The Link Between Mental Illness and Money


While I have undergone a lot of intense challenges throughout my life, I still count myself lucky in a number of ways. I have enough food to eat, clothes to wear and a roof over my head. I’m also able to attend university which will in turn help me meet my goals in life. All of this is not due to the fact I am independently wealthy! In truth, my family has been very supportive and has helped me in a number of ways, including financially. However, every single day I walk to class I see people who are not so fortunate. The homeless are basically on every street corner and their numbers seem to grow all the time. I cannot help but wonder how many of them are suffering from poor mental health conditions. In fact, there is a very close correlation between mental health and money. Many people who are experiencing poor mental health do not have the family or peer support they require. In turn, they are forced into a cycle of poverty which seems near possible to escape.

“The biggest enemy of health in the developing world is poverty.” — Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations

The Facts:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “mental ill-health and poverty are closely linked and interact in a negative cycle.” If this was not concerning enough, W.H.O. goes on to further point out, “Best evidence indicates that the relationship between mental ill health and poverty is cyclical: poverty increases the risk of mental disorders and having a mental disorder increases the likelihood of descending into poverty.” To exacerbate the situation, governments have done a very poor job of providing any type of income relief for those with mental health concerns. For instance, in Ontario, Canada, individuals experiencing a serious mental illness can receive income support through something called the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Not only is this program extremely difficult to “qualify” for, the program also has major shortcomings. The rates of this pension are far below what is needed to pay for the necessities of life such as housing, food and clothing. In fact, individuals on ODSP are 34 percent below the poverty line.

What’s the Connection?

Undoubtedly there is a very close connection between mental health and money — or should we say, lack of money. Many may wonder what the actual connection is. In my own personal experience, the following can contribute to the financial burden of those struggling with poor mental health conditions.

1. Stigma and discrimination.

Individuals with mental health conditions experience rampant stigma and discrimination and they have all throughout history.  According to WHO, those with such conditions are subjected to stigma and discrimination on a daily basis and are restricted in their ability to access essential health and social care support. They also face significant barriers receiving an education and thus finding and ultimately keeping meaningful employment.

2. Inability to retain and maintain employment.

As previously noted, stigma and discrimination make it difficult for those who are struggling with poor mental health to find and keep employment. I would take it a step further and note mental illnesses often make it necessary for individuals to miss work. This can be from going through a particularly bad time, side effects of medications or extended hospitalizations. These things are very common for someone who is fighting a mental illness. However, sometimes when the individual goes back to work after this absence, they will find out their job is no longer there. While some employers are getting better at providing accommodations in the workplace, there is still a long way to go. In one of my previous jobs, I was dismissed from my job for making one mistake due to a temporary loss of focus. The employer knew of my condition when I was hired, but made no accommodation for it. This happens frequently to a significant number of individuals with poor mental health and makes securing and retaining employment difficult.

3. Extended hospitalizations.

While hospitalizations not only create problems due to absence from work, they also make it difficult to budget, pay bills and plan for financial commitments. This in turn will land people in a lot of difficulty with landlords, bill collectors and credit agencies. When in the hospital for a mental illness, quite often the last thing on our mind is securing good credit! No, it is all about survival.

4. The illness.

There is little doubt various components of a mental illness make managing money difficult. For instance, I tend to have high and low moods. In the middle of a “high,” I will spend money quite freely with no thought whatsoever to the consequences. Impulsivity takes over. In times of severe lows, if I manage to get out of bed, it is a significant accomplishment. I certainly do not have the capacity to manage my money at such times. Also, if things get so bad to the point where a substitute decision maker is needed, all power over one’s own affairs is lost and they become vulnerable to potential exploitation.

Conclusion

It has been clearly shown how poor mental health can negatively affect the financial position of an individual. Also, people who have support (family and peers) and thus access to resources and funds, tend to have a lower incidence of mental illness and quicker rates of recovery. Of course this is not always the case, but it is a defined data trend. The question then becomes how can we help those people who do not have access to support? How can we help them so they do not end up homeless and on the streets. I would say the first thing we need to do is change the mindset of society. Mental illness is not a choice and those who suffer from it should not be abandoned. All of society has a role to help, be empathetic and make life better for all our brothers and sisters.

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