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Siobhan O’Neill: The important link between financial wellbeing and mental health – Professor Siobhan O’Neill

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Money is a double edged sword when it comes to our mental health. Having money gives us peace of mind, and spending it also makes us feel good.

However, money also holds the power to harm our mental and emotional health.

Debt and financial pressures are among the last taboos. Not only is it very easy to get into debt, it can be even harder to get out of, especially by ourselves, and the stress and shame of money worries can feel overwhelming.

READ MORE:Siobhan O’Neill: The importance of checking your alcohol intake

This shame associated with poor financial planning or not being able to provide for our families, makes it very hard to open up about the worries we have, and by not talking about the financial stress in our lives leads to further mental and emotional strains.

A survey by Money and Pensions Service found that over a third of people in Northern Ireland have kept secrets from loved ones (especially their partner) about credit cards, loans and savings.

Throughout the UK, three in five (59 per cent) millennials (25-34 year-olds) are hiding aspects of their finances, most commonly debts (credit cards 36 per cent, personal loans 23 per cent).

Debt and financial pressures are not a new issue, but the pandemic and its after effects have shone a light on the mental health impact of money worries. The pandemic has had a huge impact on our finances, many losing jobs and businesses, living with months of uncertainty around income and how to pay the bills.

The cut in Universal Credit, and the end of furlough are just some of the recent changes that will be devastating to those already living with financial stress. Studies repeatedly show that money problems are a source of great shame, and it is for many the cause of mental health problems; . yet 38 per cent stay silent about money worries.

The issue of debt and money concerns does not just affect those living in poverty, (however social justice and inequality are the most important avoidable causes of mental illness, and worthy of a 100 separate columns).

Poor money management and the use of credit over a period of years can leave any of us in a situation where we have huge bills every month that we are barely able to pay. Mental illness can result from the worry about what might happen if there was a change in circumstances.

So what can we do to start solving our money worries? Self-compassion is key and so important. The modern world means we are presented with debt and advertising selling the idea that we can purchase the perfect life from an early age, and we are taught that discussing money worries is something to be embarrassed by.



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Be kind to yourself so many people go through money difficulties and come through it, open up to a loved one or contact one of the many agencies who will be able to help you find a way through.

There are so many organisations and resources available:

  • The Money and Pensions Service’s website www.moneyhelper.org.uk has resources and answers to any money question you might have, as well as offering free and confidential debt advice.
  • For advice or guidance one of the most trustworthy sources of advice and support online is through Martin Lewis’ site Money Saving Expert, www.moneysavingexpert.com. There are guides to all aspects of financial management and some great articles on mental health specifically.
  • You can also contact Advice NI, their money and debt team offer free advice and services and it’s completely confidently. You can call them on 0800 915 4604 or email them at advice@adviceni.net and a member of the team will provide you with the resources and tools to get control of your finances again.
  • Kith and Kin Wellbeing are a Social Enterprise charity in NI who offers help and support free of charge. To book a free appointment contact Sean Bruen on 07732 704808 or email Kith & Kin Social Enterprise at info@kithandkinfinance.org.

Like so many things in life, the answer to debt and money worries comes through problem-solving, but the stress and shame of debt and financial problems can lead people to bury their head in the sand.

Kicking the can down the road can only ever make the problem worse. A hopeful attitude is protective, but positivity, or hoping for a lottery win, will simply not work. Even if you are not in debt, financial planning and knowing that your loved ones will be protected if you lose your job (or worse) promotes safety and stability.

Take the financial bull by the horns now, download a budget planner and make a list of your debts and the interest rates.

Start an emergency savings account, and try to pay off those debts with the highest interest rates first. Ask for help if it seems a bit overwhelming. It might feel like the start of a long journey, but a year from now you’ll be glad you started today.





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