Worrying about whether you’ll be able to cover your mortgage or rent payments, or your gas and electricity bills, can take a huge toll on your mental health.
Financial worries can often escalate quickly, leaving you fearful about possibly losing your home, or even being able to cover food bills. Tragically, growing numbers of people are finding themselves pushed into debt, with many having seen their incomes fall, or stop altogether, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Money and Pensions Service expects demand for debt advice to increase by up to 60% by the end of 2021, and that around 3m more people than before the pandemic will need support with problem debt by the end of this year. Our own Rest Less research found that 30% of unemployed over 50s have been out of work for at least a year and 20% have been out of work for at least two years – with long-term unemployment forcing some into an early retirement they neither want nor can afford.
Many people feel a huge sense of shame when they are experiencing money difficulties, and this can often prevent them from opening up to loved ones about the problems they are having. According to financial planning company Tilney, 39% of people in the UK don’t believe they can confide in their partner, spouse or family friend if they feel anxious about money. However, keeping your financial worries to yourself won’t help solve them and the longer you bottle it all up, the harder it can be to talk about the issues you’re facing.
Zoe Bailey, chartered financial planner at Tilney, said: “People need to feel like they can access professional guidance where necessary, rely on loved ones when they’re in need of support and find some comfort in just talking to others. It’s been a tough year for lots of us, so recognising the link between our mental and financial health, and prioritising both, will reap rewards for our overall security and well-being.”
Here, we look at what the government and financial institutions are doing to support those who may be experiencing mental health issues due to money worries, and where to go for help if you need someone to talk to.
What’s being done to help
The financial regulator the Financial Conduct Authority recently conducted research into vulnerable customers, who it defines as those who, due to their personal circumstances (including issues with their mental health) are especially susceptible to harm, when a financial service company is not acting with appropriate levels of care.
Worryingly it estimates that a massive 27.7 million adults in the UK now have characteristics of vulnerability such as poor health, experiencing negative life events, low financial resilience or low capability.
As a result, the FCA has produced new guidance which aims to drive improvements in the way firms treat vulnerable consumers.
Nisha Arora, Director of Consumer & Retail Policy said: ‘Protecting vulnerable consumers remains a key focus for us and given the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever that firms get this right.
‘We also remind customers to tell your providers if you have specific needs – whether that’s due to ill health making it difficult to access a service, or a recent emotional or financial shock that is impacting your finances. Doing this will help firms support you.”
As well as the FCA’s guidance, the government earlier this year launched a consultation aimed at extending debt solutions and helping vulnerable people in financial distress start afresh.
The consultation is looking at ways more people can access Debt Relief Orders to help them get out of problem debt, by expanding the financial eligibility criteria people need to meet to access one. Debt Relief Orders protect people from their creditors and after 12 months all debt within the order is written off. You can find out more about how Debt Relief Orders work and other options that may be available to you in our article Serious debt: Your options explained.
Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Secretary, said: “Suffering from financial difficulties places a huge amount of stress on people’s mental health and wellbeing, which is why we are committed to giving more people who are struggling with debt a chance for a fresh start. Debt Relief Orders are a valuable tool for supporting vulnerable people to get to grips with their problem debts. Our plans to increase the eligibility criteria will mean many thousands more could benefit from this help.”
The consultation will run for six weeks and any changes are expected to be put in place later this Spring.
Don’t suffer in silence
If financial worries are affecting your mental health, please seek help as soon as possible. You are not alone, and if you don’t feel comfortable confiding in friends or family, there are many services available to help you.
Free financial support services
If you don’t know where to begin sorting out your financial problems, contact Citizens Advice to help you find a way forward. You can speak to an adviser through its national phone service Adviceline on 0800 144 8848 if you’re in England, 0800 702 2020 if you’re in Wales, 0800 028 1456 if you’re in Scotland and 0808 223 1133 if you’re in Northern Ireland.
The following services also provide free guidance on money issues:
- Mental Health & Money Advice (online only)
- Mental Health Foundation (telephone 0808 8010525)
- Money Advice Service (telephone 0800 138 7777)
- Pensionwise (telephone 0800 138 3944)
- Pensions Advisory Service (telephone 0800 011 3797)
If you need specific help dealing with debts, you can get in touch with one of the following specialist debt advice charities:
- National Debtline (telephone 0808 808 4000)
- Debt Advice Foundation (telephone 0800 043 4050)
- StepChange (telephone 0800 138 1111)
Consider speaking to your bank It might also be worth contacting your bank to see if they can offer you any support to help alleviate the financial stress you may be under. Recent research by Lloyds Bank found that worries about damaging credit scores prevent some people from seeking help, with more than one in three people wrongly thinking support from their bank would automatically have an adverse impact.
Jo Harris, managing director at Lloyds Bank said: “When you’re struggling, it can be particularly hard to reach out for help and our research shows many people could be missing out on valuable, practical support from their bank as a result.
“Whether it’s a change in personal, health, or family circumstances, it’s always worth reaching out to your bank to see how they can help. Most banks have specially trained advisers who will take the time to understand your personal situation and find ways to support you.”
Look after your mental health
With the year that we’ve all had, we have seen a significant increase in interest in our articles on mental health in the Healthy mind section of our site, including 12 different ways to help look after your mental health during lockdown and beyond and 7 tips for coping with stress and anxiety.
Charities that can provide more tailored help if you’re struggling with your mental health due to money issues include:
If you find yourself feeling particularly low, organisations such as The Samaritans are available to support at any time of the day or night on 116 123 – or by email at [email protected] if you’d prefer to write down how you’re feeling or don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Alternatively, there’s also the Shout Crisis Text line – text Shout to 85258 if you’re experiencing a persona crisis.
Has your mental health suffered because of financial worries? Have you found any particular ways to cope with stress and anxiety? Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on the community forum.