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So we’ve all seen it, the money advice allllll over the internet.
Here’s the problem though – most of the advice out there is geared toward a fairly neurotypical audience. There’s not a lot out there for people struggling with MH issues, and even less for those who are experiencing a crisis.
And we all know properly maintaining your mental health can be intensely expensive from hospital stays, to missing work, to doctor’s appointments and insurance deductibles.
An average inpatient stay for a serious mental illness can be anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000. That’s just one extended stay. As many of us know, most folks with serious MH issues often require multiple stays
A report done by the a department of the National Institutes for Health (NIH), found that actual bill charges for mental health hospitalizations were 2.5 X HIGHER than hospitals were actually reporting for care.
So the bills can rack up…fast…
…and that’s if you actually chose to get treatment.
It can be way worse if you don’t.
Not seeking help leads to even more money issues: lost jobs, lost wages from missing work, legal fees from run ins with the law, plus bills from forced hospitalizations, charges from constant ER visits (where most people without insurance go in a crisis), homelessness and the list goes on.
According to HealthSystemTracker.org, 25% of Americans with Mental Illness stated they avoided reaching out for care because they either couldn’t afford it or their insurance didn’t cover it.
So it’s basically damned if you do and damned if you don’t right?
The long and short of it is I shouldn’t need to write this article at all. The system so so soooooo woefully broken. Mental Health needs to be prioritized in our society and made affordable and accessible to all.
But that’s a different article for a different day.
I’m here to give you hope and tools, not bring down the system (okay I’m always trying to do that but that’s besides the point).
So here we go!
One of the best things you can do for yourself in a crisis to stay financially healthy
So many of us out there struggle enough already – having your finances in order can take one less stress off you when you feel like nothing is going right.
So without further ado: here’s my top ten tips to stay financially afloat before, after and during a mental health crisis!
The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): Pre-planning helps with everything from who’s going to pay your bills in your absence to saving your job and/or lost wages while you are hospitalized or incapacitated due to mental illness.
I cannot stress this enough, which is why pre-planning is number one on this list.
If you’ve read this blog, you may know I always harp on having a Psychiatric Advanced Directive in place so your care team (doctors, family, support people) are all on one page.
This document can literally save your life (check out more about the PAD and get your own here) . But it can also save your finances when you have an unexpected hospital stay.
You can use the PAD to direct what happens with your finances during and after hospitalization, i.e. it tells your support team where to find the checkbook to pay rent.
It can direct a doctor to send a note to your work stating you will be out on medical leave for a while.
You can also assign someone you trust power of attorney over you and your money with this document if you feel out of control i.e during a manic episode.
And the PAD is not the only thing that can save your financial skin! Knowing and exercising your Federal and State Family Medical Leave Act rights can save your job. You can check out this article on FMLA for more detail but the basic premise is that it preserves your job in the event of a medical or psychological emergency and allows you up to 12 weeks/year off without losing your position.
It’s also super important to know (ahead of time) your company’s policy on paid medical leave, disability leave, and where they fall under the federal FMLA. This information should be found in your employee handbook.
You can also look into setting up short-term disability insurance if you need to have an extended time out of work. Many companies, like Aflac, provide this service pretty readily to mental health patients at a decent cost and can keep you paid while seeking further treatment.
If you don’t have insurance, having Medicaid set up through an insurance broker is also a great pre-planning step.
If you do have insurance, make sure you know what your policy covers and what it doesn’t – for instance mine covered preventative therapy 100% but hospitalizations required a $400 co-pay.
2. Get Support
The BLUF: As part of financial pre-planning, it’s important to identify your support team. These are going to be trustworthy people (or person) who will carry out your financial wishes while you’re incapacitated.
Whew, I know that was a lot to drop on you at once. Sorry!
Good news is – you don’t have to do this alone. Identifying a trusted support person or team can help you stay financially stable during a crisis.
These people can be family, friends, or even a guardian ad litem or a social worker – anyone who you feel you can trust with your money.
Your designated support person can direct your finances during and after crisis and can also help you pre-plan, visit a lawyer with you, and fill out paperwork in your stead.
