How Debt Impacts Your Health and Family

It’s not just your bank balance or credit rating which can suffer due to financial struggles. Debt problems have been increasingly linked to many common physical and mental health issues. Family relationships can also be put under strain due to money worries. And it can all become incredibly overwhelming.

If this sounds familiar, then don’t despair. The good news is that even by taking the first small steps to improve one area of your life, the positive benefits will spread to the others.

Something as simple as contacting creditors, organising your budget, or researching a debt solution can begin a virtuous circle which helps to ease physical and mental health symptoms. And improve your family life, whether that’s with parents, partners, or children.

You might not realise all of the ways in which debt impacts your health and family. By looking at all the parts of your life which could be improved by taking control of your financial issues, hopefully it will encourage you to become more proactive in finding the right debt solution.

  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Family Relationships

There’s no shame or guilt in admitting you might need help and support. Currently, an estimated 6 million people in the UK have fallen behind on a household bill due to the Covid-19 pandemic (link). But even prior to 2020, around 8.3 million people were struggling to cope with problem debts (link). That’s around 12% of the UK population, or one in six people.

Getting on top of your debts is the most important thing you can do to regain control of your finances. And to move towards a brighter, healthier, and less stressful future. That’s whether you choose a temporary repayment plan, or a more extreme option such as declaring bankruptcy to wipe off nearly all your debts.

How Debt Affects Your Physical Health

Usually any physical effects of debt are associated with extreme poverty. But even small financial issues can trigger symptoms in apparently normal and healthy people. And these tend to get worse over time, which can turn minor ailments into serious concerns.

Studies show that higher household debt is linked to poorer general health, and this gets much worse in more extreme cases. Long-term debt can even reduce life expectancy (link).

If you’re suffering from any health issues, whatever the cause, it’s important to speak to a medical professional for advice by contacting your local GP surgery.

You can also benefit by informing your creditors, debt collectors and any financial advisors of any medical issues which mean you could be deemed a vulnerable person. This puts a bigger duty of care onto anyone trying to reclaim money that you own. So, they should make more effort to treat you more fairly. If they don’t, you also have more grounds for complaints.

A survey by the Financial Conduct Authority has shown 50% of UK adults display one or more characteristics of being potentially vulnerable (link).

How debt can impact your physical health:

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Increased intake of alcohol, smoking or other drugs
  • Insomnia and problems sleeping
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Lowers your immunity to other illnesses
  • Increased muscle aches and pain
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Digestive symptoms

All of these are issues which can be managed and tackled alongside your debt issues.

Poor Diet:

Eating healthily can seem like an expensive luxury if you are trying to get debts under control. And if you’re stressed and struggling to sleep, it’s easy to slip into eating unhealthy comfort food. Especially if you have a family to try and cater for.

You might have cut down on eating out and takeaways to reduce your expenses. But a poor diet can contribute to making other issues worse. Developing a long-term health condition can have a far greater impact on your financial wellbeing.

Fortunately, it’s possible to eat reasonably well within even a fairly low budget by cooking at home, and many debt solutions will take into account reasonable living costs, including debt management plans and IVAs.

A healthier lifestyle can have some financial benefits in the future. You’ll be less likely to get ill, and more productive at work. Insurance premiums will also be affected. Not just any life insurance, but developing medical conditions can also increase your car cover, for example.

Lack of exercise:

Reducing your outgoings might mean cancelling the gym membership or your personal trainer. But this shouldn’t mean you give up on exercise altogether.

Physical activity, particularly outdoors, will help you cope with stress and improve your ability to sleep. It can distract you from negative thoughts and give you a break from worrying, as well as giving you more energy to tackle your problems.

You can even save money by choosing to walk, run or cycle as an alternative to public transport or driving.

There are many examples of people turning to sport to help cope with the demands and stress of life, and get on top of their health

Increasing alcohol, smoking or other drugs:

It might seem odd that anyone struggling to afford their lifestyle would spend money on alcohol, cigarettes or recreational drugs. But the use of these coping mechanisms has been well documented.

Dealing with debt and being chased for repayments by creditors or debt collectors can be a harrowing experience. The stress this can cause may lead into a spiral of dependency which ultimately ends up making things even worse.

Smokers are more likely to experience high levels of financial stress. And they’re also less likely to try to quit, even though it will help to lower their debt-related worries (link).

Higher levels of credit card debit have been associated with both smoking and high-risk drinking (link). Drinking can also lead to making poor choices, hangovers and sick days, and increased borrowing to continue drinking. Over longer periods of time it can increase anxiety and depression, rather than providing an escape.

Debt problems don’t mean that you have to deny yourself the occasional indulgence. But you should find support to stop them from triggering dependence issues. And cutting down can help you achieve financial freedom that bit more quickly.

Ultimately, the only way to beat the banks and debt collectors chasing their repayments is to deal with your debts head on. The best solution for you will depend on your circumstances, but the important thing is to start tackling your problems.

Alcohol support:

Quitting smoking:

Quitting drugs:

Insomnia and problems sleeping:

Everyone will have experienced problems sleeping occasionally. But regular sleep deprivation can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. In the short term, it’s likely to make it harder to concentrate, increase your risk taking, and you might feel more depressed or clumsier as well.

Laying in bed and staring at the ceiling every night due to worries about feeding your children, or paying your rent, can become a toxic scenario which could damage your help in the long run.

Sleeplessness will also make it harder to find the energy and resolve to deal with your financial issues. Especially if you’re also trying to work, look after family, and maintain a household at the same time.

There are plenty of free ways to help improve your sleeping (link), and support is available from your GP, especially if your insomnia lasts for more than four weeks.

But don’t wait until your sleeplessness is cured to get on top of your debt issues. By starting as soon as possible, you’ll be able to take a huge weight off your mind. That reduced worry should help you be able to sleep more effectively. Then you can use that extra focus and energy on improving your lifestyle.

Raised blood pressure:

Does your heart race every time the phone rings and it might be a collection call? Or when another debt recovery letter is posted through your letterbox?

Even if you don’t suffer from pre-existing anxiety or stress, it’s important to tackle your debts before it can have serious health implications. If you’re unable to take action, or even work and deal with everyday life, then it’s important to tackle the issue as soon as possible. Letting yourself suffer unnecessarily means you’ll have a bigger mountain to climb in the future.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase the risk of a number of serious, or potentially life-threatening conditions. Some of the causes include a poor diet, a lack of exercise, smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

But studies have also shown that those with higher debts have a clinically significant increase in their blood pressure compared to the typical average (link, and link to original study).

The first step is to apply to your creditors for a pause while you get expert advice on tackling your debts. DebtBuffer can help with a useful letter template to send to creditors, so you don’t need to worry about what to write or include.

Lowers your immunity to other illnesses:

Bills, final demands and letters from debt collection agencies will cause worry and anxiety if you’re struggling financially. And they’ll tend to trigger your “fight or flight” response. But because you can’t immediately change the situation, that stress will have nowhere to go, meaning it can become a more permanent state of mind.

And hundreds of studies have shown that psychological stress can have a big impact on the human immune system (link). Combined with the other ways which debt can impact on your health, it means you’re more likely to pick up every bug, virus and infection that’s going around.

Illnesses will potential impact your income, and certainly your ability to stay on top of your financial obligations. So, it’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.

What you can do straight away is to apply for a grace period. Just by taking that action, you’ll start to regain control. With a clearer head, you can avoid rushing into something which might make the situation worse, and choose from the best advice and options for your circumstances.

Increased muscle aches and pain

Debt problems can lead to actual physical aches and pains, a reduced tolerance to that discomfort, and even higher purchases of over-the-counter painkillers (link).

This means it can physically hurt to be financially insecure.

It often appears as lower back, neck and shoulder pain, which are indicators of stress once again.

If you are experiencing any symptoms like this, especially when dealing with financial matters, it’s imperative for your own wellbeing to seek some medical advice and help.

Your muscle aches and pains may be entirely due to the stress and worry from your financial situation. Or there may be other reasons, which can be identified by a medical professional.

Headaches and Migraines

You might assume debt problems would cause occasional headaches. But a survey of people reporting high debt stress revealed 44% had migraines or other headaches, compared to 15% of the typical population (link).

That’s a big increase, particularly with the debilitating effects of migraines for many people. They can include feeling nausea or being sick, and an increased sensitivity to light and sound, along with the pain itself. Cluster headaches are much rarer, but result in excruciating pain around the same time of day for weeks or months before they might subside.

Migraine headaches are the most common neurological disorder in the UK, affecting around 1 in 7 people, with around 190,000 attacks occurring every day.

You should always see a GP if you have frequent or severe migraine symptoms, and immediately if you start to suffer from cluster headaches. For more information and support, you can also visit The Migraine Trust (link).

Digestive symptoms

Digestive problems can be another symptom of the stress and worry caused by ongoing debt problems. These can include constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, stomach cramps and other issues.

If you’re in financial difficulty, you might have stopped following regular mealtimes, made do with a worse diet, and increased your smoking or alcohol intake. Which can lead to digestive issues that then have a knock-on effect on your ability to work and socialise. In a debt survey (link), 27% with high financial stress reported ulcers and other digestive problems compared to 8% without money worries.

How Does Debt Affect Your Mental Health?

As we’ve seen from the physical effects that debts can have on your health, the root causes tend to be the anxiety, stress and depression which can be triggered. The result is that 1 in 2 British adults with a debt problem have a mental health problem (link).

Much of the negative mental health issues from financial problems involve the feeling that you’re not in control, and powerless against large, faceless companies. Along with the shame of being judged, even by friends or family.

Sadly, this can have tragic consequences. People in debt are three times more likely to have considered suicide, numbering more than 420,000 individuals in England each year (link).

Financial problems can always be resolved, and if you’re struggling with suicidal feelings due to financial difficulties, it’s vital to get support straight away.

Advice is available online via Mind, Rethink or the Mental Health Foundation. Or you can call the Samaritans for 24-hour support on 116123.

Debt can affect your mental health if you have a range of existing conditions, or it can be the trigger for a variety of issues including:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Shame, Guilt and Low Self Esteem

If you believe you are struggling with any mental health issues, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. This will help you to find the right methods for your situation, and mean that you will feel more empowered and capable of managing other issues, including debt problems.

You can find help for mental health issues via your GP. If you prefer, or have issues being referred by your GP, the NHS also offers a self-referral scheme for counselling and therapy services.

Existing mental health issues can make it more likely that you encounter financial issues. Your thinking and judgement may be negatively affected, particularly during periods of mania or poor mental health (link). It can also affect your ability to claim for relevant benefits and support, such as Personal Independence Payments (link) as you’ll need to complete a form and an assessment to qualify.

If you’re suffering any negative effect on your mental wellbeing due to debts or being chased for repayments, it’s important to consider contacting your creditors or the debt collection agencies. By being declared as ‘vulnerable’ it should result in them taking your well being seriously as part of how they communicate with you and handle your debts. Securing a grace period from payments will help to give you the time and space to organise the best financial solution for your debt problems. And DebtBuffer has a letter template ready for you to send, so you can get that vital breathing space.


Everyone can feel stressed and anxious at times, and the symptoms are very similar for both situations. But while stress can be traced to an external factor, generalised anxiety disorder means that you feel persistently worried about a whole range of things.

If you’re already prone to anxiety or panic attacks, then financial issues are likely to make things much worse. And unfortunately, it can also make you more likely to experience debt problems, as 1 in 4 British people with mental health problems also have problem debts (link). And studies have shown that higher levels of anxiety predict worsening financial situations (link).

Many people exhibiting compulsive buying habits often have associated anxiety and mood disorders (link) , meaning that excessive shopping can continue to make the situation spiral out of control.

Symptoms include (link):

  • Thinking that you may lose control and/or go “mad”
  • Thinking that you might die
  • Thinking that you may have a heart attack/be sick/faint/have a brain tumour
  • Feeling that people are looking at you and observing your anxiety
  • Feeling as though things are speeding up/slowing down
  • Feeling detached from your environment and the people in it
  • Feeling like wanting to run away/escape from the situation
  • Feeling on edge and alert to everything around you

Sadly, if you’re in financial difficulty, the methods employed by many creditors to encourage you to repay your debts can be a severe trigger for anxiety.

Much of the communication you’ll receive from banks, creditors and other financial information is worded to meet legal requirements, and it can often appear to be more threatening or complex than it really is.

However, the anxiety this can cause means those initial threats of action can end up becoming a reality. Especially when the most common reaction for anyone suffering with anxiety is trying to avoid situations which can trigger an attack. Unfortunately, ignoring your debts to manage your anxiety levels means you’ll soon reach the point where your options are severely limited, and it’s likely your credit file will already have been negatively impacted.

The good news is that there is a wide range of support to alleviate both the severity of anxiety and the financial problems contributing to it. A range of debt solutions will help regain the sense of control, including the Debt Buffer letter writing service, a Debt Management Plan or an Individual Voluntary Arrangement.

These options all provide you with the time and space to get help for your general anxiety, and will allow you to budget around a voluntary or legally enforced fixed payment amount without being contacted or hassled by creditors or debt collectors.

Support for anxiety is available from a range of organisations, including via your local GP. And there is a range of therapies and counselling which can help, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Compassion Forced Therapy.

If you feel that you might suffer from anxiety, you can find information and support via:

Any existing mental health conditions, or the impact of your debt problems, means you should consider writing to your creditors or debt collection agencies. If your mental well being is suffering, then you can ask to be considered as ‘vulnerable.

