If you’re struggling with significant debt but can’t bring yourself to consider bankruptcy, it may be due to the stigma associated with bankruptcy and the narrative that is too often attached to people with debt problems. The narrative goes like this: people who file for bankruptcy were irresponsible with money, accumulated too much credit card debt and lived beyond their means. They didn’t want to pay the money back, so they filed Chapter 7 instead.

Does that sound familiar? You may even believe this narrative. But you should know that while this stereotypical bankruptcy client does exist, he or she is only a fraction of those who seek bankruptcy protection. Most filers are responsible, hardworking people who experienced unforeseen circumstances that they couldn’t recover from.

A recent study confirms that the most common reason Americans file for bankruptcy isn’t credit card bills or student loans – it’s medical debt and financial issues related to medical problems. This accounts for about 66.5 percent of personal bankruptcy filings. In addition to the astronomical hospital bills, people with emergency (or chronic) health issues are forced to miss work or may be unable to work. If someone is lucky enough to fully recover physically, he or she is still left with a lot of debt and very little income. This situation forces about 530,000 American families into bankruptcy each year.

As you consider you own financial struggles, please keep in mind that bankruptcy isn’t a shameful act or a sign of failure. It is a legitimate legal tool meant to help people who otherwise cannot recover financially. Although it is a major decision that will bring some challenges, bankruptcy can also be the most effective way to get out of debt and get a fresh start.