Money worries and poor mental health is often a vicious circle which can be very difficult to break out of on your own. “Mental health problems make it harder to manage your finances and living in financial stress can trigger episodes of poor mental health” (Source). This can affect any of us at any time, and can be one of the hardest experiences for us to initially see a way out of. But the good news is, it’s also something that when we recognise it, we can make positive choices about, seek help for and take control of.
There are many reasons why your financial circumstances may change and you find yourself falling into financial difficulty. This could include:
- Unemployment or redundancy
- Low income
- Lack of work coming in or late payments (such as if you are a freelancer)
- Not being able to work due physical or mental health; for a temporary period or long-term disability/illness
- A relationship breakdown or partner unable to work/made redundant where you may have once had two incomes in the family home but now you are faced with just one
- A death in the family
- Changes to benefits systems (or not being eligible to claim)
- Increase in bills e.g. car insurance and council tax
- Unexpected costs e.g. needing a replacement boiler or vets fees
- Having to pay interest because only the minimum payment is affordable
- Impulsive spending / spending what we can’t afford for ourselves or on others – a temporary ‘high’ to make ourselves feel better
- Gambling, substance misuse or other destructive/addictive behaviours
If you or a loved one are going through any of the above, you/they may also be feeling anxious, depressed, hopeless, guilty, ashamed, fearful, angry, unable to concentrate, lonely and/or suicidal. The most important thing to do (whether this is you or you are concerned about a loved one) is to open up a line of communication and keep this open. Debt and money anxiety – much like an eating disorder – encourages us to hold onto our struggles internally which can quickly spiral. Here are some of our other top tips for identifying and managing the impact of money on your mental health…
- Keep a diary and record all your financial transactions (what you spend and why). Also, write down how you were feeling at the time. This will help you recognise any patterns of behaviour and triggers – (impulsive spending – you might spend a lot of money when you are unwell or make unwise decisions about borrowing money; comfort spending; give money or gifts to other people; what makes your mental health worse?)
- Talk to your family/friends and/or a professional about your triggers and any warning signs so they can help you.
- Keep track of all your bills and bank statements. Using online banking will enable you to view your bank statements. If you have Standing Orders or Direct Debits set up for monthly payments, the payments will automatically be made if you have sufficient funds in your bank account. You can usually check your accounts online for utility companies too, but sometimes this information can be difficult to understand resulting in more stress and confusion, so always ask for clarification and for them to only send you necessary information.
- If you prefer to receive your bills and bank statements in paper form through the post, keep it all together in one place. Bear in mind that if you struggle with your mental health there will be times when you do not feel like or are motivated to do anything, so there is a danger that any important post will get left. Set aside time to focus on this and take control of the situation.
- Set a weekly budget.
- Try and do a main weekly food shop so that you don’t keep popping to the shops. You tend to spend more money when you do/when you go shopping when you’re hungry, as you usually buy more than what you went in for! Plan your meals out for the week and check your cupboards/fridge/freezer each week to see what you actually need to purchase. Write out a shopping list, make sure you take it with you and that you stick to it. Ask someone to go along with you if you need extra accountability. It is not only company for you but that person can ensure that you are not adding extras to your trolley!
- Other than for your main weekly food shop, take a small amount of money with you when you go out rather than taking your debit or credit card or relying on your phone to pay.
- When you are internet shopping, do not save your card details on the websites. This makes it a bit more of a chore having to get your card and hopefully it will help you think whether you really want that particular item or indeed, whether you can afford it.
- Ask someone you trust to look after your debit/credit card for you. Try to limit yourself to one credit card or if you haven’t got one, avoid getting one completely. Unfortunately there are still lots of opportunities for people to get into debt through increased credit limits and finance options, so even if these are offered, remember that you don’t have to take advantage of them.
- If you have insufficient money to spend on socialising, be honest with your friends about having to be careful with your spending. True friends will understand. Invite them round and have a movie night at home instead. It is so important to avoid feeling isolated and alone, or being cut off from friends and support networks.
- If you are struggling with managing and controlling your finances, paying household bills or find yourself in debt, don’t bury your head in the sand, acknowledge there is a problem and take action. Firstly, if you have a partner, other family member or friend whom you trust and feel comfortable speaking to, tell them so they can help, advise and support you. If you live alone, speak to your support worker or health professional, Step Change, Mind, Samaritans or Citizens Advice. Sometimes getting professional advice can be a real relief but we acknowledge that this may be difficult for you to do.
- Addressing debt issues can be time consuming, very frustrating and emotionally draining. If you are able to, contact your creditors/utility companies, ask to speak to a manager/supervisor, explain your circumstances and negotiate a payment plan. There are also consolidation options available for you to reach out to (not payday lenders or loan sharks… but genuine financial support for those in need). This can be a very daunting and frightening task to do, particularly if you have anxiety or have previously had a bad experience with an advisor via a previous telephone call or face to face appointment. Ask your ‘trusted’ person to represent you on the telephone or accompany you to any appointments.
- Follow positive blogs / accounts on social media such as The Financial Diet, Making Sense of Cents, Lotty Earns, Money Saving Expert or read books such as The Year of Less by Cait Flanders which encourages you to be more intentional with money and realise what you really need vs what you want.
Remember to show yourself / your loved one compassion. The kinder you can be, the easier it will be to turn the situation around. With the right help, full recovery is possible. There is a freer and more meaningful future out there waiting for you.