Is Your Debt Making You Sick – Literally?

Is Your Debt Making You Sick – Literally?
In the last quarter of 2014, Canadians hit the highest ever debt to income ratio at 163.3%. This means for every dollar of disposable income we earn, we owe $1.63 in debt. This heavy debt burden and the stress that goes along with it is not just affecting our bank accounts, but our physical and mental health as well. So Canadian consumer debt can be making you sick.  So what to do with this level of debt burden?

Financial stress due to debt has a definite negative impact on our overall health in so many ways.  We all know what it is like trying to get a good nights’ sleep when all you are doing is worrying about how you are going to pay your next month’s rent.   So, like you, many consumers are suffering from debt related anxiety and depression which can translate into high blood pressure, overeating, smoking and other distracting behaviours and also are considered at a higher risk for suicide. In addition to these mental health challenges, more people are showing debt related physical ailments such as high blood pressure and stroke.  Health care professionals and researchers are struggling to understand the link between debt and stress are advocating for treating personal debt as a public health problem and many believe it is a major crisis that needs to be addressed.

One way to address the problem is to have our health care professionals become more involved in their patient’s financial stress by taking steps to help them manage their finances. Although financial planning is not part of most practitioners’ professional training, financial counseling can be critical for some patients. Primary care professionals routinely assess their patients for depression and other mental health issues and if their patient reports being in debt, understanding the relationship between debt and mental health would give primary physicians one more tool to assist their patients.

The financial sector can also play a part in assisting those clients with mental health challenges by recognizing the most vulnerable and seeking avenues for assistance.  Proper training and understanding which resources are available is the key avenue to ensure that those that are in need of accurate advice, obtain the help that they need at the curtial times.   Financial agents need to be able to see when their clients are suffering and learn to act accordingly.  One option discussed for consideration is perhaps even hiring mental health professionals to work in financial offices to act as experts to turn to when situations arise.

Individuals that are struggling with personal debt are twice as likely to develop major depression and anxiety and the more debt they have, the longer the recovery process. There is also a direct link to physical health, substance abuse and suicide. Employers can also take a role in helping their employees avoid debt related stress by supporting their overall mental and physical health. Personal debt is on par with obesity and poverty and when individuals begin to take control of their finances (with the help of physicians and employers) they also regain control in other areas in their lives and their overall health improves greatly.

Each Canadian has the right to live happy healthy and productive lives.  Understanding the causes of personal stress and taking steps to reduce the root causes such as personal debt is the first step to a positive outcome.

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