Finances and mental well-being Financial stress can then result in stress and anxiety, depression, alcohol and substance misuse, poor sleep, grief, relationship difficulties and social withdrawal. 

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Financial well-being is a critical part of mental and emotional well well-being being. While money cannot buy happiness, being financial stable enough to meet one’s basic needs and care for one’s family is key in our journey towards mental well-being. 

As we recover from the festive season expenses, face “January Disease” and juggle the expenses of the new year, we need to manage money stress and safeguard our mental well-being. 

How can money affect our 

mental health?

Financial stress can result from:

• Insufficient income to meet ones needs

• High levels of debt

• Unexpected loss of income or employment

• Unexpected expenses

• Change in financial circumstances

• Retirement

• Increased financial responsibilities

• Impulsive spending and financial mismanagement 

This financial stress can then result in stress and anxiety, depression, alcohol and substance misuse, poor sleep, grief, relationship difficulties and social withdrawal. 

• Stress and anxiety: Financial problems can result in excessive worry about finances and the fear that comes with financial instability. This can result in anxiety (excessive fear and worry about money and financial responsibilities that can be crippling) and panic attacks (acute episodes of excessive fear with physical symptoms of anxiety such as palpitations, difficulty breathing, dizziness and sweating). 

• Depression: Money problems can also result in persistent negative thoughts about oneself. This includes excessive self-criticism, guilt about spending habits and ability to earn money and low self-confidence. Depression can also result in negative thoughts about others for example feeling inferior to others or anger towards those who seem not to want to help you financially and negative thoughts about one’s future (a sense of helplessness and hopelessness about one’s future due to current financial circumstances). 

These negative thoughts can fuel depression and even suicidal thoughts. Studies have shown that people in debt recover from depression much slower and are three times more likely to contemplate suicide compared to those not in debt. Financial distress can thus be a life and death issue.

 Alcohol and substance use: When in financial distress, we may turn to alcohol and substance use to try and cope. This sadly is a maladaptive coping reaction that can worsen our financial situation. 

 Poor sleep: Worry about money often results in insomnia and difficulty getting enough restorative sleep. This can create a vicious cycle as poor sleep reduces our ability to focus, concentrate and problem-solve resulting in further inability to deal with financial problems. 

 Grief: loss of a job, unexpected loss of income or other causes of changes in financial circumstances can result in overwhelming feelings of loss and grief. This is often accompanied with feelings of denial and avoidance; sadness and depression, anger and frustration as we try to come to terms with our loss and the changes to our lives that will then result from that loss. 

Relationship difficulties and social challenges: Money is one of the major causes of relationship and marital difficulties. Differences in spending habits between partners, differing reactions to changes in financial circumstances and approaches to coping with financial challenges can all result in relationship breakdown. Financial difficulties also affect our sense of self-worth and can result in us isolating ourselves from others and we feel less capable than others. Excessive debt also carries social stigma and this can worsen social isolation as our social support dwindles.

Managing money stress 

To help safeguard our mental well-being it is important to identify and manage money related stressors. This can be through: 

 Taking an honest, authentic stock of one’s financial situation, identifying total income, actual expenditure, creating a budget and making oneself accountable to someone we can trust to help us keep to it. 

 Learning to track expenses and identifying what triggers overspending; learning new ways of coping with stress that do not involve excessive spending.

 Identifying all debt and where necessary getting help to negotiate with creditors to restructure the debt and work out feasible payment plans that do not overstress us. 

Can mental health problems affect 

my financial well-being?

Common mental health problems can affect:

 Ability to think clearly, focus, concentrate and work effectively 

 Ability to manage relationships with work supervisors, co-workers, clients and business stakeholders 

 Ability to make sound financial decisions 

 Ability to control impulsive behaviour and compulsive spending 

 Ability to engage with financial services 

 Ability to cope with bills, debt repayments and negotiate with creditors when necessary 

All this can interfere with our ability to make and manage money. When we are stressed or anxious we will struggle to think clearly and cope with stressful situations and this can affect our ability to generate an income. Depression will often affect our motivation, energy levels and drive which can hinder our ability to focus, concentrate, work effectively and productively. Depression is a major cause of preseentism (being present but ineffective) at work as well as a major cause of disability and absenteeism. This can all affect our ability to make and manage money. 

Depression may also be an underlying cause of compulsive spending and of hoarding. Bipolar disorder (although not a common mental health disorder) affects one’s mood and behaviour and is characterised by phases or periods of low mood and phases or periods of elated mood referred to as manic phases. 

During these manic phases (or hypomanic phases which are less intense), the individual may behave in a disinhibited manner and may spend impulsively and make unwise financial decisions. 

The misuse of alcohol and substances can result in difficulties getting and keeping employment and can worsen the financial challenges as the addiction influences spending habits. 

Financial protection for people with mental health problems 

In view of the impact of mental health problems on one’s ability to earn and manage money, it is imperative to better protect those struggling with and those recovering from mental health problems from financial ruin. When one is unwell with a mental health problem, he or she may sometimes need extended time off work and this can result in financial strain. 

The cost of mental health treatment (including psychological therapy and medication) also affects one’s finances. All this can be stressful and can result in worsening of mental health symptoms and make it difficult to recover. As a nation we are judged by how we treat our most vulnerable citizens and we are quite weak when we are not mentally well. 

We need to invest more into mental health awareness, treatment and care as well as rehabilitation. There is need for financial protection through:

 Adequate mental health services cover on medical insurance plans

 Flexible sick leave options including part time work and flexible working hours during periods of mental ill health and during recovery from mental illness 

 Adequate resourcing of state mental health facilities which cater for the majority of the population

 Investing in support allowances particularly for those with chronic mental health conditions who may not be able to return to full time work 

If you think that you or someone that you know may be experiencing a mental health problem that may be affecting your ability to make and manage money, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist. Feedback: +263714987729) (; [email protected])

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