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Protection needed against mental toll of debt collection

Image of man holding empty wallet
Towfiqu Barbhuiya | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute are calling on the government to ensure that regulators begin to limit the frequency debt collectors can contact people that owe money.

The charity also wants the government to update the national suicide prevention strategy to include legislation that considers the impact of repeated contact from creditors.

Currently, the national suicide prevention strategy includes some references to financial difficulties as being a factor that can lead to someone becoming suicidal.

The charity highlights the ongoing cost-of-living crisis as a major threat to public mental health, with their recent survey of 2000 adults finding that 17% reported suicidal feelings or thoughts over the past 9 months due to the crisis.

It also found that 11% felt “dread opening the post from banks, energy companies and other creditors.”

Additionally, the charity surveyed 200 people living with mental health conditions, one of whom reported that one debt collection agency had contacted them 7 times in 7 hours:

“The sheer number of contacts scares me, it’s almost as if they are threatening and bullying me into compliance," they said. "They have me at the point of not answering calls and removing my sim so they can’t contact me. I am becoming more reclusive as a result.”

The charity says that while current guidance advises creditors not to contact people in debt “at unreasonable intervals”, it does not provide any information on what frequency of contact is unreasonable.

It also highlights the combined effect of many credit agencies and debt collectors contacting one individual who owes money.

Founder of The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, Martin Lewis said:

“We know that being bombarded with letters, calls and threats of court action from debt collectors can lead people to feel hopeless, helpless and even contribute to people becoming suicidal.

“So, the sooner there are specific protections put in place to limit how and how often debt collectors can contact people about missed payments the better – even the bastion of free markets, the USA, has tighter rules on that than we do.

“It’s been 10 years since the Government published its national suicide prevention strategy, and a new version is due imminently.

“We need the Government to move quickly in publishing that, and hope that within it there is a recognition that financial problems are one of the broad drivers of suicide.

“It then needs to ensure that it has a serious package of measures to tackle the suicide risk that the cost of living crisis is causing.”

Majority of people out of work live with a mental health issue

Figures published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) reveal that most people who are economically inactive because of sickness cannot work due to a long-term mental health condition.

Specifically, when examining the figures of the 2.5 million working-age people who are currently unemployed due to sickness, 60% have a mental health condition.

Health and Prosperity Lead at IPPR, Chris Thomas, highlighted austerity followed by the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis as major contributing factors:

“Until recently, nobody was talking about health as having a role in the labour market.

“This report now shows that mental health, as well as physical health and multiple conditions, are driving the UK’s poor economic outcomes.

“This trend isn’t going anywhere. As the population ages and public services deal with cuts, health looks set to deteriorate.”

New guidelines to improve relationship between body image and social media

The Mental Health Foundation Scotland and the University of Strathclyde have teamed up to produce a new report that focuses on how to improve the relationship between our body image and social media.

The #HealthySocialMedia report is made up of the combined experiences of using social media and its influence on body image from charities, social media influencers, young people, teachers and others – all of which was discussed during a conference.

A major objective of the conference was to produce potential solutions and strategies for building a more positive relationship between body image and social media use.

Some of the proposed strategies include trying to post more pictures that reflect your real life on social media, being aware of and avoiding content that is personally triggering, and limiting the amount of time spent on social media.

The project lead at the University of Strathclyde, Dr Petya Eckler said:

“Social media can be fun, it can be supportive and empowering, it connects us with friends and keeps us informed. But it can also create negative and alienating experiences. And for many young people, it triggers self-doubt, insecurity, and poor body image.

“Our new report recognises this link and uses people’s first-hand experiences to build some key strategies for better social media experiences.”

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