The shocking impact that soaring bills are having on mental health has been laid bare by a report that highlights how money worries are driving many people to consider suicide.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, a charity founded and chaired by consumer champion Martin Lewis, reported that 17% of survey respondents said they had had suicidal thoughts in the past nine months due to rising cost of living.
Around three in 10 of the 2,049 UK adults selected by YouGov said they had fallen behind on at least one bill. The ballot, deemed harassing by debt collectors, plays a big role in the mental health of those in arrears. At least 11% of those polled said they were now ‘afraid’ of opening the job banks, energy companies and other creditors.
The report’s authors called on the government to urgently adopt American-style rules to stop debt collectors bombarding people about overdue bills. They also call for the update to the National Suicide Prevention Strategy to be released urgently to better reflect the role of financial hardship as a contributing factor.
The charity said there are no strict legal rules in the UK limiting how often debt collectors can contact people about overdue bills, unlike in the US where creditors are allowed to call debtors up to seven times a week.
A respondent to the report described how he received seven contacts in seven hours from a single debt collection agency, causing him to stop answering his phone and messages and causing him to become a recluse.
Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, has been open about his own mental health struggles. He said: “The link between serious financial problems and suicidal thoughts has long been established. It is therefore not surprising that the cost of living crisis, with bills soaring as a result of the pandemic, is causing increasing distress to some people.
“Yet the scale of this distress is particularly worrying, and it leaves serious concern about the impact on the number of people who may consider suicide. We know that being bombarded with letters, calls and threats of legal action from debt collectors can lead people to feel hopeless, helpless and even contribute to suicide, so the sooner specific protections are put in place to limit how and to what how often debt collectors can contact people about missed payments, the better – even the bastion of free markets, the United States, has stricter rules than us on this.
Helen Undy, the charity’s chief executive, said suicide rates rose during the last recession and the government needed to act urgently to learn the lessons of that time. “There is rarely a single cause for someone to become suicidal, but it is clear that the deluge of letters and calls bombarding people with debt problems is causing enormous distress.”
A government spokesperson said: ‘We understand the negative impact financial problems can have on a person’s mental health, and the government is committed to supporting those in debt. Through our Breathing Space program, we have protected more than 100,000 people unable to repay their debts by suspending enforcement actions, contact with creditors and most interest, fees and charges for a period of 60 days, their giving them time to find a debt solution that works for them”.
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