Colchester: Charity’s warning over debt distress

Experts have warned that financial hardship in North Essex is causing an increase in mental health p

Experts have warned that financial hardship in North Essex is causing an increase in mental health problems, depression and even suicides - Credit: Archant

Experts have warned mental health issues, depression and even suicides are on the increase in north Essex because of the stress caused by financial hardship.

The economic slump, an uncertain job market and recent changes to the benefits system are being blamed as a source of “a lot of heartache” and “emotional distress”.

The caution comes as figures from the Colchester Samaritans show that more than double the number of people contacted the emotional support charity in the first three months of 2013 compared with the same period last year.

During the first quarter of 2012, the organisation – based on Walsingham Road in the centre of Colchester – received around 3,600 telephone calls from people seeking help compared with more than 7,200 calls this quarter.

Director Virginia Druitt said: “We are speaking to more people who are expressing problems with debt. A lot of people are in emotional distress – there are many reasons but a main cause is because the current financial position isn’t wonderful. This has a knock-on effect into other areas of life like relationship and work.”

Ms Druitt said there is a correlation between debt and suicide and that men aged from 30 to 44 years old are the group who are most at risk.

She added: “The suicide rate for males in the UK is the highest it’s been since 2002 and I’m sure people do not realise that more young men die from suicide than through road accidents and murder.

Most Read

“The rise in suicide of men in their 30s and 40s is very worrying. Suicide is often linked to work-related and financial concerns, drug and alcohol misuse, as well as to partnership break-ups, loss of employment and self-esteem.”

At Clacton’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau, financial capability planner Lee Fraser said he has seen a rising number of people seeking guidance about debt issues over the past few years. In 2010/11, CAB advisors across the Tendring district dealt with 5,200 cases of debt totalling around £22million, while in 2011/12 6,000 debt cases representing £30m were seen. And Mr Fraser says the figures for the financial year just gone, which have not yet been fully-collated, show another rise in debt cases.

He said: “People are struggling to pay council tax for the first time and dealing with the bedroom tax. It’s causing a lot of heartache and affecting their mental health capacity.

“Many of the people living on benefits are the ones who are living with debt – be it doorstep loans, catalogues or payday loans. These aren’t like normal loans. You don’t get a letter asking for payment. People get contacted by phone and by text – some times every hour. There’s only so much people can take.

He added: “The burden falls on men in particular who in their role as a breadwinner take on most of the debt and try and run a family at the same time.”

Colchester-based mental health support worker Kevin Shepherd, 48, knows only too well how debt can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Three years ago, he was standing on the ledge at the top of a multi-storey car park in the town contemplating jumping off when a call to the Samaritans saved his life.

He said: “ I’d lost my job as a sales manager and my relationship at the age of 45. All I had was a suitcase and some clothes to show for my life. There’s an expectation that men in their 40s should have life sorted and have a good car on the drive but things are fragile and it can turn around quickly.

“I couldn’t cope and didn’t want to burden my children or my friends – and that phone call literally saved my life.”