This requires them to have a greater duty of care towards contacting you and gives you more time to arrange your financial affairs. To help you get the ball rolling, there’s a DebtBuffer letter template to ensure all the necessary information is included.


Financial stress is a normal response to money worries. But the impact it can have will vary from a mild worry which you can resolve, to constant and acute financial stress that can present similar symptoms to Post Traumatic Stress Discover.

As with anxiety and other mental health issues, experiencing financial problems can make your existing conditions worse. And it creates a vicious circle which makes it harder to deal with your debt issues.

The good news is that financial stress has a specific cause which can be tackled, no matter how overwhelming it might feel. And just by taking the first steps, you’ll start to regain control and feel better, especially if you put yourself first in your decision making.

Tips to resolve your financial stress:

  1. Acknowledge the problem, put together your paperwork and assess your debts.
  2. Get professional support from a debt charity or advisor.
  3. Work out your spending habits and make a budget. This is an integral part of many debt solutions, and even if you’re not in a formal plan or arrangement, it will help you with a realistic route to becoming debt free.
  4. Identify expenses which can be reduced without negatively impacting your wellbeing, and assets which might be available. Make an action plan to work through your expenses to avoid putting off changes.
  5. Take care of your physical and mental health. Eating and sleeping properly, exercise and socialising with friends and family in a free or low-cost way is important to keep yourself rejuvenated and motivated to continue with your debt recovery.

Stress as a pre-existing condition, or as a result of debt problems, can mean you are declared as a vulnerable person by creditors and debt collection agencies. And this means they may treat you more fairly, give you more time to arrange your financial affairs, and change how they communicate.

The first step to being deemed vulnerable is to contact creditors and debt collectors with the relevant information. To help you, DebBuffer has a letter template for you to use and ensure you have the best chance of being deemed vulnerable.


Going through financial difficulties is likely to make you feel sad or depressed. But clinical depression is diagnosed when symptoms last for weeks, months or even longer, and interfere with your work, social life and family.

As depression can occur gradually, you might not even realise something is wrong. The symptoms are complex and vary a lot between people, but some indications include:

  • A continually low mood or sadness.
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Constant low self-esteem
  • A lack of motivation or interest in things
  • Finding it difficult to make decisions or getting any enjoyment out of life
  • Frequently tearful and prone to crying
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
  • Avoiding contact with friends and family
  • Neglecting hobbies and interests.

Depression can occur for a variety of different reasons, including redundancy, job and money worries. It will be diagnosed on a scale from mild to moderate and severe depression, and treatments will depend on how much support you need. It’s commonly associated with medication, but counselling, therapy, and a range of self-help options are also recommended depending on your circumstances.

A study by the University of Nottingham showed people struggling with debt are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression (link).

Depression can make your debt problems worse as it can impair your ability to understand information, concentrate on tasks and solve problems. And if you’re struggling for motivation to do things you’d normally enjoy, tackling your finances is likely to be even hard to manage.

There’s also research showing that people with depression may be less motivated by rewards (link), which means the end goal of becoming debt free and financially secure may have less effect.

If you suffer from depression, it’s even more important to seek support from friends or family, or independent help from a debt charity or organisation. They’ll be able to help you with understanding your situation, going through the available options, and putting tools in place that don’t rely on your motivation to tackle the debt problems.

As with anxiety, periods of acute depression can trigger other damaging behaviour, such as compulsive shopping. It may be difficult for you to put limits on your money and credit yourself, so having someone to help you put automatic blocks in place can limit the issues caused.

It’s important to start small, accept that you may make mistakes and need to be able to forgive yourself, and use support and workarounds to make it easier to tackle your issues.

If you’re suffering from depression, then you can get support from your GP or via:

If you feel things have reached a crisis, then you can:

  • Call Samaritans on 116123
  • Text SHOUT to 85258 for a free 24/7 crisis service
  • Call 999 for an ambulance
  • Or go straight to your local Accident and Emergency department.

Suffering with depression is likely to qualify you as ‘vulnerable’ to creditors and debt collection agencies. You should notify them of any existing or new impact to your mental health, as it can change how they handle your situation. This may include more considerate treatment, increased time to be able to organise a solution, and differences in how they communicate with you.

But the responsibility to make them aware is down to you. To make this easier, DebtBuffer has a letter template prepared for you to complete and send to all creditors and debt collectors.

Shame, Guilt and Low Self Esteem

Shame and guilt are emotions rather than clinically recognised mental health conditions. But they’re a common starting point for people going on to more serious issues with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and other issues.

