Bitch, I'm broke: Juggling money with mental illness.
Like mental illness, managing your financial situation has become of life's privacies. It's kind of OK to talk about, it kind of isn't. The fact is though, whether or not we want to discuss it, successfully balancing the books has a huge impact on many different aspects of life.
I am no expert when it comes to matters of money, but I do know that having mental health conditions can put you at a significant disadvantage when it comes to handling your cash.
Here are some of the ways that the symptoms and complications of mental illness can affect you financially:
Poor Impulse Control
Many mental illnesses can change the way you make decisions, whether that's permanently or temporarily. We all have a desire to splurge our cash on nonsense, but most of us have some degree of control over this urge. What if we didn't?
Sometimes it's dangerously easy to make poor financial choices, with payday loans and store cards becoming consistently more easy to obtain, the first few steps on the slippery slope to money troubles are worryingly unchallenging. In a few clicks, most people would be able to obtain a line of credit, with relative ease - a few more clicks later and you've suddenly borrowed £200, bought yourself a bespoke feather hat and locked yourself into a borrowing cycle.
The need for a pick me up
Whether you were midway through a month of blues, having a shitty day or suddenly thrown into a wedding related panic attack, at that moment in time you probably felt you needed the hat. Maybe the hat was the momentary answer to your problems, maybe it provided temporary relief and distraction from whatever issues were plaguing your mind at the time. Either way, lets assume that you didn't REALLY need the hat.
You have almost forgotten about the damning headwear, when it lands at your door. Mike the Prime guy (remember him?) asks you how you're doing and you say something awkward about Mondays.
After smiling for slightly too long you shuffle guiltily into your house and inspect the package. You feel a bit sick when you see how small it actually is, £200 doesn't get you a lot of hat in 2017. Instead of the excited ripping open of the box you envisaged when you ordered it, you gingerly place it on top of something. Feeling sick, you sit on the couch.
That £200 plus interest that's going to come out of your account next payday is going to affect how many Christmas presents you can afford. You feel a cloud building behind your eyes.
Phonecalls, mail, returning Amazon hat packages - all scary, all too easily avoided.
You walk past the unopened box every day. You don't make eye contact. You drown the sicky feeling with a bottle of Malbec you bought on your credit card.
You miss an £80 electric bill that's sat under the hatbox. The deadline passes, you're no wiser.
Fear of asking for help
When payday comes the money is taken from your account. The interest is far higher than you expected - £100 - you wish you'd read the small print.
Nevertheless, the payment being processed brings you some form of relief and you finally sit down to open the parcel.
The hat's OK, I guess. Not as good as it looks on the website, but it's wearable. It doesn't really compliment the dress, but there's no way your spending any more money. You spot the bill. There's a £20 fee for not paying on time. Fuck.
Scared of asking for help and admitting to your friends and family (or bank) that you can't afford your expenses, you decide to click back into the loan dashboard - just one last time... just to see you through.
You accidentally withdraw the full £400 that the company is offering. You have no idea how to pay it back in. You'll just wait and leave it in your account untouched until they take it back.
Poor impulse control
The £300 you have left is burning a Christmas Present shaped hole in your pocket and in one boring, unfulfilling lunch hour you blow the lot on gifts for your family...
The need for a pick me up
... and an outfit that matches the hat.
The predicament you're in is now overwhelming. There's a proper cash cloud sitting in your head and you start to worry seriously about the future. Maybe your friend gets sick and you can't visit them. Maybe you can't go to someone's birthday. You start to feel like a shitty person.
Rather than make phonecalls to the companies you owe to explain your situation, you let the unopened envelopes pile up. Every now and then you drink some more Malbec and put them in the bin.
Wine gives you a warm fuzzy feeling and you decide to dip into your savings to send your friend some flowers. That should make up for the birthday you missed.
Fear of asking for help
Worried, your bank try to call you the next day to discuss your account. You stare at the phone as it rings out and then block the number.
You see that they've written to you and open it. They're offering you some financial help. It involves going in for a face to face meeting. Nope. You log into the dashboard, extend your loan by £200 and start paying off your bills.
That feels good, huh? You realise you've done something productive and celebrate with a glass of red.
Motivation and Determination
You work hard over the next few months and, fuelled by fear and wine, climb slowly but surely out of the hole. Well done.
1 hour before the wedding you realise you've left one of your bags at home.
Poor impulse control
A quick trip into Monsoon later, and you've logged into the dashboard you never closed and dropped £50 on a hat and pair of tights.
After the wedding you drown your sorrows and think back to the shitty day you had 6 months ago and what it's cost you. Inspecting your bank account you are shocked to see you have spent
1. £200 on a hat + £100 in interest (I mean, COME ON!)
2. £100 on Malbec (plus interest of £10 and £40 on hangover food)
3. £60 in late payment fees
4. £6 on sickness tablets
5. £600 on subsequent loans (+ £300 in interest)
6. £45 on a second hat (we'll let the tights slide)
a whopping total of £1,461.00 (that's some hat)
Like I said, I'm no expert. I have significantly improved my financial situation over the last 12 months, but I never know when life might leave me vulnerable to poor decision making. (Luckily, I am yet to venture into the feathery hat territories)
It might look from the outside as though someone is simply irresponsible, but if you think someone is really struggling try to approach the subject gently (I seem to say that a lot!).
Financial difficulty is a heavy burden to bear and one that is cited as one of the top contributors to circumstances that can lead to or worsen depression. With growing suicide rates, it is not to be ignored.
There are always places to turn to for help, although I know it can be scary to face up to the problems in the first place.
Some alternative ways to relieve the symptoms that might cause you to overspend in the first place:
- Take a long and mindful walk (preferably somewhere remote or rural and low in opportunities to spend)
- Call a friend, let off some steam
- Lose yourself in a film or book that you love (something immersive, comforting and/or funny)
- Do something productive (tackle the dishes while listening to some music or a podcast)
- Get an early night or take a nap (totally free and very good for you!)
- Have a bath (my answer to everything...)
- Get active (whatever your movement of choice is - do it)
- Get creative (write something, draw something, paint something, sew something... pick up a project)
When and ONLY when the impulse to spend has passed, sit down and come up with a proper plan to increase your income, lower your outgoings or start saving for a rainy day.
Envision a future in which you have financial security, a safety cushion and coping techniques that don't involve spending money.
If you do need to borrow consider a trusted friend or relative or a credit union. You can also seek advice from Step Change charity, who may be able to help you.
Worried about money?
Don't suffer in silence.