Survey reveals link between problem debt and mental health

By agency reporter
March 26, 2019

New research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute reveals the links between financial difficulty and mental health problems in England – and which mental health conditions can dramatically increase the chances of a person being in problem debt.

The charity is calling on the government to use its upcoming Consumer White Paper to ensure people with mental health problems get a fairer deal from essential services like banks, energy or broadband providers – and more protection from aggressive debt collection practices.

Based on exclusive analysis of new national data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, a nationally representative survey of over 7,500 people across England, the new research shows:

  • 1.5 million people in England are currently struggling with both problem debt and mental health problems at the same time.
  • People with mental health problems are 3.5 times more likely to be in problem debt than those without mental health problems.
  • Nearly half (46 per cent) of all people in problem debt are also experiencing a mental health problem.

 The research also reveals for the first time the extent to which experiencing some mental health conditions in particular can dramatically increase the chances of facing financial difficulties.

It shows that people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are almost six times more likely to be in problem debt than people without a mental health problem, in part due to common symptoms such as unreliable memory and difficulty in processing information which make it harder to manage money. Nearly a third of people (29 per cent) with OCD in England have problem debt, compared to just five per cent for people who do not have a mental health problem.

Similarly people with bipolar disorder or depression are around five times more likely to be experiencing serious financial difficulty than people without mental health problems. One in four people affected by these conditions are in problem debt, compared to one in 20 people who do not have mental health problems.

This reflects the impact of common symptoms of bipolar disorder such as impulsiveness -especially during manic episodes – and symptoms of depression such as low moods and poor concentration, all of which can affect people’s ability to manage their finances.

Money and Mental Health is calling for wide-ranging action from the government, the NHS, banks, energy providers and regulators to reduce both the psychological impact of problem debt, and the chances of someone with mental health problems falling into financial difficulty.

Commenting on the findings, Helen Undy, Chief Executive of Money and Mental Health, said: “When you’re struggling with your mental health it can be much harder to stay in work or manage your spending, while being in debt can cause huge stress and anxiety – so the two issues feed off each other, creating a vicious cycle which can destroy lives. Yet despite how connected these problems are, financial services rarely think about our mental health, and mental health services rarely consider what’s happening with our money.

“The government has an opportunity to use its upcoming Consumer White Paper to introduce minimum standards that people with mental health problems can expect across essential services like energy and banking, to ensure that they get a fair deal. That should include help to avoid problem debt, and better protection from aggressive debt collection practices when it does happen.

“And ensuring that money advice is routinely offered to people using mental health services would increase recovery rates, as well as improving the financial wellbeing of the 1.5 million people currently dealing with this terrifying combination of problems.”

Problem debt is here defined as falling seriously behind on payments for bills or credit agreements, or having been disconnected by a utilities provider in the past year.

* Money and Mental Health Policy Institute https://www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/

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