At any time, roughly 1 in 4 of us will be experiencing a mental health problem. This can have a huge impact on day to day life. Feelings of depression or anxiety can be overwhelming, seemingly impossible to shake off, and can leave us thinking and behaving differently.
All too often, this can have drastic consequences for our finances. People who are unwell for extended periods may struggle to hold down a job, they might find it harder to keep track of their household bills and make payments on time, or they might overspend. Perhaps comfort spending, as a crutch to try and boost low mood, or buying gifts for loved ones because they feel guilty for being unwell. Nationally, almost half of those in problem debt have a mental health problem.
To make matters worse, financial problems like these can also act as a serious barrier to recovery from a mental health problem. Many people find themselves unable to afford to do the things that make them feel better, like seeing friends, having to cut back on essentials like food and heating, or feeling hounded by threatening letters from their creditors or visits from the bailiffs which make their mental health worse. Money and mental health problems can quickly create a vicious cycle, each one exacerbating the other, leaving the individual trapped in the middle.
The cost for our relationships
In most cases it’s not just one person trapped in the middle of this vicious cycle, it’s a couple or a whole family. Relationships can be a source of resilience, helping people to cope when things get tough, but they are not indestructible, and they may strain or even crack when put under pressure.
Relate’s research consistently finds that money troubles are one of the biggest strains on couple relationships, this is echoed in our research – where we found that the relationship goes both ways. In our survey of over 5,000 people with mental health problems, relationship difficulties were one of the most commonly reported issues, an integral part of that ‘vicious cycle’.
- People told us their relationship difficulties had caused mental health problems, which in turn led to money issues as they struggled to stay on top of financial management.
- Others told us their financial difficulties led to relationship problems, which turned into mental health issues due to the stress and anxiety of the situation.
- And some told us that their mental health problems caused relationship issues, which resulted in financial difficulty as they dealt with the cost of relationship breakdown.
“I’m so ashamed of myself I entered an IVA (Individual Voluntary Agreement). My partner nearly left me and even now doesn’t know the full truth. I felt useless and I am someone whom has been bankrupt because of debt.”
“I did not always make rational decisions, and got confused over what I had agreed to. The worry of it all makes it worse. My partner left me because of my mental health problems and that means I have half the income now to live on.”
Strength in numbers
However for every sad story like this, we heard a positive account of the protective power of relationships. People telling us how a sibling stepped in to avert financial catastrophe or how a parent’s support helped them from the depths of depression. It seems clear that strong, supportive relationships can often protect from the worst of money and mental health problems.
“My daughter has safeguarded me during bad periods of bipolar. She ensures I pay my bills when I’m poorly”
But helping someone else to manage their money isn’t easy. Our research found that carers across the country rely on risky workarounds such as sharing PIN numbers and internet banking details, because the formal systems for delegating access to our finances are inadequate – too often the computer just says ‘no’. This can leave carers exposed to legal problems and the people they care for vulnerable to abuse.
Breaking the cycle
That’s where we come in. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is a charity, set up by Martin Lewis – the personal finance expert who founded MoneySavingExpert. We conduct research and develop practical policy solutions to break this vicious cycle and ultimately to improve the lives of people with mental health problems, and those who care for them.
How can I get involved?
If you have personal experience of mental health problems, or care for someone who does, then we’d love to hear from you. You can join over 2,000 people in our new research community, taking part in surveys, quick polls and online discussions to share your experiences, feed into our work and help us change the system for the better. Living with a mental health problem should not mean a life in financial difficulty, we’re here to change that.
Merlyn Holkar, Research Assistant
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute