In Charles Dickens’s book, David Copperfield, Mr Micawber hits upon a fundamental truth. He says: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result: happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result: misery.”
Debt is a common cause of many mental health conditions and, conversely, mental health problems themselves can be the trigger for money problems.
Debt and mental health – some figures
- Half of people in serious debt also have some form of mental ill health, according to research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
- One in four people with a mental health problem are also in debt.
- People in serious debt are twice as likely to develop major depression as those not in financial difficulty.
- More than 3 million people in the UK have both mental health problems and financial difficulties.
How debt can worsen mental health problems
Financial problems are not always down to poor money management. Debt can also result from prolonged sickness, redundancy, unemployment, bereavement or divorce, and can be made worse by neglecting to pay bills as interest charges and penalty fines quickly multiply the size of the debt.
Financial difficulties can have other implications that can take their toll on a person’s mental health
- Addressing debt issues can be time consuming and emotionally demanding.
- Dealing with creditors’ repayment demands can be frightening and frustrating.
- Having insufficient money to spend on socialising can cut people off from friends and support networks, leaving them feeling isolated and alone.
- Lack of money can force people to go without essentials, like heating or food, and a good diet is known to be an important element in maintaining good mental health.
- Money worries can result in arguments with partners and close family.
- Some people find themselves in jobs they don’t enjoy in order to pay off debts, which can increase feelings of hopelessness and anxiety.
All of these factors can serve to worsen a person’s mental health and may lead to:
- feelings of hopelessness, guilt and embarrassment;
- low self-esteem;
- anxiety and panic attacks;
- lethargy and apathy;
- fear, anger and frustration.
How poor mental health can contribute to money problems
There are many situations in which mental health problems can be the catalyst for financial troubles:
- Impact at work: People with mental health problems are more likely to be in low paid, high turn-over, part-time or temporary work, and are likely to experience sickness absence.
- Unemployment: Only 43 per cent of people with mental health problems are in employment in the UK compared to 74 per cent of the general population.
- Over-spending: Spending money is known to give people a temporary high so people who are struggling with their mental health may be at risk of over-spending and getting into debt.
- Troubles with financial planning: People experiencing mental ill health may find it difficult to manage their finances, such as paying urgent bills, checking bank statements and controlling expenditure. This may cause problems such as lost savings and growing debt, bankruptcy, a poor credit rating, substandard housing and legal issues.
Supporting employees with mental health issues and financial worries
When it comes to the topic of money, people tend to keep their cards fairly close to their chests, but withholding concerns and not asking for help can exacerbate problems and cause more stress. Employers and line managers have a role to play in supporting employees who are struggling so should encourage open dialogue about employees’ concerns in the hope of easing their stress before things hit crisis point.
Support and guidance about work and health can be sought from Fit for Work, which offers free, online work-related health advice and guidance to anyone looking for advice and support about an existing case of sickness absence, or about issues that may result in sickness absence. Employed people who have been off work due to illness for four weeks or more can be referred for a telephone assessment with a Fit for Work case manager in order to identify all the obstacles preventing the person from returning to work. The Fit for Work case manager can also provide recommendations about how the obstacles can be addressed and to potentially enable an early return to work. Visit the Fit for Work website or call the free telephone advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh). There is a separate service running in Scotland (0800 019 2211).