3. Save. Save. Save.
The BLUF: Savings is hard, but not out of reach even for those of us struggling with mental health. Below, I list some unique strategies for building up a financial cushion, even if you don’t have a lot of cash.
Okay, this would be a “no duh” if not for mental illness.
The cold hard fact is, sometimes it messes with our ability to make good decisions, especially financial ones.
That’s why it’s super important to have a financial cushion underneath you that YOU CAN’T TOUCH.
Many banks have what are known as restricted bank accounts. These are accounts with limits on withdrawals set by either the bank (in the case of estate and probate) or by the customer themselves.
We’re talking about those accounts limited by us, the customer. If you fear your money going out the window the next time you have a manic episode this would be an excellent option for you.
It’s not impossible to get the money out but it is really, really hard making it such a hassle you probably won’t want to mess with it.
Another great strategy is having a joint savings account that alerts the other account owner, usually your support person, whenever money is taken out.
Having a joint account is also really helpful if you become incapacitated because your support person, spouse, or partner can access the money in your absence to pay bills etc. so they’re not up the creek.
In regards to actually saving. I know it’s hard. I know it sucks.
But it can be done, even if you’re just saving a just little bit each month. The dollars add up against you, so why wouldn’t they also add up for you?
Even if you don’t make a lot, you can always, always save. I promise.
To get yourself started you can try something like the 30 Day Savings Challenge or Open Up a Microsavings Account. Both options are ideal for those who don’t have a lot of initial cash and can be easily done through apps on your phone.
4. Don’t Follow the Cult of #Motivation
The BLUF: Be selective about where you get your financial advice from since a lot of it is geared towards a neurotypical audience. When you’re struggling through a mental health crisis, it’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself or else you risk more stress.
You’ve seen them.
Those videos about pulling yourself up by your financial bootstraps and #hustling to gain some kind of financial independence, advising you to work so hard you never sleep or take time for yourself.
Please don’t do that.
At best these kind of posts are annoying and at worst they’re downright toxic to people with mental illness.
Even their more benign cousins, well intentioned financial listicles, give advice that’s not really realistic for someone to follow during a MH crisis and can even set a lot of us up to fail due to exaggerated expectations.
Like it’s going to be really hard for someone with severe depression to even get out of bed let alone set up a Roth IRA for themselves or to hold down two or three side hustles.
But you don’t have to do all that to be financially stable – at least not yet.
Don’t fall for the trap that you need to be a millionaire by 25 when you’re out there just trying to literally survive.
If you want more down to earth financial information that’s tailored to your experience, I suggest checking out The Mighty where you can get financial advice from peers going through the same issues. Reddit also has an incredible community specifically talking about issues surrounding poverty and mental illness.
Bottom line is, be careful to set your financial expectations properly and be mindful of the kind of content you’re consuming. It could save you a lot of stress and heartache.
The BLUF: It’s important to take things in manageable chunks. As someone dealing with a MH crisis, you’ve only got so much energy in a day so keep actions as low energy as possible. Joining a support group and using technology to leverage your limited energy and find support are the keys to success here.
Speaking of keeping things realistic…
Sometimes we get ourselves in the hole, like a deep dark where everything is hopeless, especially our finances. I know, I’ve soooo been there. It seems impossible to get out but I did and so can you.
You just have to take things step by step, even if you have to start with baby steps.
A more realistic way to start taking a hold of your finances can be as simple as researching online, or downloading an app that automatically tracks your expenses like Mint or Albert. And if all of that is too difficult just taking the simple step to go onto Credit Karma and see where you’re at financially.
And if even that seems overwhelming because seeing how much debt you’re in makes you want to puke, that’s okay. We’ll talk about that in a minute.
Another great first baby step is to join a peer support group like the Depression and Bi-Polar Alliance (DBSA) which isn’t a financial group specifically but is full of people going through pretty much the same thing you are just in varying stages.
Dollars to donuts (pun intended) there’s someone in that group that’s been exactly where you are and is willing to share all the tools and tricks that helped them out with you. Alls you have to do is show up and tell your story.
