Approximately one in six adults could be living with mental health issues.

There are also a disproportionately higher number of people in debt who have mental health issues.

There is as yet no identified link between being in debt and developing a mental health issue, or vice versa, but the challenges faced by people with mental health issues will make communicating with them to resolve any debt problem much more difficult.

A person can suffer from a mixture of mental health issues and may have some or all of the symptoms of each of those individual mental health issues. No two cases are alike, and each individual case must be treated on its own facts. 

A mental health issue is where negative changes occur in a person's emotional state and behaviour and where those disrupt a person's ability to work carry on a normal personal relationship and function in every day society.

Common problems faced by customers with mental health issues:

  • more vulnerable and susceptible
  • more likely to just say what they think you want to hear
  • more likely to bury their head in the sand
  • reliant on benefit income
  • lack of management skills or inability to deal with 'big issues'
  • inability to work for long periods or for regular shorter periods
  • difficulty in communicating including ignoring correspondence or telephone calls
  • symptoms such as spending sprees
  • lack of motivation
  • house bound so they can't go out to post letters or visit your local branch
  • side effects of medication

Practical tips for dealing with customers with mental health issues:

  • Do not try to treat it in the standard process. Get it transferred to a team with more discretion to send non-standardised responses and/or agreements.
  • Remember to get specific authority to record the mental health issues as this is sensitive personal data.
  • Take time to build rapport and gain the confidence of the individual. Ask them what they think you could do to help communicate with you or to resolve the issues. Ask them how their mental health issue affects their ability to deal with their debts, or to communicate with you. Ask them if anyone helps them in dealing with their debts.
  • Don't be judgmental make assumptions or stereotype. Go for positive rather than negative statements. Negative statements may be taken by the individual as criticism, which may cause the individual to disengage with you and therefore ignore either your letters or telephone calls.
  • Try and get authority to deal with a third person for the times when the individual is unable to deal with the situation.
  • Look at agreeing small things, maybe a smaller payment than normal and then work up to a more usual payment over time. One symptom of some mental health issues is the inability to deal with matters that are 'too big'.
  • If an individual finds it difficult to open letters, telephone them or agree to mark the letter with a cross or other symbol so that they know the letter is from you.
  • If an individual is tired or disoriented or nauseas or suffering from other symptoms after taking medication, identify when the medication is taken and note the file so that you don't try to contact them immediately after they have taken the medication.
  • If an individual has regular doctors or hospital visits to take medication or for examinations or check ups, mark the file and do not try to contact them on the days when they will be out.
  • Allow extra time over and above what you would normally allow. For example, if an individual is house bound it may be that they can only get their letters posted once a week when either a friend or family member calls to collect them. It would therefore not be possible for them to respond within seven days if they had just missed that weekly visit.
  • If the mental health issue is a temporary one, think about payment holidays or staged repayments to allow the individual to recover from the mental health issue and for payments to then recommence.

There will be good days and bad days. Maximize the progress and the information you can get on good days and recognize that you probably won't be able to progress the matter at all on bad days.