The Impact of Debt on Mental Health

Did you know that debt can make you ill?

In fact, the links between debt and mental health issues are so strong that GPs across the UK are helping thousands of people each week to find specialist support services to help them cope with the pressures that having money worries can put on life.

If you feel like debt might be impacting your mental or physical health, you’re most definitely not alone. We’ll explore the links between debt and mental health – along with a simple step you can take if money problems are wearing you down.

The financial picture in the UK

As a country we owe a lot of money.

The average amount of personal debt in the UK is £8,000 – and that doesn’t include mortgage payments.

That’s not all though, around 25% of people in the UK struggle to get from one payday to the next while covering all their outgoings – and a huge number of people say they have credit cards that are maxed out and overdrafts that they struggle to get out of. What’s more, studies show that over half of us feel we’ll never be free of debt.

Debt is a very significant part of many people’s lives.

Attitudes toward debt

 Now, it’s important to note that debt often isn’t a problem – almost all of us have some form of debt and owing money doesn’t mean you’re definitely going to experience any kind of mental health issue.

Problems with money often come because people think debt is something that is taboo and choose not to talk about it. When financial pressure gets turned up, it can be difficult to break this silence – as a nation we’re often noted as having a ‘stiff upper lip’, in other words, there’s an impression that we have to ‘get on with it’ even if times get hard.

Not sharing your worries rarely makes those worries go away, instead, they have a tendency to just keep popping up in your thoughts – morning, noon and night…

What exactly is mental health?

 There’s sometimes confusion around what mental health actually is – and it’s often the most severe mental health conditions we think of when the phrase is used.

In fact, mental health is anything that happens in your thoughts that has an impact on your life. Everyone has a level of mental health – just like everyone has a changing level of physical health – and, just like anyone can get a cold, we’re all susceptible to periods of time where our mental health might also be a bit reduced. For some people that might mean they struggle with low or bad moods occasionally, for other people it can have a much greater impact, leading to hearing or seeing things that aren’t there, feeling like you might harm yourself or others or just not being able to do the normal day-to-day things you used to.

What can debt do to a person’s mental health?

In the middle of our brain you’ll find the ‘amygdala’, an almond size area that controls our response to fear and danger.

It’s this part of the brain that gives us the adrenaline we need to escape from danger, it also makes us more alert and able to sense further danger – which is the reason we’re hyper sensitive and often unable to sleep when we’re worried or stressed about something.

This might sound like it has nothing to do with debt – but it actually does. When we worry about money we trigger that same ‘danger’ response in our brain. So, effectively, getting a call from a debt collection agency gives us a feeling of fear. While that fear isn’t necessarily for our life, it could be a fear that we’re not going to be able to pay the bills, we might go hungry, we might let people down, we might lose our homes… and so forth.

Debt can equal worry – and because of the way our brain handles that worry, that can lead to:

  • A lack of sleep
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Feelings of sadness or anger
  • An inability to focus on important things
  • Forgetfulness

…to name just a few.

Everything adds up

Many people can cope with the odd restless night’s sleep or the occasional headache – but the problem is, debt doesn’t go away – it’s something that nags at our brains morning, noon and night – especially when we’re getting reminder letters, phone calls and knocks at the door.

Many people explain that they feel they have to by hyper alert when they’re dealing with people they owe money to – and when these feelings add up over a long time, it’s not at all uncommon for them to have a lasting impact on our mood.

Most commonly, people who are worried about debt experience depression and/or anxiety – two conditions that can make life feel very difficult – and in some cases, can make it very hard to perform that ‘normal’ day to day things like running a house, supporting family or keeping a job.

While many people think that mental health conditions come on as a result of a big life experience – actually the opposite is often the case. For many people, just the constant pressure of life is the thing that overloads their brain’s ability to cope.

If this feels familiar it’s really important that you remember this is an indication of weakness or not being able to ‘do life’ as other people do – you have a unique set of circumstances that only you can fully understand. Everybody copes with the different parts of life in different ways – there’s no right or wrong things to feel stressed by.

Being in debt can be a massive strain – and one that is very hard to get rid of. It’s completely normally to feel worn down by it.

What can you do if money worries are getting on top of you?

If debt is getting the better of you there’s one really important thing you should do:

Speak to your GP.

It might sound extreme, after all, many people think that a doctor is there for just physical issues – but that simply isn’t the case. There is absolutely no shame in being in debt or feeling mentally strained by your debt problems.

When you talk to your doctor they’ll take you just as seriously as they would if you had a more traditionally thought of illness. They’ll help you get the right support – and there’s lots they will suggest before even considering any form of medication.

If you’re worried, make an appointment today, explain that you’re struggling with money and would like some help. The sooner you get hold of your mood the more quickly you’ll be able to get a firm grasp of debt – and stop it zapping any enjoyment out of your life.

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