A personal finance expert says that the recent publicity around mental health problems has been instrumental in helping those in debt to talk about the challenges they face.
Emma Gibbons, a client support specialist at free debt advice service PayPlan, believes that events like World Mental Health Day, which takes place on 10 October, and the Royal-backed Heads Together campaign are finally removing the stigma around conditions like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Since November last year, our advisers have seen more than 1000 new vulnerable people contacting us about their debts, prepared to speak openly about their issues. Over the last 18 months this number is increasing month on month.”
“Of this group, 43 per cent suffer from a mental illness or are suicidal, up from 39 per cent in November last year. While these figures look alarming, I believe it’s a positive thing – people increasingly feel more comfortable discussing mental health with us and its impact on their finances, instead of suffering in silence. We’ve found that 91 per cent of clients voluntarily disclose their vulnerability to us. There’s still a lot more work to be done until we remove the stigma completely, but we certainly seem to be moving in the right direction.”
PayPlan found that depression was the most common condition among its vulnerable clients (60 per cent), followed by anxiety (16 per cent) and bipolar disorder (six per cent).
“Sadly, poor mental health can severely impact on a person’s ability to stay on top of their finances and when they get into debt, it only compounds their condition further.”
“They may go shopping, book holidays or gamble with money they don’t have, just to escape their problems for a short time. For some vulnerable people, simply managing household finances or having to find the cash for a boiler or car repair can be really stressful. There are also those who are unable to work because of their illness, which means they struggle to afford essentials like food and rent.”
“When people have contacted us in the past, they may have downplayed their mental health concerns. However, we’ve found by using industry recognised conversational support models our trained advisers are able to understand the clients situation and offer better advice as well as signpost them to the right support services.”
Her comments were echoed by Fiona Bonser, a volunteer listener at the Samaritans: “One in two adults with debts have a mental health problem*. Being able to be open and honest is a big step and can be daunting. The training that PayPlan has provided, including awareness from Samaritans, means clients can be confident that they’ll be heard and understood.”