It’s hard enough to get out of bed when you’re buried in bills. Just the thought of trying to get out of debt spurs depressive symptoms. Here’s how to deal.
For many people, debt has become part of their daily lives. Financial repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic’s global shutdowns didn’t help set us up for success either.
According to PEW research, in the months following the start of the pandemic:
- More than 14 million U.S. people lost their jobs.
- The unemployment rate skyrocketed up from under 4% in February 2020 to 14.4% in April 2020. For context, unemployment following The Great Recession of 2008 only went up to 10.6%.
As a result, many people struggled to pay their bills, including medical bills, especially if they lost their employer-provided health insurance.
With the average U.S. household debt in 2020 reaching its highest level in almost a decade, many people are facing the most challenging and stressful time of their lives.
Over time, fatigue and despair can set in, and debt can begin to affect your mental health.
Worrying about your budget, especially if you’re facing financial challenges, can:
- increase anxiety
- lead to poor decision-making
- create feelings of hopelessness that can lead to depression
In U.S. adults, ages 20 and older, 15.8% living under the federal poverty line reported symptoms of depression. In comparison, 3.5% of adults living at or above 400% of the federal poverty line reported depression symptoms.
Having financial problems can increase depression — and when you have depression, it can be incredibly challenging to focus on budgeting or taking the necessary steps toward shaving your spending.
Depression symptoms can include:
- low self-esteem
- changes or disruptions in sleep
- less interest in things you used to enjoy
- feelings of hopelessness
- changes in diet (loss of appetite or overeating)
- increased anxiety
- suicidal thoughts
When debt or money is one of the primary triggers for your depression symptoms, it’s sometimes called debt depression.
“Debt depression is not a formal clinical diagnosis. Rather, it is a term used to describe depressive symptoms brought on by the emotional stress of debt,” explains Joyce Marter, a licensed psychotherapist and author of “The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life.”
Marter says that many of the negative thoughts that come out of financial hardship create emotional responses that contribute to debt depression.
And untreated depression can affect your mind, body, and emotions.
Long-lasting stress and depression can affect your life in a number of ways. When it comes to debt depression, it’s the same.
The more overwhelming money struggles feel, the more of your time and energy could be taken up worrying about it — which can impact your overall well-being.
There are many things you can do to not only address your depression, but also reduce your debt load.
Set small, realistic goals for yourself
You may have credit card debt, student loan debt, or even a car loan — which adds up to an amount of money that’s pretty difficult to stomach.
It’s easy to feel discouraged and hopeless in the face of such a high price tag, so try breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces to focus on.
Instead of being downcast by how large your credit card balance is, you can try hiding your credit card in your house (somewhere you won’t be able to quickly use it) and decide to pay a little over the minimum payment required each month.
Don’t think about how much money it will take to pay the entire credit card off, but set a small goal of paying down $200 to start, then $400, and so on.
It may not seem like you’re making significant progress right now, but over the course of a few months, you may start to feel better as you see that balance slowly becoming more and more manageable.
Consider seeking support for depression
Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of people. While it may feel like your debt depression would go away if you just had more money, it can take time before you become financially stable.
Plus, debt might not be the only thing causing your depression symptoms. Other causes could benefit from treatment.
If you aren’t sure if therapy is right for you, Marter suggests reframing therapy as “a routine and preventive form of healthcare, like going to the dentist or the doctor.”
Your mental health is important. In the same way you’d see a doctor if you were having physical pain, a mental health pro can help you work through emotional and psychological pain.
Even if you have financial limitations, there are ways you may be able to meet with a therapist.
Offer yourself a little grace
If you keep telling yourself that your problems are too big, or that you aren’t the kind of person that can fix their own problems, it can feel impossible to improve your situation.
“Our ego is our mind’s understanding of ourselves, and debt can cause us to feel unworthy,” explains Marter. “You are innately worthy and deserving of all that is good. Your financial problems are how you are, not who you are.”
By reframing your situation as a challenge that you’re learning to overcome, you can work to break the cycle of negativity.
“Stop the self-flagellation and self-judgment and practice acceptance of your financial situation,” says Marter. “Extend yourself the same empathy and compassion you would demonstrate to others.”
Consider a medication for depression
Depression comes with a lot of symptoms that make it difficult to navigate a complicated issue like debt. If your body and mind are fatigued, you’re feeling hopeless, and you can barely get out of bed, dealing with money issues is going to seem impossible.
If you don’t already have a diagnosis or treatment plan, you can reach out to a health professional to discuss treatment options like medications and therapy.
“You wouldn’t argue with your cardiologist about taking high blood pressure meds,” says Marter. “So remove the stigma from mental health and recognize that a low dose of an antidepressant can help you feel better, so you can take the steps to improve your financial life.”
No matter how big your financial problems might be, it’s important to remember that there’s always help available.
As things open up, and we begin to recover from the physical, fiscal, and mental toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had, remember that you’re not alone.
There’s a misconception that people in debt got there because of reckless spending or living beyond their means — but that isn’t always true. Sometimes, debt happens because of circumstances outside your control.
But by making a plan to treat your depression, sticking to a new budget, and being open about asking for support, you’ll get through this.