MONEY AND MENTAL HEALTH
Lots of us worry about money from time to time – I know my wallet struggles when a new game comes out – but for some people, the stress and anxiety caused by financial concerns can have a serious impact on their well-being. And for those who already struggle with poor mental health, worrying about money can make existing problems even worse.
Nearly two thirds of UK adults have been concerned about a friend, family member or colleague’s mental well-being, according to research released this year by the Money Advice Service.
Although stress caused by money worries can affect anyone, research suggests younger people are particularly at risk. Nearly three quarters of Brits aged 18-34 have at some point experienced mental health or well-being issues linked to money. Common signs include changes in mood, trouble sleeping and feeling anxious or stressed.
Whether it’s the arrival of an unexpected bill, or spending a little too many bells in Animal Crossing, we all occasionally worry about money. So how can we tell the difference between ‘normal’ financial concerns and worries that may be seriously affecting our mental health?
“Feeling stressed and anxious over money if we’re struggling is common and natural,” explains counsellor Katerina Georgiou. “The time when it becomes very serious is if it is leading to a downward spiral of deep despair, depression or suicidal thoughts.
“Sometimes the pressure to support a family or pay off debts owed to companies sending letters with interest added can make people panic and feel there is no way out,” she adds. “That can feed into feelings of shame or a sense that it isn’t possible to ask for help – the danger in this is that it can lead to suffering in silence which can make it difficult to think properly.”
Managing money can be more challenging during a difficult period of mental health, adds Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at the mental health charity Mind.
“Those dealing with depression may lose motivation to keep on top of their finances, while people struggling with anxiety might feel anxious about doing financial tasks such as talking to the bank on the phone or opening bills,” he says.
“Equally we know that money worries can make your mental health worse. Mind has found that half of people with mental health problems have thought about or attempted suicide as a result of financial issues such as housing issues, debt, benefits support, and employment.”
What to do
Reduce your outgoings – “If you’re in a position to cut back expenses, switch to cheaper bills or find new income streams, that would be one step,” says Georgiou. If you want to try to spend less, you could try just taking out as much money as you absolutely need to spend each week.
Keep a money diary – Writing down how much you earn and spend can help you keep track of your money and help you stay in control of your finances. “In terms of overcoming money worries in the context of mental health, it’s important to take things one step at a time,” Buckley says. “Trying to understand your behaviour, and the patterns of why and when you spend your money is a good place to start, and it may help to keep a diary in this process.”
Try an online budgeting tool – “Try to choose a regular time to look at money and bills, and you may want to create a budget using an online tool,” Buckley says. The Money Advice Service offers a free online budget planner which can help you keep track of your spending and outgoings.
Ask for help – “If you’re in a position to call your bank, tell your employer or ask for financial assistance, do it,” Georgiou says. “If it is too far beyond that and you’re in a situation – for example where debts are spiralling and you’re feeling out of control – it can be easy to go into panic and no longer see the wood for the trees.” Buckley adds that reaching out is important, whether it’s to a friend, family member or support worker. “Professional advice may be another option, and Mind’s useful contacts page has lots of information about places that can help with different kinds of money issues,” he says.
Look after your emotional health – Making sure you spend time doing things you like, or activities you find relaxing, can really help your mental health. Walking or getting some exercise can give you headspace to think more clearly about a problem and reduce anxiety. “Money worries can have a big impact on your general well-being, which can sometimes make it even harder to take positive steps, but ensuring you’re getting enough sleep, eating well and taking part in physical activity may help you better reach a state of mind in which to tackle the problem,” Buckley says.