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Breathing Space gave Thomas the time he needed to get his debts under control

A man walking towards light at teh end of a large tunnel


Before getting into financial difficulty, Thomas was a Headteacher at a primary school. But his mental health suffered after building up gambling debts and he couldn't see a way out. The Breathing Space scheme gave Thomas time to take control of his debts and move forward.

Thomas explains how the pressure of his debts and job affected his wellbeing

"Before I came to StepChange, I had debts of over £40,000 that I had built up over the course of around 13 years. I was a headteacher and the job came with a lot of pressure, which exacerbated some of the problems with my emotional well-being after experiencing abuse earlier on in my life, and I ended up gambling as a form of distraction and to help me cope with things, which quickly led to me developing a serious gambling addiction.

"When I was in the grips of my addiction every month I would end up spending my income on various bets and games, and would then be forced to take out credit to pay for my essential living costs.

"When you spend a lot of time gambling you always believe that you’re one more bet away from winning big and get into the mentality that you can win back all of the money you have lost. Although it’s obvious now that this isn’t the case, it’s easy to fall for it when you’re on the receiving end of all the targeting and marketing material the gambling companies bombard you with.

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Constant contact from debt collectors can affect mental health

"When the pandemic hit, most of my creditors were a lot more understanding than they previously had been due to the various moratoriums in place. However, as things started to open back up again, my creditors were contacting me incessantly with letters, calls and texts which had a really threatening tone.

"On more than one occasion an enforcement agent called the school that I worked at to try and get hold of me – the receptionists had no idea what was going on.

"A few weeks later, I attempted to end my life due to the state of my mental health and the pressure the increasingly hostile approaches by creditors was placing on me. I simply couldn’t see a way out.

"After my suicide attempt, I became a patient at my local NHS mental health crisis team, and they referred me to StepChange. They printed out the information I needed on a Saturday and I picked up the phone as soon as the lines opened on the Monday.

Getting on the Breathing Space scheme

"My first call lasted around 90 minutes and I went through a full debt advice session with the advisor. I found the process to be a relief despite having to finally learn exactly how much debt I had accumulated. I was placed on the Breathing Space scheme, which was exactly what I needed to get everything in order – I was also referred to GamCare and needed time to set up things like settings that excluded me from all gambling sites.

"In total, I had 60 days to put everything in place and work on improving my mental health before embarking on the start of my Debt Management Plan (DMP), as well as having time to work up the courage to tell my friends and family about my situation. I knew that I wanted to choose an option that enabled me to pay back my debts and move on and my DMP has enabled me to put a plan in place to achieve this.

Moving forward

"Aside from wanting to pay back the debts out of principle, I had since also decided to change careers and I wouldn’t have wanted an insolvency option because it could limit my future career options.

Coming to Stepchange has been a literal lifesaver, and I was relieved to discover that all of the debt advisors are so kind and helpful. It feels like there’s light at the end of the tunnel and I can’t wait to move on with my life."

Names have been changed.

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