Tag Archive: debt

The almost inexorable link between mental health and financial problems is long established and has been much written and oft debated by better people than me.  You might reasonably think therefore given that fact that there would be a structure in place to help people suffering with such circumstances, coming as they do on the back of mental ill-health.  All I can say is that if there is then it is news to me, in fact here once again is an example of where those suffering from mental ill-health or more specific Mental Health conditions are left to fend for themselves for long periods of time of sometimes acute suffering and where the system whilst all too aware of the problem is all too late with offers of potential solution.

This is not to say all Mental Health conditions lead to inevitable issues with finances, neither are all debt-related problems solely the proviso of those with Mental Health conditions, however it is sufficiently known as a phenomenon by both Mental Health charities and debt charities alike to be something that is seen as synonymous.  There are several exacerbating factors as to why this may be the case and they work on both levels namely when someone is in the depths as well as when they may not be. I should point out that whilst I may speculate upon certain aspects and areas of Mental Health I am not an expert nor a practitioner, however I am someone with diagnosed Mental Health conditions, who has also suffered periods of mental ill-health at various points and these have had a specific and profound effect on my financial stability far more so than I am comfortable with.  I will therefore be speaking from personal experience and knowledge of that of others with whom I have spoken over the years.  It is also not to say that I am advocating any random wiping of debt because that is the equivalent of giving the man the fish rather than the rod and the knowledge of how to fish. It could well work in certain circumstances to give some a brief lift up but is no guarantee of success for anyone and leaves the underlying problems unaddressed.

The most obvious cause of debt-related mental ill-health comes from short-term gratification, it is something all of us as humans are often guilty of, not at all restricted to those with mental health concerns.  From the extra chocolate from the box we know we oughtn’t to have to the impulse purchase that cheers us up when it’s been a bad day, to warm, to cajole, to pamper in order to alleviate stress, boredom, fatigue or distress.  All of these little indulgences need to be paid for, physically and emotionally, and if we are not living beyond our means then there should be little reason for concern.  It is though important at this point to ensure that we delineate between mental health conditions such as clinical depression and people in circumstances where they are feeling temporarily a bit low and need cheering up.  The reason why this is important a distinction to draw right now is because one is any more important than the other, they are different and the consequences from these ‘cheering up’ situations is therefore equally different.  Someone feeling down may have a realistic chance of picking themselves back up again in due course, they may or may not need some method of assisting themselves to cheer up but the need will be probably only for the period of time in question.

When suffering from mental ill-health the need to cheer yourself up may take a different form, one for example that you already know is detrimental, whether physically, financially or emotionally.  This immediately lessens the impact of it before you have even begun because those consequences can easily dilute any possible pleasure, one can find oneself easily regretting the decision before it is even fully complete.  The trouble is that having given in to the temptation the damage is already done, weakness has been exposed and capitulation of sorts has occurred and it is then we may feel ashamed.

In my view there is almost nothing more damaging that that which one can do to oneself as a result of shame and the avoidance of shame or the spiral in which it can quickly hold you.  Akin to something Alfred Hitchcock alluded to about the fear within being the most frightening so the crueller recesses of the brain can exploit far more clinically the elements about ourselves that bring shame.

As a personal example I found myself some years ago in a position where I would buy things from eBay, there was a double pleasure here because the element of finding oneself a bargain was coupled with the competition against someone else who might also want it.  What was interesting was that very quickly having won the auction there was no pleasure or exciting anticipation of the items arrival. Quite the opposite I felt almost a dread at it coming for the very fact that it would bring with it the shame of my having succumbed again.  When I say that I would buy things from eBay I don’t necessarily mean that I would simply buy a pair of jeans too many or the odd trinket, sometimes it would be pieces of technology for hundreds of pounds and on more than one occasion a car!

