The escalating economic challenges and deteriorating household finances in South Africa are not just impacting bank balances but are also causing a silent mental health crisis, according to a recent report.
The second annual Money Stress Tracker, released in July 2023, surveyed over 35,000 subscribers of the debt counselling company, DebtBusters.
The findings are alarming: three out of four South Africans are experiencing money-related stress, marking a 12 percent increase from the previous year.
Women, in particular, are feeling the brunt of financial stress, affecting their personal and professional lives and overall health.
Furthermore, while lower-income earners are the most stressed, those with higher incomes are not immune, as many are drowning in unsustainable debt.
Diane Salters, a renowned psychotherapist and transactional analyst, highlighted the psychological impact of these financial woes.
Individuals facing severe debt threats often grapple with feelings of shame and fear, leading to impaired decision-making and triggering fight, flight, or freeze responses.
The economic implications of untreated mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, are staggering. Investec Focus Radio SA estimates that these conditions cost the South African economy a whopping R161 billion annually.
Shafeeka Anthony, Marketing Manager of JustMoney.co.za, emphasised the gravity of the situation.
“Money worries can lead to severe mental health issues, even driving some to contemplate suicide,” she said.
“It's crucial to understand the deep connection between financial stability and mental health, especially in these challenging economic times.”
The report also highlighted key symptoms of poor mental health due to financial stress:
Stress and Anxiety: Chronic financial concerns can lead to severe mental health disorders, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and addiction.
Depression: Those facing financial hardships are at a significantly higher risk of depression, often feeling trapped in a cycle of despair.
Relationship Strain: Money disputes are a leading cause of relationship breakdowns, adding to emotional distress.
Physical Disease: Financial stress can also have physical repercussions, including high blood pressure, heart issues, and a weakened immune system.
However, Anthony believes there's hope.
By acknowledging the mental health implications of economic hardships, society can work towards breaking the stigma and fostering resilience.
She suggests several steps to mitigate money and mental health struggles, including assessing one's financial situation, improving financial literacy, budgeting, managing debt, increasing income, mindful spending, practising self-care, seeking professional advice, and tapping into work wellness programmes.
“Improving one's financial situation is a journey. Celebrate small wins and seek support when needed,” Anthony advised.
“Addressing financial challenges is not just about monetary security but also about ensuring mental wellbeing. A stable financial foundation can significantly reduce stress, allowing individuals to focus on life's true priorities.”