Support groups are where I learned about prescription savings sites like GoodRx along with awesome info about where to find free and low-cost mental healthcare in my community.
These things and more are excellent, low energy cost first steps to getting your finances under control.
6. Don’t Be Afraid of Debt
The BLUF: The first and sometimes most difficult step of getting financially healthy is working up the courage to look at the problem. Courage, small steps and support from family and even non-profit organizations can help you look debt in the face and start to mend your finances.
Alright, let’s talk about the big scary elephant in the room: Debt.
It can be super frightening to be staring down a negative $50,000 net worth, which is my present situation due to student loans. Add in consumer (i.e.credit card debt), car loans, personal loans and housing costs you can see how easy it is to get in the hole and never get out.
But, never fear, my friends. Debt, the financial boogeyman of our modern age, can be defeated! With a lot of patience, hard work, and most of all…
That’s right, the real key to slaying debt is to be afraid but forge on anyway.
Look, I know this seems like more of your neurotypical advice, but hold on with me here. Debt’s exactly like a bogart – it only paralyzes you if you believe in it’s power.
So don’t. You can do this.
First step is look at your debt. Set a goal for yourself to be able to go on Credit Karma and view how much your net worth is.
It might not be as bad as you think and you can get a huge sense of relief.
On the other hand it might be just as bad or worse, but at least you have a better understanding of what you’re up against.
Not convinced? Think of it this way: it’s just like when you received a diagnoses on your mental health condition. Since getting my diagnosis of OCD, I’ve been able to fight this thing like nobody’s business and my life has improved ten fold.
It’s exactly the same with debt – once you diagnose the problem you can start to attack it and make a treatment plan just like you do for yourself to stay mentally healthy.
So the first and sometimes most difficult step is working up to the courage to look at the problem (which can take time, that’s perfectly okay). You can always get support from your family and friends to get you there.
And they’re not the only ones who can help you!
One of my favorite organizations is the NFCC (National Foundation for Credit Counseling), a nationwide non-profit which pairs people with a dedicated credit counseling team to help you mend your finances.
The NFCC provides free counseling, debt management plans, and will even help you consolidate and refinance loans. They are definitely worth the click through so what are you waiting for!!!
7. Don’t Make Money Decisions During a Crisis
The BLUF: Making financial decisions when you’re not mentally stable is a bad idea. Stress leads to bad decisions, bad decisions lead to more stress and the cycle perpetuates itself. Having strict criteria for yourself and pre-planning go a long way to keeping you from making a decision you’ll regret later.
Don’t make decisions, especially financial decisions, when you’re not stable.
Just. Don’t. Do it.
Don’t sign up for a new credit card. Don’t take out that personal loan. DO NOT GO BACK TO SCHOOL ON ANOTHER STUDENT LOAN. Don’t quit your job without having another one lined up or having a financial backup in place.
Do not do anything big money-wise until you’re A.) Mentally stable and B.) Financially stable.
I have a standing rule that I must be both A and B when making a big financial decision. It’s good to have some strict criteria for yourself as a check and balance- even going as far as to write them up on place them somewhere you can see them. Talk to your loved ones about reminding you of your criteria when you’re making decisions during a crisis.
It’s so, so important y’all.
Why? Because even when we’re stable we don’t always make the right money moves, but when we’re stressed to the max just trying to survive, we’re way way more prone to making really bad decisions.
Don’t believe me? Maybe this amazing article by the Atlantic will convince you.
Basically, my advice is to steadily pay down debts first and foremost. But also, avoid things like parking tickets and late fees like the plague (in an unjust system, those small things add up fast to keep you down). Don’t take out that pay-day loan as much as you think it will help in the moment – it won’t. Those things are traps with super high interest designed to set you up for failure.
And as always. Pre-plan if you can, it’ll go a long way.
For more info on this subject – I suggest listening to the Financial Guru herself, Suze Orman who can explain it all way better and more stylishly than I can.
8. Cut the Stress
The BLUF: Making your mental health a priority can actually save you a lot of money, believe it or not. Lowering your stress and practicing effective self-care are key to mental and financial stability.
