Money and mental health

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Financial health and mental health are linked

Financial challenges can cause significant stress, which can impact our mental health and wellbeing. Similarly, the state of our mental health can make it harder to get on top of our finances. 

Graphic with text: People experiencing financial challenges are twice as likely to experience mental health challenges and vice versa. (ASIC and Beyond Blue, 2022)

Who does it affect?

All people in Australia can be affected by mental and financial wellbeing challenges, however: young adults, women, First Nations Peoples and small business owners are more vulnerable to financial and mental distress. (ASIC and Beyond Blue, 2022). 

Graphic with text: From 2014-2018, 38% of Australians experienced financial hardship, 26% experienced symptoms likely to indicate a mental health condition and 14% experienced both.

Self-employed people and small business owners

  • In 2020, small business owners reported financial stress as their biggest worry. (Treasury, 2020)
  • Fifty per cent said they were financially stressed and 15% were only making ends meet. Almost half – 47% – were mentally distressed. (Coping with COVID-19: Rethinking Australia, 2020).
  • Those on fixed term (73%) and casual (77%) contracts were more vulnerable to adverse income shocks. (Coping with COVID-19: Rethinking Australia, 2020).

Graphic with text: In 2020, rates of mental distress were 4x higher for people experiencing financial stress compared with people who did not.

Women

Women are significantly more likely than men to experience financial hardships and symptoms likely to indicate a mental health condition together.1

During the COVID pandemic women faced further vulnerability. Women have borne the brunt of economic and psychological impacts from COVID: 

  • greater job losses and workforce participation drop out;
  • increased demands on time and energy from supporting school children with home learning and attending to family needs in lockdown;
  • higher levels of psychological distress; and
  • increased homelessness and housing insecurity through this period.

1(Based on analysis of Wave 18 of HILDA data release 18.0 V2). 

When we're talking about the mental health impacts of small business, first of all, it's self-worth. Second of all, it is a responsibility to feed my children, my family, put a roof over their head, etc, and the impact of becoming insolvent says, ‘I'm a failure’, not just to my partner and children, but also to family, friends...

ASIC and Beyond Blue, 2022

Graphic illustration of women sitting down with arms folded

Young adults 

Younger adults found to be significantly more likely than those of older ages to experience financial hardship, to experience symptoms likely to indicate a mental health condition and to experience both together.

"When I get depressed, I’m more likely to go on [buy now pay later service] and buy things that are just going to bring me some temporary enjoyment." 

Many factors influence and contribute to mental and financial wellbeing 

Socio-economic factors

  • Socio-economic factors account for 54.5% of a person’s overall financial wellbeing. Health, unemployment, earning potential and life journey are the most significant socio-economic factors affecting financial wellbeing (ANZ Financial Wellbeing Survey, 2021). 

Cumulative and compounding life events

  • Life events can directly impact financial and mental wellbeing simultaneously, including life transitions, relationship losses, family violence, work related and legal events. As the number of these challenging life events increase, so does the effect on financial and mental wellbeing (ASIC and Beyond Blue, 2022).  

Community wide events

  • Relationships, social support and community connection can impact financial and mental wellbeing. People who feel they have no one to lean on are more likely to experience financial
    and mental health challenges. Withdrawal is a common response to financial hardship.
  Graphic illustration of two men wearing very different clothing walking past one another

Stigma

A variety of factors influence how people respond to money and mental health challenges, including stigma, shame and our social relationships. The research identified high rates of stigma of multiple types. These include: 

Financial stigma

Shame, a sense of failure and reluctance to speak or seek help about financial challenges due to concerns about what other people might think.

Social comparison

Pressure to keep up financially with others and a sense of isolation when this isn’t possible.

Mental health stigma

Reluctance to speak/act on mental health challenges due to fear of discrimination or shame about their condition.  

Common behaviours associated with stigma and shame include: 

  • Delays recognising or acknowledging a problem 

  • Delays seeking help 

  • Prolonging unhelpful behaviours 

  • Withholding information from others, including when speaking to professionals. 

  • Withdrawing from family, friends and work 

  • Avoidance, self-medication and unhelpful behaviours. 

Self stigma finances 

I’m ashamed – I was a grown woman, and I was not in control of my life. It got to the point, where finances were like this cloud over the top of everything.

Perceived financial stigma 

In this country we still have very much a taboo about money and so people don’t want to share. It’s very shameful to have debts that you can’t pay.

 Graphic illustration of woman covering her face

Key actions to take  

Accessible and appropriate supports have a major impact on a person’s recovery from money and mental health challenges. 

As communities

  • Reduce stigma around money and mental health
  • Encourage early help-seeking for both financial and mental health challenges
  • Make it easier for people to navigate support options.

For organisations and people working with others

  • Build mental health literacy
  • Help people recognise and respond to mental and financial wellbeing risk
  • Build skills, such as how to check-in on someone and refer people to appropriate services
  • Cross-referrals between services ad supports when early indicators are present.

As individuals (experiencing financial hardship or supporting someone who is)

  • Better understand the link between money and mental health, and the impact of stigma
  • Prioritise self-care (exercise, diet, sleep, connection with others)
  • Build skills and knowledge about mental wellbeing.

For support or more information, the following resources are available: 

ASIC/BB report
Beyond Blue  
Moneysmart  
National Debt Helpline 
Financial Counselling Australia 

References: 

ASIC and Beyond Blue research 
ANZ Financial Wellbeing Study 
First insights from the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 2020-21 (ABS) 
National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing (ABS) 

Coping with COVID-19: Rethinking Australia (Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, The University of Melbourne) 
Department of Treasury 
Child and caregiver mental health during 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia (medRxiv).

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1. For a full list of references for the statistics on this page, and any others across the website, please visit the references page and search through the relevant category.