Debt and depression can increase symptoms of one another, so a person experiencing these concerns should take action to reduce their influence.

Having, making or spending money is not a path to happiness. If money cured everyone’s depression, a rich person would never need therapy.

Although money cannot solve mental health issues, it may be a major contributor to the problem. Many people experience a strong relationship between debt and depression, so improving one aspect could improve the other.

Major Causes of Debt

Debt comes in many forms and materializes from numerous sources. People may live in poverty their whole life, while others experience debt or poverty later in life due to an unfortunate or unplanned development.

The causes of bad debt vary from person to person. Just like a person’s mental health, no one’s financial situation is exactly like someone else’s. Regardless of mental health, debt can be a heavy mental burden to bear.

Some common causes of debt include:

  • Gambling: The lure of gambling leads people to believe that hitting the jackpot is near. Sadly, people lose money every year to gambling debt which puts a tremendous financial strain on themselves and their families. The strain of gambling addiction debt is so great that nearly 20% of problem gamblers think about suicide each year because of gambling debt depression.
  • Addiction: Drug addiction debt develops from two factors. First, people who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs tend to spend large amounts of money on substances each month. Expenditures for opioids or cocaine can become very expensive very quickly. Second, addiction disrupts life so much that many people lose their jobs and their income reduces due to their substance use.
  • Medical Expenses: Given the current state of health coverage in the United States, medical expenses are a driving force behind debt. Just one medical issue can incur huge debt. The problem is so significant that medical expenses factor into 62% of bankruptcies.
  • Poor Money Management: Despite their best efforts, some people continue to display poor money management skills. In some cases, this is due to a lack of knowledge or education. In other cases, people with untreated mental health conditions spend money excessively as their symptoms shift. The effects of poor money management affect someone’s physical and mental well-being.
  • Economic Disparities: Social and economic disparities are often invisible but lead to debt. Women and people of color, as well as religious and sexual minorities, receive lower pay for the same work when compared to majority groups. Such disparity increases the likelihood of debt in the future.

Debt is a Leading Cause of Stress

For many people, debt is a significant problem that makes life difficult. When a person worries about how to pay their bills, afford groceries and buy Christmas presents, stress builds.

Stress makes every day and every decision more challenging and complex. With debt and high stress, people are forced to make impossible choices between food and medicine or the electric bill and car insurance.

Feeling stressed about financial issues is not an isolated or sporadic concern. According to the American Psychological Association, 72% of Americans feel stressed about money each month, and 22% of people report feeling extreme financial stress each month.

By itself, stress is problematic, but large amounts of stress can build to depression. So debt creates stress and stress creates depression.

Consider a person with depression caused by stress and debt. When depression is high, the person will be unable to work, lose their job and incur more debt. Struggling with debt and depression can drastically increase the difficulty of managing debt.

People who are depressed may also cause more debt, depending on their coping skills. Someone with poor coping skills may try to treat their depression by using drugs or spending large amounts of money on frivolous items or junk food — the latter of which can lead to costly health problems, furthering the debt.

Tips for Overcoming Debt and Depression

Getting into the costly cycle of debt and depression is easy, but getting out of the cycle is challenging. Here are some tips for addressing debt and depression:

  • Understand the problem: Did debt trigger the depression or the other way around?
  • Don’t go it alone: People may feel ashamed of their debt and mental health status, but keeping these issues a secret never helps. Share the situation with trusted friends or family members to gain their insights and suggestions.
  • Plan a budget: Some people do not have a grasp on their monthly income and expenses, which could pose a serious problem in reducing debt. Check income, save receipts and access monthly records for bills. From there, take action to look for ways to save.
  • Shift to positive coping skills: Gambling, using alcohol and other drugs and compulsively spending money may seem to improve depression, but they only compound the problem and increase debt. Seek out positive coping skills to help with mood issues like exercising, improving sleep, journaling and spending time with loved ones. Many positive coping skills are free, which allows a person to feel better without increasing their debt.
  • Bring in the professionals: Depending on the situation, trying to manage debt and depression without professional assistance could be like trying to perform open-heart surgery without a professional. If the problem isn’t getting better, seek more help. Therapists and psychiatrists can help with depression while banks and case managers can provide options for managing the debt.

Feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to suicidal thinking. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Finding Affordable Depression Treatment

When a person is dealing with debt and depression, professional treatment options may seem like a bad idea. After all, “professional” means “expensive,” right?

While it is true that professionals get paid for their services, depending on the person’s finances and insurance coverage, the treatment could be completely free of charge or more affordable than anticipated. Affordable treatment options are available.

Perhaps the best course of action is getting in touch with a professional who can accurately assess a person’s current situation and treatment needs. Most people do well with outpatient treatment, but if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or symptoms of addiction linked to self-medication, a higher level of treatment could be needed.

If you or a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder that developed as a means to cope with depression or a financial situation, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how professional treatment can help. Using proven addiction treatment methods, The Recovery Village can address substance use disorders along with co-occurring mental health disorders by using a wide range of affordable payment options. Call today to take the first step toward a healthier future.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

Bethune, Stephanie. “Money Stress Weighs on Americans’ Health.” American Psychological Association, April 2015. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Davies, Rob. “Problem Gamblers Much More Likely to Att[…]pt Suicide – Study.” The Guardian, July 19, 2019. Accessed September 20, 2019.

National Patient Advocacy Foundation. “Medical Debt, Medical Bankruptcy and the Impact on Patients.” August 2014. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.