This one’s easier said than done and is an awesome cliche we like to sling at people who are clearly very stressed.
But, as a cliches go, it’s a pretty good one. Especially when you apply it to finances. As I mentioned above, it’s not easy to make a good decision under duress and who’s under more duress than someone with a severe mental illness??
So, in order to stay financially stable, you have to make your mental health a priority.
How? By practicing good, effective self care.
Regularly taking your meds, keeping therapy appointments, and taking time to rest yourself (mind and body) are examples of really good, and really effective, self-care that can keep you financial fit.
You can also practice a creative outlet which, with enough practice, can be monetized at some point (no pressure tho – do it cause you love it first and foremost).
Leaving unbearable work situations can be super helpful to cut the stress but not always helpful financially. There’s always ways around this though – you can transfer within the company to a position that suits you better, you can go on FMLA and short term disability, or you can find a new job that’s less stressful.
For myself, I had a lifetime skill of waitressing to fall back on when I just couldn’t hack it in the corporate world one minute longer. It felt like a huge step back at first, but it was actually a move that made me more money and waaaaay less stressed in the long run.
Self-care isn’t always candles and bath bombs – it’s more about making decisions that favor your long term happiness. Stress can be cut in half just by looking at a situation and saying, “will this make me happy in 5 years?” If the answer is no (and you’re A. mentally stable and B. financially stable) then it’s time to move on.
9. Educate Yo Self
The BLUF: Knowledge is power. Understanding the rules around your money, your benefits, your bank accounts and your constitutional rights can save you big time not only in dollars, but in reduced stress and better mental health as well.
Similar to pre-planning, educating yourself about money can save you a lot of trouble in the long run when dealing with finances and mental health issues.
I once talked to someone who didn’t know it was a terrible idea to take out of a 401K until after retirement. That same person also thought the company he had previously worked for owned the 401k and he wasn’t entitled to take the money he had put in and place it in a personal retirement account at no penalty.
The other day I ran into someone who thought FMLA was something provided by their company, like a benefit (it’s a Federal Act available to all peoples working in companies of 50 or more people).
These money mistakes are actually really, really common. Sometimes you just don’t know what you just don’t know but the problem with that is – it limits you if you have mental health struggles.
Not knowing your rights or what’s going on with your money can add a ton more stress onto you in the form of costly mistakes. Lack of knowledge can lead you to feel stuck and hopeless in a situation, adding to your condition.
A good way to combat this is through online research, asking questions about your benefits at work, and keeping yourself informed of any policy changes at your bank/workplace/governmental organizations.
10. Work Towards Financial Independence
The BLUF: Financial independence is not having a lot of money, it’s managing your money correctly so that in case of an emergency you can still pay your bills and preserve your mental health at the same time.
I’m proud to say my husband and I are financially independent.
I know what you’re thinking – didn’t this girl just say she had a -$50,000 net worth?? What gives?
Okay, so let me explain:
My husband and I don’t have more money than anyone else our age but it’s the way we manage and spend it (or don’t) that makes the difference.
We’re financially independent.
What that means is if one or both of us were to lose our jobs, we’d be fine. We’ve got a back up fund, we track our expenses, and we try to spend less than we make each month.
Adding to that we both have trade skills that are in high demand and bring in good money, no matter where or how much we work, and we have multiple streams of passive income, as well as fairly easy to manage side hustles like dog sitting, lawn mowing, and Lyft driving.
Basically we can still pay our bills if one of us becomes incapacitated and this is incredibly important to us because we both struggle with severe mental health issues. One or both of us could go downhill at a moment’s notice, we never know day to day.
So, out of necessity, we’ve had to be prepared. But it’s not all doom and gloom – becoming financially independent has taken a ton of stress off of us, especially in our first year of marriage.
I’m able to work a part time job, the flexibility of which helps me manage my anxiety, make a pretty decent amount of money by working at night, and still run our household during the day. It’s truly a gift.
And you can have this gift too.
It might seem hard at first but educating yourself, taking things step by step, keeping realistic expectations, and prioritizing your mental health will lead you down the path of mental wealth in no time.
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