THE local offices of Citizens Advice are devoting more time than in the past assisting people with mental health problems.
In the UK as a whole Citizens Advice last year helped over 100,000 people who had a mental health issue and that they were more likely to face multiple, complex problems compared to the average client. Many of these require advice on benefits.
Significant progress has been made in recent years tackling the stigma surrounding mental health and these efforts have been boosted since Heads Together, an initiative spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, was launched in 2016 to campaign on these issues.
This royal support has built on the work being done to try and ensure that people are not afraid to admit they may be struggling with their mental health because this fear of prejudice often stops them from getting the help they badly need.
Citizens Advice has also raised concerns about the large amount of time mental health staff are devoting to dealing with the practical difficulties faced by their patients. As a result they said this was having a negative impact on their ability to manage the mental health of their patients and help them to complete a course of treatment and ultimately recover.
The most common problems that mental health staff were being asked to assist with are debt and money problems, unemployment and work, housing and welfare and more than half of those surveyed said they had increased stress as a result of dealing with these non-health problems faced by their patients.
- Among the many issues staff reported that they spent appointment time helping patients with were:
- Budgeting or debt management plans
- Contacting public services/agencies on behalf of patients
- Providing supporting letters
- Assisting patients complete benefits applications
- Dealing with creditors for patients
Citizens Advice has called for advice services for mental health patients to be better integrated which would alleviate the pressure on frontline mental health staff and enable them to work more effectively.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “If you’re living with mental health problems, everyday issues like managing your money, dealing with your landlord, or applying for benefits can be much more difficult to manage.
“But if these issues aren’t addressed, they can often escalate and make mental health problems worse – creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break free from.
“Providing people with practical support is essential to make sure these problems don’t spiral out of control, but this should not be the job of already stretched mental health professionals.
“To reduce pressure on frontline NHS staff and better support people with mental health problems, advice services should be available in mental health settings as a matter of course.”
Dr Jed Boardman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, added: “In order to stay mentally healthy, we all need enough money in our pockets, a decent roof over our heads, some valued work, and a supportive environment. People with mental health problems need all of these to aid their recovery, as well as engagement with effective therapies.”
Anyone is welcome to visit the local offices of Citizens Advice even if they do not have an appointment. The advice they will be able to obtain will always be free, confidential and impartial.
It holds weekly sessions at the St Michael’s Business Centre in Lyme Regis from 10am to 3pm on Wednesdays. If that is not convenient, advice sessions are held every weekday at the Citizens Advice offices in South Street, Bridport, also from 10am to 3pm.