BLOG: Why the pensions industry must play its part in supporting mental health

The old saying ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ is now more often than not extended to include ‘but a lack of money can cause misery’.

Indeed the links between financial wellbeing and mental health are stark; research by Money and Mental Health Policy Institute notes that financial difficulties are a common cause of stress, and stigma around debt can mean that people struggle to ask for help and can become isolated.

Around half (46 per cent) of people in problem debt also have a mental health problem and 86 per cent of respondents to a money and mental health survey with experience of mental health problems said that their financial situation had made their mental health problems worse.

So as we begin Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, it’s important to acknowledge how hard it can be for those in financial difficulty, and in particular for the pensions sector, the impact poverty in retirement can have on a person’s mental health. Empathy goes a long way, and the right tone, when communicating with members, particularly about sensitive subjects is crucial.

The government too, should also take note; if Twitter is anything to go by many women campaigning against the way the government went about equalising the state pension age are also struggling with their mental health, after finding themselves having to live off savings, and running out of money. Yet, the Conservative party has turned a blind eye to these women, showing no empathy.

Mental Health Awareness Week is welcomed by several in the industry, Royal London director of policy, Steve Webb, notes: “There is often a close relationship between mental health problems and money worries. In some cases people with mental health problems can be tempted to spend impulsively and beyond their means which can create debt problems, whilst debt problems in turn can cause mental distress. In addition, those who face short-term financial pressures are probably much less likely to be planning carefully for the long-term and for retirement.

"What is welcome is that employers are now increasingly aware of the need to support staff who have mental health problems as well as physical health issues. People who are feeling under pressure may find that they get a much more positive response than they expect if they talk about their situation in the workplace, and employers may even be able to help with things like short-term cash flow management which can reduce the stress of paying an overdue bill. Getting short-term finances sorted can also be a great foundation for making sure long-term saving for retirement is put in place”.

In addition, Quilter corporate affairs director, Jane Goodland, says the campaign plays an “important role” in combating the stigma that prevents people from talking openly about mental health issues. But notes that there is also a stigma to overcome when talking about money issues.

“Giving people an opportunity to talk about their financial issues can often be the first step to resolving a problem. If you’re worried about your finances and how it could impact your wellbeing and mental health, there are plenty of options. Government-backed services like The Money Advice Service and The Pensions Advisory Service can help you get on top of basic financial matters and are free to use. And charities like StepChange or Citizens Advice can provide support to those struggling with debt,” she says.

It is also great to see companies and associations in the sector, championing the campaign and raising money for mental health charities. A quick scroll of Twitter reveals that the Pension Protection Fund is supporting the campaign, posting on Twitter that it has raised £10,000 for the mental health charity Mind in Croydon.

StandardLife Aberdeen has also shared a number of podcasts from its employees talking about their experience with mental health. And the Association of British Insurers has also featured a blog post from PacificLifeRe’s Carl Padget who has written about his personal experience with depression.

It’s refreshing to see, and highlights how far we as a nation have come in breaking that stigma and being able to talk about mental health. But there is still so much work needed, and the industry’s part in that, to help its customers, and colleagues, is vital.

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