If you’re like me, there are two M’s you don’t always think about together: Money and Mental Health. When I was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder while working full-time, the last thing I wanted to think about was my financial life. However, unless you’re Beyoncé-level rich (I’m not), ignoring your financial well-being during a funk can only spell disaster.
“There is definitely a negative feedback loop that can happen where financial stress can contribute to depression. But then when you’re depressed, when life feels meaningless, who cares about your bills?” says Sarah Newcomb, Director of Behavioral Science at Morningstar, Inc. and author of Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead without Leaving Your Values Behind. “What can happen is that depression then leads to financial avoidance, which then leads to worse financial stress. And that exacerbates the depression and the feelings of hopelessness.” Ugh.
According to the Mayo Clinic, about twice as many women as men experience depression at some point in their lives. Making matters worse, depression often goes hand in hand with the anxiety disorders that affect 40 millions adults in the United States every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
That’s all a fancy way to say: if you’re struggling, you’re not alone. The good news is, whether you’re feeling on top of the world or struggling mentally right now, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself financially before things get out of hand.
Set Up Auto-Payments
Like, right now. Like, stop reading this article and go set up that auto-payment you’ve been putting off, then come back. Why are they so important? Depression can be brought on by major life changes, sudden losses and a host of other factors. In other words, you may not see it coming. Having auto-payments in place is a form of insurance that your finances won’t slip through the cracks. After all, the last thing you want to be dealing with during a time like this is an inactive cell-phone.
“I’m a huge fan of automatic payments … whether [you’re putting them in place because of] disorganization or just not wanting to deal,” Newcomb says, “Also, just recognizing that the act of ignoring your finances will only make things worse is key. It will only make your depression worse in the long run. So do what it takes, even if what it takes is getting a trusted friend to run your numbers with you.”
Designate a Portion of Your Emergency Fund to Your Mental Health
If you broke your leg, you’d pull from your savings to cover any necessary costs, right? So, that rainy day fund? It’s OK to set aside some savings for your mental health treatment, even if you just designate enough for one doctor’s visit or therapy session – just knowing you have enough to get to that first appointment is sometimes all you need.
“Your brain is your biggest organ,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and the author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius, “And when there is a problem with that organ, like a problem with any other organ, you have a problem that affects you overall.”
So don’t be shy about tucking away some extra bills to spend on future therapy or treatments. I know I tapped into my emergency fund when I was struggling with depression. Avoid future shame associated with spending money on your mental health by designating some funds for it now.
Unsubscribe Where You Can, and Check the Fine Print
Let’s be honest, before I got my depression diagnosis, I was hardly using my $150-a-month hot yoga membership. Now would be a great time to look at the subscriptions you have and see what you can opt out of. Because when depression hits, you might not be up for lengthy chats on the phone or pushy sales pitches. For subscriptions you can’t live without right now, but might possibly chuck in the case of a personal funk, now’s a good time to read the fine print. Look into what it entails to cancel these subscriptions, whether or not there’s a waiting period, and make a list of how to cancel each subscription. This way, it won’t feel like an insurmountable task when and if the time comes that a subscription service is no longer serving you.
When it comes time to cancel, many subscription services have an email you can use, but if you’re feeling anxious about cancelling over the phone, or worried a salesperson might try to talk you out of it, enlist your trusted friends to help you with this task (this is when that list of “how to cancel” comes in handy!). There’s no point in wasting money that you could be putting toward your recovery.
Plan Meals Ahead
Even on my best days, I can’t cook. I loathe grocery shopping, and so-called “easy” recipes are my worst enemies. So when I was battling depression, take-out and delivery became my best friends, but at $30 a meal (including tip), they also became my bank account’s worst enemies. Even when I’m at 100%, the take-out temptation is all too real, so it’s important to think about these things when you’re feeling well.
Fortunately, you can get groceries (aka pre-made meals you just have to heat up) delivered right to your door from various grocery chains. For example, Ralph’s , Kroger, Publix and Target have delivery services so you can buy food in bulk with small delivery fees. Instacart is a great option as well. Another lifesaver for me – after I got out of my take-out phase – was ordering protein bars and snacks on Amazon Prime for a fraction of the cost I would’ve spent ordering a one-time dessert on Postmates. You always have to eat, so just have a plan to make it easiest on yourself.
Identify Your Inner (Financial) Circle Right Now
One of the most important things you can do is identify whom you trust with important life and financial decisions right now. Whether it’s a group of trusted friends, a spouse, a financial advisor or a family member, figure out who you’d turn to if you were overwhelmed with life and your finances. Symptoms of depression can affect the way you view and therefore use your money, Saltz says. Having a person you can bounce your money issues off, can mean that you’re “not doing something potentially destructive to yourself in the short term.”
Make the Big Decisions When You Feel Your Best
Thinking about making a big purchase? Have you been eyeing a new car or a pondering leaving your company? For me, my depression can feel like my own personal Mercury Retrograde, so if you’re not feeling your best, consider hitting the brakes on making any significant financial or career decisions.
“I would really advise not to make big decisions during a time of not feeling well – like: ‘I’m going to quit’ or ‘I’m going to spend this large chunk of money’ because your mind is affected,” says Saltz. “Wait until you’ve had some treatment and are feeling more like your previous self.”
Alternatively, if you feel like you are in your best mindset, now might be the best time to make those decisions. Just check in and be honest with yourself.
The Bottom Line
Finally, understand that dealing with your mental health is a delicate and ongoing process. Be gentle on yourself, and understand this list isn’t exhaustive and everyone’s journey with mental health will be different. However, it never hurts to be prepared and make things easier on yourself – and your wallet.
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