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The link between money and mental health

Practical tips on managing your money and improving your mental health.

This page is also available in Welsh.

Learning how mental health and money are connected might help if you're struggling. Sorting things out might feel like an overwhelming task. And lots of things may be out of your control. But try taking things one step at a time. The tips on this page are to help you get started.

Coronavirus and money worries

The coronavirus pandemic is causing financial worries for many people. If you are experiencing money worries, this information may help:

Mental health can affect the way you deal with money

These are some common ways your mental health can affect the way you deal with money:

  • If you're feeling low or depressed, you may lack motivation to manage your finances. It might not feel worth trying.
  • Spending may give you a brief high, so you might overspend to feel better.
  • You might make impulsive financial decisions when you’re experiencing mania or hypomania.
  • If your mental health affects your ability to work or study, this might reduce your income.
  • You might avoid doing things to stay on top of your money, like opening bills or checking your bank account. You might try to avoid thinking about money completely.
  • Having a mental health problem might affect your insurance, so you end up paying more.

Money and bipolar disorder

"I didn't answer the phone and I wouldn't open the post, and debt after debt stacked up."

Money problems can affect your mental health

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 like medication and therapy. See our information on what to do if you can’t afford the things you need.
  • 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.

"When I veered from my plans, even by buying something small, I tended to feel overwhelmingly guilty and ashamed."

Feelings associated with money

Thinking about money can be emotional, and you might have different feelings about money. These are some common feelings you might have:

  • You might feel guilty for spending money, even if you know you can afford it. Or, you might feel guilty for seeking support, even if you know you need it.
  • You might be afraid of looking at your bank balance or speaking to the bank.
  • You might feel ashamed for needing support. It’s important to remember that everyone has the right to feel well, and the right to essentials like food and housing. Getting financial support is a good way of making sure you have the things you need.
  • You might feel stressed, for example if you’re under a lot of pressure to support yourself and others. Or, trying to navigate the benefits system may feel stressful.
  • You might feel tired or worn down, especially if you’ve been struggling with money problems for a long time.
  • If you’ve experienced financial abuse in the past, this might affect how you feel about money now. 

Getting to know the feelings and emotions you have around money might help you to spot patterns in your behaviour, and feel more in control.

Get to know your money and mood patterns

You might find it helpful to take some time to think about how you feel about money and why. For example, if you've struggled with money in the past or didn’t have much money growing up, this might affect the way you feel about money now. You could try answering these questions:

  • Are there certain times when you’re more likely to spend money?
  • Are there certain times when you’re more likely to save money?
  • How does it feel when you spend money?
  • Do you feel differently when you’re spending and saving?
  • What are the emotions and feelings you think of, when you think about money?
  • Which aspects of dealing with money make your mental health worse? For example, it could be things like attending appointments, opening envelopes, confrontation, or being misunderstood.

It might help to keep a diary of your spending and your mood, to record what you spend and why. You could record how you were feeling before and afterwards too.

Once you’ve done this, you might start to feel like you understand your habits and patterns around money a bit more. Knowing these could help you plan ahead for difficult times. See our information on planning ahead with your money.

"I didn’t realise the impact my mental health had on my ability to manage money, or the impact poor money management had on my mental health."

Overspending when you're unwell

When you’re unwell, you might spend more money than you want to, or more than you can afford. Overspending can happen for different reasons, such as:

  • You might spend to make yourself feel better. Some people describe this as feeling like a temporary high.
  • If you experience symptoms like mania or hypomania, you might spend more money or make impulsive financial decisions.
  • You might have an addiction or dependency which makes you spend money. For example, if you are addicted to gambling.

"I would treat myself to whatever little pleasures I wanted. This would feel great in the moment, but I would wake up the next day with intense feelings of guilt, shame and annoyance."

Here are some tips that might stop you from overspending:

  • Tell someone you trust about the warning signs you might be overspending, or signs you’re struggling with your mental health.
  • Give your cards to someone you trust or put them somewhere difficult to access.
  • Don't save your card details into websites.
  • Delete apps where you usually overspend, or apps which encourage you to spend.
  • If you get tempted by adverts on social media, limit how much time you spend on it.
  • Find ways to delay purchasing. You could tell yourself, "I will buy this tomorrow if I still feel like it then". You could take photographs of the things you want or write them down in a wish list.
  • Distract yourself with something else that makes you feel good.
  • Consider telling your bank that you have a mental health problem. They may be able to add a note to your file to look out for unusual spending. See our information on telling your bank you have a mental health problem.
  • Some people find it helpful to avoid credit cards completely.

Spending money to make me feel better got me into debt - Step Change helped me out

"Spending money became therapy..."

Gambling and addiction

Gambling can become an addiction. If you’re worried about gambling, there are things you can do:

"Being able to tell someone I trust helps. If things are bad, my Ma holds onto my cards."

Financial abuse

If someone stops you from having access to money, this could be financial abuse. If someone uses money as a way of controlling you, this is another sign of financial abuse.

Financial abuse can affect your physical and mental health, as well as the way you feel about money. If you’re being abused, it’s not your fault. Help is out there.

Money Helper has more information about financial abuse, including where to get help.

This information was published in August 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

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