Despite the fact that debt has risen to record levels in the UK over recent years, most of us still find it hard to talk about money, especially when it comes to admitting financial difficulties. That’s despite the fact that the average total debt per UK household is now £60,363, with an average of £4,264 in unsecured debt per UK adult (link). And around 8.3 million people in the UK are unable to pay off debts or household bills (link).

Feeling ashamed or guilty can be due to worries about letting down your family, and not being able to provide for them. Or feeling that people will think less of you for not being able to afford the type of lifestyle shared so often on social media.

And despite the fact personal finances aren’t a core part of the education system, there’s an expectation that any responsible adult should automatically know how to look after their budget and finances.

Companies hire large teams of smart, educated experts to devise ways to encourage you into spending money, or taking on credit and debt. Sometimes lenders even just “give” you extra credit, without you even asking for it. For example, raising limits on credit cards or increasing overdraft allowances. Even people working in financial roles can find themselves with debt problems, so there’s no need for anyone to feel shame about being one of millions of people struggling.

Spending a few minutes online will reveal examples of people in similar situations who have started their own debt recovery journeys, along with various communities to offer support from others.

Rather than denying the problem, or your feelings about it, the important thing is to acknowledge everything and then take steps to resolve it. If you’re concerned about speaking to friends and family, then why not contact a debt charity or support organisation first? It can be easier admitting that you’ve had an issue, if you’re already taking the first steps to rectify it.

How debt impacts on family & relationships

Your family will probably be the hardest people to speak to about any debit problems, as well as the most important. Whether you need to admit financial issues to your partner, parents or children, debt can have a huge impact on those around you.

What Debt Does To Spouses and Partners?

Debt problems will only directly affect your spouse or partner if it’s the result of joint finances, or they have acted as a guarantor. Your credit rating and finances remain separate even when you marry. That’s how one in seven UK adults have hidden debt from a partner, and half of those people are still keeping it a secret (link).

So, you might not think you need to admit your debt problems unless you share a mortgage or a bank account. But if your debts result in defaulting on car or house payments, or impact your rental tenancy, then it can cause irreparable damage to your relationship. However, having debt collectors knocking on your front door is probably not the best time to be opening up to your partner about your debts.

For couples, newlyweds who disagreed about money at least once a week were more likely to divorce within five years than those arguing about all kinds of other issues (link). And 31% of people using relationship support service Relate say debt contributed to the breakdown of their relationship.

But this isn’t always the case. Relationships can actually be seen to improve if you make decisions together, with good communication and conflict resolution. Relate users who worked together were more likely to say debt actually brought them together (link).

Being honest with your partner or spouse also makes it easier to enter into a new household budget. That’s particularly important if you’re following a debt management plan, IVA or similar arrangement which requires you to follow a budget and limit expenses. If your partner understands your commitment to reducing personal debts, they’ll understand why holidays, presents or treats might need to be postponed for a set length of time.

How Does Debt Impact Parents and Children?

Parent and child relationships will also be impacted. Adult children may expect to be bailed out by their parents, and either come to rely on support or be shocked if it’s not forthcoming.

And for those looking after their family and struggling with debts, it can have a considerable impact both on their relationships with children, and the children themselves.

Almost 1 in 5 debt advice clients say debt has impacted on relationships with their children (link). The effects include (link):

  • British adults with problem debt were three times as likely to argue with their children aged seven or over ‘once a week or more often’
  • Guilt at not being able to buy something for children
  • Children in families with problem debt are more than twice as likely to be unhappy at school and be bullied because they don’t have the same things as their friends.
  • More than half of children in families with problem debt say they worry about their family’s financial situation.
  • Nine out of ten families in problem debt say they have had to cut back on essentials like food, clothing or heating for their children in order to keep up repayments.
  • Children are less able to take part in school activities or pay for educational materials.

Again, the situation can be helped by talking honestly and openly about debt issues. Not only can this help children understand the situation, and why they may not have access to the same things as their friends. But it can also help them potentially experiencing similar situations as they become adults, and be more open to seeking help when needed.

DebtBuffer believes that putting yourself first, therefore benefitting your family, is the best way of coping with problem debt.

Money is hard to come by for most of us. So dealing with your problem debts, and getting to use that cash for the most essential things in life, will empower you and your family to look forward to a better future. Families shouldn’t have to choose between loan repayments, or feeding their children and heating their home. Especially when debt solutions exist which can potentially wipe off many of your current financial commitments while taking your individual circumstances and essential living costs into account.

In many cases, all it needs is your will to take the first steps and take back control of your money, and your life.