Polly Mackenzie, Director, Money and Mental Health

Saving lives with money advice

Why financial difficulty is the missing link in suicide prevention

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. 

Every completed suicide is a tragedy. But there’s something especially heartbreaking when someone takes their life because of problems that seemed, in the moment, insurmountable – but which could have been resolved with the right help.

A debt crisis is one those fixable problems which, too often, leave people thinking about ending their lives. At Money and Mental Health we believe much more can be done to get people the help and advice they need early on when they’re facing financial difficulties, to prevent the worst from happening. We know every debt problem – no matter how big – can be sorted out. It’s  never too late to ask for help.

So on World Suicide Prevention Day we’re leading the calls to look at the way improving financial wellbeing can not only improve lives but save them, too.

The evidence for the link between financial difficulty and suicide is well established. People who have had a “major financial crisis” in the past six months are nearly eight times as likely to experience suicidal thoughts as those who have not, and those with multiple debts or who are unemployed seem to be particularly at risk.

Here are two distressing testimonials from participants in Money and Mental Health’s research explaining how it feels to them – but skip over them if you prefer to.

“We missed some mortgage payments as well as credit card repayments. Life was bleak and I had already tried to kill myself more than once.”

“I see suicide [as] a good option as my debt will be clear and my husband can move on.”

Economic woes
The difficult economic situation, rising levels of personal debt, unemployment and pressure on wages should be ringing alarm bells for health policy makers everywhere.

At the same time as people are experiencing these increased financial strains, advice services are under sustained pressure themselves, with local government funding falling as demand rises.

Unless we act, there’s a strong chance that the number of people in financial difficulty, and as a result the number of people experiencing suicidal feelings or completing suicide, will rise.

Despite this clear evidence and the increasingly difficult economic situation, financial difficulty remains an under-explored area of suicide prevention. We believe it’s an area where some relatively small changes could make a big impact, impact that can save lives.

What needs to happen
We’re calling on government, public services, advice agencies and financial services to do more to support those in financial difficulty who are at risk from suicide. In particular, we want to see:

  • More investment in debt and welfare advice, with advice services able to refer people to mental health services when needed
    Government and the financial services sector only allowed to use debt collection agencies who have mental health policies in place
  • Mental health services routinely asking people about their financial situation to identify where this might lead to increased suicide risk and refer people for advice services
  • Clear mental health training and guidance for frontline debt collectors, including how to respond appropriately to someone who is suicidal
  • Coroners to notify the Financial Conduct Authority and the Department of Work and Pensions of all suicides in which financial distress is considered a factor, to inform future practice.

Yesterday we sent these recommendations and others to the Health Select Committee, who are running an enquiry on suicide prevention. You can read our full submission here, and help us call for change by sharing this blog on Twitter and Facebook.