Tax Debt and Mental Health
If there’s one thing we still don’t talk about enough in the UK, it’s mental health.
There’s still so much stigma attached to issues like stress, anxiety and depression – particularly in industries like construction. UK construction workers commit suicide at over 3 times the national average – and still so few people who are suffering feel like they can get the help they need. When you’re dealing with the toughest aspects of HMRC and debt, it can take a serious toll on your mental health.
What can you do if debt is affecting your mental health?
Thankfully, HMRC does have a few policies in place to help people through difficult times. In fact, it’s their legal responsibility to make what they call “reasonable adjustments” to assist people with certain mental health conditions in using their services. Depression, for example, can count as a “disability” and be covered under the reasonable adjustments system.
Basically, if you qualify, HMRC can do a few things to make life a little easier when dealing with them. It may be as simple as contacting you in writing rather than over the phone, for instance, or taking extra care to make sure you’ve understood everything. You may be able to arrange for a relative or friend to speak to HMRC on your behalf, if you can’t handle it yourself. Even if your condition doesn’t fully count as a disability, you can still ask for HMRC to take it into account in their dealings with you. They’ve started taking mental health very seriously, working hard on improving their training to better accommodate sufferers’ needs. There’s even a “Needs Extra Support” (NES) system, where they tend to throw out their standard scripts and procedures in favour of offering more personalised, one-to-one help.
The thing is, they won’t know to offer you all this extra support unless you explain that you need it. You have to ask them to put a note in your file describing your condition or problem. That way, you won’t end up going round in circles every time you speak to a new person. As always, the sooner you ask for help the better things will work out.
Signs of stress, depression and anxiety
When it comes to mental health problems, the first and most important step is recognising the signs. Crucially, it’s just as essential to learn to spot them in your colleagues, friends and family as in yourself. Here are a few early warning signs that you or someone else may be struggling with mental health.
- Difficulty sleeping, concentrating or remembering things.
- Feeling nervous, irritable or overwhelmed.
- Feeling burned out or hopeless.
- Lacking energy or motivation.
- Increased heart rate, sweating, trembling or rapid breathing.
- Feeling weak, restless or tense.
- Gastrointestinal trouble or changes in your eating patterns.
- Difficulty making decisions or engaging with other people.
- Uncontrollable worry, panic or anxiety.
- Suicidal thoughts.
That’s a long list – and almost everyone can check off a few of those symptoms from time to time. The trick is recognising when you’re getting swamped by things, and reaching out before it goes too far.
Taking manageable, practical steps
With debt problems, it’s tempting to look for “quick fix” solutions – but that’s usually a mistake. A lot of people simply end up swapping one set of debts for another, potentially much larger, one. The same goes for looking after your mental health. Any looming problem become a lot more manageable when you break it down into smaller steps. With debt, that can mean spotting the signs of trouble early, understanding the causes and making a plan to tackle them.
The exact same process applies to mental health. It can be tough to break the cycle of mounting money problems causing stress or anxiety – which then only worsen the money trouble. The best place to start is often with the practical side – cutting out problem spending and bringing down the cost of your debts. However, that won’t always be possible when your mental health is tripping up your efforts. Again, though, taking small positive steps is the surest way to get things moving in the right direction. That can mean coming to terms with the relationship between your mood and your spending habits, for example. Once you start spotting the patterns, it can get a lot easier to attack the problem at its roots.
If you’re worried about getting professional mental health help, don’t be. There’s a lot more to it than the old stereotypes of medication and side-effects suggest. In fact, a lot of mental health issues can be handled without ever getting a prescription, through things like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. For many people, improving mental health is all about changing the way they think. It takes a little practice, but can be very effective if you stick with it.
The main point is to give yourself permission to take back control. Once you’ve seized the reins of your own mental health, you’ll be in a much better position to be proactive about your debts. While you’re at it, give yourself permission to get qualified help as well. There’s no shame in suffering from poor mental health, just as there’s no shame in struggling with debt. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to tough out either alone. No debt crisis is impossible to fix, and there’s a whole range of organisations out there offering real, practical and judgement-free solutions. You can get free of your debts with the right guidance, and no one needs to suffer alone through a mental health crisis.
Where to get additional help
When debt issues lead to, or worsen existing, mental health problems, knowing where to look for help is critical. In terms of basic, practical guidance, you could do a lot worse than the Citizens Advice Bureau. They have a comprehensive service for debt issues, even if they’ve reached the point where people are repossessing your belongings. National Debtline is also a great option for free and confidential advice.
Stepchange is a charity dedicated to helping people conquer their debt problems, helping 650,000 people a year. They’ve got specialised services for people with mental health issues with a free advocacy system. While we’re on the subject, there’s a fantastic list of helplines and support groups for mental health issues on the NHS website, covering everything from stress and depression through to panic attacks and bipolar disorder. There’s even a specialist charity called The Lighthouse Club for the construction industry, where mental health is a serious issue. They have a dedicated helpline and even a construction worker mental health app.
Good planning, expert guidance and practical help will go a long way toward getting your fears and finances under control, and there are so many resources out there to get you back on track. Debt and depression both grow fastest in the dark. Don’t suffer in silence, particularly at the cost of your mental health.
Other useful debt contacts, charities and organisations include:
- The Money Advice Service (0800 138 77 77)
Provides guidance on a range of money and debt problems, from moving home to starting a family.
- Mental Health and Money Advice
An online advice service focused on helping people to understand, manage and improve their financial and metal heath.
- Money Saving Expert
The largest UK consumer advice website, helping to bring down bills, tackle debt and save cash.
- Debt Advice Foundation (0800 043 40 50)
A charity offering free, confidential debt advice. Aims to give you back control of you finances
- Mental Health Foundation
Organisation helping people to understand, protect and sustain good mental health.
The mental health charity, determined to help people understand the relationship between money worries and mental health, and to show them how to improve both.
- NHS Moodzone
A no-nonsense survival guide for people suffering from financial stress.
Guest post by RIFT the experts in Tax Refunds.
Read their full article on Tax Debt and Mental Health (includes additional information on tax, debt, penalties for not paying, bringing the cost of your debts down and what if you’ve been charged incorrectly?)