Living with debt: Coping with shame

Our emotions and our personal finances are often intricately linked, and this is especially true when debt is concerned. Debt problems are commonly associated with anxiety and depression, and anyone who’s tackling a debt can also benefit from taking positive action to support their emotional health at the same time.

Shame is a powerful emotion connected to money troubles, and most people go to great lengths both to hide it and to avoid feeling it. Shame can also prevent people from taking action over their debts or asking for other help that they might desperately need.

Feeling shame over debts

Being in debt makes many people feel ashamed and embarrassed. Some beat themselves up about past behaviour, and others worry that people will look down upon them or think they have been irresponsible or foolish.

As the number of people experiencing financial problems has increased in recent years, this has gone some way towards helping to reduce the associated social stigma – after all, so many of us are in the same boat.

Hopefully this will make it easier for individuals to be more open about their debt worries and take control of their personal situations.

Some people who develop debt-related depression can have strong feelings of shame or guilt as the main symptom of the illness, rather than shame that stems directly from the debt itself. If you think you may be suffering from depression, the best place to start is by talking to your GP.

Anyone who feels that they are in crisis can also call the Samaritans for non-judgemental support. Their UK number is 08457 90 90 90.

The cycle of shame

Some people feel ashamed that they cannot keep up financially with their peers, or provide a certain lifestyle for their loved ones, which can lead to overspending, and further problems. Others feeling this negative emotion may go on spending binges to boost their mood, or make up for disappointments.

Shame and isolation are also features of addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling, all of which can lead to serious debt. For expert advice, visit:

Talk to Frank

NHS Alcohol Support

Gam Care

These different situations all serve to fuel debt problems, and cause further worry and shame. Facing up to the underlying issues can be a valuable part of resolving financial troubles, whether that’s a chat with a trusted friend, getting counselling, or having therapy or other treatments.

The mental health charity, Mind, has lots of advice about money and mental health. They can also put people in touch with nearby support services.

Debt is a common problem that can be overcome. If you are feeling ashamed or embarrassed about financial difficulties, remember that there are many sources of help available and people from the following organisations will assist you without being judgemental:

Consumer Credit Counselling Service

Citizens Advice Bureau

National Debtline