Wednesday 21 March 2018

Debt burdens have led to disturbing rise in depression


THE depression support group Aware recorded an astonishing 29 per cent increase in calls from distressed people last year with the agency's support services taking more than 370 calls a week. And last month, in the run-up to Christmas, telephone and online support services received nearly 2,000 calls from individuals from all over Ireland seeking support for depression.

The disturbing increase in the number of people looking for help comes as new research has been published on the link between debt burdens and depression.

John Gathergood, of the School of Economics at the University of Nottingham, found that households who report they face "difficulty" meeting their housing payments, both mortgage and rent, or who report that meeting their consumer credit repayments presents a "heavy burden", exhibit poorer psychological health.

The paper also presented evidence of poorer psychological health among the spouses or partners of respondents reporting debt repayment difficulties, suggesting the reporting of debt difficulties is not driven by the psychological health state of the respondent. Since the downturn hit Ireland, there have been a number of suicides directly linked to despair caused by the economic downturn, including those of 51-year-old property tycoon John O'Dolan from Galway and 42 year-old Patrick Rocca from Dublin, who both took their own lives as their property empires collapsed.

Last year, the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan, warned that banks were driving some debt-ridden borrowers to suicide. He said he had dealt with several debt cases where borrowers had subsequently taken their own lives. Mr Honohan also criticised lending institutions for pursuing debtors who cannot pay judgement mortgages.

He suggested meaningless "accountancy exercises" were causing considerable social disquiet and driving some people to suicide.

Suicide rates have risen sharply across Europe since the banking crisis, as people struggle to cope with debt and joblessness.

Here, 13 per cent more people took their own lives in 2009 than in 2007. Greece was also hit hard with a 16 per cent increase in suicide rates in the same period.

The author of the research, David Stuckler of the University of Cambridge, said the findings in relation to Europe-wide suicide figures were "terribly frustrating".

"Human beings are the real tragedy of an economic crisis, so it is terribly frustrating that government leaders have not only failed to invest in programmes that protect people, but have actually done the opposite. This has been the pattern for three and a half decades but lessons have not been learnt," he said.

Sunday Independent

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