There were undoubtedly times when I was able to resist any such temptation, others when there was a genuine need for me to buy something of a particular nature but there were far too many when what I was trying to do was make up for the disappointment of the everyday by bringing something extraordinary into it.  I was often very lucky, I was for 15 years an IT engineer, the things I bought I could often make something of, frequently turning a very small profit, enough to cover my losses not enough to remove the sense of guilt.  Some of the cars I bought I spent years with and really enjoyed, whilst others languished and never went anywhere.  I managed to keep a roof over my head, just about, and not put my family at risk but this was often a combination of luck and having the gift of the gab rather than judgement.

Ebay was not the only vice either, the credit cards came and went, never thousands but often hundreds, I never lived an opulent lifestyle to go down in a blaze of glory merely just that slight shade beyond my means buying things in a vicious circle that themselves would lead to the shame that precipitated the next purchasing process. The feeling disappointed with myself would feed the nature of the need to alleviate that and the whole process perpetuated itself time after time.  It would have been a very different thing if I had gone mad and built up many thousands, it would probably have resulted in far earlier closure of the means to do any of it and it would also have been very visible at that point that it was an issue which might, though I doubt it, have led to me getting some help.  As it was it ticked along under the radar for years, decades truth be told, never enough to alert attention but always enough to be a source of embarrassment, shame and immense frustration.  I was being pursued by debt collectors just enough to be stressful but always doing just enough to prevent things getting more serious into areas like court action, this also meant I was making enough mistakes to have a poor credit rating but never enough to justify the idea of bankruptcy and ripping it up and starting again.  I never know whether to envy those that have gone down this route, I often wonder about it when you hear of people that have formerly been declared bankrupt being involved in other things, whether good or bad, I wonder whether or not the drawing a line under it all has afforded them catharsis or not and also whether it has been a salutary enough lesson to then act as a deterrent in the future, there are enough negative stories to suggest this is not the case with all people.

This is where I believe again it is important to draw some form of distinction on certain areas because just as with those who might be addicted to certain types of behaviour so the key is whether or not you can get yourself out of it when you see the damage it causes.  For most people the odd little treat whether good for you or not does not, or should not, tip them into a spiralling cycle of self-loathing and need for revalidation.  True there may be slight recrimination, a need to rebalance things, New Year’s resolutions to make good the excesses of the previous days, weeks, months, years.  It is not as if a great many people don’t have at least a sense of what those at the sharper end go through.

The tragedy is that left alone this becomes all encompassing, when reaching out for help there is not any sense of immediacy on Mental Health and therefore whilst there may be debt charities looking to help people in debt these may not be the logical first port of call for some people because they are a symptom rather than the root cause.  The difficulty is that even if identified as a mental health issue the person goes back into the system to wait, weeks and months pass someone who has reached out, possibly trying to overcome their own shame and recrimination in the process, is left to consider their actions at the point in time when they are at their most vulnerable.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out the likely consequences.

Song Of The Day ~ Icehouse – Hey Little Girl

I wake up to Radio 4’s Today program every morning during the week.  I’ve found that far from making me turn the radio off or feel roused from sleep rudely by someone else’s idea of what constitutes music the news and debate engages me to enough of an extent that I do not slip back to unconsciousness.  The Today program may not be well known outside Britain but it is BBC radio’s flagship news program and has many items in more depth than they are given anywhere else.  It is a highbrow program 3 hours long and generally the hosts of the show are some of the heavyweights of the corporations broadcast journalists, such as John Humphrys, and in truth if I want to know for sure whether or not a politician is talking bullshit Humphrys would be my go-to man.  It tends also to attract senior figures in politics and the world beyond for interviews and comment except a certain number of times a year when they feel got at for being asked questions they don’t want to answer.

Last month I started the week hearing the last three items and these together formed an interesting trinity juxtaposed as they were to one another and the current world at large.  It was like a microcosm of what is wrong and the contradictory nature of those that have made it so on a far wider scale.

