Her most recent episode led to a £15,000 splurge on household furniture, decorations, clothes and cat food before she was able to stop.
Now she is campaigning for consumers to be given more power to avoid retailers’ marketing tactics and wants spending limits to be introduced on sites to stop shoppers spending more than they intended.
“I find that it works best for me just to try and avoid online retailers generally, unless there’s something that I really need,” said Helen.
“It seems to be impossible to look for one thing and come out the other end with one thing only. It seems they will try and influence you to buy things that other people have bought or buy things that they think will go well with that product.
“I think especially during this time of the pandemic, it’s really important for people to just consciously avoid online retailers if they can because you can be easily influenced.”
Helen, who works full-time running a befriending programme to tackle loneliness, decided to speak to The Big Issue to raise awareness of how online retailers tap into
Her online spending has had a devastating effect on her life both at home and at work.
“I will just buy things and I can’t even remember what I’m buying, or why I’m buying it and I just suddenly get a deluge of things through the post,” she said. “And if it’s anything that I even vaguely think is positive, I’ll just buy that.
“It really caused me to become suicidal and I was experiencing a lot of guilt and a lot of anxiety, a lot of negative thoughts. My whole self-belief went out the window, I just thought I can’t trust myself. I had a lot of guilt.
“I have periods where I suffer from very low moods and I find it difficult to do basic tasks. It makes it difficult to work.”
Helen has been supported by family and friends and now wants consumers to have more power to stop the onslaught of deals and offers pushed their way.
She warned that shoppers are particularly susceptible during the Covid-19 pandemic when they are stuck at home and often have time on their hands.
“I find that can be really destructive [and] negative because it makes you go through that thought process all over again,” she said.
“I think in general with the showy offers or ‘buy so much to get this much money off’ deals, it is really tough to discipline yourself because it makes you feel very comfortable. It makes you feel that spending a lot is okay. And I think things like that, when I was in an episode, that was what caused me to just spend so much money.”
With more people on furlough or working from home , the added temptation may be even worse, she said, when there is “more time to engage in the tempting things like online shopping and gambling. And I think it’s very difficult when things are right there and you have the time – it’s very difficult to to resist them.”
MMHPI chief executive Helen Undy warned that a “single day’s shopping spree can cause years of misery” as she pointed out how retailers can reduce their impact on their customers’ mental health.
“Simple steps like giving people the option to have a ‘cooling off period’ before making purchases, or to opt out of ‘Buy-Now-Pay-later’ deals, could help people avoid serious financial harm now and in the weeks leading up to Christmas,” she said.
Durham University behavioural psychologist Mario Weick also warned that resisting the impulse to grab a quick deal can lead to greater happiness.
He said: “The purchasing experience is designed to give us a quick kick, with products to match that often emphasise fleeting pleasures.
“Spending money is more likely to promote happiness when the purchase is intrinsically rewarding, e.g. life experiences, personal development or on gifts that nurture meaningful relationships, rather than those driven by superficial motives.”
Anyone affected by the issues brought up in this story can contact the National Debtline for debt advice on 0808 808 4000 or Samaritans for support with mental health on 116 123.
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