Guest blog: The link between mental health and personal debt

Sarah-Jayne Dunn of Citizens Advice Scotland

Sarah-Jayne Dunn,
Policy Manager for the Financial Health Team,
Citizens Advice Scotland.

The Citizens Advice network across Scotland has launched our latest campaign.  Stressed About Debt? aims to encourage people who are worried and anxious about their bills to seek advice.

Over the last few years the rising costs of essentials – especially energy bills – has happened alongside a stubborn stagnation of incomes. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country, through no fault of their own, have fallen behind on their bills and find themselves in debt. Some for the first time, others seeing their existing debt get worse.

There’s no shame in having debt, and it’s completely understandable to be stressed and anxious about it. I say that because so many people in debt do feel shame. And guilt. And denial. As a result, they keep their debt secret and avoid dealing with it.

But of course, this ostrich strategy is the worst thing you can do. Because left un-tackled, debt just breeds more debt. The interest piles on and soon your debt is spiralling out of control. And that’s when the mental health problems really start.

We estimate that over 660,000 people in Scotland have had their mental health impacted by debt. Meanwhile over 580,000 said that debt worries have kept them up at night.

People don’t need to suffer in silence. If they are behind on their bills they can catch up with us.

Our advisers get results every day. We can negotiate with creditors to put a hold on debt collection to allow more time and space to agree an affordable repayment plan. In some circumstances we can get some or all of someone’s debt written off – last year in Scotland we helped people write off over £11 million worth of debt. And we can help maximise people’s income.

The CAB network is not judgmental. We’re not going to lecture or blame people - we understand the pressures that lead people into debt and we’re completely on your side. Our service is entirely free, confidential and impartial. Our advisers are professional, sympathetic and very good at what they do. They won’t judge, they just help.

Before my current role in the CAS policy team, I was a money adviser for years. So often I would see these invisible weights lift off people’s shoulders simply by having shared their burden with me as their adviser.

So when we talk about debt, we also have to talk about our mental wellbeing, because the two are inextricably linked.

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