As September is Suicide Prevention Month, i thought it would be a good an idea to keep going with this series.  This installment is about debt and mental illness, something that I have a very personal connection with, and something that I am currently dealing with.

Debt and mental illness go hand-in-hand and are not talked about nearly enough.  If mental illness has a stigma that stops people talking about it because of embarrassment, then debt has just as potent a stigma.  Most people are quite happy to mention things like credit card debt, or getting a car on PCP, but how many of us will admit to just how much we owe to credit companies and banks?  I’m betting that most of us won’t reveal the true figure of our debt for fear of feeling embarrassed or judged.  And that in turn can have a serious impact on our mental health.  There are countless stories in the press over the past few years about people who have  ended their lives due to debt problems and the number is increasing.  People who commit suicide are 8 times more likely to be in debt and see it as their only option.

I am no stranger to debt.  In 2005 when I split with my ex husband, I was left with around £25,000 worth of debt. I was young, naive and he was 12 years older than me and i just went along with anything he said.  I had no job and 25k to pay off. I spiralled deeper and deeper into depression until I heard about Gregory Pennington and they literally saved my life. It took me a decade and a generous family member to pay it all off, but I got there.  They also offered me a bank account with Think Money which completely changed the way I viewed my money and spending habits.  No overdraft, no cheque book and they hold back whatever is needed to pay the bills so that whatever is left on my card is mine to spend.

Since moving house in February and going from sharing with 2 others to living alone, the struggle to adjust has been tough. My rent has gone from £450 a month to £775 and now all the bills are my sole responsibility and not split 3 ways.  Its taken me longer than I’d like for me to realise that I can no longer cope with paying my credit cards and loans etc so i finally bit the bullet this week and reached out to Step Change for help.  They’re completely free, impartial and the UK’s largest debt advice charity.  They’re been around for 25 years now and let me tell you, the reassuring voice at the end of the phone on Monday night was like music to my ears.  With their help I am now in the process of drawing up an IVA as that was the best option for me and it means that in 5 years time, I’ll be writing off around 60% of what’s left of my debt.  I slept for 9 solid hours on Monday night, the first time in months that I’ve felt relaxed enough to do so.  I’m incredibly disappointed that I’m back in the red again after 2 years of relative financial security, but I’m so glad that I was brave enough to admit that I have a problem and reach out.

One thing that you can do to help earn a few extra pennies is to use a cashback site or app. They’re usually free to sign up to and all you have to do is remember to use the site whenever you want to buy something.  Changing my utilities providers has earned me the most cashback so far.  For example, switching broadband suppliers got me a prepaid Mastercard of £130 AND £85 cashback.  And you can use the site for grocery shopping, eBay, pretty much everything.  I use Top Cashback and if you follow that link and use my referral code, we both get cashback!  Yes, shameless plug i know but then I have no shame so…

My message is this: don’t struggle in silence and DON’T bury your head in the sand.  Most creditors are incredibly helpful so your first port of call is to speak to them directly and explain that you’re struggling.  Most of them will work with you to help and not against you.

Next, get some advice.  I’ve listed below all the free and impartial charities in the UK that will offer you advice and help. They will take a look at your situation and then draw up a plan the best suits you.

Lastly, don’t keep it to yourself.  The more secretive you are about your situation, the worse your mental health will be.  Debt is nothing to be embarrassed about.  If you’re married/with a partner, don’t hide it from them.  Sit down and talk about it together. If you’re struggling, I’ve also included a list of charities below that will listen and not judge.

Organisations that can help with your debt problems:

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, or just need someone to listen without judgement, here are some numbers:

More in this series:

Part 1: Personal Experience