Medical debt can lead to depression, anxiety and even the risk of suicide.

3 minute read

Would you rather curl up in bed with a pillow over your head than sort through the giant stack of medical bills you owe? If so, you’ve got plenty of company.

A 2020 study by AIMS Public Health reports that people with debt are three times as likely to have mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety and stress due to worrying about medical bills and debt.

Medical debt is linked with negative mental health symptoms and outcomes, according to “Medical Debt Burden in the United States,” a February 2022 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). When hospitals and other health care providers send medical bills to collections, the stress of dealing with collection agencies can exacerbate depression and anxiety already associated with challenges paying medical debt.

Health issues caused by medical debt aren’t limited to mental health symptoms alone. Medical debt — or even the thought of facing more medical bills — can affect your physical health, too.

The impact of medical debt on mental and physical health

In a consumer complaint to the CFPB, one person articulated their frustrations and the impact dealing with a collection agency had on their mental health:

“Receiving these communications made me feel anxious, afraid, frustrated, exposed, helpless, confused and offended every time I saw their company name or logo on a piece of mail in my mailbox…I felt embarrassed, less confident and depressed.”

If you’ve faced paying off a large amount of medical debt or dealing with medical debt collections, you can likely relate to that consumer’s mental distress. For some consumers, however, the mental health impact is more severe. Medical debt has even been linked to an increased risk of suicide, according to the CFPB report.

“Medical debt can also lead people to avoid medical care, develop physical and mental health problems and face adverse financial consequences like lawsuits, wage and bank account garnishment, home liens, and bankruptcy, says the CFPB report. Given the widespread impact of COVID-19, addressing medical debt is an urgent priority.”

The prospect of acquiring more medical debt is so painful that one in three Americans (including 27 percent who have health insurance) avoided seeking medical care due to the cost, according to a 2018 report from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.

If medical debt has got you down, you don’t have to sink lower in the depths of debt despair. Here are three suggestions on ways to get help for your mental, physical and financial health.

1. Seek help from a mental health professional

The burden of medical debt is heavy, but that’s not a load you must carry alone. You may not think you have extra money to pay a therapist, but your mental health is crucial to overall wellness. Your health insurance may even cover outpatient therapy with a small copay.

There are also many affordable online therapy services such as  and Talkspace, which have counselors, social workers and psychologists trained in depression, anxiety and other areas relevant to financial issues.

2. Meet with a credit counselor

A free nonprofit or nominal-fee credit counseling agency can help you create a debt payoff plan, along with monthly and long-term budgets. The credit counselor may even be able to negotiate a payment plan with the hospital billing department and other health care providers.

3. Hire a Medical Billing Advocate

Hiring a medical billing advocate may seem like just one more bill you don’t need. But a medical billing advocate, most of whom work for an hourly rate, can save you money by locating medical billing errors, which occur on around 80 percent of medical and hospital bills.

A medical billing advocate can also save you the mental stress of calling insurance companies, hospital billing departments and collection agencies.

I used the link to a BetterHelp review I wrote for Forbes, since it gives a great overview of the service. And it’s a shameless plug on my part, of course! However if you want to link directly to Betterhelp.com, that’s fine, too

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC