DR MAX PEMBERTON: Trust me, your retail therapy makes you feel worse

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Trust me, your retail therapy makes you feel worse

  • Dr Max Pemberton says he is worried about ‘buy now, pay later’ services
  • Says that the companies are exploiting people, leaving one in three in debt 
  • Adds that getting into debt to buy something will never make you feel better

Go on, treat yourself. How often do we say that to ourselves when we’re feeling a bit down or dreary? The idea that we can boost our mood or reward ourselves when we’re having a difficult time by buying things is, of course, a fallacy.

But it’s become so accepted that people are even prepared to get into debt to experience the briefest sense of euphoria that comes with a splurge.

Naturally, companies know this and are quick to step in and encourage those who might be wavering by offering the opportunity to delay or spread out payments. The past few years have seen an explosion of such firms, especially when it comes to shopping online.

But concerns have been raised that, amid the cost of living crisis, people are being tempted to buy things on credit that they can ill afford.

One in three shoppers using ‘buy now, pay later’ services are in ‘unmanageable debt’, with the average borrower now paying off 4.8 purchases at once, up from 2.6 in February, according to research by Barclays and the debt charity StepChange.

Dr Max Pemberton says that he is not surprised there are one in three shoppers in debt because of using ‘buy now, pay later’ services 

I’m not surprised. After all, the chance to engage in the alleged joy of ‘retail therapy’ without the pain of the price is seductive.

I really worry about this. I’ve seen so many people over the years who have been driven to depression — and sometimes worse — by debt.

This is particularly tragic because people who are already low in mood often use shopping to try to temporarily boost their spirits.

But it’s a fool’s paradise. You can imagine how, late at night, alone and feeling down, the appeal of being just a few clicks away from getting something that might make you feel better is hard to resist.

I’ll always remember one woman I treated when I was working as a junior doctor on a night shift.

I was covering a ward that dealt with people who had taken an overdose. She was in her 50s, married with two grown-up children, and had a job in a nearby nursing home.

The previous night, she’d tried to kill herself. She explained that this was because that morning she’d got her credit card bill. ‘I knew I’d never be able to pay it all off,’ she told me. ‘And then my husband saw it and he blew up at me. I just felt like such a failure.’

Her bills had been mounting over the past few years — so much so that she ended up owing more than eight times her salary on credit cards. There are lots of people who could be blamed for the situation she was in.

Credit cards and these ‘buy now, pay later’ companies are based on the idea of instant gratification, and what could be more appealing to someone struggling with low mood?

This patient of mine didn’t have much fun in her life. Her husband had MS, they lived in a small council flat and she worked in a poorly paid job. She had depression and anxiety, and had run up such huge bills buying things that she knew she couldn’t afford, all to try to make herself feel better.

To be someone in our society, you must consume. Happiness is available at a store near you or with a few clicks — with a price tag attached, of course.

Dr Max, pictured, says that he hates the companies who offer buy now, pay later services to people 

Cynical companies have pounced on this and exploited people’s moments of weakness by developing these enticing pay-later options, luring people into making purchases that, in the cold light of day, they might not have made.

I am not saying that people should not take some responsibility — no one is forcing anybody to buy a new sweater or pair of earrings they don’t really need — but it is important to acknowledge that it’s incredibly easy to do. And vulnerable people, the desperate and poor, are most at risk.

A few clicks and you’ll soon get the best of both worlds — the longed-for object and no immediate dent in your bank balance.

Instead, the debt and the untold misery is all stored away for later.

Dr Max says that what really makes us happy and fulfilled are friends, family and human interactions (stock image)

It’s no exaggeration to say I actually hate these companies. Not just because of the pain they create by getting people into debt for products they don’t need, but also because they are one more cog in the machine that tells us that it’s things — and things that you can buy — that will make you feel better. This is simply not true.

What matters — what really makes us happy and fulfilled — are friends, family and human interactions. None of which can be bought.

Getting into debt to buy something is never going to make you feel better about yourself or your circumstances. In fact, it will do the opposite.

Charles Dickens summed it up perfectly in his novel David Copperfield: ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.’

  • For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116 123.

Brad’s not over the hill just yet 

Max says that he thinks Brad Pitt is a little premature in saying that he is nearing retirement after more than 30 years on screen

Brad Pitt believes he’s on the ‘last leg’ of his acting career at the grand old age of 58. In a candid interview with men’s magazine GQ, he spoke about nearing retirement after more than 30 years on our screens.

Oh, come on, Brad! This seems a little premature. OK, so you’re no spring chicken, but male actors seem to keep working until they drop. As annoyingly sexist as that is — and I wish it was the same for female actors, too — I reckon you’ve got a few more decades in you yet.

In fact, as we are living longer, more people continue to work well into what used to be considered ‘old age’. I saw a patient a few months ago who is well into his 80s and works full-time as a gardener. ‘My wife says I should retire soon, but I’ve told her I’m still too young,’ he said. That’s the spirit!

 A judge has ruled that the husband of a woman who died while pregnant can use an embryo created during fertility treatment to have a child using a surrogate. Gosh, what a complex situation. It goes to show how technological advances move so fast our ethical frameworks struggle to keep up.

The prospect of a new polio outbreak has caused great concern among doctors. This is particularly worrying as just a third of teenagers in some parts of London have been vaccinated against the virus, with many children unprotected up and down the country.

The Covid pandemic hasn’t helped — many who would have been vaccinated have missed out.

I remember that my chemistry teacher had contracted polio as a small boy. As a result of the infection, he’d lost the use of his legs and had to wear callipers for the rest of his life.

We never see these kinds of things now and, as a result, we’ve become complacent.

We need a national push to get all the young people protected in order to prevent a resurgence of this devastating disease.


Max says that water is the healthiest way to hydrate. He adds that plain water can be boring and to try sparkling instead if you are looking for something new 

Water is the healthiest way to hydrate, whether from a natural source or municipally supplied, because it contains no sugar or other additives.

It’s particularly important to keep hydrated during the summer months, but yes, plain water can be a little boring. Try sparkling instead — Evian has launched this fizzy version of its famous flat water if you’re looking for something new.

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