Talk Money Week: Why do we hate talking about money and mental health?
Almost half of all adults are hiding more than £4,000 of debt from their family and friends, new research from the Money Advice Service has shown.
The study, released as part of Talk Money Week, a financial education campaign running this week, suggests the total hidden debt for UK adults could be as much as £96 billion.
Other studies have shown most of us are not willing to talk about mental health and only a small proportion are comfortable talking about debt, despite both being common issues in our society. So why is it that we are so uncomfortable talking about these things?
Common issues, less common conversations
Household debt in the UK has reached £25 billion, more than any time on record, the Office for National Statistics revealed earlier this year.
British households spent around £900 more on average than they received in 2017, the ONS found.
When levels of household debt are higher than ever before, it seems strange to me that almost half of us are keeping debts secret.
Our willingness to discuss mental health is in a similar predicament. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime and one in three work sickness notes handed out by GPs are now for mental health, according to mental health charity Mind.
Yet is still the case that people with mental illness will often deny they are ill or be unwilling to talk about it.
Why aren’t we willing to talk about these things?
There is a stigma in society around mental health and our money. The fact that both are seen as “taboo” subjects (sounds old-fashioned but it’s true) makes us too embarrassed to bring up money or mental health in conversation.
Caroline Siarkiewicz, head of debt advice at the Money Advice Service, was quoted in a piece on Moneywise.co.uk on the topic of secret debts. She said: ‘Sometimes it can be easier to pretend everything is alright and avoid opening up about our debt problems to escape the tough conversations.
“Not because we want to cause harm, but because we want to shelter those closest to us from our problems or are concerned about being judged. However, this rarely solves the issue. In fact, it often makes things worse.”
What are the links between money and mental health?
There is a “toxic link” between money and mental health problems, Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert and the Money and Mental Health Institute, has argued.
The more debt people have, the more likely they are to experience a problem with their mental health.
But it works both ways. More than 90% of us spend more than usual in periods of poor mental health, the charity has found. Overspending to make ourselves feel better can lead to a destructive cycle of poor mental and financial health.
How would talking about it help?
With both mental and financial health, there are believed to be less people asking for help than there are people struggling.
In fact, only 17% of those who are in debt – of which there are 8 million in the UK – seek advice, but without seeking advice they are less likely to be able to dig themselves out of the problem.
Talking about money can be better for our health, our wealth and relationships. Talking can reduce anxiety, help us find useful resources or improve our knowledge. It might even change our habits for the better and prevent problems arising.
Research shows people who talk openly about money make better and less risky financial decisions, have stronger personal relationships, help their children form good lifetime money habits and feel less stressed or anxious and more in control.
What is Talk Money Week?
Talk Money Week (12-18 November 2018), previously called Financial Capability Week, is a campaign to get more people talking about money and celebrate the organisations doing work in this area.
Whether it’s within families, between friends and colleagues, financial services companies and their customers, or teachers and students, Talk Money Week is about improving our money management skills and financial wellbeing.
The first step is breaking the taboos. Take a look at Talk Money Week 2018’s tips here if you want to help make talking about money as natural and familiar as talking about the weather.