The perceived ability to manage debt is linked to mental health problems in the UK during the pandemic

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Someone is holding an empty wallet. By Towfiqu Barbhuiya, Unsplash, CC0

In a study of UK adults, those who reported more severe problems managing their debt had higher levels of anxiety and depression, and were also more likely to receive treatment for mental health problems. Mark Shevlin of the University of Ulster, UK, and colleagues present these findings, which may also have implications for the current cost-of-living crisis, in the open access journal PLANE ONE September 21, 2022

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and measures to slow the spread of the virus have strained the financial position of households around the world, and economic conditions continue to pose challenges. Previous research has linked financial hardship during the pandemic to poorer mental health. Other studies show that subjective factors associated with debt, such as anxiety and stress, may have a stronger statistical relationship with mental health than the actual amount of debt people have or other objective factors. However, it was unclear how people’s perceptions of managing their debt related to their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To improve understanding, Shevlin and colleagues analyzed data from wave 6 of the Consortium for Psychological Research’s COVID-19 study, a survey of 2,058 adults in the UK that was conducted in August and September 2021. Among other questions, survey participants were asked to rate how manageable they thought their debt was, provide a history of treatment for mental health problems and answer standard questions to measure anxiety and depression.

The analysis showed that 24% of participants reported problems managing debt, and these participants had higher levels of anxiety, depression and mental health treatment. After accounting for socioeconomic differences between participants, the researchers found that the more severe participants rated their debt management problems, the more likely they were to have anxiety, depression, or current mental health treatment.

The authors note that while these findings show an association between perceived debt management problems and mental health problems, they do not show whether one problem causes the other. However, the research highlights debt as a threat to mental health and points to the need for strategies to counter the harmful effects of debt, which may also be important now that UK residents are currently facing a cost of living crisis.

The authors add: “The psychological problems debt-related issues are not limited to low-income people. Regardless of your income, your confidence in your ability to manage your debt is important; perceived problems with managing debt levels are associated with depression, anxiety and mental health seeking help’.


Poor mental health associated with difficulty avoiding problem debt


Additional information:
Mark Shevlin et al., Perceived Debt Management and Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A UK Population Analysis, PLANE ONE (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0274052

Citation: Imagined debt management linked to mental health issues in the UK during the pandemic (21 September 2022) Retrieved 21 September 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-09-debt-linked-mental- health-struggles.html

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