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Here to help: Citizens Advice Bureau budget adviser Barbara McDonnell, left, and manager Rachel Reece

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Queenstown’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is hoping to help resort residents avoid get ting to ‘‘mental health crisis’’ point with a new service.

Noticing a nexus between financial stress and hardship and mental health struggles last year, CAB’s trained up former financial planner Barbara McDonnell and account ant Murray McClennan to become budget advisers through FinCap, a non-government organisation.

They’ve now been given $20,000 by the Wakatipu Community Foundation’s Wakatipu Greatest Needs Fund to provide the free service.

McDonnell says last year there was a ‘‘marked increase’’ in inquiries to CAB around financial hardship and stress brought on as a result of Covid.

‘‘There’s been a lot of talk in our community about mental health … as a fallout from Covid.

‘‘In a town like this where our tourists have disappeared, and that’s a major income for the
majority of the population that have chosen to live and work here, then finance is going to be a major contributing factor to people’s ability to survive and also to their mental health.

‘‘You can have mental health counselling and medication, but if you don’t look at the root cause, [in this case] financial stress, you’re just putting bandaids on it.’’

McDonnell says there are many people in the community who’ve found themselves in financial difficulty in the past 12 months and she’s not sure if the Whakatipu’s seen the worst of that side of the Covid-19 fallout yet.

‘‘With the travel bubble opening it may take the edge off it, but there is a six-to-nine-month lag, I think, between people losing jobs or their own businesses, or their business is teetering on the edge, and they may be holding it together with savings, but how long can
that go on for?’’

Under the new scheme, budget advisers work as a ‘‘financial coach’’ to help clients form a game plan, act on their behalf with creditors and banks, and, importantly, empower them to return to financial independence.

‘‘You can often get creditors to be a lot more lenient, give them more time, extend the payments, all that kind of stuff.’’

She appreciates there’s a ‘‘level of pride associated with asking for help’’, but says that compounds the issue.

And she’s hoping that’s where CAB’s new service can make the biggest impact.

‘‘I think people keep it quiet, they bury it, and before you know it, they’ve got to a mental
health crisis.

‘‘That’s exactly what we don’t want to see.’’

Anyone wanting to access the service can call CAB (03 442 6799) and ask to make an appointment with one of the budget advisers.

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz