Unlocking the secret pain of problem debt – now is the time
The credit card bills arriving in January can be a worrying time for many people and spiralling debt can cause anxiety, depression, relationship strain and even suicide. This month we are featuring a guest article by Charis Scott from CAP Scotland, and member of Adelaide Place Baptist Church, who shares about some of the people CAP works with in Scotland and how many of our Baptist churches are giving hope to people by helping them navigate the challenges of facing debt head-on and taking steps towards repayment and finding freedom.
During the last 22 months many of us have experienced what it’s like to feel isolated and alone. Throughout lockdowns or periods of self isolation, we’ve been cut off from friends, family and loved ones.
As a single parent, I have found this season challenging. Juggling work and home learning while being cut off from all my usual support networks. A lack of human contact with other grown ups and not able to hug those I love. For me, being able to form an extended household after a few months was a lifeline.
Being stuck in isolation for so long has taught us to value the things we took for granted before the pandemic. Our freedom to be with others; experiencing the love and support of our families and friends. The freedom to go to the shops or go outside for fresh air and unlimited exercise.
But for so many of our clients at Christians Against Poverty (CAP) Scotland, feeling trapped and isolated was their everyday experience before getting debt help. In our latest client report, Our story, CAP clients spoke up about how being in problem debt made them feel trapped, hungry and suicidal.
For too many people, poverty and problem debt are having a negative impact on their mental health. At CAP, we want to elevate the voices of those who are experiencing this on a daily basis. By understanding the impact that this has on real lives, we can work to find solutions that not just free people from problem debt, but prevent them from getting there in the first place.
‘When you have debt you feel like you are hiding. You feel like people are after you, especially if you have mental health problems and are getting terrifying letters. Debt can be such a secret pain and worry. It can be something you don’t even speak to your family about so you don’t have any support.’ Bethany*
‘You don’t want to open the door. You feel embarrassed. You want to close out everyone. I thought about doing away with myself as I couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel. I thought there was no way forward.’ Ron
‘In my personal circumstances I realise I must have been suffering with mental ill-health. I declined to go out anywhere. I didn’t realise I was unwell, mentally. I didn’t have the financial capability to go out, and I didn’t go out for a long time. I’ve been out once this year. You go into your own bubble.’ Dave*
‘I’ve lost so much weight. I’ve got to a stage where I’m underweight. I’ve been sleep deprived and financially not able to go to a supermarket and get a full food shop.’ Laura
These quotes are hard to read, but sadly this is the reality for people who are trapped in poverty and problem debt. Before getting debt help, over a quarter (28%) of CAP clients either attempt or consider suicide as a way out of debt. In a just and compassionate society, this is something that none of us can be content with.
We are grateful to have many Baptist Churches across Scotland partnering with us in providing a life changing service. we’re delighted that our Debt Centre at East Mains Baptist Church in East Kilbride has recently secured funding for the next 3 years. I recently asked our Debt Coaches across Scotland what percentage of their clients were struggling with mental ill-health; they consistently said over 80%, some even higher. Raye Higgins, a Debt Coach based at East Mains Baptist Church, told me:
‘More and more of my clients have had issues with poor mental health. One girl recently just couldn’t face dealing with any of her financial issues – opening letters, dealing with and making phone calls, remembering appointments etc. Sometimes she couldn’t get out of bed and this meant that she found it difficult to take care of her kids. Thankfully she had support from her family and a sympathetic GP so was able to get treatment but not everyone is in that position. I think because of poor mental health clients can’t deal with the issues of debt and then the debt contributes to making their mental health worse. It’s a vicious cycle.’
I have always been independent but since becoming a single parent the drive to prove that I can do it alone has definitely increased. I feel the pressure of defeating the stereotypes and often asking for help can feel like giving in. I have battled with stigma and embarrassment but I have learned that when I ask for help I feel empowered and supported – the same can be true for people trapped in debt.
Half of CAP clients wait for over a year to get debt help, with 25% waiting three years or more. The main reasons for waiting are embarrassment and shame. We provide free, professional advice and support to help people find the right route out of debt. Accessing this support can help relieve the pressure; the biggest difference many of our clients tell us is getting debt help meant they could sleep again.
Problem debt is a public health issue; it is destroying lives while shame and stigma are keeping people trapped there. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to send a message of hope to those who are in despair: you are not alone.