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Sarah looking out of the window

Sarah's story

"Being in debt isn’t easy. You’re so anxious, and you feel like you can’t tell anybody about it, which makes it all the more stressful."

Find out about Sarah - in her own words

Sarah's debts affected her mental health but help from StepChange changed her life.

"I’ve always been all over the place with my spending habits. I had quite a difficult upbringing, and after my parents divorced, I ran away from home. I ended up living off benefits whilst doing my A Levels. Without support, I didn’t develop good financial habits."

I thought that could be the end of my marriage. All the shame, stigma, self-loathing and everything had built up so much.

I just thought there's no way he's going to want to stay with me now. The foundation I had with regards to money was, was not good and probably quite unhealthy. I didn't have input from my family to help me learn how to deal with money, it was confusing.

You know, and I would spend ages trying to work out budgets and I'd blow it. And then I'd feel guilty, try and rebudget, and then it would just cycle. It would cycle around. At the time, the mental health was poor, I had chronic anxiety, panic attacks, depression.

It becomes part of the mess that you can't deal with. It's another thing that in your head you're failing at. So when I was diagnosed at 42, which is quite late to be diagnosed with autism, I had to learn then about what this actually means for me. And during that process, I realised that being autistic did have a huge impact on how I manage my money. The first person I told when the debts had really built up was my husband.

The response I got from him was very different to the one I felt I deserved. But that is what shame and stigma does to people. You don't deserve nice things or nice people. That's how it makes you feel. When I first got in touch with StepChange, I was nervous, but I needn't had been because it was just so, it was so easy, actually. I remember an overwhelming sense that I was being listened to and I was being heard and I wasn't being judged. I was going to be able to be debt free at some point in the future. When I got help from StepChange, it felt like I wasn't alone.

They were sharing the load with me, the structure and the discipline of the repayment plan has really helped me sort of like take responsibility for my own finances. If the debt had been magicked away, then I wouldn't have learned how to deal with my finances. Whereas this gives me the responsibility and I'm the on who has to do the work, but StepChange is with me with every step of the way to help me do that.

I would always say to anybody, who's struggling with debt, and it doesn't matter what the reasons are. If you are struggling with debt at any age and any circumstance reach out for help, because help is there.

Sarah struggled to stop overspending

"For as long as I can remember, I would go round in circles, working out a budget, but then suddenly blowing it all, and having to start again. It didn’t matter how many times I re-worked my finances - I would just keep overspending. I also had a number of credit cards, all with a 0% fixed term period, so I’d spend on those too.

"I just kept telling myself that I had it all under control, but my debts were creeping up over time.

"During this time, I experienced depression, anxiety and panic attacks."

Mental health, neurodivergence and debt are often interlinked

"When I reached the age of 42, I was diagnosed with autism and ADHD, and suddenly my habits seemed to make more sense.

"It’s really common for people who are neurodivergent to find financial management difficult... even though some of us are able to work and can look as if we are coping a lot of the time."

"With ADHD, in particular, impulsive spending and addictive behaviours are very common. So I spent money on loads of random stuff. I don’t even remember what half of it was.

"I was coming to the end of the 0% fixed term rates on my credit cards, and I remember worrying that this isn’t going to end well."

Did you know?

  • One in two adults with debts has a mental health problem
  • One in four people with a mental health problem is also in debt

Experiencing mental health issues can easily worsen feelings of panic and helplessness if you’re in debt. If you're struggling, we can help.

Find out more about how to get debt and mental health support.

Her partner encouraged her to get help

"My friends and family had no idea about the situation I’d got myself into.

"Eventually, I summoned the courage to talk to my husband about it. Initially he was a bit shocked, but he turned out to be incredibly supportive.

"I feel very lucky, because things like this can blow marriages apart. I’d heard of StepChange through word of mouth and on the TV, so my husband encouraged me to get in touch.

"The rest is history.

"I picked up the phone and spoke to a debt advisor and explained my situation. They were really kind, non-judgemental and supportive, and patiently told me about all of the different options available.

"It’s not easy facing up to the mess you’ve made with your finances. But StepChange made it a lot less painful and have been there for me every step of the way.

"For me, having the structure and the discipline of a repayment plan really helped me to take responsibility for my finances where I hadn’t been able to before."

Sarah has regained control of her finances

"It’s made such a difference to my life and I feel much more in control of my finances. I’m now halfway there with paying back my debt and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without StepChange.

"Being in debt isn’t easy. You’re so anxious, and you feel like you can’t tell anybody about it, which makes it all the more stressful. I felt really cross with myself. How did I let it get to this point?

"I’m so glad I spoke to StepChange – when you’re juggling debt it takes up a lot of time and energy, but now I feel calmer and more capable of taking charge of myself and my finances. With StepChange I do the annual review and re-budgeting which really helps too.

"I think StepChange saves lives. We’re all human, we all mess up. But they are there to help and they won’t judge you. Getting into debt can make you feel so helpless, but StepChange walk alongside you the whole way.

"Don’t suffer in silence any longer than you need to. StepChange helped me get my life together and they can help you too."

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