We are currently living through an unprecedented time of crisis. COVID-19 took us all by surprise and we were unprepared for its implications and its duration. Most people have found this time challenging for various reasons, be that social isolation, frustration at being locked in or a lack of job security, to name a few. By far, one of the most stressful results of this pandemic is the financial stress it has placed on countless people. Worrying about how to pay your rent or debts can put immense psychological pressure on you and with no definite end in sight, this can wreak havoc on your mental health.
For this reason, we’ve put together some practical options and tips for managing your finances and your mind during this chaotic period so that you can come out the other side with a healthy life and mental state. The first step to improving things is to consider whether financial stress is having an effect on your mental health.
Signs your finances are weighing on you:
- Insomnia or sleep difficulties.
Money worries can adversely affect your sleep, keeping you awake at night or leading you to wake up at 4:00 am witching to ruminate over all your financial (and other) problems.
- Depression or anxiety.
Having ongoing money concerns in the back of your mind can leave you feeling hopeless with a constant knot of worry in your stomach. This will weigh on you and can lead to depression or ongoing anxiety.
- Physical symptoms and delayed treatment.
Stress often manifests itself physically. Perhaps you’ve been having stomach issues, constant headaches, indigestion, high blood pressure or heart disease. Unfortunately, when money is tight, we often delay medical treatment for physical conditions until things are financially easier and that only makes the symptoms worse.
- Weight changes.
We often find comfort in food. Weight gain can be an indicator of mental stress and anxiety. On the other hand, if your stress is causing you stomach issues such as gastritis, you may avoid food and notice a decline in your weight. You may also be eating less or food with less nutritional value to save money.
- Relationship problems.
Arguments around finances and financial stress are one of the main topics that cause strife in relationships at the best of times. In this pandemic time, this is likely to happen more frequently. The financial pressure can make you irritable, short-tempered and less compassionate with your loved ones.
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Sometimes it’s easier to escape reality than to face the stress of reality. Sometimes you just need a break. Unfortunately, this can lead to the abuse of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and addictions such as sex or other vices to distract us, but these can also ultimately destruct us.
If you have noticed any of the above in your life, perhaps it’s time to get help. You don’t need to cope with this alone. Many people are going through a similar experience. You don’t have to worry about the financial aspect either as there are options for free or heavily subsidised mental health support.
Here are a few free or subsidised mental health care options:
Perhaps you prefer not to meet with a counsellor face-to-face and retain complete anonymity. Perhaps you have reached the end of your rope and need some urgent support. There are various free helplines you can call where you can speak to trained mental health professionals.
1300 22 4636
Beyond Blue offers free help and advice on anxiety and depression. They can talk you through a crisis and point you in the right direction for finding solutions and ongoing support. They have options for support via phone, webchat, an online forum and also offer suicide and crisis support.
13 11 14
Lifeline offers a free helpline for adults in distress or who just need to talk to someone. They have many resources on their website for ways to manage your mental health and cope with the current pandemic.
1300 78 99 78
Mensline provide support specifically aimed at men by taking a practical, solutions-oriented approach to counselling.
All three helplines are available 24/7.
Getting a Mental Health Care Plan
If you would like to get ongoing support with a dedicated counsellor, a Mental Health Care Plan might be for you. This would usually give you face-to-face sessions, but due to the current pandemic, session may be via a Telehealth system using phone or video.
In order to qualify for government-subsidised mental health assistance, your first port of call is your GP. They will give you a questionnaire to fill out and if you are suffering from anxiety, depression or related mental health stresses, they will put you on a Mental Health Care Plan and refer you to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Under this plan, you get six subsidised sessions with a mental health professional per year, but if you need more, you can return to your GP for a referral for a further four sessions. If you are worried about the gap (the difference between what the government will subsidise and what remains of the charge for the session), you can find numerous bulk-billed providers of counselling services that have no gap.
The National Mental Health Commission
The commission has brought together experts from many of Australia’s leading mental health organisations to give practical advice and tips on maintaining good mental health during COVID-19. The campaign is called #InThisTogether and you can watch their videos on Youtube for guidance and support in this time.
As many people are struggling financially right now, the government and numerous institutions and providers have put in place measures to assist Australians with their finances.
Financial assistance, ways to lower debts and survive the crisis:
Many banks are offering concessions such as home loan pauses or reductions, credit card payment deferrals or plan reductions, and personal loan pauses or reductions. Check with your bank on how they can help you reduce your expenses at least until the situation improves.
- Balance transfer credit card
Having to think about paying off a credit card when you’re trying to pay expenses and put food on the table just adds to financial stress. If you move your debt to a balance transfer credit card, you get an introductory interest-free period which can last up to 26 months. See link below for more detailed information.
Health, life and car insurers are doing their bit to help in this time. Many of them are offering options to clients who are struggling financially. Contact your providers to see if they can do anything for you, even if it means suspending your cover for a period or changing to a different insurer.
- Energy, internet and mobile providers
Many service providers are also being lenient in order to help their clients come through financially. Contact your providers and ask what options are available to you to reduce your costs.
As of 22 March 2020, anyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and battling financially can withdraw from their super to a maximum of $10,000. You can check with your super provider if you are eligible.
- Centrelink support
Centrelink has eased its eligibility requirements for support for JobSeekers and Youth Allowance. JobKeepers, who have lost their job or had their hours reduced due to COVID-19 could be eligible for fortnightly payments of $1500 through their employer. Visit your local centre or have a look on the Centrelink website to see what options are available for you.
For more tips and links visit Finder – Coronavirus Financial Help
Free financial tools
Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and at a loss as to where to start with managing your financial stress, head over to Money Smart for advice. They are offering free financial counselling services to get you back on your feet and feeling positive about the future. This is not an easy time for anyone and there is no shame asking for help or advice to get through. This is a time where we need to pull together and support each other to keep safe and healthy, both in body and mind.