Should we stop people with mental health issues borrowing money?

In my past blog you’ll have seen my article to MPs where I say it’s not about ‘responsible lending’ but ‘responsible borrowing’ and that while lenders should be culpable we must take responsibility for our own debts, through educating ourselves.

Yet where do you draw the line? A few months ago I met a MoneySaver who worked for a mental health charity. He told me about how many of the people he helped care for were badly in debt, and often had either little idea about, or control of, their borrowing. In fact it’s why he’s such a rabid site user; in his own time he uses the site to try and help them; though he struggles as there are so many yet not enough time.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since then…. while I ferociously argue that we as consumers need to get off our backsides, conquer debt illiteracy and take on the banks; can you apply this to those who, through medical reasons, cannot control their impulses or don’t have the capacity to understand the nature of debt? Stephen Fry in his recent programme on Manic Depression talked about the major urge to spend, spend, spend during the ‘manic’ phase. While I suspect, thankfully, he has a good income that can cope what about those who run up nasty debts during a similar phase?

My father used to be headmaster of a special education boarding school and we lived next door. As it was in the middle of a forest with little else to do, I found myself playing at the school for hours most evenings when I was young and as I got older interacting or helping. Most didn’t have mental health issues, just mild learning difficulties, and of course there’s no issue here of not being able to take personal responsibility. Yet for some, for whom a genuine (and I must say heart-rending) moment was, after months of learning, finally managing to make a cup of tea safely or tie their own shoe-laces, there’s no question that understanding the intricacies of credit cards is a virtual impossibility.

So, where do we draw the line? Application forms for borrowing cannot include a ‘mental health’ question and nor do we really want them to. Yet the result is that currently mental health issues only come into play at the point when someone can’t afford to pay the cash back…. I’m not sure this is right either.

Ultimately I suspect my worry about debt and mental health is just the tip of the iceberg for those constantly dealing with mental health issues. While we want everyone to fully engage in the wider world, are there people we should draw into a protective cocoon? Time and time again I meet people in the sector who talk about how over borrowing and debt crisis is endemic. After all it’s tough to speak to the general populace and say “don’t think just because a bank sends a letter saying you can borrow, that it means you can afford it.”

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PS. I’m not a mental health expert, this is simply an issue that concerns me, I am also aware there are correct terms and language for mental health problems – I hope I’m reasonably close and haven’t offended anyone by the wrong terminology anywhere. If I have, please forgive me.