Mark Fleming: debt and mental ill-health

For more than a year there has been ample evidence of recession. But the financial meltdown has produced a far less obvious side-effect – a rise in mental ill-health.

A study headed by Prof Rachel Jenkins, of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, published last year, found that, although 8% of the population was in debt, this rose to 23% among those with mental health problems.

The more debts people had, the more likely they were to have a mental disorder, even after adjustment for income and other socio-demographic variables. People with six or more separate debts had a sixfold increase in mental disorder after adjustment for income.

The study, published in Psychological Medicine, found debtors were more likely to become alcohol or drug dependent. Jenkins concluded mental problems led to debt and debt to mental problems, a vicious circle that affected all levels of society but particularly the poorest.

There is nothing new about people with mental health issues facing discrimination in the job market. But the economic climate is placing workers under increasing stress.

Yvonne Gallacher, chief executive of Money Advice Scotland, recently presented a seminar to staff of Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB), the Scottish government agency that handles bankruptcies and corporate insolvencies. She emphasised the importance of recognising mental health issues among customers.

There is some encouraging news on the horizon. Money Advice Scotland and the AiB belong to the Money Advice Liaison Group, which aims to promote industry-wide good practice guidelines among debt and credit institutions.

Various organisations were consulted about this advice, including the Mental Health Nurses Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Money worries can be among the most stressful events people face. It must be hoped that the beginning of the end of recession will be marked by green shoots of recovery for people with mental ill-health, not just neat rises in graphs.

Mark Fleming is an Edinburgh-based writer who has used mental health services. This year he published a novel, Brainbomb, about living with bipolar disorder

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