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Mental Health Debt Guide

How this guide works

This guide is not only aimed at people experiencing mental health problems, but friends, family and carers who want to help them tackle their finances. Throughout the guide, there are tips to start taking small steps to cut your debt.

Stories are colour-coded: the sadder stories are highlighted in red, and the success stories in green. If you are feeling low and not in the mood to read about someone else’s problems, simply skip the red ones.

What are mental health problems?
This guide uses the term ‘mental health problems’ to encompass conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia. This is used because the term ‘mental health problems’ is commonly understood to include all forms of mental distress.

The Guide is recommended by Mind, CAB, Alzheimer’s Society and ReThink.

It is important to differentiate between mental health and mental capacity issues, which are only touched on briefly in this Guide. Mental capacity means being able to make and communicate decisions. Someone without sufficient mental capacity may be unable to understand the concept of debt (at the time they were suffering) rather than be unable to deal with it.

Debt and mental health problems, be they caused by redundancy, bereavement, relationship breakdown, abuse or just naturally occurring, are rarely talked about but very common. What’s also rarely discussed is the link between mental health issues and debt. When debt mounts up, so does stress and anxiety.

Some 36% of people who have or have had mental health problems have severe or crisis debts, according to a 2014 MoneySavingExpert.com survey. Just 6% of people who have never had mental health problems have severe or crisis debts. A 2015 survey by debt counsellors Christians Against Poverty found that 34% of those seeking debt help had been prescribed medication by their GP to help them cope, 75% of those in a couple said debt affected their relationship and 36% had considered or attempted suicide. Mental health problems can also make it difficult to deal with money day to day. It can affect your motivation, judgement and income. If you are signed off sick or unable to work  long-term, you may find you struggle to make ends meet.

Fortunately, there is hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel for anyone with a debt problem. It’s important to recognise that you are not struggling alone. The key is to start by taking one or two simple steps and to tackle debt as soon as it starts to mount up.

Sophie’s story:
“When I started on the trail to clearing my debts, I did a lot of ‘big stuff’ that made quite a difference to my situation, including cutting up the credit cards and cancelling Sky and the gym.
“But once I had done the bigger stuff, I felt I was not making the same amount of progress, when in fact the small steps were helping me form good financial habits and helping me get closer every day to staying in control and becoming debt-free.
“Examples could be charging your phone up at work instead of at home (with permission) to save your electricity, hanging washing out instead of using the tumble dryer or leaving your purse/ wallet at home to avoid the risk of spending.
“So be proud of those small steps. They really are important!”