Melanie Lockert remembers checking the traffic for her blog, Dear Debt, and feeling shocked at the results.
Someone had found her site by searching, “I want to kill myself because of debt.”
Lockert started Dear Debt in January 2013 after spending the previous year feeling depressed about her student loans. She posted monthly updates about her efforts to pay off $81,000 while working temporary hourly gigs before she landed a role running communications and planning events for a nonprofit. Along the way, she was open about her mental health struggles and how they were tied to her debt.
She had created her blog as a way to stay positive while she paid off the debt. But looking at the search terms that brought readers to her site made her recognize that her accountability stretched far beyond herself.
“It gave me an instant sense of purpose,” Lockert said.
She had attended counseling the previous year, after negotiating with a graduate student clinic to pay $5 per session while she was underemployed. She knew how much her debt affected her outlook.
She read up on the link between debt and depression. She saw she was far from alone.
“I found out that people who die by suicide are eight times more likely to have debt,” Lockert said. “From the emails I get, I know that debt is really affecting families and their mental health and their ability to find joy.”
People with debt are three times more likely to suffer from depression, according to a 2013 study published in the Clinical Psychology Review.
Lockert wrote a short post for people with debt who were feeling hopeless.
“You are not alone,” she declared. “You are not a loan.”
Still thinking about those search terms, she wrote another post.
“I want to jump through my computer and give you a hug,” she wrote. “Shake you and say your life is worth so much more.”
Then, she started getting emails from people who were desperate and afraid.
What Happened When She Wrote a Letter to Her Debt
A few months into blogging, Lockert wrote her first breakup letter to her debt.
“Dear Debt,” the letter reads. “You do not define me. My worth is more important than the value of your number. Love, M.”