how financial problems can affect mental health

It’s a well-known, but often hidden, fact that mental health problems will affect one in four of us in our lifetime [1].

Whilst ‘mental health’ is an umbrella term describing conditions as diverse as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to Bipolar Disorder (BPD), the vast majority of mental health problems fall under a broader definition of ‘Anxiety and Depression’.

Looking after our mental health is therefore key to our overall wellbeing. Unfortunately, financial problems can and do affect mental health.

Why Do Financial Problems Affect Mental Health?

Typically, mental health problems and financial difficulties can create a spiralling vicious circle where one compounds the other. When you have poor mental health, organising and managing financial issues becomes trickier. In turn this creates a sense of fear, anxiety and worry, once again affecting your overall mental health.

Within the vicious cycle of financial problems and mental health effects are the nature of the financial problems themselves. If you are unable to work for any period of time, and don’t have income protection in place, then times can become financially difficult. Other mental health problems can exacerbate financial problems, for example, when you turn to compulsive spending to cheer yourself up, or to feel better. Maintaining motivation for managing financial situations can be hard work at the best of the times, but can become a positively uphill battle with poor mental health.

Once financial problems have taken root then the effects on mental health become even more complex. The current Benefits system is difficult to navigate, and frequently requires an element of ‘fighting’ and pushing for help. Individuals with mental health difficulties are the least well placed to work with this.

Furthermore, financial problems can have huge consequences on relationships, particularly between spouses or partners. If one partner is more responsible for the financial difficulties than the other then this can create a sense of blame, which isn’t conducive to the health of the relationship.

How to Reduce the Impact of Financial Problems on Mental Health

The good news is there are things that can be done to help to reduce the impact of financial difficulties on mental health. It is possible to step outside of the vicious circle and enact change that can improve both the financial problem itself, and your mental health. Knowing where to go for help is key. Trying to solve the situation alone is hard.

If your income isn’t stretching far enough, or has stopped altogether (whether temporarily or permanently) and financial problems are starting to knock at the door, then it is time to start dealing with it: The sooner the better. If you feel able, then contacting organisations such as your mortgage provider or utility companies can prove worthwhile. Most are willing to work with you to create a payment plan that works for your situation.

If you feel this is too hard, or you need advice, help and support getting on top of financial difficulties then the Citizens Advice Bureau can be a good first point of call. They are excellent for pointing individuals in the direction of the right kind of help.

When financial problems impact on your relationship with loved ones, and you’re struggling to see the wood for the trees, it can be helpful to get the advice and support of a third party. Your GP can refer you to therapy support services in your area, or Relate offer therapy by counsellors experienced in the impact of financial problems on relationships.

The Impact of Debt

Debt itself can spiral out of control and can become the fuel for mental health conditions. This report explains the hugely damaging effects debt can have. The key is to make repaying the debt your priority. In the short term it needs to be the focus of your payments, and perhaps managed through consolidating it. Longer term you can think about saving ‘for a rainy day’ and having an emergency fund so that hopefully a similar problem doesn’t arise in the future.

Whilst mental health problems and financial worries can go hand in hand, and one can contribute to the other, it is possible to get support with both to alleviate the pressure. Given the prevalence of both financial difficulties and mental health concerns, there should be no shame in seeking and accepting support.