Chris Lynch, 41, was a hard-drinking student when his debts began to build up and his life started to spiral out of control.
At one point he was was £35,000 in debt – and that’s when anxiety and depression took hold.
“I didn’t think I’d be alive long enough to pay if off. I could easily have ended up homeless or ending my life,” he says.
The charity Mental Health UK says Chris’s experience is not unusual – up to four million people could be at risk of poor mental health brought on by money problems.
In its recent survey of 2,000 people, many reported feeling stressed, anxious, isolated and depressed by financial worries and one in six admitted to having suicidal thoughts because of them.
While just under a third of people did not talk to anyone about their problems, half said they wouldn’t know where to go for help.
Chris, from Chester, says he needed some kind of mental health support at university but there was nothing for him and his problems snowballed.
Despite doing a part-time job in a restaurant during his degree, he was spending all his wages and stacking up huge credit card bills.
“I consolidated loans and was working 50 to 60 hours just to make the the minimum payments.
“During my 20s I was doing whatever it took to get through the day and the night,” he says.
But he felt unable to cope and had what felt like a complete breakdown. By the age of 30, he had moved back in with his parents.
“I was still alive but I couldn’t pay the rent.
“There were so many places that could have put the brakes on my problems,” he says, looking back.
‘People lose hope’
Sarah Murphy, associate director for advice, information and training at Mental Health UK, says the cycle of mental health and money problems can be vicious.
“Coping and managing money is difficult when you’re ill, with schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder, for example.
“Even if you have no mental health issues, a change of situation such as redundancy can create a debt problem and people don’t know where to go for advice so they start to lose hope.”
The charity’s mental health and money online advice service receives referrals from charities across the UK, as well as the national debt line.
But there is a “double stigma” in the UK around talking about money troubles and mental health, Sarah says, which makes people reluctant to seek advice.
Her advice is:
- don’t lose hope, there are always options
- find free, independent advice services (which don’t charge)
- don’t be afraid to get help from your GP