A young couple sort through their finances together
A young couple sort through their finances together

Hand-in-hand: financial wellbeing and mental health

As COVID-19 continues to damage Australia’s economy and impact the job market, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the pandemic is presenting many people with significant financial challenges.

Here, we talk to Laura Higgins, head of moneysmart.gov.au, about why getting on top of your finances is so important for mental wellbeing.

Two sides of the same coin

Laura Higgins, Senior Executive Leader, Financial Capability at Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and head of moneysmart.gov.au, explains that for most people, financial wellbeing and mental health are closely linked.

“Being in an unhelpful financial situation can have a negative impact on our mental health. Conversely, if we're struggling with our mental health, sometimes our finance management falls by the wayside,” she says.

“So being conscious of how financial health and mental wellbeing are connected, openly acknowledging that, and seeking help early on if you’re facing financial difficulties is really important.”

Portrait of Laura Higgins, interviewee

No time like the present

Typically, we might understand financial stress to be when people can't meet their day-to-day financial commitments. It’s important to understand that financial stress is different for everyone and it isn't necessarily just about a lack of money, as Higgins explains.

“Everyone's personal circumstances are very different, so understandably, our experiences of financial stress vary. For some people, stress relating to money may simply mean one unpaid bill or a lack of confidence when handling finances. For someone else, not knowing how to access helpful advice if they need it may induce stress.”

Reaching out for help sooner rather than later is always a good idea

According to Higgins, regardless of whether you have a niggling concern or are facing a significant challenge in relation to your finances, reaching out for help sooner rather than later is always a good idea.

“I’d definitely recommend acting on it quickly. Whether that’s by signing up for some free financial counselling or calling the National Debt Helpline, these services not only provide practical advice but peace of mind too, which is key in terms of supporting mental health.”

Take a step-by-step approach

Feeling in control of our finances is incredibly empowering. Yet managing them can take time, which in itself can be stressful, especially right now.

Higgins assures us that getting on top of our money matters needn’t be an overwhelming task that we try to complete in one big hit.

In fact, Higgins suggests breaking things down into easy, achievable bite-size chunks.

“I’d recommend carving out a bit of time to address your finances and take a step-by-step approach. If you do one little thing, even just check your bank statement for example, recognise that as an achievement. Then set yourself another little task, and so on.”

“If you struggle with this, do it with a family member or a friend. Don't set yourself up to do it alone if you know that you’ll find it hard,” she adds.

Let’s talk about money

According to Higgins, stigma still exists when it comes to talking about both money and mental health but being honest and open about both subjects is key.

“Many people find it difficult to admit that they’re struggling with their mental wellbeing, and often, the same applies with money. But if we take the time to talk honestly with our family and friends about our finances, we encourage open discussion, the sharing of good financial choices and resources, while also helping to destigmatise the issue,” she says.

Get into the habit of tending to your finances on a regular basis

It’s also really important to get into the habit of tending to our finances on a regular basis, says Higgins, who recommends looking after your finances the same way you’d look after your health or your car.

“Both these things benefit from regular check-ups, as do our finances. So, try and make attending to your money matters a real habit.”

No judgement here

When it comes to supporting those close to you who are struggling with financial stress, Higgins suggests a fairly hands-on approach.

“Saying things like: ‘These unopened bank statements over here, shall we take a look at them together?’. Simply being there to help out, without judgement, can go a long way. Especially if they’re struggling with their mental health, as they may not have the mental clarity required to sit down and sort through things,” says Higgins.

“It’s easy to adopt a head-in-the sand approach, especially if we’re in a bad place mentally, but things can quickly spiral. So, try and schedule a specific time on a regular basis to take a look at your bank statements, pay your bills, etc. It really is well worth it, particularly when it comes to alleviating and managing financial stress.”

Tips for managing your financial wellbeing

  • Acknowledge the link between financial wellbeing and mental health and think about how this affects you personally.
  • Get in control of your finances by setting time aside for money matters – try and get into the habit of doing this regularly.
  • Don’t delay – the earlier you get on track with your finances the better.
  • If you need a helping hand, ask someone close to you who will offer help without judgment.
  • Make a plan and take a step-by-step approach, acknowledging each task ticked off your to-do list as an achievement.
  • If you have any niggling concerns related to your finances, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Free financial counselling is a great way of accessing practical advice and support, while the National Debt Helpline is on hand to help anyone experiencing financial hardship.

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.

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