Annie Harper and Bridgett Williamson work on financial health.

Financial Health

Financial Health

Resources, one of the “Five R’s” of citizenship, are an essential component of a complete life in the community. Money – while not the only resource a person may possess – is a critical resource that most people need in order to survive.

Yet many adults with mental illness live in extreme poverty and struggle to make the most of whatever meager funds they have.

Currently, the only support available to people using mental health services who find themselves unable to manage financially is to be assigned a “representative payee,” or conservator, who takes control of their money and pays bills on their behalf.

While removing control of someone’s finances from them may be extremely helpful in some cases, it can hinder the recovery process and is certainly not the answer for everyone living with a combination of mental health and money problems.

What we do

We aim to identify and support effective ways to promote financial health among people receiving mental health services. Our goals are to help people in recovery:

  • Have more secure and effective incomes
  • Reduce debt and build assets
  • Experience less finance-related stress
  • Remain in control of their own finances, if they wish to do so
  • Achieve financial independence in terms they define

Past/Current Activities and Research

Financial capability and mental health:

We conduct research how to help people with mental illness who control their own funds do better with their money. Building on this research we have created financial health modules integrated into existing programs, such as the CMHC Better Eaters Club, and the PRCH Citizen’s Project. We also provide Your Money Your Goals training to mental health agency staff and other social service providers to help them integrate financial capability support into their work. We are working closely with the New Haven Financial Empowerment project to ensure that programs they offer, such as free financial counseling and promotion of safe, affordable BankOn accounts, are inclusive of people with mental illness.

Supported financial decision making:

We are also conducting research into how we can help people with mental illness who may have very different types of support needs when it comes to their finances, which may change at different times of their lives. In particular we are interested in how financial technology can be helpful with this.

Debt, recovery and well-being:

Many of the financial difficulties that people with mental illness face are the same as anyone who lives in poverty, including being more likely to be burdened by debt that they cannot afford to repay. We are conducting research to understand better how debt affects people’s recovery and wellbeing, including people with histories of incarceration.

For more on our research, click here.

Financial Health Research section

Financial health research: Financial capability and mental health

We conduct research on how to help people with mental illness who control their own funds do better with their money. Our NIMH R34 grant funded study - ‘Financial and Mental Health: Exploratory Research and Model Development’ - tested supports including one-on-one financial counseling, peer facilitated group support, and a savings club. We are working closely with the  New Haven Financial Empowerment Center (FEC), which offers free one-on-one financial counseling to all residents, advising their work, directly and through a collaboration with the Yale School of Management whereby students conduct specific research projects related to the FEC’s work. We are also planning research which would help us understand how to ensure that the financial counseling that they offer to New Haven residents is fully inclusive of and meets the needs of people with mental illness. A research project in collaboration with the Yale Divinity School and Trinity Church on the Green is planned to better understand the financial situations of vulnerable populations who attend services at the church. The data will be used by the church to inform design of financial support services for that population.

Financial health research: Supported Financial Decision Making

People with mental illness may have very different types of support needs when it comes to their finances, and these needs may change at different times of a person’s life. We are researching how financial technology can help meet people’s needs across this spectrum, including through a Center For Retirement Research Sandell Grant funded “Looking Beyond the Payee’ research project. We are also working with the Yale Law School Community and Economic Development Clinic to develop guidelines for banks to create financial products and services that enable people to get the support they need while maximizing their independent financial control. Specifically, we are promoting view-only accounts for people who need guidance but not loss of financial control, and considering developing power-of-attorney templates for supported decision making around finances.

Financial health research: Debt and mental health – Recognizing that there are many types of debt that impact people with mental illness, the Financial Health project is beginning to research the issue in more detail, including exploring what data is available about the types of debt that affects low-income and otherwise vulnerable populations. An ongoing project entitled “Criminal Justice related Debt and Mental Health: Barriers to Re-entry and Recovery,” funded by the Fahs-Beck Foundation for Research and Experimentation is exploring the impact of debt, including criminal-justice debt, on the recovery and re-entry of people with serious mental illness coming out of incarceration, and on their social networks.  Future research on this topic is planned, including about the impact of utility arrears and disconnections on people with mental illness, and the impact of debt specifically on people with lived experience of mental illness working in the field of peer support.

Financial health research: Benefits and mental health – The Financial Health project is considering the implications of a Universal Basic Income on people with mental illness.