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How to Cope with Debt Depression

Sometimes, depression is caused by genetic or biological factors. Sometimes, it’s caused by things that are happening in your environment. Things like debt and other financial problems often lead to symptoms of depression for many people.

The strong link between financial health and mental health is long-documented; people with financial worries are much more likely to have mental health problems, and vice versa. One study found that up to 1 in 4 people struggling with depression were also facing high amounts of debt. Only about 1 in 20 people without mental health problems had crippling debt.

Even prior to 2020, many people were struggling with their finances. Now, with a record-high unemployment rate, more people are buried under debt than ever. So many of us are experiencing the intense anxiety, stress, and depression that being in debt brings. So what can we do about it? How can we cope with debt depression when it feels so overwhelming? Your situation isn’t hopeless, and you aren’t alone. Read on for tips on how to cope when you have debt depression.

Related Blog: 5 Ways to Deal with Debt and Depression

What Is Debt Depression, and What Does it Feel Like?

When we talk about debt depression, we aren’t talking about any official clinical diagnosis. The term “debt depression” refers to the intense feelings that people may experience when they’re buried in a lot of debt. These feelings can be so intense that they can start to mimic symptoms of major depression or anxiety. In fact, research has shown that a high amount of debt does increase your risk of developing depression -- which is a clinically diagnosable illness.

You might be feeling debt depression if you:

  • Find yourself constantly worrying about your debts
  • Feel hopeless when you think about getting out from under your debt
  • You feel like you can’t deal with the stress, so you deny or avoid all reminders of your debt (like hiding collections notices, for example)
  • You drink or do drugs to cope with the stress of your debt
  • You have thoughts about ending your life when you think about your debt

The Best Way to Cope Is to Get Out of Debt

Debt depression is different from other types of depression, as it’s caused by a very specific life circumstance. You may be predisposed to depression anyway, but if you have debt depression, then the presence of financial stress and debt in your life is what’s mainly contributing to your depression symptoms. The best thing you can do for your mental health right now is to make a plan to get out of debt. Avoiding your debt will only make your depression worse in the long run.

Set small goals

If you’re buried deep in debt, you aren’t likely to be able to get out of it quickly. But don’t lose hope; every little bit counts when it comes to paying off your debt. Set small financial goals that you’ll be able to keep. How much can you afford to pay your debt down each month? It may seem like a drop in the bucket when you look at how much money you owe in total, but even drops in the bucket eventually accumulate.

Stop creating more debt

No matter how much you pay off, you’re never going to get out of debt if you keep adding to it. Get out of the habit of opening up new accounts to pay off debts. By doing this, you aren’t getting yourself out of debt -- you’re simply shuffling your debt around to different lenders. Figure out exactly how much you owe, and make a plan and budget for paying it off. Some experts recommend paying off your smallest debts first, which will give you the gratification and motivation to keep moving toward your financial goals.

What if I’m broke?

If you simply don’t have enough money to make any payments on your debt, there is support out there for you. Credit counselors can talk to you about your options and may even be able to lower your interest rates so that you’re able to pay your debt down faster. There are also some debt relief plans that can help people pay off their debt faster, but you should only turn to these options as a last resort.

Deal with Your Depression Symptoms

Yes, we believe that the action that will have the most powerful effect on your debt depression is to get out of debt. But, we also understand that any financial goal takes time and commitment. In the meantime, you’re left with symptoms of depression that may make it difficult to function in everyday life.

If it’s financially available to you, seeing a therapist can help you deal with any kind of mental health problem, from debt depression to anything else that may be going on in your life. Therapists can give you a safe place to express your emotions without feeling judged. They can also equip you with coping skills you can use when the weight of living with debt feels like it’s too much.

Therapy might also be the best option if impulsive behaviors have contributed to your debt in the past. For example, do you battle a gambling addiction? Do you tend to shop to try to escape emotional pain? A therapist can help you look into your 

Antidepressant medication might also be helpful if your symptoms of depression are severe. If your debt depression is interfering with your everyday functioning, or if it’s causing you to have thoughts about harming yourself, then medication could help change your life.

If professional mental health support is out of your budget, then look into free or low-cost options.

Related Blog: What to Do When You Can't Afford Therapy?

You Can Overcome Debt and Depression

Although both debt and depression can feel like hopeless situations, neither are. With help, you can get out from underneath debt depression and start thriving in life. You aren’t alone, and there is support available to you. 

If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life, call your local emergency line or the National Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

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