Debt can cause depression and anxiety. That’s a fact. Really, debt should come with a written warning on all lending agreements to that effect.
Not everyone will suffer depression as a result of getting into debt, however some 36% of people who are suffering mental health problems in the UK also have severe or crisis debts according to a *recent Money Saving Expert Survey. Those are serious numbers.
Just how much in debt do you have to be though before the symptoms of depression start to set in for some of us? The short answer is not much at all. That’s because the minute your debts start controlling you, no matter how much debt you’re in, there is a risk of your emotional health suffering as you start to have less and less control over your finances. For the longer answer, read on!
I’ve written a whole series before about the emotional stages of debt and how tackling debt is a real rollercoaster ride. What I want to share here today is my experience of the link between debt and depression in the hope that this will inspire others to look after their mental health and wellbeing and start tackling their debts.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Depression is a very serious mental illness which can affect anyone. It doesn’t discriminate as you’ll know from the recent tragic death of Robin Williams. It’s a condition that’s hard to recognise and understand, so it’s important to know about it and raise awareness of it wherever possible. Depression doesn’t happen overnight. It builds up over time (weeks, months or years) and it’s different to feeling ‘down’ about something. There are mild, moderate and severe forms of depression. Symptoms of depression include the following:
- Feeling sad without being able to put your finger on exactly why – and feeling sad most days.
- Losing interest in things that you used to enjoy.
- Experiencing headaches and generally feeling stressed out.
- Weight loss or weight gain.
- Feeling tired or having a lack of energy.
- Being indecisive or not being able to concentrate.
- Feeling worthless or hopeless.
- In severe cases of depression, thoughts of suicide might occur.
My experience of debt and depression
I haven’t really written much about this before, but I was diagnosed with moderate depression back in 2008. The depression I was suffering from was closely related to work stress but looking back, a lot of how I was feeling was related to the debts we had too.
I felt trapped in my job which was causing me a lot of personal stress because of the fact that we had so much debt to pay off. Back then, we had our heads buried in the sand about our debts and just couldn’t see how we would ever repay them, despite being on a good salary.
We had just called off our wedding because we couldn’t afford it. I was working 8am to 8pm most weekdays and often over the weekends too. We didn’t have much money to spare but we had a lot of debt to pay off. The stress was awful.
I remember meeting my best friend for a coffee. I had cancelled her a few times before this and she could sense something was wrong with me. She kept asking questions until I eventually broke down. I couldn’t explain what it was exactly that had me in floods of tears. It was just everything and I couldn’t stop crying.
My friend really helped me understand what was happening to me. She told me that she suspected I was depressed and made me make an appointment with the doctor. I forced myself to turn up for the appointment, but I felt so silly in the doctor’s surgery, like I was wasting his time. I felt even worse trying to tell the hubby what was going on too – he was really supportive of course but I’m not sure he understood exactly how I was feeling.
I didn’t know how to explain everything to the doctor, so I just told him that I felt sad. The doctor asked me lots of questions (like whether I had thought about suicide, which thankfully I hadn’t) and then told me that I was suffering from depression. He gave me a prescription for medication, but unbeknown to him, I didn’t take it. I probably should have done but I was too scared that I’d somehow become addicted to them (yes, I was paranoid too back then)!
I managed to get control of my mental health again over time – once I realised what was happening to me, I found ways that I could pull myself out of these bouts of depression. Usually I did this by exercising, talking to a friend or by planning something nice that I could look forward to. I trained myself to think positive thoughts every day and frequently reminded myself of all the things I’m thankful for.
But even as recently as when I started this blog in January 2013, I was experiencing major slumps of depression and I know it’s been because of the way things were with our finances. The debts controlled everything. They controlled how much money we didn’t have and every purchasing decision we wanted or needed to make.
I’m pleased to say that I haven’t felt depressed now in a very long time. I’m pretty sure that it’s because we’re in control now of our finances. There are still some days I feel a bit down without any real burning reason. But it’s not depression anymore.
Debt can impact every part of your life
Like I described above, our debts impacted on everything. Our relationship, our finances, the way I viewed my job. I personally felt like a prisoner to debt. I knew every penny I was working so hard for wasn’t really mine to do what I wanted with. Everything I earned, I owed! This is how debt can make you feel when it controls you and not the other way around.
It’s no surprise then that there is a definitive link between debt and depression. You could have debts of £500 or £50,000 and still experience the same level of depression. Don’t let your mental health and wellbeing deteriorate because of your debts and general state of finances.
If you think you might be suffering from depression, please see a doctor, even if you don’t know what to say. Don’t be embarrassed or feel ashamed. You’re not alone and your doctor will know what to ask you. Things will get better as long as you deal with what’s happening to you. If you are depressed and you don’t seek help to deal with it, you could be facing severe depression and this can be avoided.
There is ALWAYS a way out of debt, even if some ways take time and hard work. If you’re worried about debt and depression, this guide to mental health and debt from Money Saving Expert will really help you to see what options are available to you.
How does your debt make you feel?
*Stats taken from the Money Saving Expert Mental Health and Debt Guide.
**Image courtesy of Flickr and modified by Disease Called Debt.