Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Sunday, 11 May 2008 00:06 UK

Mentally ill 'go without food'

People with mental health problems often find themselves short of money

Almost three-quarters of people with mental health problems run out of money at the end of each week, a study says.

The charity Mind said its poll of 1,800 people showed half had gone without food because of money worries.

And virtually all those questioned - 91% - said debt had made their health problems worse.

Mind called on banks and other creditors not to hound those with mental health problems and to find ways to help them.

People with mental health problems are three times more likely to be in debt than the general population.

Two-thirds of those surveyed by Mind had felt unable to tell creditors about any mental health problems.

But of the remainder who did, 83% had been harassed about debt repayments despite the organisation knowing of their issues.

Mind says the issue is particularly pertinent as all kinds of households face rising fuel and food prices.

'Astronomical interest rates'

Half of people in the survey had been contacted by bailiffs, some of whom issued threats saying they could "break in and take my stuff " or "get me sent to prison".

Bank staff are not health practitioners and cannot diagnose mental health problems
British Bankers' Association spokeswoman

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: "People living with mental health problems are particularly vulnerable to being trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty.

"With many unable to work due to ill health, Mind has found that people are becoming dependent on credit to pay for everyday essentials.

"Those on lower incomes are also more likely to only be able to get credit from lenders who charge astronomical interest rates.

"This is a worrying trend as people are left facing a debt mountain that they have no means to repay."

The charity is launching a section on its website to help people with financial problems.

'More sympathetic'

Mr Farmer called on banks and other creditors to help people with mental health problems who are struggling.

"Changes in practice - such as waiving fees when a customer has been too unwell to manage their finances and introducing mental health awareness training for bank staff - will make all the difference.

"Creditors have a duty to help not hound their customers, especially when they are coping with serious health problems."

But a spokeswoman for the British Bankers' Association said help was available.

"Banks will have staff who are specifically able to help with mental health issues, and we try to help people before they get into really difficult situations.

"However, bank staff are not health practitioners and cannot diagnose mental health problems or assess the likely impact these problems may cause their customers."

She added: "Customers who no longer have the ability to look after their own affairs have their banking needs looked after for them, but less serious health issues can be a silent problem - unless the customer wishes to let their bank know.

"Then the bank can flag accounts and will be able to factor this into any debt help required."

Susan Kramer, Liberal Democrat families spokeswoman, said: "Mental health problems can make the challenge of handling money and debt far harder.

"For others, the depressing realities of living with debt can lead to a downward spiral into hopelessness and despair.

"Financial organisations must train staff to support clients with mental health issues, and mental health workers need training to advise on issues of debt."

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