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If you’re struggling with debt, know that you’re not alone.

According to the Office of National Statistics, 4% of households have problem debt that they’ll really struggle to get out of. Even if you don’t fit into this category, even a relatively small amount of debt can start to affect your mental health. The average debt per UK adult is more than £30,000, with the average British adult paying almost £1,000 in interest each year.

It can help to put debt into perspective, knowing that you’re not the only one struggling with debt. In fact, your friends and colleagues may be secretly battling to pay back the money they owe. Debt is a bit of a taboo subject, but this doesn’t mean you’ll need to cope alone. There’s a lot of debt help available, and taking steps to access this help is important.

Often, the hardest thing is facing up to a debt problem. It can be difficult to accept that you’ve lost control and can’t afford to repay what you owe.

If you have debt problems, this guide can help to keep your sanity intact. Find out how to manage your debt and look after your mental health. Things might feel hopeless, but no debt problem is completely unsolvable.

PLEASE NOTE: WE ARE NOT MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS. THESE TIPS MAY HELP WITH YOUR DEBT CONCERNS, BUT ALWAYS SEEK PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH.

Contact Helplines

If debt has left you feeling low or suicidal, it’s incredibly important to speak up and make your feelings known.

Your top priority should be getting your thoughts under control. Your debt can be handled once your mental health has improved. Speak to someone in confidence, whether that person is a loved one or a professional. Your GP can help, or contact one of the following mental health helplines:

  • Samaritans (116 123)
  • NHS (111 in England and Wales)
  • NHS 24 (111 in Scotland)
  • Lifeline (0808 808 8000 in Northern Ireland)

Tell Your Bank

Let your bank know that you’re struggling to manage your debt. With your consent, your bank can record this information on your file. Information will be kept in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018.

If you have debts that are linked to your bank, they should offer support and advice. They should offer a payment break, or help you to create a repayment plan that might include your interest being frozen. You should also be referred to members of staff that have appropriate mental health training. It can be hard to face up to your debts, but nobody wants you to struggle. Banks might need to make a profit, but they have to put your mental health first.

In some cases, banks might ask for evidence of mental health problems. This can be provided as a letter from someone like a social worker or GP. The bank must deal with your case, and evidence, discreetly and confidentially.

Contact Your Creditors

Your creditors are legally required to be responsible lenders. They must put your mental health first and help you to manage your debt.

If you’re struggling with debt, make a budget. Make sure you include everything. Remember to budget for expenses like haircuts, birthday gifts and new clothes. Many people sacrifice whatever they can as they struggle to get out of debt, but you deserve to be able to buy the things that keep your mental health on track.

Once you’ve got a clear budget, you should know how much you really have spare each month. It’s this spare money that needs to be used to clear your existing debt. Your debt shouldn’t be taking away from your monthly grocery budget.

Once you know how much spare money you have available, split this between your different debts. You have a right to contact creditors, tell them you’re struggling and tell them how much you can afford to pay back every month. Most creditors will freeze your interest, stop you borrowing more and accept your offer of payment.

Reducing your monthly repayments will mean that your debts might take longer to clear, but freezing interest could be what’s needed to help you start paying off your debts. You’ll also be free from the constant burden of making payments you can’t afford.

If you don’t feel like you can contact your creditors, there are charities that will do this for you. Debt management charities offer a free service to take control of your debts. They’ll ask you to provide your budget, then pay your spare money to them. They’ll negotiate with your creditors and split your money, sending the right amounts to your different credit accounts.

The hardest step is the first step. Many people wish they’d faced up to their debt problems sooner. Clearing your debts can be a slow process, but the moment you’ve made your repayment offers your financial burden reduces.

Keep a Healthy Routine

It sounds cliché, but exercise really is one of the best mental health treatments. It’s also important to sleep well, though I understand this can be hard when your problem debt is playing on your mind. Here is a check-list of things you can try.

  • Take regular walks
  • Try meditation and use deep breathing exercises
  • Take a bath in the evening
  • Eat healthy food
  • Speak to a friend every day.

Many of the best things for your mental health don’t need to cost any extra money. Fresh air, sunshine and your favourite music can be some of the best mental health boosts.

If you’re struggling with debt and already feeling down, it can be very hard to find motivation for exercise. Start small, with a walk around your neighbourhood. Sometimes, that’s all you really need.

Until it becomes something that makes you feel better, fit some gentle exercise and time outdoors into your everyday routine. At first you’ll need to force yourself to act, but over time you’re likely to discover that these routines improve your mental health.

Identify Triggers or Bad Spending Habits

Most people have a trigger that leads to unhelpful behaviour. They eat because they’re bored, not because they’re hungry, or reach for ice cream after an argument.

Your triggers might be leading to spiraling mental health problems. If you respond to your problems by spending money, you’re going to end up further in debt.

Heal your mental health by sitting down and working out where you’ve spent your money. What have you purchased, and why? Were these practical, essential items, or were you buying things you didn’t need because it felt good to get new things?

Triggers don’t always lead to money being spent. Other behaviours can be just as unhelpful or uncomfortable. Keeping control of your behaviour can help you to control your mental health.

Come up with diversion tactics. Think about your triggers and how you can cope with them better. Instead of doing what you currently do, what can you do instead? 

Avoid These Things…

There are many different things that can lead to poor mental health. Lack of sleep is one. When you don’t get enough sleep, you struggle through the day and might be more irritable. Lack of sleep can lead to depressive thoughts and an overall feeling of hopelessness. Try to avoid late nights. Come up with a calming routine to get to sleep at a sensible time. Other things to avoid include alcohol, which can have a similar effect, and binging on food which usually leads to guilty feelings later in the day.

Avoid too many arguments, and people that make you feel worse. Some people simply aren’t good for us, and it’s a powerful thing to step back and stop someone else from harming your mental health.

Also avoid your own ignorance. It’s tempting to brush your problems aside and pretend that they don’t exist, but the best way to improve your mental health is to face your problems head on. Share your struggles, ask for help and set yourself on the right path.

Download Helpful Apps

There are now many different apps that can help to maintain good mental health. These work in lots of different ways, but all have the aim of making it easier to deal with your everyday thoughts.

Why not try one of these apps for your Android or iOS device?

Calm

The Calm app is a top-rated meditation and sleep app. The app provides lessons about mindful movement, breathing exercises and meditation you can do at home. There are also calming tunes to help you relax, along with nature sounds that you can work, study or fall asleep to.

Headspace

The Headspace app offers insightful and motivational stories from the moment you wake up. There are lessons to help you stay calm and positive, along with stress relief workouts and meditation sessions.

Calm Harm

Calm Harm has been designed with teenagers and young people in mind, though a much wider audience can benefit. The goal here is to help you step away from self-harming or damaging behaviours. With Calm Harm, when you notice that you’re struggling with your mental health, you can access distraction tasks that help to keep your mind on other things. Calm Harm can help with those immediate urges to take drastic action, helping you to get to a place where you can make rational decisions.

Catch It

The Catch It app uses CBT methods. Use this app to find ways to turn negative thoughts into positive. You can record your experiences in an in-app diary. Provide details about how you felt earlier, any triggers you recognised and how you feel about things now. It’s thought that Catch It can help you to recognise that the most intense feelings don’t last long. Over time, strong emotions fade and things may not be as bad as you thought.

Chill Panda

Chill Panda offers a choice of tasks like breathing exercises and light workouts. It can monitor your heart rate and give guidance and techniques to help you gain control of how you feel.

SilverCloud

SilverCloud is an online course, so you’ll want to see it through until the end. You’ll work through the course for a total of eight weeks, using CBT tools to recognise your feelings and work to manage them effectively. To access SilverCloud, you will need an NHS referral to a therapist. This is a free NHS treatment.

distrACT

If you’re struggling and feel like you need to self-harm, distrACT helps you work through those feelings. The app has self-help guides, access to helplines and emergency contact details. There’s also a Chill Zone where you can find resources like stories, poems, videos and pieces of art to help you pass some time.

Take Control

If you don’t reach out for help, your debt might continue to spiral. You wouldn’t be alone in going through this problem. Many people, from a young age, are taught that debt is a bad thing. So, when you end up in debt, it’s natural to want to hide the problem. The trouble is, the longer you hide your debt problems the worse they’ll become.

If you take control now, you can form a plan to help you pay back what you owe. Your creditors should offer a reasonable way to repay your debt whilst making ends meet. If you ignore the problem, the debt could keep mounting as you borrow more money to survive. You’ll keep paying interest for even longer, paying more than you can afford every month until the problem’s larger than ever.

If debt is affecting your mental health, there’s no better time to act. Acting right now will stop your debt from becoming even more of a problem. The moment you take those first few steps, you’ll feel the weight lifting from your shoulders. The problem is, those first few steps are the hardest ones you’ll need to take.

You’re in control and there is always a way out of debt. Reach out for support, get free help from a charity and ask for professional support.

About the author

Tobie Timmermans

Tobie is a Finance Specialist with first-hand experience working with FCA Regulated Finance Companies in the debt industry. He has recently moved back to his hometown, Malvern, after studying economics at Loughborough University. Read more
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