National Suicide Prevention Day: Talking about debt can save a life

11th September 2023

At a glance

  • According to the Financial Capability Strategy for the UK, nearly nine million people are in serious debt, but only about a third reach out for, and receive help2.
  • Problem debt, or a sudden life crisis that precipitates a loss of income, can make people more likely to see suicide as their only option.
  • Suicide support organisations are clear that talking openly about money difficulties can save lives.

We’re borrowing more and saving less. And finding yourself in financial difficulty is a known suicide risk. The prolonged cost of living crisis has had a profound effect on our personal finances. In February, the Office for National Statistics reported that more than a fifth of adults in the UK have borrowed more money or used more credit to cover bills in the past year3. This is up by 17% from January 2022. Rising prices and high interest rates affect us all – but for some, the cost of living crisis may cost them much more.

Where do you turn when financial worries feel overwhelming?

In a 2022 survey by Wealth at Work, one in four of us are now deeply concerned about our financial situation4. In times of uncertainly and market turmoil, we understand even the ‘wealthy’ feel a sense of insecurity. Investments don’t save us from the media storm. Or the rising sense of panic. It is a commonly known fact that feeling squeezed financially in any way, can affect your overall health and mental wellbeing. The link between money, mental health and suicide is, sadly, a clear one.

A life-threatening level of debt

Almost all of us owe money; from a student loan to repaying a mortgage or car financing. But if you’re suddenly blindsided by a redundancy, or a relationship breakup, your normal debt can escalate into a problem debt in a matter of weeks.

Though problem debt can be a major risk factor, a person who is thinking about taking their life is often overwhelmed by a perfect storm of several life events. Losing your job, breaking up with someone, falling victim to a scam or getting a life-threatening diagnosis, can all leave people vulnerable and often too distressed to focus on paying bills, or sorting out taxes.

Debt isn’t choosy. Suddenly finding you’re living beyond your means is devastating and destabilising – whether you’re a high earner or a low income family. In December 2022, Credit-Connect reported that one in eight people who were behind on a bill had attempted suicide5.

Why men can be significantly more at risk than women – and harder to reach

There is a stark gender bias embedded in suicide rates. The latest figures from the ONS, published in 2021, show that men represent three quarters of UK suicides6. This has been the case consistently since the mid Nineties, with men in their fifties more at risk. What many people may not realise is that men are disproportionately more likely to complete suicide than women. These men are often in the role of provider and feel personally responsible for the welfare of their whole family.

Feeling as though they’ve not made good financial decisions and got the family into debt can feel like a huge failure – and openly talking about it is something too shameful or embarrassing to think about.

Trans and non-binary folk may also be at higher risk, since they often face specific risk factors including stigma, prejudice, or discrimination.

Talkclub is a talking and listening club for men, offering talking groups, sports group and therapy. To find out more, click here.

Using the ‘S’ word – start the conversation

Every suicide is preventable, and every single financial problem is resolvable.

Money and Mental Health Organisation

Suicide support organisations are clear that a high number of potential suicides can be prevented if we start talking openly and sensitively about those dark thoughts. If you’re worried about someone you know – if they seem withdrawn, distracted, and not themselves – it’s time to let them know you’re there for them to talk to. And don’t be afraid to actually say the words: ‘Are you having suicidal thoughts?’

CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, is a UK charity that helps young people experiencing suicidal thoughts and is supported by the St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation. CALM says checking in with people is the biggest step we can all take to prevent people completing suicide.

Every day could be Suicide Prevention Day

Many of us find it hard to talk about money in the good times. So it’s perhaps not surprising that we can find it even harder to start a conversation with someone who’s in difficult circumstances. Talking about money, openly and honestly is what financial advisers do: day in, day out. An adviser can open a conversation and ask direct questions about money that might feel hard. Just talking it over with an expert can be a real weight off someone’s mind.

We have always recognised that, at certain times in our lives, we may find ourselves in very difficult, challenging circumstances which have a direct impact on our financial wellbeing. We aren’t counsellors, but we often have close, lifelong relationships with our clients. We can spot the emotional signs that something’s not right, even before it shows up at a regular review, and can support with empathy as well as practical advice.

We’ve got their back – in good times, and bad.

Someone to turn to

Talking about managing your finances is about much more than money. As financial advisers, we talk to our clients every day about the future they imagine for themselves.

So the most important thing any of us can do, as friends, colleagues, family members or financial advisers is to make sure that everyone has a future.

Check in with friends and family. Just a quiet call or chat may be helping someone more than you know.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, or your think someone you love is, you can call the Samaritans helpline free – day or night, 365 days a year – on 116 123, or email them. And the NHS is always there if you need help urgently. Find them here.

Worried about someone? CALM’s helpline and webchat are open daily 5pm – midnight.

If you need help starting a conversation, check ‘Conversation starters’ here.

There are also some debt support charities and organisations that can help – MoneyHelper on 0800 011 37970 has information, and Stepchange for debt management.

Links from this website exist for information only and we accept no responsibility or liability for the information contained on any such sites. The existence of a link to another website does not imply or express endorsement of its provider, products or services by St. James’s Place. Please note that clicking a link will open the external website in a new window or tab.


1Mental Health UK – accessed August 2023
2Financial Capability – August 2023
3Office for National Statistics – February 2023
4Wealth at work – The survey of 2,000 UK Adults was carried out for WEALTH at work by Opinium from 8 – 11 July 2022
5Credit Connect – December 2022
6Office for National Statistics – Data and analysis from Census 2021

SJP Approved 15/08/2023