Merlyn Holkar, Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Money and mental health: the facts

29 March 2019

This week we released new statistics on the prevalence of debt and mental health problems in England. This data is key if we want to understand how often and why mental health and money problems go together, and to design more appropriate services and offer support to those who need it.

This new research underscores the strength of the relationship between these problems – and while we have long been aware that financial problems and poor mental health are linked, the figures are stark:

People with mental health problems are three and a half times as likely to be in problem debt

Just one in twenty (5%) people without a mental health problem are in problem debt, meaning they are seriously behind on bills like their rent or utilities. But for people who are struggling with their mental health, sadly, the rate is far higher. Almost one in five (18%) people with a mental health problem also have a debt problem. These latest data, from 2014, suggest that the relationship between money and mental health problems is at least as strong as it was in 2000, when the figures were last calculated.

We also found that certain mental health conditions have a higher association with financial difficulty. For example, people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are almost six times more likely to be in problem debt than people without a mental health problem, while those with bipolar disorder or depression are around five times more likely. But it’s important to remember that many people don’t neatly fit into one diagnosis, and that two people with the same diagnosis may experience different symptoms, so it is not helpful to make assumptions based on diagnostic labels.

Mental health problems can affect our finances in a number of ways. People with mental health problems are less likely to be in paid employment, more likely to be living on a low income, and symptoms of mental health problems can make it harder to keep on top of financial management. Common symptoms like Increased impulsivity can mean that people struggle to control spending when they’re unwell, and people experiencing low motivation or difficulties concentrating can find it much harder to shop around for good deals on their energy or financial services.

“Each time I have one of these major episodes, I have no concept of the consequences of spending money, and I live life in the moment. During the first day of my most recent full blown manic episode, I spent £700 on stuff I didn’t need, wouldn’t use and couldn’t afford.”

Half of people in problem debt also have a mental health problem

People in problem debt are almost as likely to have a mental health problem as not, with 46% of people in financial difficulty also experiencing mental health problems. In practice, this means every other person who’s behind on their energy bills or in rent arrears is likely to also be experiencing mental health problems. In contrast, only one in six (17%) people who are not in problem debt have a mental health problem.

Financial difficulties can be a significant source of stress, and the shame and stigma that surround debt mean that people are often reluctant to tell others that they’re struggling, or to ask a creditor for help. This can leave people isolated and make it practically harder to resolve their problems. For people who are already experiencing mental health problems, this additional pressure can make it harder to recover.

“My financial situation causes stress every day. It’s like a black cloud hanging over me every day. It never goes away… I never thought I would be unwell this long. I don’t know when or how I will ever get on top of it.”

Help us break the links

The statistics on mental health and financial problems are stark but they’re not set in stone. At Money and Mental Health we’re dedicated to understanding the links between money and mental health problems and to developing practical policy solutions to break them. Our ultimate aim is that people with mental health problems aren’t consigned to a life of financial difficulty, and that problems with money don’t lead to long term impacts on our mental health. But we need your help.

If you have personal experience of mental health problems you can join our Research Community. The Research Community is at the heart of everything we do. By sharing their experiences with us through surveys and focus groups, our members help us to understand the problems that people are facing and what might help to address them.

If you work in a field relating to money or mental health, you can join our professional network. Members of the network are updated on our work and invited to exclusive events, and we draw on their expertise to make sure our proposals are practical and would make a real difference.