• Student loan debt has jumped 150% in just a decade.
• One in every four Americans doesn’t have a single dollar saved for an emergency. (1)
• Money was the number one source of stress for U.S. adults for seven years in a row, 2010 to 2016. (2)
• A 2017 study found 62% of Americans more stressed about money than about their jobs, the political climate, violent crime or health care. (2)
• While clergy may fare better in some measures, studies show that our church leaders experience financial insecurity at rates comparable to those above. (3)
Financial stress can lead to severe health issues. For many, it morphs into a prolonged sense of dread, which in turn weakens our immunity and can cause or worsen headaches, insomnia, heart disease, ulcers, cancer, and other disorders.
Psychological studies prove that financial worries erode mental health as well.
• Clinical Psychology Review examined 65 such studies and reported a clear link between financial and mental health. Researchers found that mental illnesses – including depression, anxiety, neuroses and certain forms of psychosis – are three times more likely to occur when an individual is in debt. (4)
• Twenty-three percent of respondents to a recent survey reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to their personal finances. These respondents admitted to irrational or self-destructive behavior motivated by a desire to avoid the reality of financial problems. (5)
We can’t see a person’s bank balance or stack of unpaid bills.
But we can be sensitive to their mental distress.
It’s common for those in crisis to suffer alone. Breadwinners may put on a brave face and pretend all is well – while being late on the mortgage gives them panic attacks. Another common reaction is Debt-Anger Syndrome. Instead of panicking or denying, victims get mad at everyone around them, and cut themselves off from those who could help. They know that too often, society blames the victim for their financial difficulties.
Now there’s science to prove that when a person experiences financial stress, it’s only human to engage in behavior that tends to make the situation worse.
Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir, PhD, has led studies that quantify how preoccupation with finances limits cognitive abilities for people from all walks of life. Financial emergencies take up so much “brain space” that performance in critical areas suffer: parenting, jobs, relationships, and yes, the ability to take reasonable steps toward solving financial problems. “Each time new issues raise their ugly heads, we lose cognitive abilities elsewhere,” Shafir explains. Thus money problems and their effects trap people in an endless loop: Poor financial health leads to poor mental health, leading to even more financial setbacks, and so on.
“There's a very particular psychology that emerges when we don't have enough and this psychology leads to very bad outcomes,”
See where you stand: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has developed ten questions to measure your current financial well-being. Take the test and find more help here:
1 Catey Hill, “The No.1 Reason Americans are So Stressed Out.” http://marketwatch.com, December 17, 2018.
2 American Psychological Association, “Stress in America: The State of Our Nation.” Stress in America™ Survey. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf
3 Leadership Network, “Pastors’ Financial Health Report.” 2014.
4 T. Richardson, P. Elliot and R. Roberts, “The Relationship Between Personal Unsecured Debt and Mental and Physical Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Clinical Psychology Review. December, 2013.
5 Jesse Campbell, “Financial Stress leads to Symptoms of Depression, PTSD.” Blogging for Change (blog), May 3, 2016. https://www.moneymanagement.org/blog/2016/05/financial-stress-leads-to-symptoms-of-depression