We don’t yet know what the long-term impact of Covid-19 will be on the nation’s mental health, but it’s clear that the past few months of pandemic and lockdown have brought huge psychological challenges for many people. Research suggests that the current crisis has both exacerbated the issues that many people with existing mental health conditions face, and caused a deterioration in the mental health of the wider population.
These mental health challenges will also have a huge impact on many people’s capacity to manage money and keep up with bills. Research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute shows that common symptoms of mental health problems — such as difficulties in processing information, reduced memory or increased impulsivity — can make it much harder to stay on top of finances. They can also make it significantly more difficult to access and use the essential services that most of us rely on for day-to-day life, such as banking, broadband, and energy. That leaves many people with mental health problems out of pocket, or stuck with services they don’t want or need. Even worse, it can cause further distress.
How businesses can help
So far, essential service providers have been quick to offer support such as payment holidays and adapt their services to meet a growing demand. However these support measures are no good if people suffering with mental health problems can’t access them. We know that for many with a mental health condition, picking up the phone and waiting on hold for 40 minutes can be too overwhelming, so they end up not reaching out and going without support
That’s why we’ve launched urgent Covid-19 customer support standards, to help essential service providers improve support and accessibility for customers in distress during the pandemic.
Practical ways to offer support
These are eight practical standards most companies should be able to adopt quickly, so that customers will benefit without delay. We have been careful to ensure these standards won’t incur significant costs, or require huge amounts of staff time. Instead, the aim is to encourage companies to be proactive with the support mechanisms most will already have in place.
- Be flexible with customers who are struggling to pay
- Let customers know how you can help
- Make it easier to get in touch remotely
- Manage expectations
- Offer little prompts to support customers in distress
- Help customers stay in control
- Signpost to additional support
- Equip your staff
For example, we know that gambling activity seems to be increasing, and for people struggling with addiction, lockdown can pose a very real challenge. If a firm has tools to enable customers to block spending or control spending, now is the time to actively promote these options – and to ensure they are easy to access through a variety of channels.
Companies also need to remember that many customers may not know about the options for payment holidays or other forbearance measures currently available, or may be reluctant to ask for them. That’s why it’s crucial that providers are proactive in offering support such as forbearance, and do everything they can to make the process easy and accessible to all.
We are increasingly concerned about the next six months, as safety nets are removed and redundancies kick in. We anticipate that providers will see big increases in customers struggling to pay their bills, including mortgages, energy and telephone bills. In that scenario, it’s vital that companies don’t cut services off. For someone with a mental health problem, access to a telephone to stay in touch with friends, family and support organisations is a real life-line at this time.
Making your services more accessible
These urgent Covid-19 standards compliment our wider Mental Health Accessible partnership programme, through which we are supporting essential services providers to better understand and address the challenges that customers with mental health problems face using their services.
Meeting the urgent Covid-19 customer support standards will give companies a stepping stone towards becoming an accredited Mental Health Accessible partner in the future. But more importantly in the immediate situation, it will also make a big difference in supporting customers affected by money and mental health problems during the pandemic.
Click here to find out more about the Urgent Covid-19 Customer Support Standards.
About the Author
Alice Rose is Head of Programmes at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. She leads on the Mental Health Accessible standards, working with essential services providers to help them make their services easier to use for people experiencing mental health problems. Alice is a strategic partnership specialist with a decade of experience in the not-for-profit sector including roles at Macmillan Cancer Support, Transport for London and Shelter. In these roles she set up award-winning partnerships with Lloyd’s Banking Group, ITV and Visa.