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©2018 by Merle van den Akker

Mental Health and Money


It is often assumed that the more money you have, the more you can do for yourself in terms of (mental) health and self-care. The rich can easily buy themselves private health care and access to the best therapists. They can afford the most expensive medicine. With regards to mental health they should be better off. But this is not the relationship I aim to explore. In the UK it's estimated that 1 in 5 people experiencing mental health problems also experience money issues. So yes, money and mental health go hand in hand. But much more often we see the negative results rather than the positive ones. Financial and mental well-being go hand in hand. A change in life circumstances such as loss of employment or bereavement can result in financial difficulties which then impact on your mental health. For people who live with a mental illness, the impact this can have on memory, impulse control and cognitive function can result in money difficulties.



The relationship between money and mental health might seem straightforward, but it can become rather complex. Money and Mental Health Britain found that half (46%) of people in problem debt also have a mental health problem. It's like the chicken and the egg problem: What came first, and what do you have to solve first? The also showed that 86% of respondents to a Money and Mental Health survey of nearly 5,500 people with experience of mental health problems said that their financial situation had made their mental health problems worse. So we could conclude that people can contribute to solving their mental health issues if they could solve their financial issues. But you go tell that to someone who is bipolar.

Then again, one out of five people with mental health issues seems to have problem debt. So it's not as if mental health issues in and of themselves are enough to plummet you into spiralling debt. But you are three times more likely to be in problem debt, if you have mental health issues, according to the Mental Health and Money Advice Service in the UK.

From Money to Mental Health The reason why people tend to get into debt is not one of living excessive lifestyles. It's because they had no safety net when made redundant or are generally unemployed and struggle to find a (suitable) job. This development can be such a shock, and people can fail to adjust to their new situation to the extent that they develop mental health problems as a result of long(er)-term stress.


For those in financial difficulty, it’s easy to become worried and stressed about your finances and start to cut back on essentials like food and heating or social activities. This impact on your living and social situation can lead to poor(er) mental health.


Poor mental health can also lead to low motivation or anxiety, and make it difficult to manage spending. During such times, it may be difficult to open your post to check bills or make a phone call to deal with issues relating to finance and this is when debt is likely to build up. Longer term stress and anxiety are dead giveaways for mental health issues. People who experience these for longer periods of time don't only massively risk a mood or anxiety disorder, but also, due to hormonal and neurotransmitter inbalances, risk many other physical health problems. All in all, a lack of money can spiral you into a situation where you'd need more time and money to get your health back on track. And that is money you don't have.


From Mental Health to Money Stress is a killer. And it is the worst offender when it comes to mental health. When we experience mental health issues, it is easy to blame ourselves for simply "not managing" or not "measuring up to the task." But good money management requires insight, planning, restraint, and a lot of cognitive effort to make these three work, both in theory and practice.


When you’re stressed, hiting points of anxiety or low mood, or feeling the side effects of medication taken for these conditions, you may experience difficulties when trying to concentrate, remember or manage day-to-day functioning. All of this can make managing money very difficult. Often, people with mental health issues struggle to deal with finances way before they turn bad. Low mood sufferers might not pay them any attention due to lack of focus or motivation. Anxiety sufferes will avoid them consciously, whether their finances are good or bad, as it can lead to an additional worry. People on the OCD spectrum might live like hoarders, counting each penny and know their finances by heart. This disorder can go two ways, as there is also an obsessiveness stream in which people "clinically overspend." As such, they would spend money not until, but way beyond it running out. These people are likely to be in a great amount of consumer debt. They avoid finances to reduce worry.

As money might become scarcer and scarcer, and the belt needs to be tighter and tighter, stress increases and mental health worsens. There are some pieces of avice that can improve mental health in the long-term, but might initially worsen your financial health, and as such seem counter-intuitive to take. The first is taking time off work (or education) when you’re unwell. This seems like it would put a strain on your finances, but it might give your mental health the break it needs. The second is of course therapy, if not also followed by other supplements such as group therapy and medicinal treatments. But then again, these come with a financial burden, even if you are in the UK and supported by the NHS.





If you do experience both money and mental health trouble, there is help out there: the Mental Health and Money Advice Service was launched in November 2017. The service is dedicated to helping people understand, manage and improve their financial and mental health. The service has both a website containing detailed advice and information about benefits, budget management and more. There is even a phone line for those in need of personalised support. If you don't like the look of this initiative, there is many more out there, even just in the UK!


If you are, or know someone who needs this type of help, please do not hesitate to get it. There is no reason why you should be alone in your mental health, or your money problems.