Financial Problems Can Take a Big Toll on Men’s Mental Health, These Signs Can Mean Someone Needs Support
MANY of our financial commentators are predicting a tough year in 2023 which worries so many New Zealanders – and for some, it could be taking a toll on their mental health. For men in particular, the psychological impact of facing financial difficulties can hit hard.
“Lots of people are feeling extra pressure at the moment because of the increase in the cost of living and rising interest rates,” says Sarah Coghlan, global director of men’s health promotion at The Movember Foundation.
“However, many men find it particularly difficult to talk about money worries because they associate money with their success as individuals or even as a mark of their character. A friend who is having money problems, no matter what the reason is, may see it as a personal failure and refuse to talk about it.”
A SENSE OF SHAME
Dr. Dwight Turner, a psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), agrees there can be additional layers to why money struggles can hit so hard for men – “because of the traditional roles they are supposed to inhabit”.
Turner explains: “For example, the very stereotypical idea about a man being a provider comes into particular focus, meaning those who perhaps are struggling financially, especially during the current political and financial crisis, may well feel a greater sense of guilt or shame that they are unable to meet the demands expected of them by society.”
Those pressures may not even come from their own family and loved ones, he adds, who may be very “understanding” about the situation. But there can be deep-rooted associations around money and acknowledging this can be help us understand why they affect us so much.
For some, Turner adds, it “may also trigger underlying psychological issues that reach all the way back to childhood, perhaps when they felt inadequate, for example. So the psychological double whammy of feelings of being ‘less than’ during a financial crisis can really be quite difficult for certain men.”
It’s not unusual for people to hide how much they’re struggling. So what are the warning signs to look out for?
“Sadness, apathy, withdrawal are the most commonly recognised symptoms of depression. And while men can experience any or all of these, one reason depression is often missed in men is that the symptoms can be different,” says Coghlan.
“For example, men are more likely to experience anger and irritability caused by depression, as opposed to sadness and withdrawal. [They might] snap more easily than they used to. Indecisiveness is another warning sign. For example, a friend who seems to be having difficulty making decisions that once came easily could also be struggling.
“Other signs to look out for include passing on activities they usually enjoy, such as going out for dinner, to gigs or sporting events. Changing the subject whenever the money is mentioned, or if you notice they are using multiple credit cards to pay for items, can also be signs they might be struggling and need extra support.”
Turner says men may “act out” or turn to “greater levels of substance misuse and abuse” with alcohol, drugs and smoking. “In more extreme cases, it could lead to levels of depression where they find it very difficult to get up and get out of bed in the daytime to go to work, or they find themselves experiencing suicidal thoughts,” he adds.
IN IT TOGETHER
Knowing we’re not alone can make a big difference. Turner notes that keeping a sense of connection when times are tough goes a long way: “We are in this together and it is not just for men to hold men, it is also for our partners and for our friends and for our families to support each other as we walk through what is a very difficult time culturally, financially and especially psychologically.”
Coghlan also highlights the power of listening: “You can take some of the stigma out of [money difficulties] for your friends by starting the conversation, being a good listener, and helping in inconspicuous but meaningful ways. The first step doesn’t require you to do much talking. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, especially if your friend is at a loss for words. Instead of asking, ‘Are you OK?’, you could ask, ‘What’s worrying you most right now?’
“Resist the urge to jump in and interject,” she adds. “And above all, don’t try to diagnose their difficulties. They need you to be their friend, not their financial advisor. You may know of some ways you can help but your friend may not be looking for solutions from you just now. They may just want your presence and understanding. They may need someone to show them there is nothing shameful about having financial problems.”
If somebody is having a very hard time mentally, seeking more formal support is a good idea. While there might be a lot of focus on waiting lists being long, Coghlan stresses: “It’s important to not assume you can’t access formal support, so please always have an initial conversation with your GP about what options might be there for you.
“If you can’t access formal help as quickly as you’d like or you’re going through a tough time, having a conversation with a trained support person at a service like the free call or text 1737 Need to Talk? can be incredibly beneficial.”
Turner’s advice is to anyone really struggling is to: “Please try and reach out to any institution that will sit and listen and talk to them.”
And if they can’t afford private therapy, don’t overlook the other options. “There are numerous other organisations where people can drop in or talk on the phone and where support can be garnered,” says Turner.
“It could well be that for those who are perhaps feeling suicidal around financial issues, a confidential text or call to the 1737 service could be the perfect place to actually go and speak to somebody and to feel supported.”