Many of us know what it is to have spent just a little too much money during a shopping spree for new clothes or on the latest technology.
Admittedly, it feels nice to spoil ourselves. Unfortunately, it can take some time to recover from overspending, and the resulting debt can actually have consequences, not just for your finances, but also your mental health.
According to a study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, short-term household debt may lead to depressive symptoms.
Short-term debt has a stronger positive association with depressive symptoms than mid- or long-term debt, according to the study abstract.
Short-term debt is considered unsecured debt, such as credit cards and overdue bills.
The association of short-term debt and depressive symptoms was also stronger in specific populations, including people ages 51 to 64, people with a high school education or less, and people who didn’t have a stable marriage during the data collection period.
Almost 80 percent of study respondents had debt, according to HealthDay News. Out of those households with debt, 62 percent had short-term debt.
“These findings suggest that short-term debt may have an adverse influence on psychological wellbeing, particularly for those who are less educated, approaching retirement age, or unmarried,” according to the study abstract.
Researchers used data from waves 1 and 2 of the National Survey of Families and Households in the United States, which includes years 1987-1989, and 1992-1994.
Short-term debt is fairly common. What can we do to help avoid feeling slightly depressed?
Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and chair-elect of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Socioeconomic Status, said in an email that the link between financial and mental health can be somewhat complicated.
“What is tricky here is that it is a bit of a financial-mental health death spiral,” Durvasula said.
“The people most vulnerable (those whose wages may not be sufficient to meet their basic expenses) are already living in a condition of scarcity and stress, and are also more likely to have to take on short-term debt to survive.”
She provided some tips for women to help avoid depressive symptoms as a result of short-term debt:
1) Plan ahead and calculate your income versus expenses. Even if it may seem depressing with expenses outweighing income, you will know better where you stand financially.
2) Take care of yourself. Some things in life are free, such as getting a proper amount of sleep, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, eating healthier foods, staying active and spending time with loved ones.
3) Cut your expenses as much as possible. If you have expenses that are not vital, like cable TV and brand-name products, start cutting out those expenses until you’re able to get out of debt.
“It's a complex picture since depression can often sap a person of coping resources and the energy needed to work, but putting in any preemptive strategies can be a hedge against worsening depressive symptoms,” Durvasula said.
Lauren Klein, a financial advisor in Newport Beach, Calif., helps women manage life transitions, and has the following suggestions for coping with short-term debt:
1) Put a stop to a potentially vicious cycle of debt and depression by looking at your hierarchy of needs, then approach your finances with the same thought process. The hierarchy may be in the following order: physiological, personal safety, love/belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization.
2) Consider the impact your debt is having on different levels of the hierarchy of needs. For example, you may feel like you’re failing as a result of debt, which would impact the self-esteem level of your hierarchy.
3) Look closely at what “need,” or level in the hierarchy of needs, you tried to solve with money. For example, did you get into debt because you used your credit card for a vacation in Hawaii and now you regret it? Or did you go to Hawaii because you were depressed? And how did you get to that point?
4) Quantify your total debt in writing. Look at how you built your debt, and ask yourself if you shop in an effort to achieve love and belonging or do you spend in an effort to build your self-esteem?
5) Look at your debt again and again. See if you can identify a debt pattern. If so, identify ways you can address that particular need in a way other than spending. Would taking an inexpensive community dance class help build your self-esteem? Would joining a walking group give you a sense of belonging?
6) Break down all your needs, wants and wishes in writing, and make a plan. By identifying your mistakes and writing down your goals, you can create a road map to success — a map that helps you avoid past problems and focus on your future financial success.
Berger, Lawrence M.; Collins, J. Michael and Cuesta, Laura. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. Household Debt and Adult Depressive Symptoms in the United States. Web. May 27, 2015.
MedlinePlus. HealthDay. Short-Term Debt Can Depress More Than Your Finances. Web. May 27, 2015.
Durvasula, Ramani. Email interview. May 23, 2015.
Klein, Lauren. Email interview. May 25, 2015.
Reviewed May 29, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith