The relationship between personal debt and specific common mental disorders

Eur J Public Health. 2013 Feb;23(1):108-13. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cks021. Epub 2012 Mar 20.


Background: Personal debt is now recognized as one of the many factors associated with common mental disorders (CMD). We aim to estimate the prevalence of 'specific' mental disorders based on ICD-10 research diagnostic criteria by type of debt and quantify the additional influence of addictive behaviours.

Method: A random probability sample comprising 7461 respondents were interviewed for the third national survey of psychiatric morbidity of adults in England carried out in 2007. The prevalence of CMD was estimated from the administration of the CIS-R. Respondents were asked about sources of debt and their borrowing choices.

Results: In 2007, 8.5% of adults were in arrears. Adults in debt were three times more likely than those not in debt to have CMD. The increased likelihood of CMD among those in arrears was found for all CMD and was irrespective of source of debt--housing, utilities and purchases on credit. The situation was exacerbated among those with addictive behaviours--alcohol or drug dependence or problem gambling. Those with multiple sources of debt and who had to obtain money from pawnbrokers and moneylenders had the highest rate of CMD, ≈ 50%.

Conclusions: Debt is one of the major risk factors for CMD. This has practical implications for both health services and financial services, which both need to be alert to the association and adapt and train their respective services accordingly so that people in debt can access help for mental disorders and people with mental disorders can access help for debt.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Behavior, Addictive / economics
  • Behavior, Addictive / epidemiology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Financing, Personal*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / economics*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Phobic Disorders / economics
  • Phobic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / economics*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult