Feeling like you can’t manage your debt could lead to mental health issues, no matter how much you make

COLERAINE, Northern Ireland — The strength of your mental health could hinge on the strength of your finances, or at least how you strong you think they are. People who believe they are struggling with debt are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, according to a study of United Kingdom citizens.

The research highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent inflation and rise in energy prices have strained household budgets around the world. Previous research has linked financial strain in the pandemic to worse mental health.

This latest study concludes that no matter how much you earn, your mental health suffers if you feel you cannot manage your debt.

“The psychological problems associated with being in debt are not limited to those people with low incomes,” the authors write in a statement. “Irrespective of your income, your beliefs about your ability to manage your debt is what is important; perceived problems with managing debt levels is associated with depression, anxiety, and mental health help-seeking.”

This study, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, sought to understand how people’s perception of their ability to manage debt relates to their mental health wellbeing. Professor Mark Shelvin of Ulster University and colleagues analyzed data from the COVID-19 Psychological Consortium Study, which was conducted in August and September 2021 and includes 2,058 adults in the UK.

Among other questions, the survey asked participants to rate how manageable they felt their debt to be and whether there was any history of treatment for mental health difficulties. It also asked standard questions for measuring anxiety and depression.

The analysis shows that 24 per cent of the participants reported problems with debt management, and these participants had higher levels of anxiety, depression and mental health treatment. After accounting for socioeconomic differences between participants, the researchers report that the more serious a participant rated their problems with managing debt, the more likely they were to have anxiety, depression, or current mental health treatment.

The authors stress that while these findings show a relationship between perceived debt management and mental health difficulties, they don’t necessarily mean that one causes the other. They also say that the study highlights debt as a threat to mental health and suggest the need for strategies to counter debt’s harmful effects, especially as the country faces a cost-of-living crisis.

Report by South West News Service writer Pol Allingham.