Managing Mental Health and Money
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is an opportunity to emphasize the importance of mental health to one’s overall well-being as well as an opportunity to reduce mental health’s stigma.
Mental health challenges can affect emotions, daily tasks, responses to stressors and relationships with others. These challenges are also common. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five Americans experience a mental health diagnosis, and most others experience differing levels of mental health distress without a diagnosis. These challenges can have costly financial ramifications. Short-term episodes might reduce savings, increase debt or change the timeline to achieve a goal. Chronic or persistent challenges might have a significant impact on long-term financial stability.
At LSS Financial Counseling, we see the impact of one-time events like loss of work, eviction, divorce, a car accident or a financial scam or predatory loan. Sometimes hardships are ongoing due to persistent mental health challenges, addiction, poverty, homelessness, abusive relationships, trauma or chronic health conditions. Navigating ongoing financial challenges can take a toll on your mental health. Finding support for both mental and financial well-being might be necessary to improve your situation.
Some people’s brains are also wired differently, or “neurodiverse.” According to the Harvard Medical School, neurodiversity describes variations in the way that our brains respond to stimuli, think, process emotions and relate to others. It often refers to people with autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Tourette syndrome, dyslexia or other diagnoses. Many people are undiagnosed because medical diagnoses can be expensive and there is still much being learned about how signs and symptoms present themselves.
Understanding neurodiversity allows us to celebrate the neurological differences that make the world better. There is more potential to learn new perspectives, differences in abilities or new ways of being. We all have areas in which we thrive and others in which we struggle. One person may find quadratic formulas easy and fun while needing support to create a budget or manage daily living tasks. Another person who easily handles daily tasks and managing a budget might need assistance with math or tasks involving multiple steps or continued focus.
People who are neurodiverse might also experience unique mental health challenges. They might experience mental stress from others not understanding the unique ways their brains are wired, and this might make it harder to maintain financial sustainability.
For example, someone who has a hard time with small talk or picking up on nuances in speech and behaviors might find job interviews challenging. This could reduce their opportunities to find work or earn a higher wage. However, if the person conducting the interview is made aware of these differences, they can assist to make sure the interview runs smoothly. One way is to focus on the job duties and recognize these duties might be well-matched to the interviewee’s interests and skills. That person might have a better chance at landing the job as a result.
Understanding these differences might be difficult. However, it is important to listen and believe people when they say something is hard and they need support.
Four Tips for Managing Money When Managing Mental Health
In our work as financial counselors, we have found that a variety of strategies can be useful for individuals who are both managing their mental health and working on financial wellness.
- Set up automatic bill payments, automatic savings and automatic order of regular supplies and items to meet basic needs.
- Eat less expensive meals that are easy to prepare (e.g., frozen foods, precut veggies/salads, convenience foods and deli meals).
- If you use medication, have it delivered.
2) Find support:
- Build a support system for when you need help. Consider what you need and how the support can help reduce costs.
- Are there friends or neighbors who are willing to help, trade or barter with you? Examples could include running errands, cooking dinner, watching children or walking dogs.
- Sometimes body doubling, or having another person with you as you complete a task, might help as well. Some apps or websites offer this virtually.
3) Plan ahead when you can:
- If your mental health is an ongoing concern, it might be necessary to include related expenses in your budget.
- Some possibilities are therapy, self-care, time off from work and tasks you don’t have the energy to complete.
- Other possible expenses to budget for are missed bill payments, purchases you meant to return but didn’t, and unplanned food orders. On the occasions when you don’t spend money in those areas, keep the expenses in your budget so you save for them for the next time you do. Put any money you don’t spend into a savings account.
4) Find out what works for YOU:
- There isn’t just ONE right way to handle finances.
- Look for people, friends, family, bloggers and podcasters who explain things in a way that makes sense to you.
- If what you’ve heard or tried isn’t working, figure out why. Is it too complicated? Do you find it boring? Is it too detailed or not detailed enough? Do you need supplies? Is there a different way you can get the information you need?
Here’s an example of finding what works for you. One technique for budgeting is the “envelope system.” This is where you put cash into envelopes for things you need during the month. There is one envelope for groceries, another for gas and transportation, another for eating out, another for cleaning supplies, etc. The money in these envelopes is all you can use for the month in those categories. However, if cash makes you nervous, you find spending it irresistible, or you’re likely to just move money from one envelope to another, then using different bank accounts for set bills, necessary expenses, and other spending might help.
You Are So Much More Than Money
As financial counselors, we often see people who come into a financial counseling session afraid, anxious or overwhelmed. This is very normal, as money can bring up overwhelming emotions. Feelings of shame or guilt might block a constructive conversation about money. Those feelings can be acknowledged, even if only to yourself. Once you name your feelings, don’t let them prevent you from reaching out for help. They are normal reactions and do not need to be the drivers here. Money does not define your worth or who you are; it is just something to be managed so that you can live a happier life.
Getting the Support You Need
If you or someone you know is interested in strengthening your mental health or need support, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) Behavioral Health provides compassionate mental health services. Our culturally competent, trauma-informed providers use a strength-based approach and are passionate about helping you create sustainable well-being.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It’s confidential and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
LSS Financial Counseling is a great place to start if you are looking for ways to manage your financial life. Our financial counselors are certified, trusted and nonjudgmental. We offer free, confidential support and services including budgeting and debt management counseling, building and improving credit, housing counseling and assistance with understanding your student loan debt repayments options. Call 888.577.2227, or get your support online.
Co-author Nadine Gall is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling.
Co-author Sarah Jannusch is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling.