Financial Problems Are No Cause for Shame – It’s Time We Remove the Stigma

If money were nothing more in our society than a simple medium of exchange, it would still cause problems for those who don’t have the money to buy goods and services they want or need. But money also carries a great deal of emotional weight, which creates layers of extra problems. One of these problems is that folks who are facing financial difficulties often feel ashamed or embarrassed about their situation, and may be reluctant to ask for help as a result. But money problems are nothing to be embarrassed about, even if they are problems of your own making. The only shame would be in not trying to do whatever you can for yourself and your family to make things better.

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Social stigma can rob deserving people of benefits

Social stigma is one of the most powerful tools for influencing and controlling the behaviour of modern societies, and while it has done some good by reducing the instances of truly egregious behaviours, it has also done great harm by shaming people into accepting and internalising the shaming behaviors of religious and social zealots. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has stated, “The imposition of stigma is the commonest form of violence used in democratic societies.”

This violence can manifest as bullying and other forms of physical abuse, but it can also be more subtle in its approach, but be no less devastating in its effects. Take, for example, the individual who receives assistance from the government or a charity. All too often, the recipient feels ashamed, labeling him or her self a failure. This shaming is exacerbated by society at large, with many people accepting the absurd and egregious notion that the country’s financial woes can be attributed to those who receive assistance. As a result, many needy people subject themselves and their families to even greater hardship by eschewing the benefits they need, to the tune of £10 billion a year.

The intimate connection between debt and mental health

Money problems such as debt can create or exacerbate mental or emotional issues. But it is really more of a self-perpetuating cycle: people who have mental or emotional issues may be more likely to let their money problems get out of hand – which may very well make the emotional issues even worse. And again, the stigma attached to these issues can make people reluctant to seek the help they need, especially when the stigma is compounded. When you consider that one fourth of all people who suffer from mental health problems is also in debt, and that half of all people with debts also suffer from mental health problems, the problem is obviously more widespread than most would imagine.

If you find yourself facing debt challenges, don’t allow social stigma to prevent you from seeking the help you need, be it financial or emotional. It is bad enough to carry the burden of excessive debt without also bearing the weight of others’ – or your own – inappropriate judgment. If you don’t know where to turn for help, the Royal College of Psychiatrists website is a good place to start. 

Take advantage of available financial resources

Even if you’re not dealing with a mental health crisis, financial woes are very stressful in and of themselves, and it is essential to seek qualified help before matters get worse. For instance, many people find themselves in urgent need of cash to handle an emergency or unexpected expense, but they have a poor credit history and don’t think they can qualify for a conventional loan. While this may be discouraging, the good news is that there are many personal loan options for people with less than perfect credit profiles.

You might find that you are limited in the amount you can borrow, that the interest rate and fees you will pay are higher than those paid by individuals with stellar credit ratings, or that you will need to have someone with a good credit rating agree to act as co-signor or guarantor, but at least there will likely be a means for you to resolve your acute financial crisis. And as an added benefit, by repaying the loan according to or even ahead of the scheduled term, you will be working to improve your credit score, so you will have more choices in the future.

Some problems are more complex than a simple cash crunch, of course. If you are truly in over your head, there are several debt charities such as the Money Advice Service that have extensive online resources to help get you back on track financially. What is important is that you recognise you have a problem and that it may be bigger than you can handle by yourself. Financial problems are no cause for shame or embarrassment. Nor is there shame in asking for help when you need it, whether by claiming benefits for which you qualify, or seeking professional guidance to help you out of the woods.