Action urged for people with mental health problems locked out of essential services

By agency reporter
July 5, 2018

New research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has found that millions of people with mental health problems are left unable to effectively use essential services due to difficulties with tasks like making telephone calls, opening the post or navigating complex online forms.

The research found that:

  • Over half of people with mental health problems (54 per cent) have serious difficulties using the phone to carry out essential admin (compared to 32 per cent of people without mental health problems).
  • Four in 10 people with mental health problems have severe ‘admin anxiety’, causing symptoms like breathlessness, sweating or shaking.
  • A significant number said dealing with essential services providers, like banks, energy companies or internet providers when they are unwell can lead to panic attacks and even suicidal feelings.
  • The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, founded by Martin Lewis, is developing the UK’s first set of accessibility standards for mental health.

The research also  found that it is not only people with mental health problems who stand to benefit. Many people who have never had a mental health problem also find call centres, complex application processes or raising complaints difficult:

  • Over three quarters (78 per cent) of UK adults experience at least one sign of anxiety when carrying out essential admin.
  • 20.5 million UK adults struggle to use the phone to contact essential service providers, finding it distressing or difficult.
  • A quarter of adults (23 per cent) have such severe ‘admin anxiety’ that it is indicative of at least a mild phobia of this situation – this equates to more than 11.5 million UK adults.

The new research, which was made possible by funding from DCMS, the Cabinet Office and support from the Innovation Foundation Nesta, aims to highlight the need for essential services to cater for those who have mental health problems, in much the same way they do for customers with physical health issues.

Money and Mental Health is developing these new standards through the Government’s Inclusive Economy Partnership. The initiative aims to bring together government, big business and civil society to tackle tricky social problems. Essential services firms have faced increased pressure from the government to meet the needs of people with mental health problems, which was highlighted in the recent Consumer Green Paper.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is inviting firms to come forward and help with the development of the standards, as well as their implementation.

 Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said: “There are twelve million people with mental health problems in the UK. Yet while essential services will, rightly, adjust the way they work for those customers with a physical or sensory condition – such as braille letters, ramps or speaking ATMS – there are few solutions offered for those with a mental health condition.

And this failing, especially for firms who provide vital services like water, electricity, banking or the internet, puts people at real risk of harm. For example, if someone has a clinical condition that means they can’t make calls, alternatives should be offered.

To be fair though, it hasn’t always been clear what firms can do to help. That’s why the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is developing the UK’s first set of mental health accessibility standards – to help willing firms help their customers.”

 Steve Crabb, Director of Consumer Vulnerability at British Gas, said: “I can’t overstate the importance of this work by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. Millions of people in Britain experience mental health challenges each year, and we know from talking to British Gas customers that it can have a serious impact on their ability to communicate with us when they need our support. The better we understand the challenges our customers face, the better we will be able to understand their needs and develop innovative new ways to help them when they need it most. This report has really helped to move this understanding forward.”

 John, who has personal experience of mental health problems, said: “My mental health problems can make it impossible to do things like call a bank or switch energy providers. It can take days to work up to making a phone call, and then I often find I can’t make myself understood, or I can’t remember what they tell me. After a difficult phone call it wipes me out for the rest of the day, I just have to go back to bed. Post is no better, when my mental health is bad I just get so anxious that I can’t bring myself to open the letters. I feel like these companies don’t have systems that work for me.”

* Read the report Access Essentials: Giving people with mental health problems equal access to vital services here

* Nesta https://www.nesta.org.uk/

* Money and Mental Health https://www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/

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