By Amanda Mitchell, AFC®
Did you know that your finances and mental health are heavily connected? Studies have shown that money and mental health lie on a cyclical path. Those with money issues are more likely to have mental health challenges, and conversely, those with mental health problems are more likely to have high levels of debt. Experiencing depression can make it harder to stay in a healthy routine which can lead to neglecting tasks such as budgeting or paying bills on time. Unfortunately, troubles with mental health are pretty common among service members and their families, more so than their civilian counterparts. Therefore, members of the military community may be more prone to mental health-related financial troubles. Fortunately, there are resources available that can help break the money/mental health cycle.
First and foremost, if you are experiencing depression, take care of yourself and find help.
We all experience some degree of depression at one time or another. It is a normal part of the ebb and flow of life. However, if you recognize that your mental health significantly affects the rest of your life, it’s a good time to consider discussing it with your healthcare provider. As a service member, family member, or even a veteran, there are services available to get you the right help you need. As someone who is fairly prone to depression and has experienced it several times throughout my life, I like to use the analogy of being stuck in a hole to gauge where I stand. Sometimes the hole is shallow enough that I have been able to pull myself out by paying attention to my “inputs” (diet, consumption of news, media/social media, exercise, etc.). Other times the hole was a little deeper, and I knew I would need help to get myself out. Even if you don’t know where you stand as far as how deep the hole is, asking for help is always a good idea. You don’t have to suffer in silence. Here are some places you can find the tools to help you overcome mental health struggles:
- Your healthcare provider
- Social workers. Military healthcare facilities usually have a few on staff that you can speak to on a walk-in basis. Call or visit your installation’s healthcare facility to find out what resources are available to you.
- Military OneSource
- VA Treatment facility near you
- Behavioral Health office on your installation
Consider a financial counselor.
If your financial situation is affecting your mental health, it is a good idea to seek out a financial counselor. Financial counselors will help you to come up with a plan to improve your current situation. They can help you develop a strategy that aligns with the specific goals you want to achieve. Financial counselors are available to you through your branch’s version of the community service office (for example, for the Army, you would find them at the Army Community Service (ACS) office). Reputable financial counselors can also be found here:
If you know that you are prone to overspending when you are feeling down, try and evaluate each purchase from a needs standpoint. Ask yourself if the item is really something you need, or is it a Bandaid to a deeper issue? Is the reason for the purchase solely to bring yourself a bit of happiness? Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with treating yourself. You just have to know when a good time is to do it, and it cannot be all the time, or it loses its “treat” value and can turn into overspending quickly. When in doubt, put the purchase on hold for 24 hours. Giving yourself a bit of time to think it over can help you avoid impulse buys.
Focus on progress, not past failures.
If you are in a tough financial spot because of some less-than-ideal choices you made, learn from your mistakes, and move on. Dwelling on past failures put you in the wrong mindset. Be happy for yourself that you recognized your mistakes and are willing to learn. If you spent $50 less this month on groceries because you decided to look for sales and use coupons, celebrate that. Give yourself a high five. Financial mistakes are correctable with a bit of discipline and time. Be patient. Celebrate small success.