«Help, info, guidance and support for individuals and carers By Martin Lewis, Jenny Keefe & Marianne Curphey The guide can be downloaded free from ...»
Mental Health & Debt
Help, info, guidance and support for
individuals and carers
By Martin Lewis, Jenny Keefe & Marianne Curphey
The guide can be downloaded free from www.moneysavingexpert.com/mentalhealth
The MoneySavingExpert.com Guide to Mental Health & Debt
Help, info, guidance and support for individuals and carers
By Martin Lewis, Jenny Keefe & Marianne Curphey
Designed by Mark Shannon This MoneySavingExpert.com guide has been written with the kind help and guidance of
the following organisations:
We would also like to thank Dr Rob Waller, consultant psychiatrist, and Eilidh Brown, medical student at the University of Dundee.
Throughout this guide, we have included comments, stories and suggestions from MoneySavingExpert.com forum members. All the quotes are from real people who wanted to share their concerns, successes and suggestions with others, but we have used their forum names to protect their anonymity.
All details correct as at time of printing: 1 July 2012 Editorial Disclaimer: Mind, the leading mental health charity across England and Wales, has been delighted to consult with MoneySavingExpert.
com on some of the issues surrounding mental health and debt that are contained within this publication. The contents of this publication have been produced independently by MoneySavingExpert.com and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, values or official policies of Mind.
Mind is an independent charity supported by voluntary donations. We have been speaking out for better mental health for over 60 years and work with 170 local Mind associations to provide direct support for people with experience of mental distress. We are the first source of unbiased, independent mental health information. www.mind.org.uk ©MoneySavingExpert.com 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any way or by any means, including photocopying and recording, without the written permission of the copyright owner.
Help, info, guidance and support for individuals and carers
MESSAGE“No debt problems are unsolvable Before you even begin reading, it’s important to know one thing. For as long as I’ve been the Money Saving Expert, I have never once seen a case of debt that can’t be solved. No matter how bad it seems, while it may not always be easy or quick, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, when mental health is involved, sometimes just having the
energy to deal with it is tough. And that’s what this guide is about:
recognising that mental health and debt is a marriage made in hell, so we’ve easy practical steps you can take to get back on track.
If nothing else, the fact there’s so much demand for this info that we created this booklet should tell you you’re not alone.
So if you’re in debt crisis, don’t panic. The best thing to do is book a oneon-one session with a non-profit debt counsellor. Don’t worry, they’re there to help, not judge (see Chapter 2). If that’s too much for you right now, and you have a trusted friend, at least talk through this guide with them.
Dealing with your debts may sound like a nightmare, but once you start it’s much easier and less stressful than leaving them to fester.”
Debt isn’t just a financial problem, it causes relationships to break up, people to lose their homes and families to break down. No matter who you are, it can be hell.
Debt is a common problem for people living with mental health problems. My usual line is we should focus on being responsible borrowers, as you can’t expect lenders to be responsible – their job is flogging debt.
A few years ago, I had my eyes opened. A man came up to thank me for the MoneySavingExpert.
com website. I asked him if he’d saved much money, and his answer surprised me:
“I don’t use it for myself. I’m a mental health case worker, and almost every one of my clients has debt issues. It’s tough for them to control many areas of their life. I use your site to help them sort through their problems.” This is the crux. How do we help those who are unable to be responsible for themselves? It is not always easy to be responsible for yourself – and the easy credit years created a potential disaster scenario.
Since then, I’ve heard that story echoed time and time again, and, as we headed into recession, the reverberations increased. While the noise grew, the coverage didn’t. I pitched to TV outlets several times, only to be told it didn’t resonate with enough people.
That’s wrong. Many people have either had issues or have a family member who has. One in four adults experience at least one mental health problem in any one year, according to the National Centre for Social Research’s Psychiatric Morbidity report 2007. This is an issue we have to tackle.
Yet it’s not right to simply stop anyone with mental health issues getting credit. Often issues are temporary, and, even if not, debt isn’t bad, bad debt is bad. A rational decision to borrow cheaply is fine. Mortgages, student loans and more are an integral part of the modern financial world.
While describing the problem is easy, the solutions aren’t. I wish I could promise this guide will solve them, but it won’t. Though it should help make things easier to understand and deal with.
How debt causes mental health problems & how mental health problems cause debt 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.
