problems and housing has increased over the past year.

Some 57% of staff reported feeling this way, Citizens Advice found.

More than four in five (84%) mental health workers said that dealing with a patient's practical issues left them with less clinical time to treat their mental health issues.

The findings follow a survey of 244 mental health practitioners who deliver NHS England's Talking Therapies programme.

These services provide treatment of anxiety disorders and depression in England.

Nearly all those surveyed (98%) had dealt with a patient's non-health problems during an appointment in the previous month.

Common problems staff are helping with involve debt and money, unemployment and work, housing and welfare.

Staff reported that these problems had a negative impact on their patients' ability to manage their mental health, complete a course of treatment and ultimately recover.

Practitioners spent appointment time helping patients with these problems through budgeting or debt management plans, contacting public services or agencies on the patient's behalf, providing supporting letters, helping patients complete benefits applications and contacting creditors on the patient's behalf.

Citizens Advice said it has helped more than 100,000 people who reported having a mental health problem in 2017.

In the past two years, the organisation has seen an increase in the number of clients with mental health problems, including an 11% upswing in those needing advice on benefits.

It is calling for advice services to be integrated in more mental health settings to alleviate the pressure on frontline staff and better support people with mental health problems.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "If you're living with mental health problems, everyday issues like managing your money, dealing with your landlord, or applying for benefits can be much more difficult to manage.

"But if these issues aren't addressed, they can often escalate and make mental health problems worse - creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break free from.

"Providing people with practical support is essential to make sure these problems don't spiral out of control, but this should not be the job of already stretched mental health professionals.

"To reduce pressure on frontline NHS staff and better support people with mental health problems, advice services should be available in mental health settings as a matter of course."

Dr Jed Boardman, lead for social inclusion at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "In order to stay mentally healthy, we all need enough money in our pockets, a decent roof over our heads, some valued work, and a supportive environment.

"People with mental health problems need all of these to aid their recovery, as well as engagement with effective therapies."

Simon Crine, director of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: "Too often mental health professionals find themselves sorting out debt and money issues at the expense of doing their day job.

"Integrating debt advice into mental health services would be a win-win for mental health professionals and people with mental health problems."

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