Debt and Suicide: Killing Yourself Over Debt

By Jackie Beck   Updated 09/23/2019 at 12:01 pm

If you're thinking of suicide because of debt or any other reason, please consider this...This is going to get personal. Suicide is heartbreaking, both for the people contemplating suicide (because of their student loans, other debt, or any reason) and for the many people suicide always impacts (family, friends, and acquaintances). If you’re thinking of suicide, here are some things to consider.

If you’re thinking of suicide…

What I’m about to say in the next section is not to add guilt to the top of everything else you might be feeling if you’re thinking of suicide because of debt or any other reason.

It’s to let you know that you are not burdening people by staying alive, and life could get better in the future.

Even if you’re facing homelessness, can’t find work, are in a bad relationship, have a mountain of debt, or are feeling hopeless for any reason. And I say all that as someone who has been clinically depressed and had brief thoughts like “what if I just turned the steering wheel real quick and hit that divider” in the past.

I couldn’t have imagined things could turn around when I was depressed, but they eventually did after I got help, changed some things in my life, and gave it time. Exercise (in the form of walking, even just a little bit) helped too, even though I didn’t feel like getting out of bed.

I would have missed out on so much if I’d acted on that impulse. Luckily, I immediately thought of my son instead, who was a toddler at the time.

So keep in mind that it could get better, given enough time, than the empty depths of depression, loneliness, and despair you might be feeling today. Even if right now, you’ve said to yourself things like “I’m ready to die”, I hope you choose to keep living.

There are resources toward the end of this post that might be helpful. Click here to go straight to them.

Now, on to my story and other information…

About James

I’m going to talk about a coworker who I’ll call James. Years ago, we had the same junior-level jobs at a pretty big employer, and had been working together on trying to get paid more. I had lunch with him one Friday after we’d heard back that they weren’t going to increase the salary for our job, and then he left that weekend for a 2-week Australian vacation that his mom was taking him on.

He never came back to work.

Instead, James got home from vacation, drove out to the desert, and killed himself in his truck. He wasn’t found for a while, even though people were looking and knew something bad had to have happened. When they broke into his apartment, they found that he’d laid out everything except the location, trying to make things easier for others.

But the thing is, you can’t really make things easier for the people left behind, and you definitely can’t minimize their pain, anger, or bewilderment. Or the sense of “if only I had known…what could I have done differently? Why why why…” Or the shock and lasting sadness. We all feel what we’re going to feel.

Those are my feelings from the death of a coworker that I basically would chat and joke with when we ran into each other. I’m crying right now as I write this, about 20 years later. He was a fun person and to outside appearances seemed fine. I can’t imagine how hard it must still be for his family and friends, or how terrifying his last moments must have been.

Debt and money problems are not a death sentence.

Even if you feel like you have no one, know that you are not alone. (You are also not a loan, as my friend Melanie says.)

Sometimes it can be a struggle to make it through the day. Or the next hour. Sometimes…you have to work on making it through the next minute. And then the next one, one minute at a time. Surprisingly, that can actually help get through some tough things, including excruciating pain. Or at least it did me.

I believe that YOU deserve good in your life, and it’s possible you could get to that place someday even though it may not seem like it right now.

So if you don’t know what to do, try focusing on getting through one minute at a time. Consider talking about your real thoughts or feelings to someone you feel comfortable with, to a hotline, or to a professional. (I think most people would listen and try to help, even if they aren’t sure how. If I’m wrong and they happen to be heartless or if they try but end up saying something that leaves you feeling worse, realize that it is NOT you. Regroup and take a chance on the next person.)

Maybe try a different point of view.

You may feel like there isn’t anything to live for, but imagine this:

Suppose someone you know comes up to you and tells you that they’re thinking of killing themselves. What would you tell them? What could they maybe do that they haven’t tried yet, or where could they maybe look for help with their most pressing issues? Or who could they ask who might have ideas? Would you think suicide was the other person’s only or best choice?

Sometimes it’s easier to see things and alternatives when you’re thinking of yourself as a friend listening to someone else’s situation. Consider trying that different point of view and being a good friend to yourself.

