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How debt can affect our mental health

“Irrespective of your income, your beliefs about your ability to manage your debt is what is important."

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By Danny Halpin via SWNS

People who believe they are struggling with debt are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, according to a new study.

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.

But this latest study concludes that no matter how much you earn, your mental health suffers if you feel you cannot manage what you owe.

The authors, from Ulster University, Northern Ireland, stated: “The psychological problems associated with being in debt are not limited to those people with low incomes.

Portrait of worried young single mother feeling stressed while working through finances in kitchen late at night, thinking how to pay off debts for rent and domestic bills. Financial problems concept
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“Irrespective of your income, your beliefs about your ability to manage your debt is what is important; perceived problems with managing debt levels are 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 and 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.

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

Credit score concept with pensive man back in front of chalkboard with credit score levels
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The analysis found that 24 percent 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 showed 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 stressed 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 said that the study highlights debt as a threat to mental health and suggests the need for strategies to counter debt’s harmful effects, especially as the country faces a cost-of-living crisis.

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