Debt can not only have detrimental effects on someone’s life but on their mental health too, as it’s been found that half of those financially struggling will experience mental health issues.
By the end of March 2021, British citizens owed more than £1.7 billion in debt, with the average household owing £61,435, The Money Charity reports. As a result, thousands of people’s mental health will be negatively affected through the burden and stress of not being able to afford their bills.
This hasn’t improved from last year’s figures, either, with COVID likely to have played a huge part in people’s financial struggles as the pandemic left people furloughed or out of work for months on end, all while being excluded from government funding. According to a survey conducted by money.co.uk, almost five million people entered 2020 owing more than £10,000 in credit and loans, cites Creditfix.
Sadly, the link between mental health and debt appears to be a vicious cycle: one in two people in debt will suffer poor mental health, while those with poor mental health are more likely to end up in debt. Linking to this, more than 100,000 people in debt will attempt to take their own lives each year, Money and Mental Health reports.
Despite these concerning figures, debt is arguably easier than ever to get into, and there remains limited education in young people on how to be financially healthy.
One person who ended up in debt after spending his money from a young age is Thom*, who believes his unhealthy relationship with money started as a teenager when he got his first job.
He explained to UNILAD, ‘I think it probably started when I was about 16 to 18 – I’d just got my first job and I didn’t really have a good role model in my life. My mum was quite ill and I had to look after her while I was a teenager and in school and in college, and whenever I had money I’d just go out and spend it with all my friends on drinks, on clothes and whatever I wanted at the time.’
‘That later turned into going out clubbing as well,’ Thom continued. ‘Then, when I started at college, I got a grant and that money went all on the same stuff. I had no one around to be telling me what I should and shouldn’t have been spending my money on or how to moderate my spending.’
Thom further explained that his father had a gambling problem and that he and his mum always ‘lived on next to nothing’, therefore he didn’t have any good role models in his life in regards to financial matters.
Initially, Thom was paying back his debts in instalments at the end of each month, but soon found that it snowballed.
For me, it was OK to spend that money as long as I could pay it back in instalments, which I was doing at the beginning of every month when I got paid. I thought it would all be cleared eventually but that’s not how it happened because I couldn’t physically see the debt and wasn’t really tracking it. It went from 10s, to 100s, to 1,000s, especially when I got a house with my girlfriend at the time.
When you don’t see it physically, it’s like shutting the door on something in your house – it’s easy to hide it, but before you know it you’re in trouble. Everything you earn ends up going out on bills and debt, but you’ve got the material things you want, because you’re still going into more debt to get you through the month.
Discussing his mental health, Thom said that being in debt has made him depressed and anxious, and that ‘it’s difficult to look forward to the future’ because he doesn’t know what he’ll be able to afford to do, and is concerned that if he does do the things he wants to, such as buy a house, it will make his financial situation worse.
He continued, ‘Some people carry [being in debt] better than others, but it really has affected me mentally because I don’t like being in debt. I don’t like owing people money. I want to be clear, and until I’m back in the black, so to speak, I think it will always weigh over me, whether it’s £100 or £1,000. Until it’s done, I think I’ll always have a problem managing that stress.’
Similar to Thom’s situation, Kim Uzzell also got herself into debt at a young age after taking out her first credit agreement at 18 for a moped so that she could use it to travel to work.
Kim paid off the finance quite quickly, something she said caused her to get ‘into the mentality that you can have something, and borrow the money to have it, as long as you can repay it’.
However, Kim further explained that after getting married at 19, she and her husband grew accustomed to his parents bailing him out if the credit card bills got too high.
She told UNILAD:
We both thought we could have things and do things, even though we didn’t have the money up front – because we naively always believed, one way or another, that we would be able to cover what we owed, and it would be ok.
Everyday overspending, dipping into our overdrafts, using the credit card for the weekly shop etc was part of it as we just didn’t really acknowledge that when things change, you have to change with them; for example, my husband was made redundant three times in the early 90s, but we didn’t adjust our spending to take into account the reduced money – we felt we ‘needed’ that takeaway to cheer us up.
