Money and your mental health

Every year since 2009, R U OK?Day has been a time when people are encouraged to reach out to others experiencing struggles with mental health. Specifically targeting suicide awareness and prevention, the R U OK? movement has grown over a decade into a high profile community-wide campaign to support people in having open conversations about mental health. In asking someone the question ‘are you OK?’ we create opportunities for people to realise that someone cares and that they’re not alone in dealing with life’s challenges and problems. 

Money as a source of stress

Mental health issues are complex and can occur in anyone and all kinds of circumstances. As R U OK? Community Ambassador Dan Price says, where you are on the mental health spectrum can vary from day to day. “Mental health is a balancing act,” says Dan. “On any given day you can feel like you’re doing really well in life or that you’re not. And even at a time when things are in balance for you, it can take just three nights of broken sleep and suddenly things aren’t feeling so manageable any more. It’s good to be able to check in with yourself, and with others, and just acknowledge where you are on that mental health spectrum.”

Like lack of sleep, how you’re feeling about your financial situation is something that can tip you towards or away from a sense of mental wellbeing. A conducted by Core Data on behalf of Sydney-based Fintech start-up Financial Mindfulness sheds light on just how big a problem money can be for mental health. Their survey of 1,000+ Australians revealed that more than 66% of those suffering financial stress said money worries directly led to feelings of fear, anxiety and/or depression – three times higher than people unaffected by financial stress. They’re eight times more likely to have trouble sleeping and four times more likely to argue with their partner about money.

Off the back of this research Financial Mindfulness have now launched an app that uses a combination of financial literacy, mindfulness, goal-setting and positive reinforcement to help people reduce their stress around money. But even with quality tools and information to draw on, changing your relationship with money is something that can be hard to do on your own. In fact, it’s often the influence of people around you that can shape your whole perspective on money.

When more money isnt the answer

On his journey to becoming a Community Ambassador for R U OK?, Dan has had some fairly extreme experiences with money. “I survived taking my own life in 2014,” says Dan. “Money was involved indirectly, but not in the way you might expect. As a young man in my twenties I’d had a lot of money and success in my life. But what it meant to me wasn’t healthy. I was working in an environment, influenced by people who acted as though money and what you can buy with it, defines who you are. And for a long time I’d been so concerned about what people thought of me, so I went along with it. The money I earned and spent become a huge part of who I thought was.”

Forging a new relationship with money was a very hard won experience for Dan. “For the longest time I tried to pretend I was OK with it all,” he says. “I was having fun on some level, but there were some very negative feelings about the values and lifestyle I saw around me that I was trying to deny. But those feelings will always come out in the end and, in my case, they nearly killed me.”

After a very difficult divorce and suicide attempt, Dan began his long journey towards healing and connecting with his true values and identity. This included parting with many possessions that had seemed essential just a few years before. “Selling those things signified a whole shift in my relationship with money,” says Dan. “They had become objects I didn’t identify with anymore. I had realised I didn’t want money to control me or have anything to do with what people thought of me.”

Everyday money problems bring pressure

In the last five years Dan has made big changes and has an important purpose in his life, thanks to his new partner and young daughter. While he still doesn’t like to feel controlled by money, the difference now is that he’s able to talk about his feelings and concerns so they don’t become overwhelming.

“Before having our daughter, my partner and I had counselling to help us prepare for the changes we were about to go through,” says Dan. “I was very aware of my new role as sole breadwinner and really felt the pressure that came with that. It’s an everyday situation that so many people face, the responsibility for providing for your family and you’re just expected to get on with it. But from speaking with friends and talking to people as an R U OK? Community Ambassador, I’ve learnt I’m not the only one who gets stressed about it. But I am one of the lucky ones who’s had the opportunity to acknowledge and talk about it. If you don’t, the problem is likely to feel worse or bigger in your mind.”

Connection and communication

Dan has learned first hand how much of a difference sharing and connecting with others can make to mental health. Becoming an R U OK? Community Ambassador has given him the chance to bring the benefit of sharing his story to many groups and individuals in his wider community. “I share my story with kids, corporates, sporting teams,” says Dan. “I might tell it in a slightly different way for each audience, but the messages are the same. It’s about recognising the signs in yourself or someone else and then connecting. We can’t work these things out on our own, we’re built to communicate and heal together. Sharing and connection and support are the messages I try to get out there. Everybody needs these things, whether it’s money or relationship problems they’re facing or some other kind of trauma from their past that’s making it hard for them to accept who they really are.”

In 2019, the R U OK? national day of action is on Thursday 12 September.  If you’re concerned about someone who may be experiencing struggles with mental health, you can follow these steps to start a conversation:

  1. Ask R U OK?
  2. Listen
  3. Encourage action
  4. Check in

Money & Life, 3rd of September 2019

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