In Great Britain it has been shown that more than half of people with a debt problem also have a mental health problem. The two are inextricably linked.

In my role many years ago as a debt advisor for the Citizens Advice Bureau and Trafford Social Services, it seemed to be most of the people I met with debt problems had some level of mental health problems as well. Debt worries often lead to a cycle of depression and anxiety with each feeding off the other. The more creditors letters that go unanswered the higher the anxiety levels.

I then took on a more specialist role at Salford Mental Health Services, Citizens Advice Bureau and saw some more extravagant examples of how debt and mental health issues are often linked. For example, I would frequently see service users (patients) who had a Bi-Polar diagnosis who would go on extravagant spending sprees when ill. This would in turn lead to a cycle of debt which would trigger numerous letters from credit card companies due to unpaid bills and subsequent debt recovery companies. These letters would tend to land on the doormat of service users when they were at a low, or depressive stage, following a bout of spending when they were what used to be termed as the ‘manic’ cycle of their illness. More prosaic examples of how debt and mental health interact are simply the fact that often people with mental health problems, (for example chronic depression and anxiety) are unable to hold down a regular job and as such, with an extremely low income, are more vulnerable and open to fall prey to the more unscrupulous lenders in the market such as payday loan companies. They’re often, due to their illness, unable to manage their debts and finances which in turn leads to further and more aggressive debt enforcement.

People with depression and mental health issues are consequently less likely to be able to organise their debts and finances and a spell in hospital will mean many letters and deadlines go unanswered, and so the cycle continues.

The new Money and Mental Health Policy Institute have published their first report this month which gives an insight into the financial experiences of people with mental health problems. In my next post I will look at that report which puts some ‘flesh on the bones’ as to how and why debt and mental health difficulties are intertwined.

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