Mental Health and Debt: True Bravery

This morning I went to help launch the mental health charity Mind’s Mindweek which this year is tackling the problem of debt. It’s a subject I’m passionate about; mental health affects one in four people in the UK, and a quarter of them have severe debt problems, compared to 1 in 11 of the population in general. Yet it’s rarely spoken of.

In a few weeks, we’re funding and launching a a major new guide to dealing with debt with Mind when you’ve got mental health issues, including info for carers, see my blog (Mental Health and Debt; new guide to come). It’s being written jointly by me and the MSE team, as well as some senior mental health psychiatrists.

Showing some real developments

One of the delights of this is that the FSA is funding mental health case workers to be trained in debt issues. This is hugely important; many do it informally anyway (as you’ll see from my foreward note below), so to hear it being done formally is hugely important.

True bravery

Due to doing a photocall to help promote the week (rather sadly, the week itself doesn’t cut it with the media, having someone there off the telly helps get them there) I arrived at the speeches late. I was sat next to Liz on the top table; at first I assumed she was the delegate from the regulator the FSA; a smartly dressed, well spoken woman. As I had to rush off, I was first to speak … so I got up and did my bit. I was planning to head off then, but Liz started to speak.

She said, “I’m speaking to you after years of serious depression and terrible debt, with people knocking at my door”. I sat, listened and felt quite humbled by her story, but also by the fact she was there telling it, self-evidentally petrified, but strongly determined to carry on.

For most people, public speaking is difficult enough; yet for Liz to be there, not just speaking, but telling such a personal tale, of how she even now can’t afford to pay most of the bills, the terrible harassment and difficulties she faced from debt collectors when suffering clinical post-natal depression, and the horrid impact of them, was inspiring and truly brave. At one point she stopped, saying she was too nervous to carry on, but a near spontaneous round of applause warmed her back in.

I stayed until she’d finished. And it’s renewed the vigour in which I intend to try and engage with this issue.

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Also below I have copied my Foreword from the Mind week brochure, which helps explain why I’m so passionate about it.


Severe 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 send you to the pits of despair.

Yet for many who already live with mental distress, debt is a common problem. My usual rant is to rally against the ethos of responsible lending, in order to focus on responsible borrowing.

After all, the idea of putting those whose business is making money from lending in charge of when and how we can borrow is ridiculous.

Yet a few years ago I had my eyes opened. A man came up to me to thank me for my 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; 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.”

That was in the earlier part of my career. Since then, that story’s been echoed with an ever-increasing volume many times since. Yet while the noise grows, the coverage doesn’t. On a number of occasions, I’ve pitched to TV outlets, to be told the story doesn’t resonate to enough people.

Rubbish. The correlation between those in debt and those with mental health issues is far too strong. Most people have either had issues themselves or have a family member who has. This is a growing blight on our society and one we have to tackle.

For some people with mental health problems, there are times when being responsible for yourself simply isn’t possible. When that happens our nation’s ease of credit is a potential disaster scenario.

Yet this must be tempered by the fact that we can’t disenfranchise people from the credit market. Debt isn’t bad – bad debt is bad. A rational decision to borrow and do it cheaply is fine; mortgages, car loans and other investment-based borrowing is a part of our modern financial world.

These questions aren’t easy ones, and too few people want to focus on them. That’s why I’m delighted to be involved with and support the Mind week 2008 campaign.

Martin Lewis

Money Saving Expert