A few years ago, Michelle’s mother tried committing suicide with pills. After a failed attempt, she tried again. The reason? Debt-related depression.
“Despite having successfully filed for bankruptcy, she still had to face the demons that were her debt, including a Parent PLUS student loan for my tuition. The cycle repeated itself for six years,” says Michelle.
It wasn’t until Michelle and other family members intervened and helped her manage her finances that things slowly got better.
The Statistics on Debt and Suicide
Consumer debt passed the $4 billion threshold in early 2019, according to the Federal Reserve. As household debt continues to grow, so does the compulsion to pay it off.
For many borrowers, the weight of debt is so heavy that it seems impossible to go on.
If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone. While many people may hit varying degrees of depression, for a select group of people, being in debt is more than just a crappy situation; it could be a matter of life and death. For some, the debt situation could get so bad that you think of killing yourself because of it.
Individuals with problems repaying their debt obligations have worse mental health, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Over 100,000 people per year attempt suicide as a result of debt, according to Money and Mental Health. While the statistics paint a bleak picture, debt should never be a reason to end it all.
Debt Is Not a Death Sentence
Regardless of how inescapable the situation may seem, killing yourself is never the answer — especially in response to personal debt. Such an action would deeply hurt your family and friends. Even worse, your family or spouse may end up responsible for your outstanding loans after you’re gone.
And while it may not feel like it, all debt is temporary. It may take years — or even decades — to pay it off, but with a plan, you can make it happen.
- If you’re feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can get some much-needed support and speak to a trained counselor.
- You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “HELLO” to 741741 in the event of any personal crisis, free of charge.
- Finally, you can seek out disorder-specific resources via the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
One Step at a Time: Alternatives to Killing Yourself Over Debt
When your debt feels impossible, and its effects are compounded by depression and anxiety, there are definitive steps you can take to remedy your financial and mental well-being.
1. Assess Your Budget
First, see where you can cut back in your budget and start earning more income. This way, you can slowly start to make a dent in your debt. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. Try to get creative with ways to make more money by side hustling or slashing your living expenses.
2. Enlist Outside Help
Second, contact your creditors and see if you can negotiate your interest rate. In addition, ask about any payment plans or deferment options. For federal student loans, this is an easy option.
Additionally, you can enlist the help of credit repair companies or credit counseling nonprofits to assist you during this time: Both offer professional credit rebuilding and assessment strategies, which can help lower your interest rate and fix some of the issues related to outstanding, unpaid debt.
When approaching creditors or credit counseling companies, demonstrate that you have already made an effort to slash your monthly budget.
“A strategy of budgeting before negotiating is most effective — especially when renegotiating interest rates — because you’ve already done the grunt work of identifying areas where you can improve financially,” says certified financial planner Jeff Rose.
“If you’re on the phone with a creditor about lowering an interest rate, there’s a lot of power in demonstrating all the steps you’ve taken,” he adds.
“This is more effective as opposed to just saying, ‘I’m trying to cut back my spending.’”
3. Consider a Debt Management Program
Credit counseling agencies can also offer debt management programs (DMP). A DMP provides a system of paying down debt to your creditors, so that you never need to consider killing yourself over debt.
These programs differ from some dubious debt settlement programs, which can adversely affect your credit and cost hefty fees. DMPs are offered by nonprofit credit counseling organizations. You can tell if an organization is a legitimate credit counselor if it’s certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, it never asks for payment up-front, and there are few negative reviews listed for the organization on the Better Business Bureau.
Many of these programs may offer waived fees and can help you rebuild your credit. Typically, you’ll be set up with a plan to pay back your debt within 36 to 60 months.
Lend Yourself Some Mental Clarity
Aside from fixing your financials and slowly (but surely) paying off debt, if you find yourself considering suicide or other forms of self-harm due to money problems, it may be a good time to invest in your mental health.
“If you’re suffering from depression and anxiety related to debt, it’s time to get some help — both in debt counseling to get your finances in order, and psychotherapy counseling to get a handle on your emotions,” recommends psychotherapist and author Tina Tessina, Ph.D., who goes by the pseudonym Dr. Romance.
She stresses establishing healthy “self-talk” to combat the pervasive and oppressive nature of debt.
“We all have a running dialogue in our heads, which is often negative or self-defeating,” Tessina says.
“The good news is that you can choose to replace this negative monologue with something more positive. Counseling can help with that.”
Establishing healthy thinking habits can be especially effective in the event that you, unfortunately, find yourself in debt again, or suffer another financial setback. A more optimistic mindset, reinforced by an active decision to better your mental health, can help offset or prevent the effects of depression.
Bankruptcy Isn’t the End
Another option that you can consider — which should be considered very carefully and only as a last resort — is declaring bankruptcy to help avoid even considering killing yourself over debt.
Typically, there are two types of bankruptcies that you can file: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The former involves liquidating your assets — i.e. selling most of your property — in order to pay off your debts in a process that last three to five months. The latter involves entering into a court-mandated repayment plan over the course of three to five years. Unlike Chapter 7, the Chapter 13 process does not necessitate selling of personal property.
While bankruptcy may seem like a great option, there are still hefty fees involved and you would need to file in a federal bankruptcy court.
Under bankruptcy, you may be able to get rid of your debt. However, there will be consequences to your credit and you may accrue additional fees. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy will remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, while a Chapter 13 bankruptcy remains up to seven.
With good financial habits and time, you can improve your credit to near pre-bankruptcy levels, and your financial troubles will be an unpleasant (but distant) memory — and you’ll be stronger for having lived through it.
The Bottom Line
Debt is never a death sentence. No matter your situation, there are always solutions to help you better manage your money and escape your debt. Take the situation one step at a time, and you can fix your financial situation without having to resort to suicide.
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.