BALANCING ACT: a working mother struggles to make ends meet. Picture: John Hogg
Parenting is a tough job. It requires a great deal of emotional and financial capital particularly in the current economic climate. Even where there are two working adults, it is often hard to keep on top of the never-ending bills..

For single mother Candice Jacobs, 37, raising a child has been a beautiful but hard experience. Although she earns a decent salary, she admits that she worries from month to month about her financial commitments.

Jacobs is one of many South Africans who suffer from financial-related stress because of the rising cost of living and uncertain economic times.

According to Alexander Forbes, in the past five years South Africa has experienced a steady increase in mental health problems because of financial stress.

Myrna Sachs, head of Alexander Forbes Health Management Solutions, said when people have poor mental health, organising and managing finances became trickier, and this in turn created a “sense of fear, anxiety and worry, which affect overall mental health”.

“Financial stress has seen a rise in absenteeism, poor work performance and a lowered concentration span at work and that may have an impact on employees mental health,” she said.

This month, mental health is receiving attention as the world observes World Mental Health Day on October 10.

South Africa has dedicated this month to educating the public about mental health with the aim of reducing the stigma and discrimination around mental illness.

Out of more than 4000 sick leave applications received by one of the group’s clients that has more than 30 000 employees, about 25% were for mental and behavioural disorders. The average time off taken was 18 days.

About 35% of all temporary incapacity leave applications received by the company were for mental and behavioural issues.

“This is a revelation because it shows how unhealthy we are as a society. Poor mental health is costing the economy billions.”

Jacobs, who is solely responsible for every household expenditure, including her daughter’s school fees and rent, admits that sometimes she is at her wits end due to financial problems. Even though she receives maintenance from her daughter’s father, life remain expensive.

“ I have my days where I sit and over-think things and budget excessively knowing that I might be able to afford certain things....sometimes it makes me lose my mind. Even though I’ve never taken leave as a result of financial stress, but there are days where I just want to sit alone and have quiet time,”she says. Professor Crick Lund, director at Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health at UCT, said about 350 million people around the world live with depression.

And most of the world’s depressed individuals live in low and middle-income countries. It is predicted that by the year 2030, depression will be the second leading cause of health disability in the world, after ischaemic heart disease.

Lund said there is currently one psychiatrist for every 2 million people in Africa, and one psychologist for every 2.5 million.

Up to four out of every five people with mental illness in low- and middle-income countries go without mental healthcare treatment.

According to Lund, intervention is critical as living in poverty has particular risk of having mental disorders.

Sachs says companies are now becoming more aware of the impact of financial stress and are making help available to avoid losing money.

“ Employees should not look at wellness days as the only days for spa treatment and pedicures, but should also reach out to get their financial well-being checked,” said Sachs.

When unemployment, divorce, illness or death strikes your family, you may well experience financial difficulties that cause you to fall behind on your monthly bond repayments.

Shaun Rademeyer, chief executive of BetterBond, said the first thing you should do is to contact the lender and not be embarrassed to speak out.

Your lender may allow you to reduce or suspend payments for a short period if you can prove that you are expecting an insurance pay-out, a retrenchment package or divorce settlement that will enable you to catch up with what you owe and put you back on your feet financially.

Your lender may also be prepared to let you make regular payments plus a portion of the outstanding amount each month until you catch up.

Your lender might agree for you to only pay the interest portion of your home loan instalment each month until your financial situation improves. The capital portion will be added back to your loan, which may take longer to pay off.

By extending your loan repayment period from 20 years to 25 or 30 years, for example, your lender could help you to lower the minimum amount you need to pay each month and give you enough leeway to get through your financial crisis.