There ARE other ways out of debt and bad financial spots.

If the choice is between not paying back payday loans or dying, don’t pay the loans. You are not a terrible person if you can’t pay back all (or even any) of your debt. You are just someone that’s in a bad spot right now.

In fact, chances are if the thought of not paying your debt or not being able to pay your bills is eating you up inside, you’re actually a very GOOD person. Because you care and want to do the right thing.

Consider living to fight another day, because there’s nothing dishonorable about continuing to stay alive while some lenders make a little bit less of a profit. If collectors are hassling you and you’re in the US, here’s how you can get collectors to stop. If there’s nothing similar in your country, change your number. Contact them again when you’re able to pay something.

Do reach out for help, multiple times if need be. Sometimes a second or third set of eyes can help with your money, personal, and emotional situations, and sometimes in the act of letting someone help you will also be helping that other person at the same time.

I know it can be hard to reach out and to find the right help when just getting out of bed seems overwhelming. But you are worth it. Focus on the most immediate thing that you can do. Maybe that’s getting out of the car you’ve been living in and walking in a circle as a little exercise. Maybe it’s calling one of the numbers below. Even a tiny step forward is a step forward. Focus on even the tiniest positive thing, like that today you woke up. (Which actually is a huge thing.)

Depression is a treatable illness and financial situations can be improved given enough time. Don’t let fear, shame, or other feelings be the death of you. I’m so grateful that some of the people who have helped me over the years chose to stay alive when they were contemplating suicide. Meeting them and getting their insights never would have happened otherwise.

Practically speaking…

Since this post is specifically about the combination of money problems, debt, and suicide, I’m going to answer a few practical money-related questions here too.

1. If I die do my loved ones have to pay my debts?

I’m not familiar with how every country handles it, but if you’re in the US the short answer is: it depends. If your loved ones are a cosigner on the loan or a joint account holder, then yes, they typically would have to pay the debt if your estate is not able to cover the full amount.

There are some exceptions to this – such as certain types of student loans under certain circumstances – but even then your loved one can be left paying unexpected additional taxes. (See do student loans die with you? for some examples.)

Even if your loved one is NOT on the loans, if they own assets with you (such as a house, car, etc) they may have to sell those things in order to use your share to pay your debts and settle your estate. That’s because community property can be used to pay debts.

2. What else could happen to my debts if I die?

Sometimes lenders will try to get your loved ones to agree to pay the debts even if they wouldn’t otherwise be liable.

For example, when my mom died a credit card company very matter of factly asked me if I wanted to be added to her account so I could pay the debt. They got a big fat NO in response. After I got done telling the representative what a terrible thing that was to ask, I did inform them that her estate would take care of the balance.

Sometimes your loved ones can also get collection calls that they then are guilted into paying, even if they shouldn’t be responsible for the debts.

This is a huge amount of stress to deal with when you’re also trying to somehow come to terms with the death of a loved one, and beating yourself up over why you didn’t see the signs or what you could maybe have done differently.

3. Can student loans be discharged in bankruptcy in the US?

It depends on the type of loan, how it’s handled, and the situation. I’m definitely not an attorney of any type, so I recommend checking with a reputable bankruptcy attorney who is familiar with your situation. (Martindale.com is a good place to search for one.) Here are a few articles on the subject of student loans and bankruptcy too:

Note that sometimes people are worried about losing their job if they file bankruptcy, either in general or because they work in the financial services industry. From what I can tell that’s not the case for those in the US. You could lose your job for other reasons of course, but not specifically that one. Here are links to a few articles about bankruptcy & job loss:

It may be cold comfort, but also note that almost everyone loses a job at one point or another during their life. Chances are high that you already know people who have declared bankruptcy, been massively behind on bills and deeply in debt, lost jobs, and been homeless. You probably like those people and think well of them. That’s how they would see you, too.

Focusing on the immediate problem (which could be making it through the next minute, hour, or day) is usually better than worrying about something that may or may not happen. As my therapist said that I have found to be true, most of what we worry about never happens anyway. And sometimes if it does, good things can actually happen afterward because of it that you may not have imagined.

