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Money is intimately linked to our physical and mental health. It was one of the main reasons why I started my blog, The Female Money Doctor. It’s also why I’m now a Financial Empowerment Coach for Women (as well as an NHS GP!).
I am on a mission to help as many women as possible with money stress, and help them feel in control of their finances.
In my doctor role, I regularly come across patients who get into financial difficulty, and are so stressed by it that they become anxious and depressed. Or they become unwell, and then get into financial problems, further adding to their health burden.
Financial instability is a big reason why people cannot take time off of work. It’s why they often can’t get the help they need and get back to full health quickly. 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!
One woman I had the privilege to see who suffered from bipolar disorder had periods of feeling so happy and high due to her illness, 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 badly affected her recovery.
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 can be a major factor.
Thankfully there is support out there. Moneyhelper.org.uk has 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.
During a crisis, it helps to have someone to intervene to stop financial problems getting worse. This could include looking after savings, spotting when they are starting to overspend due to their illness, or opening bills to help get them paid.
In these situations, appointing an advocate – a person you trust to look after your affairs during times of illness, is a great idea. 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. It needs to be done when the person is well for it to be valid.
Lasting Power Of Attorney – We All Need To Think About This
This is important for everyone to consider, and not just those with a mental health illness. There are lot of medical conditions that can cause us to lose capacity, such as a stroke or dementia. When this happens, we can’t look after our finances, and need someone to do it for us that we can trust.
You can put into place a document called a Lasting Power of Attorney. It’s a legal document that appoints someone to take over the decision making of your finances when necessary. It can come into play when you choose it to. For example, it can be a temporary measure for when you’re going into hospital for a surgical procedure and won’t be able to make decisions for a while.
Money and Physical Illness
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 at work 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 often don’t get shown what to do with our money when we’re young, and that’s no one’s fault. But we can do something about it as we get older. In my opinion, having a fund for those “just in case moments” is probably THE MOST important piece of financial literacy to know. It has the power to turn a disaster into a minor inconvenience.
While you’re building your emergency fund, having insurances in place can be so reassuring. Explore options like critical illness cover and income protection insurance to help smooth over your finances in the event of a major illness occuring.
Benefits and Money
If a person cannot work, then they cannot pay their bills. 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.
The covid pandemic highlighted this for many people.
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 planned spending will go a long way. 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?
If you employ people, another post I recommend you take a look at is a guest piece from Jill Aburrow. She 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! 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, the NHS, 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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