Photo: Canadian Press
As rents, mortgage payments, grocery bills and the cost of just about everything else rise, more and more Canadians are feeling the strain – not just on their budgets, but also on their mental well-being.
Canadians are facing what a November report from MNP Ltd. called “isolation inflation”: Loneliness caused by avoiding spending on social events means less time with friends. Two in five are stressed or anxious because of inflation and higher interest rates, the report found.
But financial and mental health experts say it's crucial to break the cycle of shame and avoidance that financial struggles can cause and ask for help, whether from friends and family or professionals.
“The best thing we can do for ourselves is treat financial stress the same way we would treat any other stress,” said Megan Rafuse, a registered social worker and psychotherapist, as well as CEO and co-founder of the online mental health practice Shift. Collaboration.
“Ask for support, talk to people you trust, seek professional help and don’t be embarrassed.”
People often feel like they're the only ones to blame for their financial situation, Rafuse said, even if external factors like inflation or the housing crisis are making things more difficult.
“That’s the narrative that tends to be put on us,” she said. “If I work more, if I control everything, I will be financially secure. And we know that for many people, this is simply not reality.”
People often try to navigate financial difficulties alone, said Chantel Chapman, CEO and co-founder of Trauma of Money, a certificate program in trauma-sensitive financial approaches.
They may avoid taking action or spend more money on something that makes them feel temporarily better, creating a destructive cycle, she said. But it's important to know that if you're struggling with money and feeling ashamed about it, you're not alone.
One in three Canadians feels ashamed about their financial situation, according to a study released Dec. 7 by Coast Capital.
Financial hardships can perpetuate mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, Rafuse said. In turn, these challenges can affect a person's financial situation, such as their spending habits, budget, or ability to hold down a steady job.
It can be difficult to figure out where to start when you're trying to solve financial problems, said Angela Iermieri, financial planner at Desjardins Group: “What should I cut? What expenses should I give up? What debts should I pay first?”
Rafuse recommends starting with small, short-term changes that can help you feel more in control. This might look like unfollowing social media accounts that perpetuate unhealthy comparisons or preparing meals on the weekend to avoid ordering takeout during the week.
She also recommends keeping a discretionary spending fund, no matter how small.
“Don't forget to include some self-care in your budget because it really goes a long way toward making your budget sustainable.”
People often put off seeking help because they're worried about judgment or because they think their situation isn't bad enough to warrant professional help, Iermieri said. But getting good advice early on can make a big difference and prevent bigger problems in the future, she said.
“Many people don’t take action because they don’t have knowledge and they don’t have confidence,” she said.
An October survey by Edward Jones Canada found that although only a third of Canadians work with a financial advisor, those who work with one are less likely to feel overwhelmed by financial decisions and are less concerned about things like debt or saving for buy a house.
Advisors at financial institutions generally do not charge fees, Iermieri said, making them a free source of advice and information.
But Chapman said it may not be easy to find a financial expert you trust or feel comfortable talking to. She recommends consulting with several experts before trusting one, which can also help you feel more in control.
When it comes to mental health resources, Rafuse said there are free or low-cost support options if you know where to look.
These include self-directed therapy programs, volunteer clinics or clinics with student interns, tiered payments for therapy, and agencies with programs for specific communities.
For example, the Canadian Mental Health Association has a free program called BounceBack that helps adults and youth ages 15 and older learn skills to deal with concerns like depression, anxiety and stress.
As for financial help, Rafuse said to start by asking people you trust, like family and friends, if they have any recommendations, whether for a counselor or other resources.
There are free programs, workshops and tools available online, through financial institutions, universities, nonprofits, the government or even through community organizations like the YMCA, Iermieri said.
You can also find free resources, like podcasts or library books, that can help you develop your financial literacy, Rafuse said.
“Spend time developing your personal finance literacy because it will give you the language to know what you need and what you are looking for.”