A year of fighting to break the link between mental illness and money problems…

Fourteen years ago I started this site, MoneySavingExpert.com. Now my second career baby is celebrating its first birthday – the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) charity.

This time is a somewhat difference experience. I’m at a different stage of my career, and while I founded the charity, and have pledged to fund it for the first four years – it’s not a day-to-day task for me – there’s a superb full-time team of six doing that.

To coincide with the charity’s first birthday, it’s published an annual report filled with really incisive research. My somewhat prosaic and formal Chair’s foreword is below, but I thought it worth publishing here as a matter of record.

Before you start, if you or a loved one has had experience of mental health issues, do consider joining MMHPI’s research community.

“Money troubles and mental health problems are a marriage made in hell. Just a year ago I established the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) to tackle that toxic combination.

“While over the last decade the financial services industry and others have made great strides in dealing with those already in the mire, little had been done to prevent problems in the first place.

“MMHPI is therefore tasked with conducting high quality, rigorous, innovative research to develop practical policy solutions to tackle the relationship between the two.

“The Institute has made huge strides already, establishing a reputation as an independent thought leader, and the go-to agency on these issues, as if it had been around for a decade. It has become a critical friend to both the financial services industry and the health system.

“I am proud to reflect on the rapid progress that has been made and very grateful to the charity’s brilliant Director, Polly Mackenzie, and her dedicated team for their vision and dynamism. It has resulted in not just seminal research and acres of column inches to enhance the debate, but most crucially a tangible impact on both policy and practice, making real difference to real people.

“In our first few months the charity established a headquarters, recruited a talented and committed team, and laid the groundwork for our future research by launching ‘Money on Your Mind’, an unprecedented study of the experiences of 5,000 people with mental health problems. Thank you to all the volunteers who took part – learning about your lived experience is invaluable and helps ensure our ideas will work in the real world.

“That report established the key pathways between mental health problems and financial difficulty and highlighted areas where we, and others, can make a real difference.

“It also highlighted a hidden difficulty many faced in getting financial resolution. Lenders were requesting they submitted the ‘debt and mental health evidence form’ in order to be treated as vulnerable customers. Yet some found their GPs charging to sign this form: an unwelcome deterrent at a time many were at their most vulnerable. We campaigned on that, and in January the Prime Minister agreed to investigate changing the way it operates.

“Over subsequent months our health research demonstrated the ‘drag’ on recovery rates in mental health services presented by financial difficulty, and found that very few local areas are systematically tackling the issue, at the cost of both the patient and the NHS. We built strong relationships within government and the health system and are now scoping out the possibility of a pilot intervention in 2017/18.

“Our research within the financial services world has looked at issues from controlling spending to the role carers play in financial management. In January we published the results of an extensive literature review, mapping the likely impacts of a range of mental health conditions on financial capability and making the case for reasonable adjustments to products and services to ensure equal access for everyone.

“The case is well established for people with physical health conditions and I am proud it has now been made so clearly for people with mental health problems too.

“Building on this challenge to the sector, we partnered with the Financial Conduct Authority to run a two day ‘techsprint’, bringing together 100 developers from financial institutions and technology firms to build tools that might help. It was exciting to see first hand how the Institute’s research is already inspiring real change.

“Perhaps most importantly of all, in our first year we have built an ongoing thriving community of 2,000 people with personal experience of mental health problems. Their experiences and ideas underpin everything the Institute does, and we are hugely grateful to them for trusting us with their stories, and for joining us on this journey.

[If you’d like to join you can volunteer here – we’re under-indexing on male volunteers, if you know anyone who may be interested.]

“I’d like to thank the trustees for their time, our dedicated team for making our first year such a success, the advisory panel for their continued steerage, and the wider debt, financial services and mental health sectors for welcoming us so warmly. We look forward to continuing to work together and making further progress in 2017 and beyond.”