Your mental health can be undermined by worrying about debt

Financial troubles are making people ill, according to data from charity Christians Against Poverty. Neasa MacErlean explores the link between money and psychological problems

Struggling with debts is making us ill. Just over two-thirds (67 per cent) of people taking debt advice from CAP (Christians Against Poverty) are also seeing their GP "due to the negative effects of debt".

Many of the health problems relate to depression and anxiety but the charity says that nutrition issues are also looming large.

To the small number of experts who specialise in the field, the CAP research – given exclusively to Your Money – does not come as a shock.

Speaking of the last few years, a spokeswoman for the British Nutrition Foundation says: "People in low-income households are spending more of their household income on food, yet the nutritional quality of their food purchases is declining."

Chris Fitch, research fellow at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who specialises in the debt-mental health relationship, has assisted in proving the link. His work has helped demonstrate that people with debt problems are twice as likely to get major depression as those without.

The CAP data also shows that 42 per cent of their clients are being prescribed medication by GPs "due to the negative effects of debt".

The link works both ways. Debt can cause poor health; and poor health can cause debt. Some 11 per cent of CAP clients got into debt because of a long-term illness and another 2 per cent say that they got into debt as a result of mental health issues.

National Debtline, another advice charity, has come to similar conclusions, with 14 per cent of its callers saying their debt problems were caused by health issues.

National Debtline also surveys clients after they have resolved their pressing money issues. At this stage, some 90 per cent say "their general health and wellbeing improves as a result of getting advice", according to spokesman Paul Crayston. However, these links are poorly understood outside expert groups. For instance, many photographs of indebted people who have featured in newspapers show they are clearly overweight.

Some comments from readers have been so harsh that at least one debt-advice charity has asked papers to turn off the comment facility in these cases. Those readers do not, perhaps, understand that, as the British Nutrition Foundation spokeswoman says, "child obesity rises as household income falls."

But even the medical profession appears to have a way to go before linking health and debt problems. The Royal College of GPs, for instance, was unable to provide comments to The Independent on the CAP findings. And many GPs will charge far more than indebted patients can afford to write a letter that can be sent to creditors, saying that the person has health issues.

But the economic downturn has helped some GPs get a better understanding of how debt and depression can be related.

Dr Richard McClean, practising in Larne, country Antrim, says the trend in debt-linked cases of depression "has certainly been upwards over the past three to four years". In the "last couple of years", he has come to see the importance of encouraging patients to deal with debt itself.

"It is essential," he says. "Unless you are dealing with the root cause you are just popping a plaster on." But encouraging people to see a debt-advice charity can produce transformations. "Many mild-to-moderate cases can be dealt with without medication," he says.

Encouraging people to talk to family, friends or advisers helps another symptom of this kind of depression.

"Debt and social isolation usually go hand in hand," says Dr McClean. "One of the things I put to people is that it is not just about getting your debt cleared but about getting you speaking to people again and getting your coping mechanisms working again."

In some cases medication will be needed – and some people also ask for counselling. But there is concern that too little is being done with counselling in general.

Chris Fitch of the Royal College of Psychiatrists says: "Good progress has been made to deliver high-quality talking treatments in the NHS. However, further progress is needed to make sure that all people with anxiety and depression are able to access effective psychological therapies."

GPs are being encouraged to charge less for letters to creditors in cases where patients cannot afford the extra fees.

David Sinclair of the International Longevity Centre says: "If GPs know debt is a problem and having a negative impact on health, them charging to write a letter could actually be counter productive and make the situation worse."

His organisation published research this week which showed that older people struggling with debt have "eight times the odds of having reduced levels of mental wellbeing".

Citizens Advice says that three out of four of its debt clients have worries that are "impacting their mental health", and it wants to see regulators do more.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: "As part of its new duty to consumers the Financial Conduct Authority must give a clear and authoritative steer to lenders and debt collectors to make sure that people with mental-health issues are not being treated unfairly and suffering in isolation."

Chris Fitch thinks that there is potential. He says: "The problem is getting worse where creditors and the NHS see only one side of the situation. If creditors treat a customer with mental-health problems unfairly, their health could be affected, and the debt could go unpaid."

Jon King, a member of CAP's mental-health team, sees an improvement in attitudes by banks and other creditors. "The vast majority of creditors do care," he says.

If advisers such as Mr King can get a doctor's letter to a creditor, they will often stop interest and charges piling up, accept a compromise repayment arrangement and direct all letters to the adviser, rather than the debtor.

The average consumer debt for UK adults is £3,167, according to the Money Charity. That amount is tiny for a millionaire but may be insurmountable for someone on a low income. If we can help people repay debts without ruining their health we will create a society that is easier to live in for us all.

Case studies: spirals into sickness

Danielle and her husband got into financial difficulties after they moved house and he then lost his job. What made the issue worse was that Danielle was diabetic. "I was finding it harder and harder to regulate my blood-sugar levels," she says, recalling the stressful weekly shop when she had to decide between "what I needed to stay healthy and what we could afford". She explains: "All the cheap food was full of fat and sugar and so bad for my health, but I had no choice if we wanted to keep some kind of financial control. My health really suffered as I put on weight and my blood-sugar rocketed." They took out a loan, only to realise that they ended up worse off after they had used up the capital and were having to make hefty interest payments. They finally met a CAP adviser, who "never criticised us or made us feel stupid for the mess we'd gotten into" and helped them turn their finances around. Danielle no longer takes insulin, has lost more than four stones and says: "I could well not be a diabetic anymore."

Like Danielle, Jane and her husband were unable to cope with their debts. "I ended up on anti-depressants," she says. "Sometimes I would drink to sleep. My husband phoned the doctor who referred me to a counsellor. It helped but it didn't get the situation sorted." After six sessions, the counsellor suggested debt advice, and Danielle went to CAP. A budget and an arrangement with creditors turned the situation around both financially and in terms of Jane's health. She stopped taking the anti-depressants.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Life and Style
An Internet security expert has warned that voice recognition technology needs to be more secure
techExperts warn hackers could control our homes or spend our money simply by speaking
Extras
indybest
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

    Trust Accountant - Kent

    NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

    Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

    Law Costs

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style