Whenever I talk about compulsive buying and get the feeling, either from some nonverbal cue or from what my listener actually says, that he or she just doesn’t see the dangers, I cringe.
“That’s an addiction?” one asks.
“Are there really that many people who do this?” queries another.
“It’s not serious like an eating disorder, or drug addiction or alcoholism. People die from those,” a therapist tells me.
Soon after his father’s death in 2008, James Hammond, who was fourteen at the time, became depressed and started developing a shopping addiction, buying clothes and starting to spend lavishly on nights out with friends. Although he was left an inheritance of £6000, he spent it all quickly on internet binge-shopping episodes that sometimes lasted a whole week.
Over the next four years, his depression and shopping addiction worsened. Antidepressant medication only slightly diminished his symptoms. To fund a ten-week internet shopping binge, he stole £7,780 from his mother’s bank account. When she discovered this, she confronted him and threatened that if he didn’t get help, she would call the police. James told her that he was seriously depressed and threatened to kill himself.
Ultimately, believing that the only way to escape his depression, his shame, and his significant debt was to end his life, on the night of June 29th, 2013, after a night out with his friends, Hammond jumped from a bridge to his death.
This is not the first case of a suicide I’ve read about that cites, along with depression, compulsive buying disorder and debt as contributing factors. I, myself, have known or known of two middle aged men whose suicides were motivated in part, by the long term negative consequences of overspending. As far back as 2001, an article in the U.S. News and World Report reported that credit card debt had been linked to a number of suicides by college students. Clearly, we need to make both the public and the mental health community more aware of compulsive buying disorder, it’s relationship with depression, and ways to find effective help. It’s critical to saving lives, marriages, families, and homes.