Next month (October 2023) the second cost of living payment will roll out as some households in the UK will receive £300 to help with the rising financial burden in our current economy. The crisis is affecting us all which is why an important Cost of Living report was recently published identifying the actions all areas of society can take to support each other through tough times, was published recently with MQ Mental Health Research’s support. 

Money makes the world go round, so it’s been said. However, in a cost of living crisis, the world does not stop turning. For some of us, money management might be harder to keep up than for others. At a time when, for many of us purse strings are tightening, what does that mean for someone living with mental illnesses? Juliette shares her story.

Returning home from a trip to the supermarket, I place my bags on the kitchen floor. The receipt lies on top of the products. My heartrate rises. Food is costing more. I look at the bills on the kitchen counter. Council tax, rent, water, electricity, phone, internet, fuel… nothing is getting cheaper. My heartrate rises.

Just keep breathing. Deeply. In and out. One foot in front of the other.

For some of us managing money is closely linked to our mental health. I have been diagnosed with quite a few mental illnesses including anxiety disorder, depression, CPTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and eating disorders for which I’ve been hospitalised 5 times and others.

Having mental health conditions, while not an excuse, can be a reason why it’s harder to manage money than for others. Many with mental illness report that spending patterns and financial decisions change notably during periods of poor mental health. In fact, a survey found 93% of those who took part spent more when mentally unwell and 92% found it harder to make decisions related to money.

Breathing deeply, I begin to unpack my groceries, assessing whether I have stuck to my shopping list and questioning any impulsive buys.

Many mental health conditions have the symptom of impulsive spending or struggling to manage finances. Impulsivity is often a symptom of BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder, research shows. And while not a mental health condition but often related to mental illness, ADHD also has a symptom of impulsivity associated with difficulty with finances.

Money is a way to change our feelings. We can buy things to change how we feel… or at least that’s the strong narrative sold to us in advertising. From buying a car, a house, a new dress, a holiday, a cake or a drink – money is the conduit via which we are promised a change of feeling and that feeling we’re promised  is happiness.

If we’re in psychological distress, happiness seems like a thing worthy to invest in.

I continue to unpack my groceries into the cupboards, organising them so foods I find easier to handle when I’m anxious are more freely available and others I’ve a history of binging and purging are harder to locate. The tricks I play on myself to avoid relapse are exhausting but currently necessary when daily life feels so anxiety provoking. Our world isn’t easy to live in right now, no matter who you are, I tell myself.

My stomach is now so tight that I don’t feel like eating. But my anorexia recovery journey means it’s imperative I do. So I sit down with the food I just bought. I look at the food I do not want to eat.

Just keep breathing. Deeply. In and out. One foot in front of the other.

To take a break from thinking about this, I walk through to the bathroom. Seeing my reflection I realise I’ve not had a haircut since January in the pursuit of ‘saving money’. I look at my skincare products and ‘pampering’ regime items, all of which I used to tell myself were a part of my self-care routine and all of which are running low. Along with my gym membership which I opted out of, I’d deemed these as non-essentials so I’ve not prioritised them in my budgeting. My Body Dysmorphia starts to threaten my focus on being calm.

In recent years, things have been worse. For a long time I refused self-care in the name of saving money. I’d go so far as to not wash telling myself I was saving money on shampoo, shower gel or conditioner as well as water bills. I’d wear the same clothes for days to save laundry products. I’d not cook thinking I was saving on gas by not using my stove and water by not washing up. I’d sit in darkness thinking I was saving on electricity.

Looking back, this was my depression holding me tightly in its grasp, my thoughts so entrenched in the illness that I was justifying behaviours that only added to the weight of woe and worry. Poor hygiene, studies have shown, can be both a barrier to getting help and also an opportunity to recognise the need for help.

Thanks to the patience of friends and my wider support network, I now recognise the true cost of supposedly saving money in this way. The cost of not taking care of yourself is one that can have serious consequences for those with mental illness, adding to low self-esteem amongst other causes of worsening health.

There’s no shame in asking for help with mental health or with managing money. However, I live alone and I struggle to access help from services. Like with so much when it comes to mental illness, for years I thought it was something simply wrong with me and I was at fault or to blame for this perceived inability or incompetence, but it turns out it’s not.

