Over the years I have treated a great many people struggling with a variety of psychological issues. Some of the issues I treat are straightforward, some less so. But more often than not the root cause of the problems my clients face is one of the unholy trinity: love, money and work.
Years ago, as society began to understand the DNA of mental health, it was a commonly-held belief that debt caused depression. To an extent, that’s still the case. But there’s increasing evidence to show that the opposite is also true and that a significant life event like the loss of a job, chronic and debilitating poor health or the disintegration of a relationship can often be debt’s smoking gun.
But whether debt is the chicken or the egg in the evolution of poor mental health, the truth is that the impact of even mild financial stress on your wellbeing can be the start of a vicious circle that leads, by increments, into emotional paralysis.
Unless we’re lucky enough to be born into wealth, debt in one form or another is something most of us will experience in our lifetime. In most cases, debt will take on the guise of an ever-present but manageable overdraft or a maxed-out credit card. And by and large our psychological response to that level of financial pressure is to build the repayments and the interest into our day-to-day lives.
Our debt becomes a fixture and we manage it by making small sacrifices elsewhere to even out the repayments and the interest charges.
But once we’re on debt’s treadmill, it doesn’t take much for it begin to dwarf our ability to get out from under the weight of our financial exposure. And, in turn, it takes less to tip us over the edge and into debt’s great chasm until, eventually, we find ourselves borrowing money to pay back the money owe to someone else.
Wherever we turn we’re met with the lure of increasingly diverting ways in which to thunder headfirst toward financial ruin. The never-ending furniture sales, the interest-free loans (which, when you think about it, are simply interest-free debt), the buy-now-pay-later mentality of having what we need and want right now.
And on the dark road of debt accumulation, our companion is first stress, then anxiety and then depression. The more debt, the greater the desperation and the greater the desperation, the more overwhelming the depression.
Debt is the locked room from which no escape seems possible.
And in the midst of the misery there are vultures which circle above, watching each faltering step you take into private mental agony and holding out the promise of instant relief. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the companies who look at you and see your desperation not as a personal tragedy unfolding in real life, but as an ermine-trimmed opportunity to make it worse by appearing to make it better.
They prey on those who are the most vulnerable, offering expensive money to those who can least afford it.
Welcome to the three-ring circus of payday loans, where everyone’s a winner. For a day. Or a week. Or a month. Or a year. Or until they lose everything.
Because once you’ve reached the point where what’s coming in doesn’t even cover your debts, never mind the costs of actually keeping a roof over your head and food on the table, interest at 1250% APR doesn’t seem like the end of the world. Even though it might just be exactly that, if you only knew it.
Hope dies last. Hope is the belief that things will be better tomorrow. A month to pay back a few hundred quid? Anything can happen in a month. A new job. The lottery. An unexpected inheritance. And frankly, next month might as well be next year, because right now every day lived in the glare of constant worry and depression feels like a lifetime. A month is a long time. Until it’s not.
Google ‘payday loans’ and see what comes back in the search results. Sunny Loans with the not-so-sunny 1277% interest. QuickQuid and SwiftMoney with their 1255% rate. The numbers are so preposterous, so outrageous, so irresponsible, that it’s impossible to believe they could have any customers. But then, desperation looks very different from the other side.
These ‘quick-fix’ merchants promise instant relief from debt and worry in ten minutes or less. But what they create is a situation far, far worse than the one you might already be in. They are, in their own way, the architects of a misery and a mental anguish that most of us, thankfully, will never experience. They are the clown with the smiling face who lurks in the sewer. And when he gets hold of you, it only takes a missed payment or two for the smile to give way to a mouth full of razor sharp teeth.
The link between debt and mental health isn’t up for debate. But the interest that these payday loan companies charge is. Yet even with serious intent, the path to responsible lending will be long and hard-won.
In the meantime, there’s a different kind of help available. The sort of help that could point you in a different and more positive direction, both financially and mentally.
If you’ve suffered a trauma or an event that has compromised your ability to pay your bills or your response to your current mental state is to buy what you can ill-afford (which is also a very common way of stumbling into unmanageable debt) support is available in various forms:
Getting professional help from someone like myself to deal with the emotional challenges you face, which in turn will make you more resilient and better-able to manage life’s practical issues, like finances.
If debt is already an issue, talk to the Citizens Advice Bureau which can act as an intermediary between you and your creditors – whether it’s your bank, mortgage lender or other supplier – and make special arrangements for the repayment of your liabilities that will take the pressure off you.
And it’s also worth looking at Debtors Anonymous, a 12-step recovery programme who’ll help you to begin the process of unravelling the rats’ nest of emotional issues that almost certainly underpin chronic debting, underearning or overspending.
Your finances may be in the red, but your mental health doesn’t need to be.