Australians grappling with financial challenges are at least twice as likely to face mental health issues than others, research suggests.
The findings support anecdotal evidence money struggles can lead to stress, diagnosable mental health conditions and suicidal thoughts, according to Beyond Blue.
Among the most affected are young adults, women, Indigenous people and small business owners, who are more likely to experience financial hardship and poor mental health.
“Financial wellbeing and mental health are influenced by social inequality, financial literacy, relationships, shame and stigma about both money and mental health, work-status, physical and psychological health, and financial and mental health literacy,” Beyond Blue chief executive Georgie Harman said.
“Our life experience means we all respond differently to financial and mental health challenges and there will always be issues outside of our control that impact our finances – just ask many renters and mortgage holders.”
One woman interviewed for the research recalled how she couldn’t sleep at night while in significant debt, saying, “I worry all the time to a point where I have chest pain and I have difficulty breathing”.
Commissioned by Beyond Blue and corporate regulator ASIC, the research also looked at data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey from 2014 to 2019.
Across those five years, 14 per cent of Australian adults experienced financial hardship and mental health symptoms at any time, backing the finding that money problems could lead to issues with mental health.
The situation also goes the other way, according to the research, with people experiencing mental health issues also twice as likely as those who are not to face financial challenges.
Along with the added strain of COVID-19, the report noted poor financial management and impulsive spending as among the potential consequences of mental health issues.
One research participant said: “When I get depressed, I’m more likely to go on [buy now pay later service] and buy things that are just going to bring me some temporary enjoyment.”
Australians needed to actively manage their mental health to help stay on top of their finances, Ms Harman said, noting the rising cost of living.
“By doing that, we’re in better shape to manage our finances and keep things in perspective during challenging times,” she said.
ASIC Commissioner Sean Hughes welcomed the research insights, saying the regulator plans to draw on the data to inform its consumer messaging.
He said they add to understanding the intersection between financial wellbeing and mental health, and their close and complex relationship.
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(Australian Associated Press)