Anxiety and debt – my 'moment of terror'

Joe Beardsall

Senior PR Officer

How can we face debt and mental ill-health? 

It’s 3:30am. I’m suddenly awoken by my heart beating out of my chest, having hot sweats, pain all over my body and I’m overwhelmed by fear. What is this horrendous feeling? Am I having a heart attack?’ I ask myself as I cry out to God for help in my moment of sheer terror!

The ambulance arrives, the amazing staff do all their checks to make sure my heart is OK. Thankfully, it is. Later I discovered that it was anxiety. I didn’t realise you could get physical pain and symptoms with a mental health condition.

I began to think about what could be causing it and quickly realised it was heavily linked to my money troubles at the time. This is a common theme for many of the people we help at CAP.

Mental ill-health and debt often come as a pair and are a toxic mix. They escalate each other, like putting petrol on a fire, and suddenly the blaze is out of control and causing chaos. Only this fire is taking place in your mind and your circumstances. 

Christians Against Poverty is about to release its annual Client Report and it found that 4 out of 5 (81%) CAP clients said that debt has affected them mentally. A third (36%) have suffered from anxiety or panic attacks.

When I was suffering with anxiety, I was in over £2,500 of debt as the engine on my car blew its head gasket. This meant a very costly repair that I really couldn’t afford but had to pay for as I needed my car to get to work. I had to borrow money from my dad and fell deeper into my overdraft. At the time I was in a low paid job, facing redundancy and my grandad Jeff had just passed away, so I was feeling under serious financial pressure whilst also grieving. 

The main reasons for debt

At CAP we know from our clients that mental ill-health and low income are the two most common reasons for debt. When you’re on a low income you have less protection from debt and poverty and one unexpected cost or change in circumstance can easily throw you into financial difficulty.

After months of struggling on my own, I finally accepted that I needed help, which was really tough for me because I’m a bit stubborn at times and someone who likes to handle my own problems. I’m going to be completely honest and say I was terrified to ask for help. But I somehow plucked up the courage to make the call and spoke with a friendly advisor who made me feel instantly at ease about my situation. At the end of the call I burst into tears, but they weren’t tears of sadness but tears of overwhelming relief because I felt in my heart that this was the turning point.

I went to see an amazing mental health counsellor who helped me think through and understand the reasons for my anxiety and debt, and face them both head on. I was open with friends and family about my situation so they were able to offer me support and I grew in my faith again which made a massive difference. This eased my anxiety and I began to finally feel like I had a bit of head space to tackle my issues. The support helped me to grow in confidence, so that I felt strong again and empowered to tackle my problems. I started to budget so I could come up with a plan to pay my dad back for the car repair and even took up jogging, losing four stone.

Less than a year later my life had completely transformed! From regularly waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety and panic attacks, consumed by fear, physical pains and worries over money, I’ve now cleared my debts, started saving money each month, and got a new job working for the amazing Christians Against Poverty, where I’m playing my small role in helping others out of debt. 

Three things you can do

We can face and overcome these issues in our own lives and help others to do so too. Here are my three tips on what you can do on Mental Health Awareness Week to play your part in fighting against debt, anxiety and mental ill-health: 

1. Seek free help if you are experiencing debt and mental ill-health - Calling a free, professional organisation and telling a complete stranger that you need support was one of the hardest moments of my life, but the instant relief you feel after speaking to a friendly expert, knowing you’re finally facing the problem and on the road to recovery is such a beautiful feeling. Asking for help changed my life.

There’s lots of free help for a variety of issues. CAP offers free, non-judgemental, face to face debt help and emotional and practical support. You can find out more about what services we run in your area at: or visit: to see what other organisations can do to help you.

2. Challenge the stigma attached to mental health and debt — Debt and mental ill-health are often caused by circumstances out of our control and can happen to any of us. I shared my personal experience with you of low income, an unexpected cost and redundancy causing my money worries. However, relationship breakdown, a partner or close family member passing away or suffering with a serious or terminal illness can all impact your finances and are common reasons why our clients at CAP are suffering with debt and mental ill-health. 

Despite this, there’s still a stigma and judgment that some have towards debt which makes it harder for people in need to come forward for help. To encourage more people to seek free help, we must positively raise awareness of just how easy it is to fall into debt. Tell your friends, family, any and everyone who you know why debt happens and how free help is available.

3. Help others through it — Take time to check in on your mates and family to see how they’re doing and encourage anyone you know who is struggling to seek free help. CAP is changing lives for the better every day but this amazing work is only possible because of the incredible financial support of regular givers who fund our work. We’d love you to join CAP and play your part in helping others. Why not consider becoming a CAP Life Changer and donate a few quid each month to CAP to play your part in changing other people’s lives? 

Find more information on Mental Health Awareness Week on their website.

Joe Beardsall worked as a broadcast journalist and radio presenter before joining Christians Against Poverty in 2020 as CAP’s Senior PR Officer. He’s a Yorkshire lad and a massive Barnsley fan who runs his own YouTube football channel in his spare time. He’s a lover of Jesus, Star Wars and Toby Carvery.