Mental illness and money do not always make easy bedfellows. It is very common for people experiencing a bout of poor mental health to spend more than usual.

There are six major ways mental health affects spending, according to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, including manic spending, comfort spending, addictive spending and impulsive spending. People with mental health issues are three times as likely to be in problem debt.

© Glug
© Glug

Traditionally, banks and financial institutions have failed to take account of the impact mental health can have on spending. However, challenger bank Monzo hopes to change that, leading the way by designing its products around specific mental health needs.

"The main reason we're doing this is that 25 percent of us face a mental health challenge every year. That's a huge part of our user base," Zander Brade, a designer at Monzo, tells Techworld.

There are two approaches, he says: creating very specific features for acute problems, or creating features that don't serve one use case, but are instead built for a broad range of mental health conditions.

"Generally, features designed to help people with mental health conditions tend to be good features for anyone," according to Brade.

Monzo already has a number of features that help those with mental health issues, for example providing real-time visibility over your finances, sending a notification every time you spend, and its 'top up' feature which helps with budgeting.

"About five percent of users have their salary in Monzo, which is the truest indication of that being the main spending card," he says. "We have two other types of user, ones that top up by £10 five times a week, and others who do a weekly budget of, say, £200."

Monzo is planning to unveil at least two features aimed at helping those suffering poor mental health over the coming year.

First is a feature to protect spenders who purchase unwanted things online late at night, by checking with them the next day if they want to follow through with their purchase.

Brade expects this feature to be live in the next six months, however, he is refreshingly honest about how well developed the plans are.

"We aren't sure exactly what we will do," he says. "We'll start small and allow people to restrict spending after a certain time of night, and go from there."

This feature will be tested with a focus group of people with bipolar disorder before being released more widely.

"People joke this is the drunk spending feature, which again just shows the best features designed to help those with mental health conditions tend to be good for everyone," Brade says.

The second feature is about allowing users to choose their preferred form of communication, be it instant chat, email or a phone call within a specific slot. This feature could be available in as soon as three months from now, according to Brade.

"This will help people with anxiety by letting them express their preferences over how they want to communicate," he says.  

Finally, Monzo is regularly asked for a feature that would allow a designated carer to help verify purchases.

"I don't think that'll happen for 12 months at least," says Brade. "It requires us to create a carer's account which we want to get right."

"The thing that scares me with it is that 99 percent of the time it'll be someone who loves you, but as soon as you hand over finances there's a risk. It could perhaps be an abusive partner. This one will require a lot of testing to get it right," he explains.