Nearly half (44%) of people who have or have had mental health problems have severe or crisis debts, according to a 2011 MoneySavingExpert.com survey. Just one in 10 people who have never had mental health problems have severe or crisis debts.
A 2011 survey by debt counsellors Christians Against Poverty found that 42% of those seeking debt help had been prescribed medication by their GP to help them cope, 78% of those in a couple said debt affected their relationship and 37% 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.
“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!” 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. We have used real-life case studies from members of the online forum at MoneySavingExpert.com. We’ve included them to illustrate that you are not alone. Hopefully, their experiences of escaping from debt may give you hope that you can do the same.
We’ve colour coded them: 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. We understand that some people would prefer another term, but this is the most inclusive we found.
It is important to differentiate between mental health and mental capacity issues, which we only touch 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.
The stages of depression By Dr Rob Waller, consultant psychiatrist and director of www.mindandsoul.info People do not become depressed overnight. It takes time, usually weeks or months. If you can spot them, the stages below are the time when you can act to avoid full depression.
Even when people plunge rapidly into debt, depression usually takes time to bite. There may be initial shock and numbness, but entrenched depression still takes time to arrive.
When the demands people face are bigger than the resources they have, there are problems – this is true of our brains just as much as our wallets. Over time, we use up resources such as favours, days off at work, physical fitness or self-esteem. Once they are used up, we get more and more stressed. When they are gone, we get depressed.
Spotting depression in a friend or relative Look for changes in how they normally are. Explain to them you are concerned. Be gentle, as they may be embarrassed. Offer to go to the GP with them. Don’t tell them to “snap out of it” – they can’t. Offer gentle encouragement, practical support (like shopping for them) and don’t talk too much.
If you don’t feel up to tackling your debt right now If you are feeling very low or suicidal because of debt, talk to someone in confidence now. It could be your GP, case worker, consultant, psychiatrist, friend or family member. Alternatively, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or, in Scotland, NHS 24 on 08454 242424.
It can take time before you feel strong enough to tackle debt problems and put things right, but there is always a path through. If you do find that you are in financial difficulty as a result of your mental health, don’t despair – there are lots of little positive steps you can take to sort it out.
However, if you don’t feel you’re in a place to tackle your finances today, go to Chapter 4. If you are very unwell or in a crisis, delay important financial decisions until you feel more able.
Are you in debt crisis?
Debt isn’t bad; bad debt is bad. The days of ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’ are long gone.
These days we are forced to borrow to get a higher education or buy a house. Debt in itself isn’t wrong, provided it’s understood, planned for, affordable and as cheap as it can be.
There are two ways to deal with problem debt. Which is right for you depends on whether you’re in what we call debt crisis, or just have worrying or large debts.
What counts as debt crisis depends on who you ask, but our definition is when you can’t afford to make even the minimum repayments on all debts or meet all necessary outgoings.
Therefore even if your debts are big, if you can service them — even at the minimum level — you’re not in debt crisis and different solutions are available.
First of all, don’t panic at the name. We have never heard of someone with debts so bad that there wasn’t a path through them. Starting to deal with them will make you feel better and speed up the process.
The MoneySaving Checklist in Appendix 1 is designed primarily to prevent people from getting into debt crisis, rather than help those already there. Yet it is worth scanning through for five minutes to see if any options apply. It may allow you to meet minimum outgoings and avoid a crisis snowballing out of control.
For more info and how to get free debt crisis help, turn to Chapter 2.
Talking about mental health issues and money problems is often a challenge. You may have kept your difficulties secret because you didn’t want to worry your family, be judged by others or disadvantage yourself at work.
Yet talking about the problem is a very positive and brave first step. If you’re too worried to do it, one option is to go and see a debt counsellor alone (see Chapter 2), then tell your partner or friends afterwards, so you bring them solutions as well as a problem.
If you want help or want to talk about it, many Debt-Free Wannabe forum members (at www.moneysavingexpert.com/dfw) are in a similar boat, all supporting and helping each other reach what they call their ‘debt-free day’. After going through the checklist in Appendix 1, this is an amazing resource.
A green story - to inspire you Suzie’s story: “You’re braver than you believe” “Where, oh where do I start?! Joining the Debt-Free Wannabe forum’s been such a revelation to me. So many things ring true and, to be frank, have brought tears of relief.