Nationwide: It’s time for consumer markets to take mental health seriously

Posted On: 
17th May 2018

Mental health is finally being given the significance and attention it rightly deserves. According to new Ipsos MORI research this month, concern about mental health has doubled in the last year alone; almost a third of the public are now concerned about it. And it’s seen as the second most important priority for health care funding.

Nationwide Building Society devised a dedicated team as a single point of contact for queries from customers in vulnerable circumstances, including mental health conditions.
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Mental Health Awareness Week has played an important part in this. As Jackie Doyle-Price MP’s article for Politics Home mentions, this year’s focus is on stress and its connection to mental health problems.

So, it is timely to reflect how businesses are dealing with mental health issues in the consumer markets in which they operate.

Money and personal finances can be one of the greatest sources of stress. According to the Money Mental Health Policy Institute, one-in-four British adults with poor mental health has problem debt. Financial difficulty also drastically affects recovery rates for common mental health.

Financial services products and processes haven’t always been flexible enough in the past in dealing with consumers with mental health conditions. Given that these services are a vital part of an individual’s wellbeing and the wider economy, it’s crucial we get the responses to these challenges right.

Around three years ago Nationwide Building Society devised a dedicated team as a single point of contact for queries from customers in vulnerable circumstances, including mental health conditions. Our Specialist Support Service provides customers with a bespoke and dedicated team, a named contact person, and tailored, flexible support. We’ve been sharing our best practices within financial services and we’re encouraged to see others starting to adopt similar initiatives.

Looking wider, the government’s Consumers Green Paper sets out a positive outline for the way markets can support the most vulnerable. The pledge to develop a set of principles to improve the service that consumers with mental ill health should expect to receive is especially welcome.

But the complexity and interconnection to other health conditions presents its own challenges which necessitate policy makers, businesses and civil society to collectively consider mental health issues. Without this, there is a risk that some are left behind.

We believe this collective approach is vital in going further still. Consistent with the spirit of the proposal in the green paper, we are proposing a new National Vulnerable Citizens Strategy which could help drive these standards in a durable way, across different consumer markets.

A strategy could be implemented in a similar way to the Armed Forces Covenant, to which nearly 2,500 large and small organisations have signed up, including Nationwide.

For individuals, a strategy would provide confidence to anyone with poor mental health that their needs will be paid a high level of attention, from financial services to utility markets, from local authority services to emerging technology developments.

Businesses, local authorities and civil society could set out aspirational yardsticks which they would abide by in the consumer markets in which they operate. Shaped by consumer groups and business, it could help consumers identify businesses across different sectors who understand and are flexible to their requirements, and ultimately help to improve lives.

We are seeing collaborative activity such as this already happening, for instance between business, civil society and government through the Inclusive Economy Partnership. We’re proud to be taking a leading role in this initiative, with its focus on financial inclusion and mental health.

It is promising to see the recognition that the extensive matter of mental health is finally being given. The challenge will increasingly be ensuring consistent treatment of how customers with such conditions are treated. The more involvement there is, the better co-ordinated and cohesive the response for the 1 in 4 people in the UK who will experience a mental health problem each year.