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Debt and Mental Health

We all know that trickle of dread when a bill arrives through your letterbox (or more likely these days, via a notification on your phone), and you really don’t want to see what it says. Some of us just don’t want to see the eye-watering amount we’re being charged, but for others, it can be true despair and helplessness at the thought of being able to afford to pay it.


Debt is becoming increasingly problematic. In 2023 in the UK, it was estimated that more than 10 million households are facing financial difficulties[1], with the average personal debt of British adults standing at £34,597.[2] Given that this figure is higher than average earnings (which in March 2023 was £33,476), this suggests a worrying and unsustainable trend of debt outstripping income.


While it’s true that some people find themselves in debt through attempting to fund a lifestyle that is beyond their means (and given the sheer quantity of advertising for products that will supposedly make our lives better, that’s probably not surprising), it’s actually more common for debt to creep up on those who are either unemployed or have been made redundant, or have experienced major life changes (such as health problems, divorce or similar).


This sudden change in financial situation can result in a significant daily struggle to make ends meet, with little to no opportunity for luxuries and a decrease in overall quality of life. In 2022, almost 25% of British consumers were using credit cards to cover the cost of everyday living[3], which implies that basic needs are not being met in a secure and reliable way.


Given how fundamental money is to society, it’s no surprise that it is closely connected with both physical and mental health. Having health issues can cause money problems (whether that’s a physical condition that limits your ability to work, or mental health issues that can affect attitude to money), and experiencing money problems can cause health issues, so they are inextricably linked to each other.


Carrying the burden of debt can cause stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. It can result in poor sleep, which not only has a detrimental effect on your physical health, but can affect your mood, your effectiveness at work and your relationships with friends and family, all of which can contribute to worsening your debt problem.


Mental health issues can also affect how you manage your money – being depressed or having a diagnosed condition may mean you are unable to work, or leave you feeling too low to keep track of finances. Certain conditions such as bi-polar can cause erratic spending during manic episodes that might cause or exacerbate debt issues. Some mental health conditions (and other physical conditions) may make it impossible for you to make decisions about money, which can cause issues if you do not have the necessary support.


There are some things you can do yourself to get a handle on debt:


  • Collate all the information about how much you owe, and to who. You need to know where you stand before you can start tackling the problem

  • Make a plan – work out which debts are priorities (these are things where you could lose your home, your energy supply or even go to prison if you don’t pay them – usually rent, mortgage, council tax, gas and electricity etc)

  • Make a budget – this is a vital tool, not only in dealing with debt issues, but ensuring you avoid it in future. Work out your incomings versus your outgoings and see what you can afford each month. This is a really useful site to help you build a budget

  • Reduce your outgoings – see if you can save money, perhaps by switching suppliers, shopping around, or checking you’re receiving all benefits that you are entitled to

  • See if you qualify for breathing space, a scheme that freezes payment demands from creditors while you get financial advice



But if this all seems too much to deal with alone, or you find that things have got out of hand and you can’t see a way through it, there are organisations out there who can help. They can offer advice or help you understand and manage your debt to allow you to get back on your feet:




The important thing to remember is that money issues can happen to anyone, at any time. There is no shame in admitting that you are struggling, and the best thing to do is get support from experts, rather than trying to figure it out yourself. Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert sums it up when he says “No debt problems are unsolvable. No matter how bad it seems, while it may not always be easy or quick, there is light at the end of the tunnel”.

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