The first item referred to the Squeezed Britain report, according to which 5.8 million households struggle to keep up with bills every month.  An inability caused by earnings growth being well below inflation.  Matthew Whitaker from the Resolution Foundation who were responsible for the report was chosen to comment on it.  Whittaker stated that in addition to the wage:inflation ratio  that many of these households cannot spare money to save and therefore perpetuate their lack of any safety net to cope with changes in circumstances or the financial climate.  Whittaker’s answer was that government should be looking at tax credits, benefits, education and some redistribution.  When asked about whether the tax system now was fit for purpose Whittaker responded that over last 30 years the gains from GDP growth have been concentrated at very top 10% of the population.  All this seemed a pretty fair summation of the state of affairs for the poorest 10% of the population in contrast with the richest 10% highlighting the vast differential between their daily lives.
The second item on the program related to an organisation called Magic Breakfast which helps schools in the running of breakfast clubs to ensure children have a sufficient and nutritional breakfast before lessons start.  According to the organisation they have a waiting list of schools looking for their help.  Carmel O’Connell the head of Magic Breakfast was interviewed alongside Jill Kirkby, formerly of the Centre For Policy Studies, now writing for the Conservative Home blog.  What Ms Kirkby’s credentials were for giving vent to her opinion on the topic was not clear and it was not pressed by interviewer Justin Webb.  [Indeed Justin Webb’s participation in this interview did him no credit and resulted in my sending a complaint to the BBC that the interviews were not even-handed.  You would have been forgiven for thinking this was a different person to the one who had caused controversy suggesting that people who supported the Conservative Party should not be allowed on the BBC and calling Tracey Emin a ‘Tory stooge’.]

Carmel O’Connel’s argument was that hunger and malnourishment were a barrier to education and that the financial position and time constraints of parents should not put the children at a disadvantage.  Their service has proven popular enough that more schools wish to take part.  Jill Kirkby’s counter argument was that were breakfast clubs to become the norm they would take over the duties that parents should be fulfilling.  She went on to question whether it was really about pressure on families as a decent breakfast such as porridge and an apple was not expensive.  She went on to claim that if parents were not providing this sort of breakfast then they should be fetched into schools in order that they can be given a lesson on spending priorities and what they should really be spending their money on.  Justin Webb here was not constructive is suggesting that this was all more a matter of convenience than necessity.

In truth if a family were to have enough money to feed their children and were choosing not doing so and making no alternative arrangements this would not be a matter for a quiet chat about spending priorities this would be something for a Social Services investigation about child abuse, and such abuse would I doubt be at all confined to the poorest sections of society. Would it not be worth firstly ensuring that those children who are given the opportunity to have a good breakfast are given it and subsequently the reasons why they have not been before are investigated?   To dismiss with a haughty slight of hand the first hand information Carmel O’Connel gave that upon visiting certain houses the cupboards are bear was not only to illustrate the problem of poverty and social exclusion but in addition the ambivalence felt by the comfortable that has caused it.

The final news item was one dealing with the government’s planned cap on benefits, one that they have still not managed to railroad through parliament yet.  Stephen Timms Labour’s shadow employment minister said that Labour were broadly in favour of the cuts but that they should stop short of applying if it would make families homeless thereby potentially costing more than it saved due to the necessary rehousing of said families by local authorities.  Timms said that rather than opposing the bill Labour would be concentrating on their amendment to the motion as outlined to prevent this sort of homelessness.   This at a time when already the Conservatives have been calling for anyone associated with last Summers riots to have their benefits stopped and to be evicted from their council housing.  Leaving aside the disgusting snobbery this shows in the assumption that those rioting were all from a background of welfare and council contributions it fails to address what would happen to those who are not.  Would they have their wages stopped, or be evicted from their parents houses or private rented accommodation?  Is rioting  as well as breakfast now like saving an entirely middle class preserve?

Song Of The Day ~ New Order – Blue Monday