How to get help for financial stress and mental health

For many people, managing finances can be a source of significant pressure. Financial stress arises when there’s a mismatch between your income and expenses, which leads to worry, anxiety, and uncertainty. Learn more about the signs of financial stress and how to cope.

What is financial stress?

Financial stress arises when there is a mismatch between your income and expenses, and your finances cannot meet your basic needs. The pressure to cover essentials like housing, food, and bills can be overwhelming, leading to worry, anxiety, and uncertainty.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of Victorians are experiencing financial stress. Some situations that can cause financial stress include:

  • Losing your job or not having a steady income.
  • Having unexpected bills such as your car or home repairs.
  • Rising rent or mortgage payments.
  • Having cash flow problems or being in debt.
  • Significant life changes such as relationship breakdown or retirement.
  • Having a serious or chronic illness.

The cause or degree of financial stress may vary, and what may worry one person may not concern another. For example, some people may struggle to cover their mortgage each month, which might give them ongoing financial stress. For other people, it may be a one-off event, such as getting an unexpectedly large bill, that leads to financial distress.

If you are stressed about your finances, you are not alone, with one study indicating that around 25% of Australians are finding it difficult to get by on their income.[1]

 

When financial stress builds, it can impact your mental health

There is an ongoing link between mental health and financial stress. Research from the Money and Mental Health Social Research Report[2] suggests that:

  • People experiencing financial challenges are twice as likely to be experiencing mental health challenges as those who are not experiencing financial challenges.
  • People experiencing mental health challenges are twice as likely as those who are not to also be experiencing financial challenges.

In other words, financial challenges can cause a decline in mental health, and mental health challenges can cause a decline in financial wellbeing.

When you are experiencing financial stress, in addition to feeling stressed, you may be anxious, feel a sense of loss, and have low self-worth.

 

Signs of financial stress

Recognising the early signs of financial stress so that you can get help is essential.

 

Common signs of financial stress are:

  • Finding money troubles dominate your thoughts
  • In a low mood, stressed or anxious
  • Arguing with a partner or family member about money
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • A loss of appetite
  • Feeling agitated, stressed, or angry
  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Withdrawing from others.

 

How to cope with financial stress

If you are experiencing financial stress, there are things you can do to lessen its impact on your mental health.

 

Acknowledge what you are going through

The first step is to admit to yourself that you are having financial problems and that it may be impacting your mental health. Bottling up your feelings and avoiding thinking about it can make things worse. Try to avoid negative self-talk. Instead, try positive self-talk and speak to yourself like you would talk to a friend. For example, telling yourself, “I am having a hard time, but I’m going to get through it,” can help you take the next step.

 

Tell someone you trust

Talk to a trusted friend or family member about the difficulties you are experiencing. You do not have to go into details if you don’t want to, but telling someone you’re having a hard time can be helpful. They may give you strategies to help you get back on your feet or offer emotional support.

 

Get some help with your finances

You can start by creating a budget to track your income and expenses. Once you know where your money goes each month, prioritise your needs and set spending limits.

 

For financial help and advice:

 

 

  • Mob Strong Debt Help offers free financial counselling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Call 1800 808 488 on weekdays.

 

  • The ASIC Money Smart website has information on getting debt under control, managing on a low income, and budget planning.

 

  • Reach out to your bank or financial institution’s financial hardship department.

 

Prioritise yourself

If you are stressed, there are ways to help manage your feelings so they don’t overwhelm you. Consider relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness. It is also helpful to take some time out to do something you enjoy, like gardening, baking, cycling, listening to your favourite podcast, or catching up with friends. These breaks can help you relax and improve your overall wellbeing. Feeling calmer can put you in a better position to make clear and informed financial decisions.

 

Get professional help for your mental health and wellbeing

You may feel more comfortable talking to someone impartial about your mental health issues. The first port of call is your GP, as they can conduct an assessment and refer you to a mental health specialist. Some counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists offer payment plans or bulk billing in the event of financial hardship. You can also access some of these services via phone or video.

 

You can also talk to a counsellor on a helpline such as SuicideLine Victoria by calling 1300 651 251. SuicideLine Victoria is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Be clear and honest with them about what has been going on for you. We can help you understand how your financial stress is impacting your mental health and help you develop strategies to cope.

Get some emergency relief

If you need emergency financial help, investigate your eligibility for government support. You can also get help from your local community centre or charity, which may have food hampers, clothing, or furniture. Some examples of organisations who are there to help people in times of need include:

 

If your financial stress and worries are impacting your life and mental health, it’s important to reach out for help.

 

SuicideLine Victoria is a free 24/7 telephone and online counselling service offering professional support to people who are concerned about their emotional and mental health. Call 1300 651 251 or click on the chat button on the right for online counselling.

 If it is an emergency, call 000.

 

[1] COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey led by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods https://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/australians-under-increasing-financial-stress

[2] The Money and Mental Health Social Research Report, Beyond Blue and ASIC https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/about-beyond-blue/bey2191_fwresearch_execsummary_a4_final.pdf?sfvrsn=2ba87ae9_2

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