‘Killed by my debt’ is a new docudrama by the BBC, reporting the horrific true story of Jerome Rogers, a 20-year-old young man struggling with just two ticket fines, who took his own life in 2016.
In honour of mental health awareness week earlier this month we ask, how true to life is this portrayal of living with debt? And why is this story so important?
This article addresses the sensitive topic of mental health and financial trouble. If you are one of the millions struggling with severe debts and it is affecting your mental health, we urge you to seek help. Contact:
For most, Jerome’s story demonstrates how the system is failing. This is certainly true of ‘Killed by my debt’ as it brings up several uncomfortable truths about the world we live in.
Jerome’s zero-hours contract job as a courier between hospitals, for example, is prominent reminder of the difficulties faced by those with low-income work. He was only paid for his time whilst carrying a package, making trips to pick-up points unpaid.
He had to pay for his own petrol, his own insurance, and even had to pay his employers weekly for his ‘courier pack’. Under these circumstances he finds himself unable to pay the initial £130 traffic violations and can only watch as they grow to more than £1000 of debt.
Another prominent feature of the drama was the role of the bailiff who visited Jerome twice. On the first visit, he secured a payment of over £500 from Jerome’s mother’s partner and set up an impossible payment plan; and on the second, he clamped Jerome’s bike, his means of income. However, the actor who plays the bailiff, Craig Parkinson, is quick to humanise his character as a man on a similar zero-hours contract to Jerome, rather than a villain.
‘if you make it about good versus bad in a story like this then Jerome’s story becomes resolved. And it’s not resolved – this is the tip of the iceberg. The villain of the piece is the system’.
Accordingly, a watchdog, and the coroner on the case, exonerated this particular bailiff’s actions. But this doesn’t exonerate concerns held by charities and the coroner that reforms meant to control bailiffs have been failing. Considering that in 2017, bailiffs were used in 500,000 parking fines in London alone, this is a crucial and urgent problem.
Numerous media outlets have highlighted these contributing factors to Jerome’s death. Discussions about poorly regulated bailiffs and zero-hours contracts all demonstrate accurately the systemic problems surrounding our debt crisis.
This, however, is not the most crucial role of the docudrama – it is easy to read up on the facts surrounding the tragedy. The most important task of the drama is to make us see how this system affected Jerome.
Rather than focusing on the undeniable injustice of the debt system outlined above, this drama’s best, and most important, feature is its role in depicting Jerome’s declining mental health.
Director Joseph Bullman and actor Chance Perdomo’s portrayal of the events surrounding Jerome’s death is neither exaggeratedly dramatized, nor carefully censored. It realistically captures how the world would have felt and appeared to Jerome as he fell further into debt, lost control of his life, and, ultimately, lost all hope.
One of the greatest obstacles in dealing with mental health issues is the skewed version of reality that your brain presents to you. Throughout the film, you are struck by Jerome’s shame at getting the traffic fines and at being in debt. A notably significant line is him simply telling his mum, ‘I’m supposed to be taking care of you now’.
Even once his family find out about the debts, he is adamant that he has it under control and prioritises paying his mum’s partner back for his help above paying off the fine. The darkness that results from hiding his fears and insecurities is then terrifyingly captured in his search history and visits to websites filled with like-minded, depressed and suicidal victims of ‘generation debt’. Again, the simple lines said in these videos captures it best: ‘I just want a job’, ‘I don’t want to be burden’.
Nothing could be more obvious than the love Jerome’s family have for him. Their tireless campaigning since 2016 demonstrates that. They never would have, never could have, viewed him and his debts as a burden. But, unfortunately, he just couldn’t see that.
Highlighting and promoting the realities of mental health struggles and debt is the vital role that this film serves. Getting an audience, who may have never experienced such struggles before, to feel the anguish, fear and loss of hope of a young man barely 20 years-old, will hopefully influence many to understand the warning signs, to open up about problems and to seek help.
Unfortunately, Jerome has not been the only case of debt-related suicide. In the same year that Jerome took his life, student Naseeb Chuhan followed suit after struggling with his pay day loans. Recent research has financial anxiety on the rise across the country as personal dent levels continue to increase. ‘Generation Debt’ is seen as a particular risk with three quarters of 18-34-year-olds reporting mental health issues that stem from financial concerns.
So, what can you do if you are one of the millions struggling? How can you keep hope alive?
Leaning on your family, contacting a helpline, finding a debt solution, even bankruptcy – anything is better than taking your own life. There is no shame to admitting that you don’t know what to do, or don’t understand, so seek help – there is always a solution.
If you have been impacted by this article and would like to talk to someone, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123. If you would like professional, debt advice, contact us today on 0808 156 7730