Nathan Baber, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Mental Health Awareness Week 2023: the link between money worries, anxiety, and mental health

19 May 2023

Please note: this page/post contains information about suicide that readers may find distressing. If you’re in need of support, you can call Samaritans for free on 116 123 anytime of the day – or you can text SHOUT to 85258. For information about where to find support with your money or mental health, you can find some resources on our get help page

  • Money worries and anxiety are interconnected, but many people feel ashamed to discuss their anxiety, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation.
  • Research shows that half of people in problem debt also have a mental health problem, with financial difficulties worsening mental health issues.
  • Debt threats and harassment from creditors exacerbate distress, anxiety, and hopelessness, and can even lead to suicidal thoughts. Limiting the frequency of contact from creditors is crucial to providing relief and saving lives.
  • Urgent action is needed from the government to address the cost of living crisis and its impact on mental health, including implementing measures to limit creditor contact and providing support to those facing financial difficulties.

Money worries and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, yet shame prevents many of us from seeking support. According to a recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation, over one-third of UK adults with anxiety feel ashamed to discuss it with anyone. So it’s fitting that anxiety is the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (15-21 May). 

Together with Money and Mental Health, the Mental Health Foundation is now urging the government to take action to safeguard people’s mental well-being as costs continue to rise.

The prevalence of anxiety and escalating costs

Data from the Mental Health Foundation shows the widespread prevalence of anxiety across the UK. Given the ongoing cost of living crisis, it is fair to say that escalating costs are fueling a lot of this anxiety. A staggering 73% of those polled reported experiencing anxiety at least occasionally within the past two weeks. The data also shows that concerns about meeting financial obligations and bill payments were often identified as causes for anxious feelings for 32% of respondents during the same period.

For those of us struggling with bills and debt, our own research has shown that half (46%) of people in problem debt also have a mental health problem. A survey we conducted with nearly 5,500 people showed that 86% of respondents said that their financial situation had made their mental health problems worse. The cost of living is now also taking a toll on many of us. In national polling we conducted at the end of 2022, we found that more than half (54%) report having felt either anxious, depressed, filled with dread or unable to cope – or a combination of all these emotions – due to concerns about their finances. 

Added to this, people with anxiety and depression have a median gross income of £8,400 less than that of people without such conditions. As such, financial difficulties, low incomes and the increased cost of living are common causes of stress and anxiety, and prevailing stigmas mean that those of us going through financial and mental health difficulties often shy away from seeking the help we are entitled to.

The impact of Debt Threats on mental health

The cost of living is clearly fueling a worrying proliferation of anxiety across the UK, and problem debt is only making things worse. Our research has shockingly shown that 1 in 8 UK adults who are behind on their bills have attempted suicide during this ongoing crisis. While various factors contribute to suicidal thoughts, the relentless bombardment of letters and calls from debt collectors is a major contributor to distress, anxiety and hopelessness.

Stigma around financial difficulty means that some people facing money problems can be overwhelmed by shame, guilt and despair. Reminders of financial struggles only serve to exacerbate that distress. To make matters worse, the bullying tactics employed by some debt collectors further compound the mental health challenges faced by people in debt. Feeling powerless and cornered, those of us in this situation will often find ourselves trapped in a cycle of fear and anxiety. Experts by experience from our 5,000 strong Research Community told us how repeated contact by multiple creditors can leave them feeling extremely anxious, and even be a trigger for suicidal thoughts.

“Feeling harassed and persecuted. The sheer number of contacts scares me, it’s almost as if they are threatening and bullying me into compliance. They have me at the point of not answering calls and removing my SIM so they can’t contact me. I am becoming more reclusive as a result.” Expert by experience

This is why we have been campaigning to Stop the Debt Threats. We already had a significant campaign victory in 2020 when the government agreed to address the threatening language that was being used in debt letters. While this is a step towards recognising the detrimental impact of such communications on people’s mental wellbeing, we still want more action to be taken that will limit the number of times creditors can contact people about overdue bills.

“It makes me anxious and stressed. I avoid answering the phone and delete the messages without listening. Their constant ringing 3 times a day causes me anxiety.” Expert by experience

Imposing restrictions on the frequency of contact from creditors could be a lifeline for those teetering on the edge of despair. By providing people with respite from the constant reminders and threats, we can offer them a chance to regain a sense of control and stability. Stopping people from being bombarded with Debt Threats during the cost of living crisis could save lives.

Government must act

The cost of living crisis has unleashed a wave of mental health challenges, with many of us being burdened by overdue bills and financial worries. In particular, anxiety has become alarmingly widespread, as more and more of us fall behind on payments. While progress has been made in reforming the language used in debt letters, urgent action is now needed to limit the frequency of contact from creditors. 

It is imperative that the government recognizes the profound impact of this cost of living crisis on the nation’s mental health and takes decisive action to protect and support those of us who face the greatest risk. By ensuring no-one feels harassed and bombarded by debt threats during this crisis, lives can be saved.