Money is a major cause of distress for many Australians and for some Australians with mental health problems, there are times when being financially responsible for yourself simply isn’t possible. Many people in the community are facing hard financial times and the impact on their mental health can’t be ignored. These problems can seem impossible to overcome, particularly if businesses and community services do not recognise it and act to assist accordingly.
The impact of mental illness on the financial well-being of the sufferer and their family is too often overlooked by many businesses. Repercussions can vary greatly from person to person – including a reduced ability to earn an income, making inappropriate financial decisions, even putting themselves at risk of financial abuse from acquaintances, carers or family members.
As a financial counsellor and mental health professional, I’ve seen first-hand the impact of financial hardship on the mental health of the community. In my experience, episodes of depression or anxiety are often correlated with financial problems. Imagine being unable to open your mail, purely because the stress of your finances makes it too much to cope with – that’s a daily reality for many of the people we work with as financial counsellors.
People who call into financial counselling services often disclose difficulties in sleeping, skimping on meals, feeling guilty when spending money on non-essential items, limiting spending on enjoyable activities, generally feeling anxious about money, arguing with loved ones about money issues and suicidal thoughts.
Research from Mind UK found that a higher proportion of people with mental health problems reported debt on every measure than those without. The most common issues among respondents with mental health problems were priority debts such as domestic bills, rent and council rates. People with mental health problems were four to five times more likely to have had a domestic utilities disconnected.
While it’s well recognised that debt or financial stress can lead to anxiety, depression, suicide and other forms of mental illness, it can work the other way around too. Mental illness itself can also be the cause of severe financial harm. With one in five people likely to experience a mental health condition during their lifetime, it’s vital that we understand and work together to minimise the correlation between mental illness and financial hardship.
Service providers, health and community service professionals can help safeguard the well-being of clients by being aware of the various forms of financial risks encountered by people with a mental illness. Most importantly, businesses such as banks, and utility providers need to consider an individual’s circumstances to include mental health issues.
Business, Government and community services must do better when dealing with Australians who are in distress. We must show compassion so we don’t make a bad situation worse. From a consumer perspective this means improving access to alternative forms of appropriate and non-predatory credit (such as Good Shepherd Microfinance’s No Interest Loans Scheme), improving the way that retailers and essential services manage customers in distress (including specialist mental health training for customer service staff) and improving access to free and independent financial counselling and legal advice across the community.
Money will never cease to be a cause of distress in the community, but we can all do much more to limit its impact on our mental health.
Anna Tiakanas, Financial Counsellor – Consumer Action Law Centre
Australians struggling with debt and financial problems can access free and independent financial counselling nationwide on 1800 007 007 (Monday-Friday).
The above piece is available for commercial use through a Creative Commons license.
Unable to open the letterbox – money and mental health by Anna Tiakanas and Consumer Action Law Centre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://consumeraction.org.au/unable-to-open-the-letterbox-money-and-mental-health/.
Image from bertknot.