When Debt Brings you Down

This post is part of the World Suicide Prevention Day blog tour. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.Suicide.org

Being in debt – a lot of debt – can be overwhelming. For some, it can become a dangerous situation. This article is intended to be a resource for those who are considering suicide as a way out of debt.

Please Don’t

Of course that’s what you’d expect to hear, and it’s something that I truly mean. Hopefully you don’t see it as a simple directive – there’s more to it than that.

Your debt is not something that needs to end your life, and it’s not something that you’ll need to live with forever. There are ways to put this behind you, and it might not be fast or easy, but it is worth it to have a better life ahead.

Your current situation is not who you are. It’s not your identity – although it probably feels that way right now. It’s just something that is happening to you at the moment. But other, better things can happen to you as well. Please stick around so you get to enjoy them.Melanie Lockert, who inspired this article as a way to participate in World Suicide Prevention Day, explains that “You are not alone. You are not a loan!”

I Hear You


Credit: mkismkismk under CCBY2.0

Nobody can say that this is easy for you. It’s possibly one of the most difficult experiences you’ll go through in life. Anybody who says you should “get over it” obviously doesn’t understand what’s going on – but that doesn’t mean that killing yourself is the answer to your debt problems.

In addition to the practical challenges of being in debt, there are plenty of emotional challenges. You might feel like you have little control over your life. You might feel shame about being in debt and how you got in debt. Please cut yourself some slack and be kind to yourself. Beware of jumping on board with negative thoughts that don’t likely tell the whole story.

Although you’re in a rough patch, suicide is not the solution. It’s just debt, and you can move on to a much better life.

So let’s talk about some ways to deal with the suicidal thoughts, and ways to deal with the financial challenges you’re facing. Again, if you think you might hurt yourself right now, please call the hotline above.

Getting Help

A first step is to get help. You’ve got a lot to go through, and you’ve probably been bearing the burden more or less by yourself. Professionals are trained to help you through this, and they can make things better.

It might help to talk to friends and family, but it also might not help. Your friends and family are not trained professionals, and by definition they’re not objective helpers. The best thing they can do is love and support you – a trained professional can give you the help you seek.

Help to feel better:

  • The suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255or Suicide.org
  • Local mental health clinics
  • Ask your medical doctor for a suggestion
  • Spiritual centers

Help does not have to be expensive – in many cases it is provided free of charge. You might also have doctor visits paid for by your health insurance company or Medicaid.

Help for your finances:

Money is tight. It’s not a cure-all, but having less financial pressure would be a relief.

Again, this help does not need to be expensive or even cost anything. If anybody tries to charge you an advance fee, walk away and find somebody else.

Community resources:

  • Housing organizations may be able to help you find an affordable place to stay or help with current expenses
  • Food assistance is available in many areas
  • Insurance for children may be available through the federal government (and other organizations) at little or no cost

For community assistance, check with your local Department of Health and Human Services (search using your city or county name). Private groups, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations might also offer assistance.

Note: The rest of this article is additional information for if and when you’re ready. If all you do is reach out for somebody to help you through this right now, that’s great. The rest can wait.

Clean slate: even bankruptcy attorneys can be a helpful resource – they’ll be more optimistic than anybody about your ability to start over. However, they will (not surprisingly) lean towards bankruptcy as your only option because that’s how they get paid. They might be right – bankruptcy might be a great option – but it’s worth exploring the alternatives first.

In the United States, you truly have the ability to start over with bankruptcy. It may take a few years to put it behind you, and you might have some lingering student loans (or it might be possible to wipe those out too), but you can eventually rebuild.

Helping Yourself

In addition to getting help from a trained professional, you can take steps right now to improve your situation.

Decrease your vulnerability: psychotherapists suggest that their suicidal clients engage in positive activities. This might be called “self-care” or similar, and you can make a major difference.

Take care of yourself: you probably have an idea what this means, and some of the steps below will expand on the basics. Get some exercise (taking a walk is free), drink water, and eat decent food. Make the food at home to save money. Spend a few minutes tidying up your place – you will feel better in a better environment.

