Understanding the Relationship between Debt Problems and Psychological Distress.

Prof Doc Thesis

Thompson, Samuel 2015. Understanding the Relationship between Debt Problems and Psychological Distress. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London Psychology https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.4539
AuthorsThompson, Samuel
TypeProf Doc Thesis

The proportion of people in the UK experiencing problems repaying debt has
increased in recent years. A growing body of evidence suggests that there may
be a relationship between debt problems and clinically significant psychological
distress. However, the causal direction of this relationship is unclear.
Furthermore, it seems likely that psychological factors influence the relationship,
such that how people make sense of their financial situation determines, at least
in part, the extent to which they experience distress. The present study aims to
develop a richer understanding of the relationship between debt and
psychological distress from the perspective of those experiencing both difficulties.
The study was part of the Debt Counselling for Depression in Primary Care trial
(DeCoDer). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight adults
recruited through GP practices in Liverpool. All identified as having debt problems
and significant depressive symptoms. A thematic analysis was undertaken from a
social materialist perspective, focusing on how participants’ experience of debt
problems impacted on their lives.
Two over-arching themes were identified, each consisting of three sub-themes.
Living with debt day-to-day described experiences of constant worry, material
hardship and feelings of shame. Cumulative psychological impacts described the
longer-term consequences of debt problems, highlighting in particular how debt
threatened participants’ sense of themselves as valuable and led to a perceived
loss of agency in the face of difficulties.
Results of the analysis are discussed in light of psychological research and
recent arguments from anthropology and political philosophy. The findings
suggest that psychological processes of rumination, social comparison and
identity threat may be significant factors in causing distress amongst people with
debt problems, in part because of a wider social milieu in which not being able to
pay one’s debts is seen as a moral failing. Implications for clinical practice and
future research are discussed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.4539
Publication dates
PrintJul 2015
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Oct 2015
Publisher's version
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