Many people are in debt in the UK, but have you ever considered how debt affects your mental health?
Not all debts are 'bad'. Millions of people take on debts like a mortgage or car loan and are quite able to repay that debt comfortably - and still have enough to live on.
However, sometimes debts can become more of a problem. A change in circumstances like redundancy or illness can make debt repayments more difficult.
When debt becomes a real problem, repayment difficulties aren't necessarily the only problem - it can also cause stress or other emotional distress. And according to mental health charity Mind, people 'with experience of mental distress' are three times more likely to be in debt. But how do you know when debts are a problem?
In many cases, problem debts are the ones that...
- lead to stressful phone calls from debt collectors or even visits from bailiffs
- spiral out of control, even to the point where legal action is taken
- are kept secret from loved ones
- more charges seem to be added every month
- can have an effect on your physical or mental health
- are a burden - they're the debts people often have no idea how to repay or when they'll be repaid in full
You are not alone
People with debt problems may feel alone or isolated - like the weight of the world is on their shoulders or no one else understands the burden they carry. In fact there are a lot of people in the same situation in the UK.
Figures from the Bank of England reveal that the total outstanding unsecured debt in terms of 'other loans and advances' in the UK stood at £152.7 billion at the end of May 2011. Credit card debt amounted to £57.2 billion at the end of May 2011.
There is a lot of debt out there and people cope in many different ways.
Support for problem debts
It's quite normal to be worried about debt, especially problem debts. It's also common to try to ignore the problem - as dealing with it can be very stressful, or people may feel they have no clear idea how to deal with it.
When facing up to debt, don't go it alone - talk to someone. Sometimes shame or guilt can lead people to hide their problems, but there is no shame in seeking help and no point feeling guilty for something in the past that you can't change.
If you can talk to a friend, relative or partner, you may find their support really helpful. A problem shared is a problem halved, as they say.
If you don't want to talk to someone you know personally, you may find support from your church or place of worship, from a GP or from a counsellor.
Mind are campaigning for more awareness of the link between debt and mental health. You will also find advice and guidance for dealing with problem debts on their website.
Next steps you can take
There are three positive steps that just about anyone can take to manage their money more effectively.
1. Know what you owe
Understanding your debts and your monthly income and expenditure is really important if you want to take control of your finances. Mind's Director advises dealing with debt problems head-on - and this is a positive step you can take to do just that. Also, once you have a clear idea of what you owe, you can begin to plan how you will repay that debt and when you will be debt free.
2. Avoid further problems
Begin to address what you are spending and cut out any unnecessary expense. A monthly budget can help to reveal what you're spending the most money on, showing you where you could cut back.
3. Take it a step at a time
Stress, anxiety, depression and anger - all these emotions can be natural reactions to problem debts, but just knowing that you've started to deal with the issue can make you feel like a weight has been lifted. Remember to take it one step at a time, and seek out any support and advice you may need to help you along the way.
There are ways out of debt. It is achievable. Many people become debt free in the UK every day. With the right help, you could do the same one day.