Have you ever been stressed out by the size of your credit card bill or other debts like buy now pay later and rent? Anxiety about money issues is common and your finances and mental health are closely linked.
The state of your mental health and wellbeing can make it hard to get on top of your finances and the reverse applies too – if you’re struggling financially, your mental health can be affected.
This self-perpetuating cycle can be challenging to resolve. The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused unexpected challenges, with lockdowns across Australia making us physically isolated from loved ones and often impacting our jobs and income.
A study conducted last year by Financial Counselling Australia and Beyond Blue found 83% of financial counsellors who responded said “about half”, “most” or “all” their clients were experiencing mental health issues. During the pandemic, 67% of financial counsellors saw an increase in clients with mental health difficulties.
Financial struggles can have a damaging psychological toll but we also know that taking control of your money can have positive flow on effects. The same study found that people’s mental health improved after a financial counsellor guided them through their options.
Financial counsellors are professionals who provide free, confidential and independent advice to people in financial hardship. They work in community organisations across Australia.
It’s never too early or too late to seek support for your financial and emotional wellbeing. Here are some steps you can take if you’re struggling:
- Safety first
If you’re in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000. If there is no immediate danger but you need to speak to someone urgently, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support.
- Seek mental health support and information
We all have good days and bad days. Then there are days when something isn’t quite right; you’ve got worries playing on your mind, you can’t sleep, or perhaps you feel overwhelmed.
Some people experience these feelings intensely for a long time. If you’re in this place, remember there is free support available and things can improve.
If you’re looking to connect with others who may be going through similar experiences, you can join the Beyond Blue Online Forums. Sharing the load with someone else can really help.
You can talk things through with Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or visit beyondblue.org.au/getsupport.
- Start addressing your finances
If you can afford to pay something, start paying the amount you can afford towards your existing debts. Get in touch with your creditor or service provider to put a repayment arrangement in place.
If you have no income or it’s reduced recently, you might not be able to afford to pay anything. In this case, one option may include negotiating a repayment arrangement where you make no payments for a short time while you get settled.
Call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 to go through your options with a financial counsellor for free.
- Speak to the hardship department
If you’re in financial difficulty and struggling with your mental health, a good place to start is the hardship department of your creditors or service providers. Staff in the hardship department are more likely to have the authority to consider flexible options.
If you can’t come to an agreement, you might have the right to access dispute resolution. These free and independent services give you an opportunity to explain how you can work with your creditors to get back on track with payments. See the National Debt Helpline’s dispute resolution page for more information.
- Contact the National Debt Helpline
If your problem hasn’t been solved or you’re feeling overwhelmed, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 to speak to a financial counsellor. The service operates on weekdays, 9:30am-4:30pm, and live chat is available in some areas too.
ndh.org.au, also has many free guides and resources. Financial counsellors aren’t judgmental about your circumstances – they offer you free, confidential and independent advice and assistance.
Words: Georgia Lenton-Williams (the National Debt Helpline)