The effects of Covid-19 and rising inflation and interest rates are resulting in more financial stress. Here’s how to manage debt to improve your mental well-being
Many South Africans are resorting to debt counselling enquiries. The positive aspect of this is that more people are seeking help, but there are still many others who could benefit from debt counselling yet continue to struggle month after month hoping things will get better.
According to a 2020 UCT study, the emerging literature on debt and mental health shows that being highly indebted is stressful and leads to psychological problems.
There are typically five stages of response to financial difficulties. While not everyone will experience all of the five stages, if you can recognise the signs early, you can respond much more effectively.
Stage 1: Denial
People who are in denial about the extent of their debt often refuse to recognise that they need help. Typically, they make excuses for their inability to pay the bills. They are inclined to disregard creditors’ calls or payment notices, which can add to the pressure.
Ignoring debt won’t make it go away and can lead to even more serious consequences such as creditors repossessing assets such as houses or cars. This can further impact both your financial and mental health.
Stage 2: Stress, anger and regret
This is when people begin to realise that things aren’t going to improve and can manifest themselves as insomnia, anxiety and hypertension. Sometimes, the situation is made worse by taking out additional loans to make ends meet. When their credit score starts to reflect their difficult financial situation and their loan applications are denied, anger and regret can set in.
Stage 3: Depression
Confronted at last with the reality of their financial situation, it’s common for people to feel hopeless and desperate. This can be the critical phase of the debt-acceptance cycle. When people feel overwhelmed, they’re either paralysed by anxiety and do nothing or decide to seek help.
Stage 4: Acceptance
Coming to terms with debt is a significant step. This is when people recognise they have over-stretched themselves, realise they’re not able to solve the problem alone and are willing to accept help. It is the breakthrough moment and the earlier they reach it the sooner they can begin the journey to financial freedom.
Stage 5: Resolution
People who have taken back control of their finances talk about feeling a sense of relief and happiness having put the anxiety of being over-indebted behind them. The best way to sustainably tackle and resolve debt is via debt counselling.
Tips for dealing with the mental-health implications of being over-indebted
- Don’t let anxiety paralyse you. Seek help as soon as you can.
- Don’t carry the burden alone. Being in debt is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people are. In fact, getting help is the responsible thing to do.
- Don’t underestimate depression. It can be serious and may stop you from tackling your debt, which is the root cause of the problem. Speak to friends and family and get professional help if you need it.
Words: Nosiphiwo Nxawe at DebtBusters