Cycle Between Debt and Depression

Cycle Between Debt and Depression

2nd May 2023

Here's how to break the vicious cycle between debt and depression

by Sarah-Jayne Dunn, Manager of the CAS Financial Health team.

This article was first published in the Hera;d on 29 April 2023.

A year ago, when the energy cap rise threw petrol on the already burgeoning cost of living crisis, we called for the industry to draw up a Mental Health and Money Charter of Good Practice.

We did this because we know that debt and poor mental health are linked in a vicious cycle. If you’re struggling to get by, you feel stressed and desperate. Borrowing seems the easy solution, so you borrow; therefore your debt gets worse, which hits your mental health. And repeat.

It’s a horrible downward spiral and our advisers see the awful human cost of it every day in the people who come to us for debt advice. The hunched shoulders, the signs of fear and lack of sleep in their eyes, the trembling voice, the guilty tears.

Of course such cases are not new to the CAB network. But what is new is the scale of them. That’s why we say Scotland is hurtling towards a money and mental health crisis.

We believe there’s a way to tackle this. It means changing the culture of how we as a society deal with debt. If creditors can be more flexible and understanding with their customers, this would not only increase the chance of them getting their money back, but would also drain the stress and anxiety from the process.

Despite our calls, the Charter was never created so last week we published our own. Our Good Practice Creditor Guidance aims to persuade creditors - both private firms and public services - to change their practices for those trapped in the vicious cycle.

For example, at the moment those who reach out to their creditors seeking support often find barriers in their way, such as inaccessible processes, online-only options and a lack of understanding around their situation. That needs to change.

Similarly, when it comes to chasing arrears, we want creditors to move away from the angry demands and cold legal letters, and instead engage constructively with people, actually supporting them. Building a relationship based on dignity and trust, asking ‘how can we help you to re-pay your arrears?’, is surely more desirable all round.

And no, this is not just bleeding-heart pie-in-the-sky liberalism. I have 12 years’ experience in debt advice, and believe me, those creditors who are willing to engage and understand are generally those who get back what they’re owed, even if it does take a bit longer than planned. 

Our Good Practice Guidance provides tangible steps that creditors can take to move in this direction. For example, offering extra time than the standard forbearance allowance means people with mental health issues have the space to seek and engage with additional support, either for their mental health or money issues (or both). Other principles include only requesting medical evidence in exceptional circumstances and only asking for such information once. Common sense really.

No two people diagnosed with a mental health condition will have the same experience. Therefore, treating customers as the experts on their own lives, and trusting them as the best person to explain how their mental health condition impacts on them, is a fundamental component of providing better support.

So we urge all creditors to consider adopting our Guidance. Because supporting people through their mental health and money worries has never been more needed.