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If you’ve ever experienced a mental health crisis, you know that it’s not just hard on you – it’s hard on your financials too. You might miss work. Rent may go unpaid because of time in the hospital. Worst of all, whether you’re insured or not, treatment can cost and arm and a leg.
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.
The Financial Cost of Not Having Access to Mental Health Services
Not seeking help leads to even more money issues: lost jobs, lost wages from missing work, legal fees from run-ins with the law. You can also add in bills from treatment, charges from recurrent ER visits (where most people without insurance go in a crisis), 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.
Of the 43.8 BILLION (1 in 5) Americans who have mental health issues – a whopping 60% don’t seek treatment. A lot of that has to do with financial issues.
And then there’s the issue of Mental Health Parity, which we discuss in detail in the post below. For this article all you need to know is that health systems can pretty much charge whatever they want for mental health care services. And insurance companies can deny mental health claims very, very easily. This makes those services inaccessible even for those who have insurance.
Why Is It So Important To Talk About The Cost of Mental Healthcare?
Because it’s pretty ludicrous that people have to worry about this issue in one of the most developed nations on earth. I shouldn’t need to write this article at all. 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 lets look at some ways to balance your finances during a mental health crisis.
10 Ways to Balance Your Finances During a Mental Health Crisis
Many of us with mental health issues already struggle enough already. Having your finances in order can take one less stress off you. Especially when you feel like nothing is going right.
So what does that look like? Can you really balance your finances during a mental health crisis? Let’s find out starting with step 1!
The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): Pre-planning helps balance your finances during a mental health crisis. With planning, you can determine who’s going to pay your bills in your absence. It can also save 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. Here are several ways having a PLAN can help you balance finances during a mental health crisis.
Get some PADding
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.
The Family Medical Leave Act Can Save Your Financial Skin
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.
Short Term Disability Insurance Can Help Balance Finances During a Mental Health Crisis
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 a trustworthy person (or people) 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: Saving is hard, but not out of reach even while you’re trying to balance your finances during a mental health crisis. There are many 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.
Reality is: sometimes mental illness 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 not someone else just FYI). 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.
Joint Savings Accounts Can Help You Balance Finances During a Mental Health Crisis
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.
Saving is Possible!
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. Personally I use the Albert App and I’ve saved over $3,000 this year just by getting microsavings taken out of my account every day. Wow!
4. Don’t Follow the Cult of #Motivation
The BLUF: Be selective about where you get your financial advice from. Since a lot of advice is geared towards a neurotypical audience it may not be helpful for you. 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. They advise 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. Truth is, 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.
5. Take Balancing Finances During a Mental Health Crisis One Step at a Time
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 and high reward 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 so 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.
Baby Step One: Do Some Online Research
A more realistic way to start taking a hold of your finances can be as simple as researching online. Or you can download 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 on the next tip (Don’t Be Afraid of Debt).
Baby Step Two: Join a Support Group
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.
Baby Step Three: Connect With a Financial Counselor
If you’re really struggling financially and don’t know what to do, it might be time to reach out to a financial counselor or counseling service. Not only can they help you financially but they can also take a lot of stress off because of their knowledge and expertise.
There are many free debt-help services. In fact most are non-profit based. However, beware. There are many predatory entities out there looking to capitalize off your problems (yuck!). I suggest following the Federal Trade Commission’s Guide on how to select a credit counselor.
Not sure where to start? A great point to begin is with the two websites listed below. Their agents will connect you to local credit counselors respectfully, discreetly, and quickly. Plus both of their sites are really easy to navigate! Check em out!
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 debt (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 typical advice, but hold on with me here. Debt is exactly like a bogart – it only paralyzes you if you believe in it’s power.
So don’t. You can do this.
How Credit Karma Can Make You Braver in The Face of Debt
The first step is just to look at your debt. Because you can’t move forward if you don’t know where you are financially. I know this to be personally true because in my mid 20’s my credit was in the dumps. Like it was terrible.
That’s when I summed up the courage to log onto Credit Karma and look at my debt. I tell you it was the best financial decision I ever made. My credit score is well over 700 now just a few short years later. That’s because Credit Karma doesn’t just show you your score, it helps you fix it – for free.
I think the best thing about the site was that it gave me perspective by turning debt reduction into a game. This made me feel more capable and courageous even though I had a ton of debt. I still have debt now but because of Credit Karma’s guidance, I’m not afraid anymore.
So if you haven’t check it out yet, get on it! It could just change your life and your mental health for the better!
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. 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.
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.
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. Going on FMLA and short term disability for a while is an option. 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. Financially Educate Yourself
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 as you balance finances during a mental health crisis.
I once talked to someone who didn’t know they could rollover their 401K to a personal account after leaving a job. This left them missing a huge chunk of money that was rightfully theirs for many years.
The other day I ran into someone who thought FMLA was something provided by their company, like a benefit. (It’s not, it’s a Federal Act available to all peoples working in companies of 50 or more people).
What You Don’t Know Might Hurt Your Finances During a Mental Health Crisis
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 – what you don’t know can make balancing finances during a mental health crisis almost impossible.
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 on the road to financial independence. 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. We also have multiple streams of passive income from investments to side hustles like dog sitting, lawn mowing, Lyft driving and bartending.
Basically, financial independence for us means we can still pay our bills if one of us becomes incapacitated. 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.
One more thing – it’s a lot easier to get financially independent than the world makes it seem. It really just requires you to live a little below your means, which isn’t that bad, actually. We still live as comfortably as anyone else, just without all the frills.
Balancing your finances during a mental health crisis 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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