Rachel Braverman, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Not all resolutions have to wait until the new year

‘Tis the season of anticipation. The run up to the holidays. Elaborate strings of coloured lights entice us towards the shops. We’re preparing, connecting, planning, organising, bringing in and buying. But for some people, problems are building beneath the buzz and excitement.

There can be huge pressure to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas. We’re encouraged to eat, drink and spend, spend, spend. Many people find Christmas challenging, particularly if you have mental health problems. Mind’s survey of 1,100 people found that almost a third of people with mental health problems feel unable to cope at Christmas, almost three times that of the wider population. Around 41% of those surveyed reported getting into debt.

Festive access

Overspending can be an issue all year round, but can be particularly challenging to manage at this time of year. With all the pressure and stresses, people with mental health problems can be more prone to ‘Crisis spending’, which we define as spending behaviour which:

  • Happens during a period of poor mental health
  • Is motivated by emotional or psychological, rather than material need
  • Causes some form of financial detriment.

People with bipolar disorder, for example, are prone to higher spending, particularly during manic periods. Festive stresses can trigger a mood swing, making it harder to control spending. People with depression can be prone to comfort spending or spending on others to boost low mood.

It can be all too easy for any of us to miss what’s going on with our finances at this time of year, in the whirl of buildup and expectation. Again, having a mental health problem can make keeping track much harder. Mental health problems can make organising, planning and paying attention cause significant difficulties.  

A happy new year?

So what happens when the festive lights come down and the brown envelopes start dropping onto the mat? Post Christmas bills can be hard for any of us, but sorting out the problems can be particularly difficult if you have a mental health problem. Our report, Seeing through the fog found that difficulty communicating or using a particular form of communication can arise as a result of various different mental health problems. Some people, for example, may be terrified of using the telephone, whereas others may find the clank of the letterbox triggers huge anxiety and letters become impossible to open.

What would help?

The Money Advice Trust, mindful of seasonal pressures, have launched a new campaign called ‘Peace Of Mind’, focusing on how getting help to deal with debt can give people peace of mind and help to make this an enjoyable time of year. Check out their video and spread the word.

Their message is ‘don’t wait to get help’. We know it can be daunting. In my years as an adviser, I was all too well aware that long queues and the feeling that debt is overwhelming and incurable can put people off. I also know from experience and research that getting money advice works. Like so many money advisers, I am proud to have helped hundreds of people to keep their homes, sort out the credit cards and get the benefits they were entitled to. The earlier you tackle the problem, the better. Not only are debts usually easier to sort out, but feeling someone is on your financial side and that there is light at the end of the tunnel can lift the stress and worry. So if you or someone you know is concerned about their spending or debt, find help now. Our website can point you in the right direction.

Wishing everyone a fabulous festive season and a genuinely prosperous New Year, free from debt and financial strain.