Older Caucasian man stresses over financial burden.

The Impact of Financial Stress on Your Well-Being

When bills pile up, your 401(k) plan takes a hit, unemployment strikes or college tuition costs rise faster than you can save, the stresses that come with personal and family finance can affect not just your wallet — they can also impact your well-being.

Researchers have found a cyclical link between financial stress and depression — financially stressful situations can lead to depression, which in many instances leads to bad financial decisions.

The personal loan company Payoff conducted a data analysis that found that 23 percent of respondents to a financial health survey said they experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder due to their personal finances.

“As we look at the signs and symptoms of depression it may be easy to see that there could be a cyclical relationship between symptoms of depression and financial health,” said Ross Teemant, director of Texas Health Springwood Hospital and senior director of behavioral health outpatient services for Texas Health Resources. “The more stressed you become over finances the more irritable, anxious, worrisome you may become. However, if you are already experiencing depressive symptoms it would be easy to see how depression could affect your ability to make sound financial decisions or maintain healthy financial hygiene (depending on how severe your symptoms).”

“I think it is important to note that not everyone that experiences depression has financial issues nor does everyone with financial issues experience depression or depressive symptoms,” Teemant cautioned.

Teemant said it’s good to know the signs of depression. Based on the DSM-5 — the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is typically used to diagnose and define mental health — Teemant said to be on the lookout for the following:

  • Depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for more than two weeks.
  • Mood represents a change from the person’s baseline.
  • Impaired function: social, occupational, educational.

Other things to look for include significant weight change or change in appetite, a change in activity, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, poor concentration and even thoughts of suicide.

A study conducted by Clinical Psychology Review regarding financial health and depression involved in-depth reviews of 65 studies that examined the link between finances and mental health, Teemant said.

“One of the findings was ‘there was an even higher link between suicide and debt. People who commit suicide are eight times more likely to be in debt.’

“Individuals should seek help any time their daily functioning is impaired whether it is by severe depressive symptoms or the stress of finances or any other psychosocial pillar,” Teemant added. “Seeking help is not always easy, many want to believe they do not need help or they will wake up better tomorrow.  The reality is that without help the challenges they are experiencing may have them continuing on a downward spiral that may lead to thoughts of escape, death or suicide.”

When times are tough financially, Teemant said it’s important to maintain a self-care regimen. “Talk with trusted family members or friends and be open with them about your challenges,” he said. “Engage in activities that help you relieve stress. This varies from person to person — exercise, participate in hobbies, journal, or help and serve others.

“While this is by no means an exhaustive list it is important for individuals to find something that helps them release emotionally.”

Teemant also recommends trying meditation and deep breathing for momentary stress relief, and keeping an honest eye on the use of alcohol or drugs — prescription or illicit.

“Be honest with yourself and others about your financial condition and begin the process of facing the challenge,” he said. “This may mean changing your lifestyle.”

Creating a roadmap for mental and financial health can help you stay on track, Teemant said.

“Organize your financial priorities, plan to work on your most important needs first (food, shelter, safety),” he said. “Seek community or professional help with debt management or bill assistance, if you need it.”

There are pragmatic solutions for many financial hardships, too. H&R Block recently published step-by-step infographics explaining how to get through several financial trials, including credit card debt, job frustrations and college tuition worries.

Included in the suggestions is, as Teemant suggested, taking a good hard look at your lifestyle and expenditures.

“Take a realistic look at your debt. Make a list of your creditors. If you quit using credit today, for example, how long would it take to pay off your non-mortgage debts?” the article asks.

The Federal Trade Commission also offers tips and information for dealing with financial issues like debt and includes information on how and when to tackle it yourself, when to seek financial guidance, and where to get that guidance.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or other mental health issues, visit Texas Health Behavioral Health or call the help line at 682-236-6023, which is available 24/7.

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