So driving in my car this week, I hear on the radio that it is mental health awareness week – which is ironic considering I am working currently in a mental health department and knew nothing about it.
I asked my colleagues at work and they also hadn’t realised. Hmmmmm….
So I decided to do a little bit of digging to educate myself.
Mental Health Awareness Week
“Mental Health Awareness Week (14 to 20 May 2018) is about stress and how we’re coping with it.
We’re focusing on helping employees and employers create a mentally healthy workplace where everyone feels valued and supported. We have a range of information, guidance and support on how you can achieve this”.
Now stress surrounding money was one of the BIGGEST reasons why I started this very blog. I am seeing on a daily basis, patients who have got into financial difficulty, and are so stressed by it that they are becoming anxious and depressed. Financial instability is a big reason why people cannot take time off of work, get the help they need and get back to full health. Sleepless nights, poor eating habits, and poor coping strategies with drug and alcohol use all perpetuate and contribute to the problem.
Mental Illness and Money
Couple this with a mental health illness, and then we have double trouble.
Mental health illness and money are deeply intertwined. I’m specifically talking about mental health issues that are bad enough to affect people’s ability to work and run their own lives, not simply the days when we feel tearful and want to dive into a Ben and Jerry’s (not just me I hope?!).
Depression can lead to poor motivation to do anything at all, and even simple things like teeth brushing can be a struggle, so imagine having a pile of unopened debt letters. These can be an insurmountable and anxiety provoking problem that just worsens a person’s mood and time to recovery.
One woman I had the privilege to see who suffered from bipolar disorder had periods of feeling so happy and high in mood that she believed she had more money than she did (she was on benefits). She got herself into over £10,000 worth of debt spending money on expensive clothes, shoes and luxury holidays, but failed to pay off any of the debt. When the inevitable plunge into depression occurred, she had to contend with bailiffs due to multiple unpaid bills, and this obviously affected her recovery badly.
We hear in the medical profession so often of people committing suicide due to unspoken mental illness. This can be brought about by many reasons, but money is almost certainly a major problem in many cases. A friend working in the debt advice industry told me of an extreme case of a doctor who telephoned for advice on his 6-figure debt.
It literally does affect us all.
Thankfully there is support out there. The money advice service has just released a document to assist people with managing money with their mental health problems. It covers really useful information such as benefit entitlement, what happens when someone is admitted to hospital, how to deal with creditors, and what to do if the person feels unfairly treated due to their mental health.
There is a whole website dedicated to money and mental health that comes from the charity rethink mental health, which gives useful advice on debt management and daily budgeting.
Family members of people with mental health problems need to be able to intervene to stop worsening problems such as overspending during times of mania, or opening bills to continue to pay them for people unable to do it themselves.
In this situation, it may be worth appointing an advocate – a person you trust to look after your affairs during times of illness. Mental health or not, it is increasingly important for all of us to consider this along with our wills. This is in case of physical illness occurring that affects our ability to look after our own money such as having a stroke for example.
It is something to discuss with a solicitor and must be done when the person is well in preparation for times when they are not.
Money and Physical Illness
On the flip side, physical illness can also lead to money woes. Cancer, broken bones and conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can all contribute to reduced time in the work place due to frequent trips to the hospital, immobility and deterioration of the problem.
For times like this, it would serve people well to have a decent emergency fund to cover 3-6 months-worth of income or basic living expenses so that if something happened requiring time off work, the financial stress isn’t there. We aren’t taught this at school, but in my opinion it is probably THE MOST important piece of financial literacy to know.
Benefits and Money
If a person cannot work then they cannot pay their bills, and there are numerous examples of people struggling on benefits, needing to take out extremely expensive payday loans in order to buy basic items to furnish their home.
All of this stress and uncertainty causes huge issues for people with mental health problems. If you’ve ever been in debt, and struggled to make payments, or you feel constantly broke and stretched, then you’ll have an idea of how it feels to constantly have to make either/or choices. Its EXHAUSTING!
“Being in debt and struggling with low incomes reduces a person’s ability to think clearly and be productive, therefore perpetuating the cycle of poverty”
Learning basics such as budgeting and planning spending rather than being impulsive will go a long way, but it’s not the whole answer in cases where illness completely takes over a person’s rational decision making or choices.
What can Employers Do?
Now a few weeks ago, I had a lovely guest piece from Jill Aburrow who spoke about what employers can do to help people with their finances other than paying them a salary. This is important, because we spend so much time at work, that having help from your employer is vital, and this doesn’t just count financially.
Being open and honest about difficulties we are having means that others can help. I’m pleased to hear of many companies offering counselling support for their employees – my own employer is no exception, but we have to feel that there will be no stigma for asking for help, and often this is the problem, especially among doctors.
There is no shame in having made mistakes with money. You are not alone at all. I have been open and honest about mine, and now I am doing my bit to help others avoid doing the same. You can always come and join me in my free private Facebook group to talk it through with people just like you.
If you are struggling with your mood and you need to talk to someone urgently, then please contact the Samaritans or go to your nearest A&E department for help. Don’t struggle in silence – there is ALWAYS a way through.
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