Having a large amount of debt can be incredibly hard to deal with.
Not only does it influence your credit score (making it more difficult for you to get a loan, should you need one) and hinder you from enjoying your money (because you’re constantly trying to get yourself out of debt), but it can also affect your mental health.
A study by N26, a British online bank, found that more than 18million UK adults worry about money on a daily basis, with nearly a third (32%) admitting that it gives them sleeping problems.
Additionally, a different piece of research from the bank, showed that 9.5million Brits have mental health issues as a direct result of financial anxiety.
Sarah*, 26, who suffers from depression, tells us that her seemingly insurmountable debt was made even worse by the fact it stopped her from being able to do the things that help her cope with her condition.
‘Being in debt was extremely detrimental to my mental health, mainly because all the things I was supposed to be doing to help my depression (therapy, gym memberships, going out) cost money I didn’t have,’ she says.
‘It also just makes you feel like it’s another reason you’re a failure, because everybody else seems to be able to live off their wages and you’ve ended up in debt.’
To make matters worse, she took on more work in order to pay off the debt, which added to her mental ill-health.
She says: ‘On top of that, I ended up overworking myself a lot to get out of the debt, and became burned out.
‘Money is a huge source of worry for my age group, and most of my friends have lost sleep over money and debt at some point or another.
‘Honestly, the only thing available to do to cope was just face up to it and speak to my creditors to sort things out.
‘I have also gone on to complain through Resolver [a free online tool for claims around debt] about some of them, as I felt the debt spirals they kept me in were damaging to my health.
‘It’s a lonely situation, but there are lots of free services out there to help you.’
The shame that surrounds debt only makes the situation worse.
As Sarah describes, it can be a very lonely endeavour and many people don’t want to talk about their debt for fear of what others will think of them.
Feeling unable to share your problems can exacerbate existing mental health issues, which is why it’s so important to talk about debt.
‘Debt should not be seen as a bad thing given how useful debt can be in enabling people to achieve significant life goals, whatever they may be,’ said John Ellmore, director of Know Your Money.
‘What is important is that people feel in control of their debt, and unfortunately a quarter of consumers say this isn’t the case.
‘Feeling out of control of your debt, which can result from taking on too much debt or not first considering repayment plans, can lead to significant mental health problems.
‘We must ensure support and education is provided so people only take on responsible, manageable debt; in turn, this will help us break the taboo surrounding the subject and prevent debt being treated as a dirty word.’
While the debt might feel insurmountable, it’s often the shame that comes with it that makes the mental health impact worse.
Talking about debt can help alleviate symptoms.
How to manage mental health issues caused by debt
The most important thing is to make a plan to get yourself back in the green and hopefully, by doing so, you will lessen the stress and pressure you might feel.
‘Being in debt can cause serious mental health problems, can trigger depression or anxiety, and worsen existing mental health issues,’ Dr Akash Patel, lead GP at MyHealthcare Clinic, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘While none of us enjoy the stress of being in debt, it can be a slippery slope when it comes to your mental health. 46% of people who have a problem with debt also experienced issues with their mental health.’
What are the signs of mental health issues caused by overwhelming debt?
The symptoms of mental health problems due to debt vary for each person but can include:
- Feeling sad, sick or overburdened by the thought of your debt
- Not being able to sleep or eat properly due to worrying about debt
- Feeling withdrawn from friends, family and loved ones due to worrying over debt
- Under-performing at work or in your studies due to worrying over debt
- Worsening symptoms of an existing case of depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses
Dr Patel also explains that some people turn to harmful methods to manage debt stress, such as alcohol, drugs or gambling, which often only makes the situation worse.
Try to avoid falling into negative patterns and instead focus on positive change that can help you improve your debt, and your mental health.
‘I often find that my patients who experience debt feel hopeless, embarrassed and like things are spiralling out of control,’ he says.
‘I would recommend if you are having difficulty with debt to seek help, there are a number of agencies out there who can help you get on top of your debt, reduce your stress and start to take back control of your finances.
‘Speaking to your GP or a therapist can also help you to start to manage the impact debt has had on your mental health and well-being.
‘It’s very common to not know what to do or who to turn to when you get into debt, but know that there are services there to help you get back on your feet.’
You could contact StepChange, a charity that gives debt advice and can help you put together a plan on how to get rid of your debt.
Also, read up on what debt you should pay off first: we’ve put together a handy guide to help you out.
Additionally, you can call the National Debtline talk about your debt problems, or download their free guide, as well as read up on solutions to debt problems and your rights on Citizens Advice.
If you’re struggling to cope with your mental health problems, there are places you can turn to.
Just need someone to talk to? Beyond chatting to your GP, you can call the Samaritans on their 24-hour phone line on 116 123 or contact the charity through their website, if you prefer.
Mind is another alternative; call them on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463.
Both services are confidential and free.
Having debt can be overwhelming and paying it off is important, but look after your health and mental health first.
Once you lessen the mental load of the debt, you’ll be able to better cope with it.
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