It is now 3 years since the report on the Mental Health Services entitled “A Vision for Change” was accepted as Government blueprint to transform all neglected mental health services. At that time firm commitments were made that the recommendations would be fully resourced and implemented. Now, 3 years later there has been little or no progress. The Government do not have the promised implementation plan. Monies allocated to improve the services have been siphoned off into other areas of the health budget.
The urgency with which this must be addressed in times of recession is again highlighted in significant factor in worsening mental health. A new UK report shows that over 50% of respondents were going without food and heating.
The research found that people with mental health problems are 3 times more likely to be in debt as they are living on a low income and unable to work due to difficulties getting a job because of the stigma or due to ill health.
The U.K. research showed that those with problem debt:
- 71% ran out of money every week or most weeks
- 87% rely on credit to pay for food and everyday costs
- 56% had gone without food due to debt
- 21% had gone without heating
- 92% reported not being able to socialise
It is important that debt collection agency staff receive mental health awareness training. Banks should adopt a system where customers can choose to have their account monitored for erratic spending to better protect their finances. Irish personal debt stands at a staggering €172billion and is a significant cost on our mental health. Money worries aren’t just keeping people awake at night: they are causing high level of stress, depression and in some cases self harm and suicide. At a time when people across the country are anxious about their finances debt depression is a real and growing concern.
People living with mental health problems are particularly vulnerable to being trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty with many unable to work due to ill health. People are becoming dependent on credit to pay for everyday essentials. Those on lower incomes are more likely to get credit from lenders who charge astronomical interest rates. It is a worrying trend as people are left facing a debt mountain that they have no means to repay.
If we are going to tackle this massive inequality and really help people who are struggling with mental health problems and debt then we need to see action by government, HSE, banks, debt collection agencies and other creditors.
Changes in practices such as waiving fees when a customer has been unwell to manage and introducing mental health awareness training for bank staff will make all the difference. Creditors have a duty to help not hound their customers, especially when they are coping with serious health problems.
People with bipolar disorder which can cause people to spend extravagantly during a manic phase or schizophrenia are 4 times more likely to be in debt than the rest of society. In the survey referred to fewer than 1 in 3 people with problem debt informed the organization to which they owed money of their mental health problems because they did not think that they would be understood or believed. 83% of those who did tell creditors, continued to be harassed about debt payments.
The Government must give leadership in this area and ensure that there are resources available to the psychiatric services to deal with this fallout from the present economic crisis.
Deputy Neville is President of the Irish Association of Suicidology