Financial stress and pressure have been found to be two of the main factors that affect the mental health of many South Africans, more so in a continuously unpredictable economy with the ever-increasing cost of living.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group conducted an online survey to assess the impact of the pandemic on South Africans’ mental wellbeing, and 46% of those surveyed revealed that financial struggles had an adverse effect on their mental state.
Earlier this year, while the country moved closer to the end of Covid-19 restrictions, experts said South Africa recorded a surge in the number of patients seeking mental health services in the previous year because of the lockdown, City Press reported.
READ: SA experienced surge in mental health patients during the lockdown – new report
"If you think about it, people are the happiest on payday because we live in a world of unpredictability as the last few years of Covid-19 have shown," CEO of National Debt Advisors Charnel Collins told City Press.
In a world where we face mounting financial pressure, it becomes increasingly difficult to stick to the confines of our budget and keep our spending in order. Rising interest and inflation combined with skyrocketing fuel costs have knocked the finances of South Africans, leading to a rise in debt as consumers increasingly turn to credit to make ends meet.
“Financial difficulties often result in anxiety and stress, which can impact negatively on our mental health, or exacerbate an existing problem," Collins said, adding that stress – often caused by money troubles – and mental health are closely intertwined.
Collins told City Press:
“There are many ways financial struggles can affect your mental health.
“Being unable to support your family, honour your payment commitments or make ends meet will cause feelings of anxiety and panic. Financial stress can also affect one's social life, leading them to withdraw from social engagements. This, in turn, limits the sufferer’s opportunity to seek support or unwind, leading to an increased sense of isolation."
She further pointed out that young people were affected mentally because of their parents’ financial struggles leaving them isolated.
"When parents can no longer afford things like giving them pocket money to go out, they end up isolating themselves because they do not have money to do this. People are suffering from anxiety and depression because of the effects financial burdens have on their mental capacity and wellbeing."
According to the TransUnion Q2 2022 Industry Insights Report, despite general consumer sentiment indicating a cutback in spending, new credit activity grew in the first quarter of 2022, with credit card expenditure and the opening of new accounts increasing by a staggering 37.9% year on year.
While financial wellness may mean different things to different people, Collins explained that this simply meant not necessarily having to anxiously wait for your next paycheck.
"This means having enough money to live comfortably and not living from hand to mouth while worrying about transport fare to get to work or purchasing a loaf of bread. However, it does not just mean having enough money to simply go and purchase a car in cash in the middle of the month.
"It is about having enough money where you can budget."
She added that this was what many South Africans were struggling with when it came to their finances because of the difficulty to budget as a result of unpredictability.
Research conducted by the Money and Mental Health Institute in the United Kingdom said the link between mental health and stress – often caused by money troubles - were closely intertwined, "with almost half of those categorised as facing problem debt also grappling with a mental health issue, while 86% of respondents with experience of mental health problems said that their financial situation had made their mental health worse".
"Social pressures play a huge role in people getting into debt. And then, they realise that they have bitten off more than they can chew. A lot of people do not see it coming," Collins explained.
"Over-indebtedness does not only impact our ability to achieve financial security, but it also harms our mental state, taking a toll on our emotional wellbeing. In turn, mental health issues can often require one to take time off from work resulting in a loss of income and an increase in debt that might perpetuate the cycle," said Collins, adding that debt counselling was a debt relief option.
"Consumers who are struggling to repay their accounts tend to deal with debt stress alone due to a lack of information on debt counselling, hoping that things will get better in the next month. But sadly, without structured support and guidance, they seldom do.
“The good news is that, when fully committed, debt counselling can change a consumer’s financial status for the better. Often after completing the process, consumers are in a position where they can afford their monthly expenses without depending on loans, which significantly reduces the stress and anxiety of worrying about making ends meet."
These are some common ways money can affect your mental health:
Certain situations might trigger feelings of anxiety and panic, like opening envelopes or attending a benefits assessment;
Worrying about money can lead to sleep problems;
You might not be able to afford the things you need to stay well. This might be housing, food, water, heating, or treatments, such as medication and therapy. Money problems can affect your social life and relationships;
You might feel lonely or isolated, or like you can’t afford to do the things you want to.