Mental Health Awareness Week 2023: A Look at Clients with Stress or Anxiety
By Asiya Uddin, Research and Insight Officer at StepChange Debt Charity
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, and the theme this year is anxiety. In this blog post we explore our client debt advice data from 2022, to highlight some key findings about the demographic and financial situations of clients who disclosed they had a mental health condition (including stress or anxiety), at the time of debt advice.
Previous research  by StepChange highlighted links between financial difficulties and mental health conditions. There is an existing evidence base which suggests that coping with mental health problems made managing finances harder and worrying about finances had a detrimental effect towards an individual’s mental health.
In 2022, four in ten (40%) StepChange clients told us about a mental condition and one in ten (11%) had stress or anxiety, which was the most common mental health condition disclosed by our clients. Although there is a variety of unique journeys into problem debt, there are some broad differences between the experiences of those with mental health conditions and those without.
Women more likely to disclose having mental health conditions
In 2022, the proportion of women among StepChange’s client population was 63%. Among our clients who disclosed a mental health condition, 67% were women. Among clients who reported having stress or anxiety, there is also a heavy skew towards women, where women accounted for 68% of this client population.
Clients who disclose mental health conditions less likely to be in full-time employment
Around three in ten (30%) clients with a mental health condition were in full time employment, compared to 46% of clients without. Among clients with stress or anxiety, an even smaller proportion were in full time employment (20%).
Clients with a mental health condition were also more likely to not be working directly due to an illness or disability (28%), comparably, just 8% of clients without a mental health condition were in the same situation. A higher proportion of clients who had stress or anxiety, around one in three (34%), were not working directly due to an illness or disability.
Health issues are the most common, but not the only, main reason for debt for clients who disclose a mental health condition
In terms of reasons for debt, clients who disclosed a mental health condition present a different trend to those without. Our Stats Yearbook findings suggested that a ‘lack of control over finances’ and increases in the cost of living were among the most common reasons for debt last year.
Although, our monthly client data reports have shown the proportion of clients citing a ‘cost of living increase’ as their main reason for debt grew through 2022, from around one in ten in January (9%) to over two in ten in December (22%). In our monthly client reports, a ‘cost of living increase’ has been the singular most common reason for debt since June 2022, cited by over a quarter (26%) of clients in March 2023.
Conversely, among clients who had stress or anxiety in 2022, an ‘injury or health issue’ emerged as the singular most common reason for debt and it was mentioned by over one in five (21%), which potentially reflects the damaging impact stress or anxiety can have on a client’s personal finances.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that clients who experienced mental health conditions weren’t affected by other reasons aside from health-related concerns. For example, clients with stress or anxiety were also slightly more likely than any other group to mention a ‘reduced income or benefits’ (13%) as their main reason for debt. This was the second most common reason for debt among clients who had stress or anxiety, whereas among the other client groups ‘a ‘reduced income or benefits’ ranked as the fourth or fifth reason.
Clients who disclose mental health conditions have lower average incomes
In StepChange’s client data, mental health and income are evidently linked. There is a notable disparity between the average (mean) monthly income of clients who disclosed a mental health condition when compared to their counterparts. Clients who disclosed a mental health condition had an average monthly income of £1,451, which is 11% lower than clients without a mental health condition (£1,628). Clients who had stress or anxiety had an even lower average monthly income of £1,348.
Additionally, the proportion of clients in receipt of Universal Credit was significantly higher among clients who disclosed a mental health condition (44% vs. 29% without) or stress or anxiety (55% vs. 32% without), compared to their respective counterparts.
Furthermore, the proportion of clients with a negative budget was higher among clients who disclosed a mental health condition (33% vs. 27% without). Clients who disclosed a mental health condition had an average (mean) monthly surplus amount which was £76 lower than clients without.
Clients who had stress or anxiety (39% vs. 28% without) are even more likely to have a deficit budget and they had an average (mean) monthly surplus amount below £0, which was -£32.
Our findings reflect why this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme of anxiety is so pertinent. Overall, StepChange clients with stress or anxiety appear to have more unstable finances than other client groups, even among those who disclose mental health conditions more generally, as highlighted through their lower incomes and surplus levels. This leaves them short of meeting their essential costs each month and with less money to contribute towards paying off their debts.
As a charity we have a number of ways we can support those in need of additional support with mental health concerns and financial difficulty, both through debt advice, through referring to partner organisations for further mental health support, and through wider guidance available via our website.