May is Mental Health Awareness Month! According to NAMI-MN, mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or socioeconomic status: in fact, about one in four American adults experiences an episode of mental illness per year. Mental health disorders account for more disability that any other illness, including cancer and heart disease reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In his June 2018 article on the links between financial, physical and mental health, Brett Whysel of Decision Fish LCC wrote that:
- Individuals with debt are three times more likely to have a mental health issue, especially depression, anxiety and psychotic disorders,
- Financial stress is the second most common cause of suicide, after depression, and
- According to Therapist Rachel Mickenberg, humiliation among the financially stressed makes it harder to seek help as it worsens mental health.
If you or someone you know is struggling with money and debt after an episode of mental illness, please know that you are not alone. As overwhelming as it may seem in the moment, you can take control of your finances, whether it’s for the first time, or starting over again. Here are some basic steps to get you started.
Get connected to resources
Some people experience periods of unemployment or reduced hours at work after an episode with mental illness. This can make continuing regular activities – including covering living expenses – difficult and more stressful, especially if there is no income coming in. Check out these resources to help you get through:
- If you live in Minnesota, you can use Bridge To Benefits website to screen your eligibility for public benefits programs like Cash Assistance, SNAP, Medical Assistance, etc. You will get a report of what you may be eligible for and how to apply for it. In other states I recommend you contact your County Financial Assistance programs and/or call United Way’s 2-1-1 to find resources in your area.
- Hunger Solutions Minnesota has a list of local food shelves and other food resources available in Minnesota Communities.
- Talk to your employer about the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the availability of any short or long-term disability you may be eligible to receive. Disability typically pays out sixty percent of your regular pay which could help get you through until you can work full time again.
- Explore other community resources: for example, in Minneapolis eligible Metro Transit riders can enroll in TAP – Transit Assistance Program – and purchase bus rides for just one dollar!
Make a list of your debts and prioritize
If you have debts before, during, or after a mental illness episode, that episode can make it even more difficult to deal with the debts due to late payments, extra fees, reduced income, or sheer overwhelm. If you are ready to tackle debts, or are just want to make a plan so you know what to do when you are ready, here are some starting points:
- Get current on basics: make a plan to pay up rent or mortgage payments, utilities, car payments, etc…these are most important to your immediate well-being
- Get organized: Open your mail and sort your bills by creditor: this small act can feel enormously overwhelming to start, but takes away some anxiety by just knowing what you are dealing with
- File any appeals: If you have insurance or Medicaid/Medicare and some bills aren’t covered that you believe should be call your insurance company right away and file an appeal. Medicaid may go back up to three months and pay medical bills. Ask what the process is to submit those bills.
- Get current on credit cards: call credit card companies and work out payment plans to either get caught up or see if it is possible to enter into an internal hardship plan.
- If there is money left over prioritize any collection accounts if you have them. Start with the smaller accounts that are easier to pay off.
- If there is not enough money to go towards any or all of your debts, you may want to consider bankruptcy.
Give yourself a break
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Money issues and debt are overwhelming whether you have a mental illness or not. When you start to feel overwhelmed with bills or from dealing with debts take a break. Go for a walk, meditate, practice some yoga, or talk with a friend. Come back to it in a day or two with a new perspective or level of energy. You may find it easier to tackle.
If you find that looking at your situation is just too overwhelming and increases your symptoms, consider enlisting a trusted friend or family member to help you. Make sure they are supportive, empathetic, and non-judgmental.
If you aren’t comfortable reaching out to a friend or family member, LSS Financial Counselors can help you make a plan to manage your finances. From figuring out income and expenses, to prioritizing debts, and making a plan to get them paid we are here to help. For private, confidential, and non-judgmental help with your money call 1.888.577.2227.
Author Shannon Doyle is a certified LSS Financial Counselor.