4. What if I think the only thing that could help is someone writing a check and paying my debt?

Having someone do that would be amazing. But chances are there are other things that could help too. You’re (understandably) just not able to think of them right now because things are so stressful and overwhelming.

I’ve been there. I’ve lain in bed and thought things to myself like, “You know, I think if the house caught fire right now I just wouldn’t get up.” Taped holes in my only pair of shoes because I couldn’t afford even the cheapest new ones. Sat and cried because I had to try to figure out how to come up with $10 and I just couldn’t think of a single way to do it. But things got better.

Today is not how the future might be. The future could be better. Repeating Scarlet O’Hara’s mantra of “Tomorrow is another day” helped me. It can also pay to think of the things and people in your life you do have, however small or few they might be. Or just plain old to focus on something else instead. Anything else, even just for a minute.

5. Where can I get help with food & rent?

Google “food pantry” and your area name. Contact a church (even if you don’t go to one) and ask them where to find help or who to contact next. USA.gov has links to many helpful resources. (Click through the topics along the top to find the ones that might apply to you.) If you or your spouse were or are in the military, this site lists some good resources. And here is a list of 197 emergency financial assistance resources for various U.S. locations.

See if you can get a roommate or be a roommate. Even unrelated families share living spaces sometimes; there’s nothing wrong with that. It can help everyone involved. If you’re homeless or about to be homeless, google “homeless shelters near me” for resources. Homelessness is a growing problem, and it doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong or are a bad person. It means you’re in a bad spot. I know several formerly-homeless people and they’re all awesome.

Getting the most important priorities of eating and having somewhere to sleep set for at least a little while will help.

6. Where can I get help with debt?

If you do technically make enough to pay your debts and still eat, but somehow never seem to make ends meet, you can start here for free. You can also contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization.

7. What if I don’t make enough money?

If you don’t make enough to pay your bills right now, the obvious answer (that escaped me for the longest time) is to make more money. (Because I’m betting you’ve already cut way back on stuff.) It’s not as impossible as it might seem.

Even a TINY bit more money can help. I know that you have at least 3 skills right now: you can read, you can understand English, and you can use a computer. I bet you have a lot more too. All of those are valuable skills, and contrary to popular belief you do NOT have to spend money to make money.

Maybe you can manage a Facebook group, be a virtual assistant for a blogger, start a free blog yourself (although that’s NOT a fast way to make money), baby sit, walk dogs, pick up poop, clean up yards, have a yard sale, sell junk you find in the alley/on the street on Facebook Marketplace, etc.

If you’re disabled, look into the Ticket to Work program described here. Even if you’re not on disability, I know you are probably exhausted, physically and emotionally. But there are low-energy ways to make more too. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. It can be a tiny thing.

I hope these money-related resources have been helpful. If you have more questions I’m happy to hear from you. Now, on to some suicide-related resources that may also help.

Suicide-related resources

First, here are some suicide prevention help lines & sites from around the world. They’re listed by country and then in alphabetical order. The U.S. and Canada are listed first because that’s where the majority of my readers are.

United States-based suicide prevention resources:

Canada-based suicide prevention resources:

Worldwide directories:

These have many points of contact for folks in the U.S., Canada, and around the world.

Other country-specific suicide prevention resources:

Additional suicide-related resources

The suicide-prevention hotlines listed in the previous section are important, but sometimes you need or want more information. So this section helps with that.

Here are some sites with some non-judgmental thoughts about suicide:

And a directory of places to find low-cost or potentially free counseling in the US:

Finally, here are a few articles that may help if you’re not suicidal yourself but know someone who is:

(Please share this post on social media to get the word out if you have a chance.)

Remember, you are not a burden, and you are not alone.

People do care about you. I care about you, even though we have probably never met. I do know that life can definitely feel hopeless at times, but please remember that feeling that way is not necessarily the same as it truly being that way. Feelings are not you.

Although it can be hard to imagine, there is a chance that things could improve, given enough time. Even if you’re facing homelessness, can’t find work, are in a bad relationship, have a mountain of debt, or are feeling hopeless for any other reason. Please reach out. Click here to jump directly back to the resources section with hotlines (including texting.)