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This guest blog shares the direct and indirect ways money worries impact mental health, and why it's a bad idea to ignore your feelings.

"Don't worry, be happy" got it wrong. Talk about, don't ignore money problems

All week we're talking about money worries on the blog, and why talking about them is one of the best ways to start making things better.

And it's not just your finances that might need improving. Your mental health will also have been affected.

Today, Helen Undy from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has written a guest post for us looking at the direct and indirect ways money worries impact mental health.

Do you remember the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin? The first verse contains these lines. 

“In every life we have some trouble

But when you worry you make it double

Don't worry, be happy

Don't worry, be happy now”

"Don't worry, be happy" by Bobby McFerrin, 1988

I’ve always found this song to be particularly troubling. As a frequent worrier, there are few things more annoying than being told ‘don’t worry’. At best, it’s pointless, at worst it starts the spiral of worrying about worrying - do I worry too much? Should I be worried about that? Especially when there are sensationalist news stories about links between worry and conditions like heart disease, stroke and stomach ulcers; a worrier’s nightmare.

Research consistently suggests that money is one of the leading causes of worry - and it’s easy to see why. Not knowing how you’re going to make ends meet each month, fearing visits from bailiffs, or seeing a sudden drop in your income can be stressful, and lead to ongoing worries that can really take their toll on our mental health. The song has something to say about that too…

“The landlord say your rent is late

He may have to litigate

Don't worry, be happy.”

Not very helpful. As one member of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute Research Community explained:

“Being in debt makes me worry. Worrying makes my anxiety and depression deepen and makes me miss work through poor mental health, which in turn results in missed wages, so the vicious cycle continues.”

Money troubles and money worries

Half of adults in problem debt have a mental health problem. At Money and Mental Health we carry out research to try to understand the link between financial difficulties and mental health, and money worries are a key part of this puzzle.

In 2016 we published a significant piece of research based on the experiences of over 5,000 people with mental health problems. We mapped the key pathways from financial difficulty to mental health problems, to try to understand the links, and where they might be broken.

For example, we found that financial difficulty often leads to creditors sendings lots of letters or making frequent telephone calls that can, unsurprisingly, cause stress and anxiety - which take their toll on our mental health. We also found that being in debt takes up lots of time and mental health energy, managing bills, researching options and budgeting - which can leave us exhausted, anxious and feeling low.

Source: Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, Money on Your Mind, 2016. Pathways were mapped from the qualitative accounts of financial difficulty from 2,911 people with mental health problems

But as well as these indirect links - where financial difficulty leads to a set of circumstances that have an impact on our mental health, we also found a direct link. Being in financial difficulty, for most people, feels pretty terrible - it has a direct impact on our mental health, affecting our self-worth, our mood and our anxiety levels. The big blue arrow on the diagram above demonstrates that direct impact, and for many people, a large part of that is about worry.

Talking about money worries

So what can we do about it? As a research institute we’re campaigning to improve things like the contact people receive from creditors, or the tools that are available to make budgeting and managing money less of a burden - so that being in financial difficulty doesn’t have to have such an impact on our mental health. But about the blue line? That’s harder to fix. If you’re worried about money (or worried about worrying about money…) we’d suggest you don’t take the advice of Bobby McFerrin, who’s song continues:

“Put a smile on your face

Don't bring everybody down like this

Don't worry.”

If you’re worried, and it’s getting you down, you’re not alone. The first step is not to put on a brave face, but to talk about it. You can find sources of support with both mental health and money on the Money and Mental Health site here.

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