Research suggests having mental health problems can make it harder to engage with services like banks or energy companies. I know I find it harder to understand bills and remember account details, meaning every time I try to take responsibility for my bills it takes me longer, causes more stress and difficult thoughts. But I’m not alone. According to the money and mental health institute, when engaging with essential services 37% of people who have experienced mental health difficulties experience distress and profound anxiety such as difficulty breathing or dizziness. The same research shows that 3 out of 4 people with mental health problems struggle seriously with at least one style of communication like the phone, face to face conversation or using the mail. When alternatives aren’t offered this can stop people accessing support or tackling problems that could become worse.

Just keep breathing. Deeply. In and out. One foot in front of the other.

Many of my friends do not have this same relationship with money. They seem to handle budgets. I used to think this was because some part of the school curriculum covered it but I missed it during the years I was hospitalised due to my mental illnesses. I was in the top sets for maths at school and yet when it comes to the subject of money, I lose my grasp. It’s a hugely emotive subject for so many of us. Capitalism sorts us into groups of perceived value or power which can be damaging individually and societally.

Poverty and mental illness is deeply linked, research shows. In 2019, over 1.5 million people in England alone experienced both debt and mental health problems, according to Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. This means around half of people with difficult debt also have mental health challenges.

Conversely living with mental health conditions means you are more likely to experience problems with debt. Nearly one in five people – 18% – living in England with mental health challenges have debt. In addition, problems with mental health make you 3.5 times more likely to have debt, according the British Association of Counselling Practitioners.

As I sit in my flat alone thinking about all this, I feel the depression threaten to provide solutions. Financial stress is linked to depression and this systemic review gives conclusive findings to suggest change policymakers could implement and a need for professionals in the fields of psychology and finance to collaborate to help intervene and alleviate money worries.

Depressive thoughts start to curl around me, cold and bleak and familiar. I feel it, allow it to offer its treacle-thick dark solutions and I choose otherwise. I’m on a path to recovery, intent on change. I pick up my phone to message my friends to connect with others. Depression-tinted yet factual thoughts of my phone bills increasing slither into focus. I mentally elbow them aside and stride onwards, typing messages to my friends.

My friends are wonderful people. They have stuck by me through a lot of difficult times, as you can imagine. I want to suggest we meet up. But I pause. Socialising tends to cost money. I’ve had friends with higher incomes who I’ve not been able to hang out with as much due to the discrepancy. I want to suggest we grab a drink. Or do some fun activities like go-karting, bowling or the cinema. It all costs money. I don’t live in the same city as my friends so I’d need to travel to them which would cost fuel or train tickets. Or I’d need to ask them to travel to me, which seems unfair. I don’t want to burden them.

Thoughts like these might be commonplace for many of us, which is why we came up with budget-friendly ways to self-care during this cost of living crisis. {LINK TO ARTCLE}

The overthinking begins to feel like a weight getting heavier as these thoughts take me to the same conclusion. A dead end. I catch myself. This feels familiar. Depression for me can begin this way.

Just keep breathing. Deeply. In and out. One foot in front of the other.

Looking at my spreadsheet of my monthly, weekly and daily budgets can cause me stress. And stress, while not a mental illness, can lead to one. Taking time to consider where to cut back is understandably an emotional experience. Emotional regulation can be helped by breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, good sleep patterns and routines, walking and physical exercise in general. So, to help myself through these tighter times I am prioritising making time for those in a daily routine.

Money can be hard to talk about but, as with so much in life, fear of being open can be a barrier formed from outdated prejudices. The idea we “shouldn’t” talk about money is not only unhelpful it can be isolating and damaging. Studies have shown that opening up about stress and worries either by writing or talking to someone helps not only mental health but physical immunity too.

So I am now opening up about money more honestly, even in this article. Just like opening up about my mental health experiences, I hope this might help others feel less alone and maybe shine a small light for anyone also struggling with mental illness and finances.

Happiness is a complex psychological concept frustratingly, even proven to be difficult to understand, and yet something we all seek. But does having more money make us happier? Or having more time? Research has shown that happiness might be less about how much money or time you have and more about how much we focus on those two things. Happiness may even not be down to how much time or money we have but how we choose spend both.

I, for one, do not think money will make me happy. Getting creative to find solutions to having less money than I used to seems like a positive step. Besides, that’s a commodity valued in a society that might be flawed in its value system.

Just keep breathing. Deeply. In and out. One foot in front of the other.


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The post Money Matters: The Cost of Living Crisis & My Mental Health first appeared on MQ Mental Health Research.

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