The couple’s debt continued to increase, causing them both to work even harder to try and keep up with the payments, but it proved extremely difficult. Kim said, ‘We were working so hard and didn’t have anything real to show for it, we had no money in the bank – all our money went on making the minimum payments, so the debt kept stacking up.’
‘This all before we had children,’ Kim added. ‘Of course, when they came along, the costs went up, the income went down, we moved house and incurred bigger expenses, and it all spiralled.’
Discussing how it impacted her mental health, she said:
The pressure of this was incredible, and as a couple we both spent so much time working to pay for things that we were tired, argumentative, resentful of any money that was earned but not spent on getting the debt down etc. We were constantly trying to juggle everything to make sure that the next bill was paid. Constantly trying to work out how you could just sell something in time to make the loan payment that was about to become due. It was exhausting.
Keeping it a secret was hard. Everyone thought we did really well for ourselves, but they didn’t know the half of it. Money is a taboo subject, and so we started to have our excuses ready, have little white lies ready to tell other people etc. The deceit was no fun. You worry about getting caught out, being shamed in some way.
‘It all leads to sleepless nights or nightmares of the bailiffs knocking on the door. Even though we kept on top of all the payments somehow, the stress for the family was intense. Arguments between me and my husband lead to the children being brought up in a stressful environment, which was never the intention,’ Kim continued. She and her husband at the time have since divorced; Kim believes that their money struggles played a part in their separation.
In the wake of her own money battles, Kim, who’s a financial coach, expressed concerns that it’s currently easier than ever for people to get themselves into debt through buy now, pay later (BNPL) schemes such as Klarna, Clearpay and PayPal Credit.
She explained to UNILAD, ‘Because they are ‘interest-free’, they are often too attractive for people to turn down. After all, why not spread the cost if it isn’t going to be charging you interest?! The danger then is that you don’t take note of what you have got to pay and when. You don’t see it as ‘debt’, so you go online and see something else you want to buy, and you get offered another BNPL option, and you take it.
As you’re not handing over cold hard cash, you don’t think about what you are spending in the same way, and because you don’t even have to have the money in your bank account at the time of going to the checkout page, unless you are really organised, you can quickly forget what you have spent.
With this in mind, Kim said it’s vital for young people to be educated before ‘they get old enough to get themselves into debt’.
Advising those who are currently in debt, Kim said, ‘First things first – if you are struggling with debt, STOP taking out more debt. Get rid of the temptation. Cut up your credit cards, delete the shopping apps on your phone or your iPad. Unsubscribe to those emails telling you about their latest offer or sale.’
‘Secondly – know your numbers! Find out what you owe, how much it is costing, and when your payments fall due. Look seriously at your other bills, costs and work out where you can cut costs easily to help focus on paying off the debt.’
Kim’s third tip is to address the reason why you’re in debt, such as out of boredom, or because you’re trying to impress someone.
Lastly, she advised people to open up to those close to them to help them through the difficulties of being in debt. She said, ‘It might feel like the most squirmy sort of conversation, but if you are working together with your partner, your parents, a friend, or even your GP as you will have someone who can help you be accountable – to check in on you. You can have someone who will challenge you, in a good way, about whether you need to spend on that takeaway this month, or buy that pair of shoes in the sale.’
Meanwhile, counsellor Michelle Ruth homed in on the important of ending the stigma surrounding debt. She said, ‘If people are too ashamed to reach out for support, or experience knock-on effects of debt-related anxiety, such as being unable to work, their debt can worsen – so we really need to ensure people experiencing debt feel more comfortable reaching out for support.’
‘If we can reduce the stigma around debt, and improve access to support, we may not only be able to help people with their financial situation, but their mental health too.’
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
Also, if you’re struggling with debt, you can access free financial advice through organisations such as National Debt Line, which you can contact on 0808 808 4000 or through their website.
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