Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs at MMHPI, explains how the findings fuelled MMHPI’s work to develop the first ever set of mental health accessibility standards for essential services providers, and how relationships forged through the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) helped to make this happen.
This year the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is launching the first ever set of mental health accessibility standards. The aim is to help essential services firms, including financial services, telecoms, energy and utilities providers, to better understand the challenges their customers with mental health problems are facing and take steps to improve the service they offer. Ultimately, we want to ensure that fewer people are disadvantaged or harmed as a result of their mental health when choosing, using or paying for essential services.
The project came as a result of research we published last year, which shows how common symptoms of mental health problems — such as reduced short-term memory, social anxiety and communication phobias — can make choosing, using and paying for essential services much harder. Partly as a result, people experiencing mental health problems are three and a half times more likely to be in arrears on essential services bills.
Following the publication of our research, we’ve worked with more than 25 essential services firms (from banks to energy companies and broadband providers) to develop the first set of mental health accessibility standards. We will be launching a pilot for the standards this summer, in partnership with a leading essential services firm.
We want to ensure that fewer people are disadvantaged or harmed as a result of their mental health when choosing, using or paying for essential services.Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
First and foremost, this project is focused on essential services providers. While firms may be able to make it easier for customers to disclose that they are experiencing mental health problems, they will never be able to identify everyone who is experiencing these challenges. Some people find stigma or embarrassment makes it hard to share this information, others will choose not to, and many will not be aware that they are clinically unwell: over a third (36%) of people experiencing a mental health problem have never been diagnosed.
This means that for firms to improve the service they offer to customers experiencing mental health problems, a twin track approach is needed. Firstly, firms need to ensure that the standard service offered to customers is as accessible as possible, knowing that one in four people are experiencing challenges associated with mental health problems. Secondly, they should provide specialist support for people who disclose mental health problems, especially with more severe conditions.
We want to work with essential services firms to help them ensure the services they provide are as accessible as possible to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. In particular, that means equipping their staff with the training and tools they need to meet the needs of customers experiencing mental health problems, offering a range of communications channels, and ensuring that communications are easy to understand.
One in four adults in the UK experiences a mental health problem each year – and half will over a lifetime. Mental health problems can affect our cognitive and psychological functioning, including:
This can make choosing, using and paying for essential services much harder. For example, three quarters (75%) of people with health problems have serious difficulties engaging with at least one commonly used communication channel, such as email, phone or web. More than half (54%) of people experiencing a mental health problem struggle to use the telephone.
Being selected by Nesta, DCMS and the Cabinet Office to take part in the IEP programme enabled us to undertake the research which underpins our mental health accessibility standards.Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
Over the course of 2018, we worked with 25 essential services firms to develop our mental health accessibility standards. We want to ensure that the standards reflect the real challenges and opportunities that firms face in making their services more accessible to people with mental health problems, as well as the experiences of people with mental health problems. Working in partnership with firms gave us a crucial insight into those questions and helped us to ensure that the standards are relevant and practically achievable.
We are now working closely with a leading essential services firm on a pilot of the standards, which will be launched in early summer. We will be assessing the accessibility of their services to their customers with mental health problems, and supporting them to improve.
Being selected by Nesta, DCMS and the Cabinet Office to take part in the IEP programme enabled us to undertake the research which underpins our mental health accessibility standards. It also enabled us to work closely with a wide range of essential services firms to develop our standards, which has been vital to ensuring they are relevant and practical.
It’s important to be extremely clear about what you want from the partnership, and to be confident about what you have to offer.
Over the coming years we hope that more firms will implement these standards, from banking to energy and telecoms providers. In doing so, we hope to ensure fewer people are disadvantaged or harmed as a result of their mental health when choosing, using or paying for essential services.
Find out more about Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.
The Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) is a pioneering initiative changing the way that government, business and civil society work together to address some of society's toughest challenges. Between August 2017 and September 2018, Nesta worked with the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to run the Inclusive Economy Partnership Accelerator, supporting 18 IEP grant winners across three challenge areas (financial inclusion, mental health in the workplace, and the transition to work for young people) to scale their solutions through meaningful partnership with business, civil society and government.