Medical effects of living in debt

June 10, 2008 12:15:28 AM PDT
Most of us have more debt than we should, especially these days in a tough economy. We know it's bad for our finances, but there is new evidence there are medical consequences of living in the red.

Maria Enomoto spends her days helping people make their way out of debt. With foreclosures and unemployment on the rise, her work, as a consumer counselor, has doubled.

"Probably 50 percent of the people I counsel say, 'I can't sleep at night,'" says Maria Enomoto, a consumer counselor.

Tamba Mbawa is one of them.

It's the first time this father of four has ever tried to get help. He has 90,000 dollars in credit card debt.

"High blood pressure, I'm diabetic. I didn't have all these problems. It's due to stress, too much, you know?" says Mbawa from San Jose.

He's not alone. According to an Associated Press/AOL survey, high debt stress is causing a slew of illnesses. Some are treatable, like minor aches and pains like back aches. Others are as serious as a heart attack.

Of those with high debt stress 27 percent had ulcers or digestive tract problems, 44 percent had migraines, 29 percent suffered from severe anxiety, and 23 percent were depressed.

"They say 'I can't concentrate, I can't focus. I go to an interview thinking of any other issue, but my interview.' At that point you know they are like stressed," says Maria.

"When people come under a lot of stress like what we're seeing these days, with the debt and mortgage crisis, I think you see more of these illnesses coming up for people," says Dr. Don Mordecai, Kaiser Permanente Chief of Psychiatry in San Jose.

The numbers don't surprise Dr. Mordecai, who treats several stress related cases of depression and anxiety, at Kaiser Permanente. He says stress can lead to a weakened immune system, and eventually, to health problems.

"Without stress I wouldn't be going through all these problems," says Mbawa.

Counselors hope to teach this 48-year-old to take on one thing at a time. They're hoping once his spending stabilizes, so will his health.