Financial hardship and mental health: messages of support from the community

We recently reached out to our Blue Voices community to pose the question:

“What message of support would you offer to those currently experiencing challenges with their mental health due to financial hardship?”

Below are some of their responses.

Consider all possibilities

Among other financial challenges he’s encountered, 64-year-old Peter lost almost everything when he and his wife of 17 years divorced. He has been retrenched on three separate occasions and each time had to start again with next to no money. He has experienced regular bouts of depression and anxiety relating to work and personal circumstances.

His message to those who may be struggling with their financial and mental wellbeing right now?

“Try and see beyond the here and now. Broaden your perspective as to what you might be able to do to earn some money. Be humble, try anything and everything, and consider setting aside pre-conceived ideas about what you would or would not do in terms of work.”

Don’t avoid your problems, there are options

At the age of 35 and working full-time, Anon experienced her first mental health episode, which eventually led to her leaving her job. After eight years in the mental health system, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From being a university-educated professional with a full-time income, she has since lived in emergency accommodation relying on the kindness of social workers, mental health workers and volunteers. The experience, she says, taught her resilience, empathy and gratitude.

Today, Anon lives on a Centrelink income in public housing and speaks openly about her experience to nursing students doing mental health placement. On most days she feels like the richest woman in town.

“First I would extend a big hug and some reassurance that things will work out OK. Be organised with your money and have a realistic budget because some things will have to go. Prioritise things like medication and healthy food. Seek help.

“If you need to, don't be shy to ask for food hampers or blankets. See a financial counsellor. Be proactive if you owe money. Talk to your bank and other service providers. The government expects every eligible person to have access to hardship provisions at this time. While you are not working get online and do a free training course if you can.

“Take good care of yourself and don't avoid your problems: face them head on and you will make it to the other side.”

Be honest with yourself about what is necessary

In her own words, Joeanne grew up living in poverty and has experienced significant financial hardship for most of her life.

“Take comfort in the fact that this challenge hopefully won’t last forever. If you haven’t already, learn to budget, to be comfortable about making decisions as to what is essential (to spend money on) and what is nice to have.”

Seek support – people want to help 

Geoff was facing problems with creditors and it was affecting his mental health. In addition to continuing therapy, he sought financial counselling which helped. 

He wants people to know “that people do understand. That many people have been through this themselves and they want to help you.”

For those struggling to find employment

Despite being fully qualified, having applied and interviewed for countless positions, and having undertaken several unpaid internships, Jessica has not yet found employment in her chosen field. The reduction in jobs available because of the COVID-19 pandemic has made things much harder for her.

In terms of her mental health, Jessica has personal experience of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She says that without question, financial stress compounds her mental health challenges.

To support her wellbeing, Jessica tries to learn new things every day, tries to focus on the positives, and practices gratitude and mindfulness.

To those who are having difficulty finding work, she offers the following message of encouragement:

“I would say that it's not your fault and that not being offered a role you apply for does not mean that there is something wrong with you. Most of the time, it is not anything personal and purely a business decision. I have heard that a lot of millionaires have experienced, or come close to, bankruptcy.

“Just because you don't have a job does not mean that you are less of a person than someone else and it does not mean that you are lazy or not trying hard enough.

“Don't worry about not meeting your career goals in the timeframe that you want them to be achieved. Many people experience delays or disruptions on their path. Sometimes, it can be a good thing to take a step back and focus on your wellbeing. Reaching out for support and receiving support is not something that you should stop doing or be ashamed of.”

Encouragement from a Financial Counselling Australia client

Kristan had mounting debts and was feeling overwhelmed because she felt there was no way she could pay them all off. Describing her situation as desperate, she called a financial counsellor at the National Debt Helpline.

Her advice to those who may feel even slightly uneasy about their financial situation?

“...the first thing I would say is to call earlier than I did. Don't wait until you have hit rock bottom.”

“If you’re having trouble managing your finances then get help… before things become too big to bear.”

“I guess people knowing that this service (the National Debt Helpline) is available is why I wanted to do this because it’s certainly been a great support to me, and I would love for it to be supportive to as many people as possible.”

This article was created as part of a collaboration between Beyond Blue and Financial Counselling Australia looking at what people can do to support their financial and mental wellbeing. You can find more information here.

For practical financial tools, advice and resources visit: moneysmart.gov.au.

To learn more about free financial counselling go to Financial Counselling Australia. Financial counsellors give free, independent, and non-judgemental advice to help people get back in control of their finances.

If you, or someone close to you, are in financial difficulty contact the National Debt Helpline, which offers free professional advice and does not lend money or advise people how to invest.

Blue Voices are a diverse group of people who want to influence the development and innovation of mental health services, policies, and programs. Members have been affected by anxiety, depression or suicide – personally or through supporting someone like a family member, friend, student or colleague.

Find out more about how you can get involved with Blue Voices.

Please note that quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

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