Broaden your viewpoint: focus on something besides the debt. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but give it a shot. What has kept you going so far? Perhaps it’s your children, religious beliefs, or even a pet that you care for. You’ve been dealing with this for a while – keep drawing on those important things in your life.

Get out: it’s also helpful to get out and experience the world. You don’t need to spend money to do this – there are a million ways to have fun for free (and a million websites with lists of activities – just Google “cheap fun” or something similar). Ideally, you’ll spend time with another person – an acquaintance, friend, family, or a pet that plays an important role in your life. Get out and find an enjoyable environment like a park or other public area.

Distract yourself: it is so easy to ruminate on something that bothers us. Unfortunately, it rarely does anything to fix the problem. Distractions are a good idea if you’re prone to ruminating. Take a walk, do hobbies, listen to music, or do whatever won’t make your situation worse (for example, avoid expensive activities like full-price movies and nights on the town).

Restrict access to means: if you find yourself thinking about specifically how you might commit suicide, get help preventing access to those means. For example, give a gun to somebody you trust (or law enforcement) or dispose of non-essential drugs.

Drugs and alcohol: if you’re taking prescription medication – especially under psychiatric care – talk with a medical doctor before you change anything. Stopping some drugs can make you feel worse, and you might actually feel more suicidal – that’s not what you need. When it comes to recreational drugs and alcohol, it’s best to minimize your use right now. They offer some relief and escape, but  many drugs (including alcohol) are depressants, and they can intensify feelings that don’t need intensifying. They can also affect your sleep, which is an essential healing process, and which gives you the energy you need to get out of this hole. Plus, recreational drugs and alcohol take a toll on your budget.

Longer Term

You’ve got a few ideas on how to manage your suicidal thoughts and your debt in the short-term. A long-term plan can help you escape completely and get on solid ground.

The narrative: being in debt is a serious challenge. Again, nobody can fault you for being upset. Running out of money doesn’t make you bad or stupid or mean you need to be ashamed of anything – it’s a neutral event. But we’re hard on ourselves, and that’s when problems come. Hopefully you’ll be able to identify if you’re telling yourself additional stories about the situation – which might not be helpful or accurate.

Things fall apart: it may sound strange, but you might actually find great freedom in embracing the fact that this is where you are, and it can’t be changed instantly. We can only change things after we accept them, figure out what can and cannot be done, and continue on accordingly. Struggling against reality or denying what is is a recipe for suffering.

Sense of control: while you put the pieces back together, a sense of control will help you combat any feelings of powerlessness that you’re experiencing. Focus on areas of your life where you have made a difference – they’re there – and build on that sense of accomplishment.

The money: of course, having more money will also help. There are only two ways to do that: cut expenses and increase income – ideally you can do both at the same time. This page isn’t about saving a few bucks each month (you can find plenty of ideas elsewhere). Your job going forward will be to figure out how to make the numbers work. Again, it’s not easy, but it’s worth it, and it can be done over time.

You’re not Alone

Maybe I’m not in your shoes, and I don’t know the pain you’re feeling. I’m not a therapist or counselor or any kind of authority on suffering. But I know that you are feeling pain and that you’re not alone. This article was inspired by an author who saw countless people like you visiting her site – most of them thinking they’re alone in a hole. Melanie Lockert has shown numerous readers that debt is not a death sentence.

It doesn’t help your finances to know that others are there with you, but hopefully it makes you feel a little bit better. I don’t want you to kill yourself over your debt, and I can assure you that there are others out there (some of whom love you and care about you) who feel the same way.

I know this much: it won’t make things better for those who are left behind. They’d rather go through the struggles with you than go through life without you. Even if you really are all alone in life (please challenge yourself on whether or not that’s accurate), I can assure you that it doesn’t always have to be this way. You might actually find great freedom in embracing where you are and the unlimited potential ahead. It only gets better from here.