Financial Stress and Depression
Money troubles can be particularly hard on us due to the feelings of shame, helplessness, and guilt that often (unjustly) accompany them.
Medically reviewed by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk, PhD – Written by Colin Stasuik
"While finances can impact our moods, they don't define them."
Financial troubles can be a significant source of stress and really wear down our mental health. This can be especially true for men, as we may feel additional pressures and expectations related to providing for others.
Research has shown that financial difficulties can contribute to or exacerbate depression, leading to a vicious cycle of poor mental health and financial struggles. In this article, we will examine the link between financial strain and depression in men, and provide strategies for coping with these challenges and seeking support.
The Relationship between Financial Stress & Depression
Money is one of the most common stressors that many people experience, with the American Psychological Association reporting that 66% of Americans experience stress around finances at least some of the time. This everyday worry can compound and develop into something more serious, like depression. A recent study found that those reporting financial stability and security were less likely to be depressed in comparison to people who felt stress and instability around their finances.
Financial struggles can come in many forms, including accumulation of debt, loss of a job, being faced with an unexpected expense, or struggling with impulsive spending or gambling. A landmark study from the UK found a direct link between debt accumulation and mental health problems, while another study found that those in debt were three times more likely to suffer from common mental health conditions than those without. The first study also found that people who carried debt were more likely to note daily concentration and decision-making problems, both of which are common symptoms of depression.
Many guys still feel pressure to be the breadwinner and provide for their families, and when they are unable to do so, their mental health can be severely impacted. Many men also feel a deep connection to their careers, with it playing a large part in their identity and sense of self. Losing a job, being passed up for a promotion, or struggling on a project at work can all play a role in the development or worsening of depression. Money troubles can be particularly hard on us due to the feelings of shame, helplessness, and guilt that often (unjustly) accompany them.
Misconceptions or Myths
As a man, I will be happiest if I’m the primary ‘bread-winner’ for my family
Contrary to popular belief, it is not always the case that men are happiest when they are the primary financial provider for their families. In fact, some research has shown that the more men feel responsible for supporting their families financially, the more their well-being may decrease.
If I just make more money, I’ll be less depressed
It is a common myth that making more money will automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment. While it is true that financial stability can bring a sense of security and ease, it is not a guarantee for overall well-being. Depression is a complex mental health disorder that is not solely caused by one issue (like finances) but rather influenced by a number of other factors. One guy might be happy even though he has a low income, while another is rich but miserable. While finances can impact our moods, they don’t define them.
I have to hide my depression from my employer, or I will lose my job
Depending on your workplace culture, discussing mental health issues like depression may be tricky. But, disclosing a health issue (including depression) should not jeopardize job security and many employers are becoming more open and supportive of their employees.
If you are comfortable disclosing depression, your employer may have resources in place for accommodations in the workplace, access to Employee Assistance Programs, or the option to take time off for your health.
These can be hard choices to make and talking them through with a trusted co-worker (or someone in Human Resources, if possible), friend, family member, or therapist is recommended. Often, when we’re depressed we worry about the worst outcome and may be more pessimistic about how an employer will react than they actually will be.
There also have been lots of studies now showing that the cost of lost productivity due to employees not getting support outweighs the cost of providing it, and employers are now listening.
While money troubles can lead to stress and depression, there are strategies we can implement to help reduce the risk of experiencing financial stress or mitigating its impact on our mental health. It can be very helpful to identify your top sources of financial stress, and then prioritize what you are able to control.
It’s important to remember that there are some things beyond our control and that we shouldn’t tie our self-esteem to how much money we make. We need to go easy on ourselves and be grateful for the good things in our lives. Stay focused on your own financial goals and remember to take things one step at a time.
Create a Budget
Creating a budget allows us to both plan ahead and make sure we don’t spend beyond our limits. It also brings all of our finances and spending into view in a concrete way, so that we can get a full understanding of where our money is going.
A simple way to get started is to gather all of your financial documents, and list your fixed (things like rent or internet bills) and variable (like groceries and entertainment spending) expenses. Then you can subtract these expenses from your income, and see where you stand. Even a practice as simple as this can help us gain a greater sense of control over our money. Creating a budget allows us to identify some of our common spending habits and get a handle on any debt we may owe.
We can also go a step further and make our own budget using software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, or download pre-made templates that give us a structure to work with. Here are some examples that can help get you started:
If you have Microsoft Office:
Or this Google Sheet by SmartSheet
In addition, there are lots of apps we can download to make budgeting simpler, such as Mint or Spendee, which are free and can provide a quick reference to see if we’re on track with our goals. Mint can also notify us if we’re approaching the spending limits that we’ve set.
Communicate with your Partner/Family About Finances
Due to the strain that can come from financial obligations in relationships, it is crucial that you and those you share financial responsibilities with understand each other’s individual, as well as shared, expectations and goals. This is often a partner, but could also be a parent, roommate, or sibling.
Start by setting aside time to have a candid conversation about your financial situation, including your income, debts, and savings. Be sure to listen actively and express your thoughts and feelings in a respectful and understanding manner.
You can also take some of the skills from the above strategy and create a budget together, coming up with a plan for managing any shared finances. Remember to be open to compromise and to work together to find solutions that work for both of you.
Find Resources that Specialize in Financial Issues
It can be challenging to address financial difficulties on our own, especially when we’re dealing with depression. That’s why it’s so important to connect with helpful resources if you need an extra hand getting on top of things.
Counseling/therapy can be a great starting point, in particular, if spending is a maladaptive coping strategy that’s used to deal with other challenges you’re experiencing. Similarly, couples therapy may be needed if the partners in a romantic relationship are not aligned with their financial goals and behaviors, which can create strain in the relationship.
You can also seek financial counselors in your area who can provide more targeted support around finance management. They can guide you through creating a budget or building a plan to pay off debt. In addition, various organizations offer education and resources that aim to help individuals understand and manage the connection between their financial situation and well-being. These include the Credit Counselling Society (Canada), the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (USA), and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (UK), all of which have made it their mission to ease the burden of money troubles and teach people skills to improve their financial situation.
Remember that experiencing money problems doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. Often these problems are a result of things outside of our control and are a consequence of external factors, such as economic instability and systems that are not set up to ensure financial success for everyone. While these factors can’t be ignored, it’s much more important to focus on what we can actually control.