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Supporting a Friend in Debt: A Compassionate Guide

A white woman looking at debt papers with the word 'support' written behind her

In this article we address why people do not seek debt help by using the behaviour change COM-B model from behavioural psychology.

When a friend struggles with debt, the burden of financial stress can often seem insurmountable. Watching someone you care about face such difficulties can leave you feeling helpless and wanting to offer support but being unsure of where to start.

The COM-B model, focusing on Capability, Opportunity and Motivation, provides a structured approach to understanding Behaviour change. It can be a valuable tool in assisting your friend through their financial turmoil.




StepChange outlines the following as the main reasons why people do not seek debt help:

A purple background image with a white man and woman on the front.  Text reads: 'we're proudly supporting debt awareness week'
  1. Not understanding how debt advice could help them

  2. Being worried that their friends or family will find out

  3. Fears that their credit score will be affected, or they won’t be able to borrow more money

  4. Mental health issues making it more difficult to get help

  5. Not having enough time to seek advice and tackle their debt

How the COM-B Model Can Help

The COM-B model looks at three things:

  • What they can do (Capability)

  • What chances they have to do it (Opportunity)

  • Why they want to do it (Motivation)

It's like a map for changing how we act, which is super handy when dealing with tricky stuff like managing debt. By breaking down the big problem into smaller parts, this model shows us exactly where and how to help ourselves or a friend change (Behaviour), and start fixing things.

Applying the Model to Supporting a Loved One

Below we work our way through the three core factors of the COM-B model and how to address each one.

A visual display of the COMB Behavioural Change model

📌 Enhancing Capability

Understanding the Challenge: Your friend may feel overwhelmed by their debt, unsure of how to manage it or where to seek help. The complexity of financial terms and options can add to this stress, making the first step the hardest to take.

How to Offer Support: Empower your friend with knowledge. Help them gather information on debt management and relief options, and offer to sit with them to sort through their financial statements, creating a clear picture of debts and income. Simplifying the situation can make it feel more manageable, reducing the initial overwhelm.

📌 Increasing Opportunity

The Social Stigma: Debt often carries a heavy social stigma, leading to feelings of embarrassment or isolation. The perceived judgement can make it difficult for your friend to seek help or even admit there's a problem.

Creating a Supportive Environment: Be the ally your friend needs. Offer a judgement-free zone where they can share their financial worries openly. Research shows that social support can significantly impact one's ability to navigate financial distress. Providing information about accessible online counselling or financial advisory services can also open doors they might not have known existed.

📌 Boosting Motivation

Overcoming Emotional Barriers: The emotional weight of debt - shame, fear and stress - can sap motivation, making it hard for your friend to take action toward resolving their financial issues.

Encouragement and Empathy: Share uplifting stories of individuals who have successfully navigated out of debt - such narratives can light a spark of hope and motivation. Remind your friend of their strengths and past successes, reinforcing the belief that they can overcome this challenge too, and celebrate small victories to build momentum and confidence.

A past client celebrating her wins of clearing debt
A past client celebrating their wins of clearing debt

📌 Changed Behaviour

We aim to support our friend or loved one in changing their behaviour and seeking the help they need during this time.

Tailoring Your Support

Assistance doesn't always have to be financial. Helping with everyday tasks can alleviate stress, providing your friend with the mental space and support to focus on their finances. Keeping communication open and respectful of their pace is crucial - offer to accompany them to meetings with financial advisors if they're hesitant.

Professional Guidance: Encouraging professional advice from a financial adviser or debt counsellor can be invaluable. These experts can offer tailored advice and solutions that you might not be aware of.


A orange circle with text that reads 'debt awareness week 18-24 March'

Supporting a friend in debt is about more than just offering financial advice; it's about providing emotional and practical support that addresses their needs holistically. By applying the COM-B model, you can help your friend feel more capable and find opportunities to tackle their debt, and motivate them towards a healthier financial future. Remember, your role is to be their ally, offering encouragement and support as they navigate their way out of financial distress.

In doing so, you're not just helping them manage their finances; you're also reinforcing the strength of your friendship, showing that you're there for them in both good times and bad.


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