People in debt are more likely to suffer from mental problems

Landing yourself into debt can triple your risk of developing mental health problems, according to a new study conducted at the University of Southampton in the UK.

The average British family owes more than £11,000 and there is over £156 billion in unsecured debt (such as credit cards) in the UK.

The levels of debt have increased significantly because of financial hardship during the economic recession, and are only expected to increase.

The investigators conducted a systematic review of all previous studies which analyzed the relationship between unsecured debt and mental health problems.

Their meta-analysis is the first time that the results of these studies have been statistically combined, which involved a total of 34,000 people.

People who were in debt were found to be at triple the risk of having mental health problems compared to those who were debt-free, says the study, which was published in the prestigious journal Clinical Psychology Review. 

Fewer than 1 in 10 people with no mental health problems were in debt, whereas over 25 percent of those owing money reported having a mental health problem.

In addition, people in debt were at a heightened risk of depression, psychosis, and drug dependence, suggesting that individuals who committed suicide were more likely to have been in debt.

Lead author of the study, Dr Thomas Richardson, Clinical Psychologist from the University of Southampton, said:

“This research shows a strong relationship between debt and mental health; however it is hard to say which causes which at this stage. It might be that debt leads to worse mental health due to the stress it causes. It may also be that those with mental health problems are more prone to debt because of other factors, such as erratic employment. Equally it might be that the relationship works both ways. For example people who are depressed may struggle to cope financially and get into debt, which then sends them deeper into depression.”

He concluded:

“Debt advisors should consider asking about mental health when speaking to members of the public. Similarly mental health professionals should ensure they ask about whether their patients are in debt. Further research is now needed to show exactly how debt leads to poor mental health, so that interventions can be designed to try and prevent those in financial trouble developing mental health problems and vice versa.”

According to the American Psychological Association, in the United States almost four out of five prescriptions for psychotropic drugs are written by physicians who are not psychiatrists. Are people with debt problems and fragile mental health receiving the right sort of help?

The journal Scientific American reported on data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness which estimated that untreated mental illnesses in the U.S. cost over $100 billion annually in lost productivity.