No debt problems are unsolvable. It might not be easy or quick, but there's always a route. When mental health problems are involved, some special solutions apply.
Get the free Mental Health & Debt guide
This is a free 44-page PDF booklet supported by Mind, Rethink, CAPUK and others, for people with mental health problems and those caring for them.
It covers how to handle debts when unwell, work with banks, free debt counselling, specific tips for bipolar disorder or depression sufferers, whether to declare a condition and more.
PDFs require you to have Adobe Acrobat reader. If you don't, download it here for free.
Having planned it for years, in 2016 Martin founded the big new Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, run by former No. 10 special advisor Polly Mackenzie. The aim is to research, investigate and lobby for change on mental health issues and debt.
As an idea of what it looks at, one area of exploration is giving people tools when they're well, so they can control themselves when they're not.
For example, spending sprees are common both with clinical depression and bipolar disorder. So being able to put a freeze on your credit file that takes eight weeks to unlock, so you can't apply meanwhile, would be useful.
For more info, see the video and news story Stop the debt and mental health marriage made in hell.
Click the play button below to hear Martin's stigma-busting radio discussion on mental health and debt with Jeremy Vine. It was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 2 in May 2011.
Many thanks to the BBC for allowing us to share the programme. It's 30 minutes long.
Why we wrote this booklet
A message from Martin
Be under no illusions. Mental health problems can cause severe debt, and severe debt can cause mental health problems.
Debt isn't just a financial problem, it causes relationships to break up, people to lose their homes and families to break down. No matter who you are, it can be hell.
For many living with mental health issues, debt is a common problem. My usual line is we should focus on being responsible borrowers, as you can't expect lenders to be responsible – their job is flogging debt.
A few years ago, I had my eyes opened. A man came up to thank me for the MoneySavingExpert.com website. I asked him if he'd saved much money, and his answer surprised me:
"I don't use it for myself. I'm a mental health case worker, and almost every one of my clients has debt issues. It's tough for them to control many areas of their life. I use your site to help them sort through their problems."
This is the crux. How do we help those who are unable to be responsible for themselves? It is not always easy to be responsible for yourself – and the easy credit years created a potential disaster scenario.
Since then I've heard that story echoed time and time again. I pitched the idea to TV outlets several times, only to be told it doesn't resonate with enough people.
That's wrong. Many people have either had issues or have a family member who has. Yet it's not right to simply stop anyone with mental health issues getting credit. Often issues are temporary, and, even if not, debt isn't bad, bad debt is bad. A rational decision to borrow cheaply is fine. Mortgages, student loans and more are an integral part of the modern financial world.
While describing the problem is easy, the solutions aren't. I wish I could promise this guide will solve them. It won't, though it should help make things easier to understand and deal with.
How the booklet works
This guide is not only aimed at people experiencing mental health problems, but friends, family and carers who want to help them tackle their finances.
It was written with guidance from several leading charities and organisations, including Mind, Rethink, Christians Against Poverty and others.
Throughout the guide, there are tips to start taking small steps to cut your debt. We have used real-life case studies from members of the online forum at MoneySavingExpert.com. We've included them to illustrate that you are not alone. Hopefully their experiences of escaping from debt may give you hope that you can do the same.
We've colour coded them: the sadder stories are highlighted in red, and the success stories in green. If you are feeling low and not in the mood to read about someone else's problems, you can simply skip the red ones.
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If you want a sneak peek before getting the full Mental Health & Debt PDF guide, here's a quick breakdown for each section of the guide.
The big message:
No debt problems are unsolvable. No matter how bad it seems, while it may not always be easy or quick, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, when mental health is involved, sometimes just having the energy to deal with it is tough. And that's what this guide is about: recognising that mental health and debts are a marriage made in hell, so we've easy practical steps you can take to get back on track.
Getting started — analyse the problemChapter 1
There are two ways to deal with problem debt, and which is right for you depends on whether you're in what we call debt crisis or just have worrying or large debts. This chapter shows the solutions that apply to each.
It also covers the three things you need to know about debt, disability-related benefits and tips for bipolar sufferers.
Get free debt helpChapter 2
For those in debt crisis who are consistently struggling with debts and unable to meet repayments, free personal help is invaluable. The aim is to find non-profit debt counselling, in other words, a one-on-one session with someone whose job is to help you, not to make money out of you.
This chapter includes all the contacts you need, as well free online debt help tools and how to deal with emergency issues.
Working with the banksChapter 3
Many people with mental illness are sceptical about telling banks about their condition. But there can be some definite advantages. Once a lender's aware, it has to make adjustments.
This chapter covers your rights and protections under the Lending Code, plus whether to declare your condition, with tips from mental health charity Mind.
Approaches to treat mental distressChapter 4
If you feel unable even to contemplate sorting out your money, some of the suggestions in this section may help you begin your recovery. They are tips from experts in the field and from those who've experienced problems — and offer a number of different approaches.
How friends, family & carers can helpChapter 5
Where to start if a friend or family member has mental health and debt problems? Dealing with debt issues can be stressful at the best of times; those struggling need support as they make their way through the steps to being debt-free.
This chapter explores how to support your friend or relation, from basic/joint bank accounts to power of attorney. You can also find out about carers' benefits and discounts.