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Question: My financial situation is affecting my mental health — how should I deal with it?
Money and mental health are intricately and inextricably linked.
It’s a cycle — financial difficulties can trigger mental health difficulties, and mental health difficulties can cause financial difficulties.
“If we imagine mental health issues on a spectrum of severity, then money causes problems at every single juncture,” wrote Alex Holder in Open Up: The Power of Talking About Money. “From lowering our mood, causing mild depression and low-level anxiety to bipolar spending sprees and critical depression in brain-damaged patients. It’s paramount that we talk about both of them at the same time.”
If you’re finding that your mental health is struggling because of your money, the first thing to know is that you’re not alone.
Nearly half of adults in the UK admit to feeling anxious about money, with a third saying that they struggle to sleep because they’ve got their personal finances on their minds. This is according to the Money Wellness Index, published in January 2020.
Debt is one of the biggest triggers for many people, along with unemployment and loss of income. In fact, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), has shown that half (46%) of people in problem debt also have a mental health problem. Set up by Martin Lewis, MMHPI is a charity specifically set up to look at the interconnectedness of money and mental health, and their studies are being used to directly affect policy around both mental health and financial support. The stigma around debt makes it particularly difficult to reach out for help, leaving people feeling isolated. It also drastically reduces their recovery rates from other common mental health conditions.
Stress, depression, and loneliness can also come from simply spending or not spending money — for example, if you’re on a tight budget and unable to join your friends for a specific experience. Feeling pressured to spend more than you’re comfortable with or being unable to pay off your credit cards or an emergency payment, can similarly make us anxious and worried about the future. It’s a complicated web and almost all of us will have experienced some kind of financial stress at some point in our lives.
Sorting out your finances can feel overwhelming. But you can break it down into manageable tasks.
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Talk about your money
We all need to be better about talking about money, especially if it’s affecting our mental health.
Talking about money, sharing your worries, explaining your situation — it can be a relief. It’s not always easy — but reaching out to someone you can trust is the best first step. It can help you feel supported when you’re struggling, give you time to reflect, and explain what’s on your mind. This could mean sitting down with friends or family, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be that you’d rather talk to a third party or a professional — a counsellor, therapist, or health professional.
Understand your behaviour
You need to know yourself and your spending habits if you’re going to start improving your relationship with your money. Start by thinking about when you spend your money and why. Look at what aspects of money trigger your anxiety, stress, depression, sense of alienation or other mental health difficulties. To help track this, keep a diary of your spending and note down why you’re making that purchase and the emotions you experience in conjunction with that financial decision. This can help you work out things like your spending habits and your financial triggers. For example, you might discover that you always end up shopping online after a tough day at work, or panicking about your budget before a night out. If you can spot trends in your thinking, you’re more likely to be able to address them — both financially and mentally.
Create a routine
Habits create a bedrock for the rest of our relationship with money — so setting out a certain time to go through your finances each week and creating a budget can be invaluable. Likewise, keeping all your important documents — like bills, payslips, receipts, and bank statements — in one place can make things easy when looking for information later. This is the basis for financial self-care — read more about this here.
Many banking apps now make money incredibly accessible and easy to see. Most use notifications to alert you to your spending and upcoming bills, this may help you keep track of your money in a ‘little but often’ way. Likewise, if you find certain tools make you more stressed, then look at how some apps allow you to change the settings or give you more financial control over your spending — such as the MMHPI “shopper stopper” or optional gambling blocks.
It can be incredibly hard to ask for help.
But whether you’re struggling with problem debt making your mental health worse, or your mental health making it hard for you to stay in control of your money, there are resources out there.
You can talk to a GP about your mental health, or a financial advisor about your money. You can also speak to a charity or a free advice service.
Below are some useful resources.
- Mind — Beyond their website, Mind also have local resources that can help you work out who the best person to talk to is for your needs. If money is one of your issues, then they may also be able to help you find an advocate to help you express what you need and ensure you’re heard.
- Relate — If you’re in a relationship but don’t know how to communicate about money to your partner, then you may want to talk to Relate’s team who can help you figure out how to best broach the conversation.
- Money and Mental Health Policy Institute — if you or someone you care for need more information about managing your finances and mental health, then the MMHPI team have a very useful list of resources on their Get Help page. This includes Martin Lewis’ guide for those struggling, suggestions for people who want free-to-use advice and support services, as well as information for the self-employed and those impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Surviving Economic Abuse — Economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse. It means that a partner, parent, employer or close contact is restricting how a person acquires, uses, and maintains money. It can also impact their ability to make decisions around food, clothing, transport etc. SEA is a charity set up to drive awareness and share resources about economic abuse. The Money Advice Service also has good resources.
- Samaritans — if things are really hard and you’re feeling helpless or struggling to see a way forward, you can talk to the Samaritans for free on 116 123.
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