small stack of coinProviding specialist welfare advice to people who use mental health services could aid their recovery, prevent relapse and save money, according to a new report.

The report, Welfare advice for people who use mental health services: Developing the business case, by the Centre for Mental Health, found that specialist welfare advice is likely to save mental health services money by improving people’s health and reducing hospital admissions.

It highlights the link between poor mental health and a frequent experience of welfare problems such as unmanageable debt and difficulties with housing and benefits. People using mental health services have dramatically higher rates of unemployment, housing insecurity and personal debt than the general population and these difficulties can worsen their health.

The report looks at Sheffield Mental Health Citizens Advice Bureau (SMHCAB), which shows how specialist welfare advice can cut the cost of mental health care in three main ways: reductions in inpatient lengths of stay, prevention of homelessness, prevention of relapse.

An inpatient stay costs an average of £330 per day nationally. Specialist advice located in a mental health service can help patients to resolve complex problems, including issues around housing such as eviction or repossession, which may enable them to be discharged from hospital more quickly than would otherwise be possible.

It also means that the risk of homeless can be diminished, as those with severe mental illness are at much higher risk of homelessness than average. Homelessness costs the public sector, including the NHS, up to £30,000 a year as well as causing great distress to the person affected.

Welfare advice can also help to prevent relapse of mental illness. A relapse of schizophrenia costs the NHS some £18,000, on average. Specialist welfare advice can act directly on an immediate cause of acute stress which threatens to trigger relapse.

The report calls for every mental health service to secure specialist welfare advice to help to support recovery and to intervene early when difficulties emerge. Health and social care commissioners should ensure that their plans include welfare advice provision. The government should also consider including welfare advice in its outcomes frameworks for the NHS, social care and public health.

Quick access vital
Minister for care and support, Norman Lamb, said: “It is vital that people with mental health conditions get access quickly to the treatment they need. We are working with NHS England – the body which oversees the NHS – to put in place access standards for mental health services from 2015 so that we can make sure this happens.” In the report’s foreword, MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis said: “Navigating through the welfare system can be difficult and stressful even at the best of times. Yet for those who have a serious mental illness, the anxieties can be even greater and the risk to their health and wellbeing far more pressing.

“Not only is high quality welfare advice good for mental health service users, in the long run it could end up saving the NHS, and the country, money. More importantly, it increases options and gives practical solutions for dealing with the problem - such as preventing expensive hospital admissions and helping people keep their homes.

“For too many people, mental illness and debt come together in a spiral of distress that can carry a heavy cost. Therefore it is crucial we examine all elements to ensure that someone with temporary mental health problems doesn’t experience permanent financial distress. That’s why access to the right advice and support is critical when people are struggling to deal with life itself.”

Centre for Mental Health’s chief executive, Sean Duggan, said: “People living with mental illness experience higher rates of unemployment, debt and housing problems. Specialist services such as Sheffield Mental Health CAB can improve support for people in all aspects of their lives.

“This report is important because not only does it highlight the economic implications of investing in a services that offers specialist welfare advices to those with experiencing mental illness, but it also illustrates the human element clearly. As the case studies show, offering people support in this way can make the difference between hospital admission and staying at home, and sometimes even between life and death.

“We believe that every mental health service should offer this sort of advice as it would not only help prevent and reduce relapse but would work with people to help reduce triggers and develop coping mechanisms for the future and support recovery.”