Early intervention in mental health treatment works. It works before a patient gets too poorly; it works because early intervention practices are cheaper and therefore more accessible; and it works because it happens when a person has insight into their condition and can implement therapies and coping mechanisms more effectively.
So when the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute — upon whose advisory board I sit — revealed that patients trying to restructure their finances as part of a mental health strategy were being charged up to £150 by some doctors for a form, I was dismayed.
Because things are changing in mental health. We are getting better. Progress might be painfully slow, but it is progress nonetheless. We are talking about it more. The stigma remains, but now people talk more openly with me about their mental health history and how some services are good or bad. We now have waiting time targets for mental health treatments to mirror their physical health counterparts — ok, they are too long, but it is progress. We are breaking the taboo slowly but surely, the walls are coming down.
What has debt got to do with this? The link between money and mental health is clear. The persistent dead hand of debt can drastically accelerate the vortex that is poor mental health. A lot of financial institutions recognise this and help accordingly with easier repayment terms. To access this help customers must provide evidence of their mental health problem, signed by a doctor.
For a GP to then ask for up to £150 to complete this form renders any help the bank might afford impotent. Some GPs do not charge but too many do, and the government must intervene and stand up for this vulnerable group.
I have a policy of my own. I know it’s terribly simple — and perhaps fittingly so for an ex-soldier whose political pedigree is weak at best. To my mind what we do in Westminster must always pass “the 20 per cent test”. How do our policies improve the lives of those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in the bottom 20 per cent?
Every element of these people’s lives is touched by the government. They depend on state welfare, they use the NHS more, and they are always the first to lose their jobs when political projects go awry. We all know of people in this bracket — given a few bad decisions and a bit of bad luck it could be any one of us.
It is not good enough to persistently pull out the line about judging our society by how it looks after its most vulnerable and ignore tests of that resolve like this one.