The Indebted Truth

Mental health suffers in the face of debt

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In the midst of the current economic problems in the United States, the stress of debt affects millions of people. Researchers show that mental health and debt can be a vicious cycle.

Studies confirm that debt can be both a consequence and a catalyst when it comes to mental health dilemmas, and a recent study investigates the relationship between mental health and problem debt. 

"Consider meditation and other mindfulness programs to help improve reactive thinking.  "

Mind, a mental health charity for England and Wales, believes that those “stressed, depressed, or in a crisis” should not face the discomfort alone. In 2008, the organization funded “In the Red”, a survey to understand the mental health impact of the recession.

A follow-up survey in 2011 was conducted to provide additional insight, demonstrating oddly similar results to their previous inquiries.

In the interim between the studies, Britain experienced a credit crunch unlike any they remember seeing before. Although researchers expected mental health problems to rise, the study shown them to remain steady.

The recession’s depression proved no stronger, although the report states, “there is still much to be done to minimize problem debt occurring and to help those experiencing both debt and mental health problems.”

The surveys were administered online, the first with 1,804 eligible participants, the second with 878. Both surveys were executed in winter months and neither sample was random.

New 2011 research areas provided additional highlights, including understanding that:

  • At the time of a bank loan, most believed their creditor knew nothing of their mental state, although nearly fifty-percent had admitted to speaking with a debt service in the past about their mental illness.
  • More than thirty-percent of respondents and forty-percent of those with problem debt did not understand their loan decision enough to report it as a reasonable decision.
  • Over sixty-percent of all and over seventy-percent of problem debt responders were confused on how to manage their finances.
  • Almost sixty-percent of those with problem debt previously spoke with health professionals about their financial struggles.

Britain’s Department of Health acknowledges the relationship between indebtedness and mental illness and has proposed recent strategies to tackle the wider social implications of the problem. This includes reaching out to local creditors to talk about the implications of psychiatric dilemmas and how best to prevent financial struggles from accompanying them.

Contributing expert Peter Strong, Ph.D., works as a psychotherapist and provides consultations online to those suffering a variety of behavioral and mental ailments. dailyRx asked Dr. Strong to provide his professional opinion debt's practical implications worldwide, receiving a heartfelt response.  

"Coping with debt and financial hardship can be one of the greatest sources of psychological stress that we will ever face other than the death of a family member," Strong states. "Debt issues trigger core feelings of helplessness, failure and sheer terror. We become victims of our circumstances and this loss of power generates intense anxiety, fear and depression."

Although startling to think the impact of financial loss could compare to the end of a human life, the reality that the world runs on money has many equating personal worth to financial success.  When there's less to go around, individual negativity is bound to rise as people lose themselves in their own minds.  

"We have a tendency to proliferate negative thinking, catastrophic thinking and speculative thinking," Dr. Strong tells dailyRx. "This reactive thinking converts the pain of the change in our circumstances into emotional suffering. This is like pouring oil onto a fire."

Strong provides his personal services online via Skype, many times calling upon mindfulness therapy to assuage the reactive thinking associated with debt.  He explains to sufferers, "Mindfulness teaches us how to be with our emotions without becoming reactive. We learn how to sit with our pain with kindness and friendship, with genuine presence, in exactly the same way you would sit with a friend. Getting reactive doesn't help him or her; listening with an open mind and heart does."

It has become increasingly easy to beat oneself up during this economic downturn; however the right thing to do is to focus on more therapeutic approaches to eliminating debt.  Strong concludes, "When you can be a true friend to your inner pain, then you create the correct inner conditions in which that pain can heal. This is a central teaching in Mindfulness Therapy and Mindfulness Meditation, and one that is much needed in these difficult and challenging times."

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 14, 2011
Last Updated:
December 15, 2011