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Black dogs and bank accounts

One out of four of us, each year, will experience a mental illness*.

Stark fact, isn’t it?

How about another stark fact?

I’m one of them.

Most commonly, a bout of poor mental health will come with a life event, like bereavement, stress or a reaction to a physical trauma like childbirth, serious illness or an accident. Happily, the vast majority of cases such as this are entirely treatable.

Of course, a minority of cases are attached to a more serious, though not dangerous illness, such as a personality disorder or schizophrenia. These can usually only be managed.

In all cases, however, unlike physical illness or injury the disease is invisible and very often goes unnoticed or swept under a carpet marked “someone else’s problem”.

Several times in my adult life, and twice seriously, I have been overwhelmed by what Winston Churchill used to call the Black Dog.

For me, it’s more of a big, black, damp, all-enveloping cloud but anyone who has suffered a serious episode of depression will know exactly what I mean. I am one of the lucky ones – I am well now, though I am aware I will always be at risk of another attack.

Mental health sufferers are all, to one degree or another, vulnerable. Very straight-forward activities, things you would normally do every day without a moment’s pause can become tricky and confusing obstacles made even more difficult by a deep crisis of personal confidence, frustration and, often, anger.

And where could we sufferers be more vulnerable than with our money – even with a simple savings account where on many occasions a very simple decision can become frightening and bewildering.

Nevermind more complex dealings like a mortgage or investment. Depression and money often come hand in hand – trust me.

We recognise it is vitally important that the Family Building Society exists to meet the needs of customers over, hopefully, their lifetimes. Lifetimes which will change with circumstances and needs and so we need to be prepared for those one out of four of us who will be hit by a mental health issue at some life stage – and help them through it.

Throughout 2016 and into this, and future, years all the public-facing staff of the Family Building Society have undergone a series of in-depth training courses, including some from The Samaritans, in how to deal with vulnerable customers.

From this training, our staff apply the so-called “Golden Rule”. This states: “You are a person dealing with another person, not a person dealing with a problem.  It is important that we spend time to listen to our customers and we adapt our response to their circumstances where we can.”

We also have a dedicated team in place to assist vulnerable customers with their savings and mortgage accounts. Members of this team have been trained in structuring and managing in-depth conversations so that we ask the right questions and provide the right information to help the customer.

We will continue to train all our people this way. Quite simply, because it is the right thing to do.

Steve McDowell is a journalist and blog-writer for the Family Building Society. He is also a trustee and director of a mental health charity called Talking2minds.


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Family Building Society
Ebbisham House
30 Church Street
Surrey KT17 4NL
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