Are You Suffering With Ostrich Syndrome?

11th June 2014

Visitors to our trust deeds forum often write that they’ve been “burying their head in the sand” for months, sometimes years, before facing up to the fact that it’s time to tackle their debts. When we used the forum search function to find the precise phrase “in the sand” we found 35 different forum users had written it. Many others have described their delay in getting advice using different phrases that mean pretty much the same thing.

Two news stories this week have underlined just how widespread this type of delay is. The first was connected to mortgage lenders proactively contacting “interest-only” customers that have mortgages which will end by 2020. This is an exposed group of homeowners as a large proportion appears not to have any means to repay the mortgage balance when the time comes. Put brutally, many are going to find that their home is at risk if they don’t act soon.

The mortgage lenders are reporting that only 30% of this at-risk group have responded. 70% have so far failed to engage on this very serious issue that could jeopardise their home within a few years.

Secondly BBC North carried out a substantial survey on whether people in debt difficulty had reached out for professional advice. The results were almost identical to those above, 69% had failed to take advice. Just 31% had taken steps to engage with those that might be able to offer a solution.

Ostriches are believed to bury their heads in the sand when faced with danger. It’s supposed that this is an avoidance strategy. By choosing not to look at the danger facing them they can carry on feeling safe and secure. Do ostriches act like this in reality? They don’t (they’d be extinct) but it has become a common way to describe a type of human fallibility experienced by many.

Bill Knaus, writing in Psychology Today, proposes a set of characteristics that can be associated with various types of human “ostrich syndrome”. They are:

  • Parasitic anxieties and fears.

  • Depression.

  • Frustration.

  • Procrastination.

These characteristics also often appear in studies about personal debt. Anxiety can affect health, wellbeing and relationships. Depression is just one of a number of mental health concerns that commonly result from financial difficulty. Procrastination is common, with one survey reporting that it takes an average of nine months from identifying that a debt problem has become out of control to actually speaking with an adviser.

Is it time to unbury your head? You’re still reading this article, so that might suggest that you’re thinking about it at least. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Any professional debt adviser will tell you there’s always a solution to every debt problem. You might fear getting in touch with an adviser only to be told that there’s nothing that you can do. It’s not going to happen… there will be things that you can do which will sort the problem out in time.

  • It doesn’t have to cost you anything to find out. Almost all debt advisers (commercial, charity and free-to-client) will not charge you to review your circumstances and to tell you what your options are.

  • You’re not obligated to take that advice, but knowing what your options are will almost always make you feel better. Just knowing that there’s a solution goes a long way to removing anxiety and fear for most people.

  • If you’ve been suffering, starting the process of tackling your debts may bring relief in other areas of your life. For example, we’re often told by first-time enquirers that they’ve just had their first good night’s sleep for months afterwards.

  • The longer you leave it, the fewer options you may eventually have. The sooner you tackle a debt problem, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to use less serious types of solutions.

There are a lot of good logical reasons to choose to take advice. However, it still takes courage to make the first call or to send off your first enquiry via a website. It might feel easier not to get help yet, to leave it for another day.

Why not make the call today? It typically gets much easier from there.

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