How money affects health — what you can do to stay in control

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Every time the phone rang, Aime Hutton was afraid to answer it because she was scared of what was coming.

Five years ago, credit card companies were calling her every day, telling her how much money she owed them.

“I was stressed and I was anxious and I do have a form of high-functioning anxiety, so I would get by throughout my day but with that nagging feeling,” Hutton said, recalling the fear she once felt before listening to voicemails.

Hutton, who lives in Calgary, would always pay the minimum amount she needed to get by, but no more. Her credit continued to suffer along with her health.

“That last week of the month and that first week of the month I’d be getting phone calls saying you need to pay us money … I wasn’t sleeping well.”
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Studies show about half of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque, relying on each payday to cover their bills. A survey released in 2016 by the Canadian Payroll Association found that 40 per cent of respondents admitted they spend an amount equal to all, or more, of their net pay every week.

“There are many Canadians who believe they will struggle to cope if they ever missed a single paycheque, they’re living that close to the line,” Canadian Foundation for Economic Education president Gary Rabbior said.

Rabbior said he is seeing a continuous link between people’s financial health and their health and well-being.

“All the things that tend to compound over time to create situations of anxiety and stress, you can bring into a greater sense of control … by talking,” Rabbior said, recommending people open up to their loved ones about what they’re going through for support.

“When you’re so overextended and you need to reset your life, you’re fearful for what people will think, that I’ve got to scale down my house or I can’t afford that car, and often you’ll find that people are totally understanding, they’re living stressful lives themselves.”

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Rabbior said re-establishing a sense of financial control is one of the most important things anyone can do for better financial health.

“That’s often what manifests itself in the mental and anxiety challenges, is a loss of feeling like you can control outcomes in your life,” Rabbior said.

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How financial health can affect mental health

The turning point for Hutton was when she let her family know how much she was struggling with money.

“I finally came clean to my family and I said ‘hey, this is what’s been going on,'” Hutton said. “I have this much money debt going on.”

Hutton’s family was understanding and encouraged her to seek support, telling her, “you got yourself into this mess, you get yourself out of it.”

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A major turning point for Hutton was when a friend connected her with the Credit Counselling Society (CCS), a free, non-profit charity and nationally accredited member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for Canadians.

“The credit counsellor I was working with in the beginning, he had a box of Kleenex on his desk, and I looked at it … and said, ‘I’m not going to cry, I’ll be fine,'” Hutton recalls. “But nope.”

The credit counsellor Hutton worked with encouraged her not to be ashamed that her financial situation was stressing her out, helping her set up a payment plan in August 2014 to get her on a track toward good financial health.

Hutton’s story is one of many, according to CCS’s Director of Education Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy.

“When it comes to finances, this is stuff we don’t talk about in Canada, we don’t teach it well in schools, or at all sometimes… so people don’t know necessarily how to speak of it… and when they’re struggling with it, things get worse,” Olesky said.

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“They start to feel like they’re embarrassed like they’re the only person in the room that might be making financial mistakes and clearly, by our debt levels in Canada, that’s not the case.”

Olesky said the CCS has seen people’s health struggles get worse when their financial health is in a bad place.

“Sometimes because they’re trying to pay off their debts, they’re reducing their medication or not even taking it … we’ve seen that it impacts mental health,” Oleksy said.

A recent survey by CCS asked people to describe how finances affected their lives prior to seeking help:

  • 78 per cent said it impacted their health
  • 87 per cent said they lost sleep over it
  • 65 per cent said they were distracted and it was affecting their work
  • 76 per cent said it was impacting their relationships

“It can start to snowball very quickly, you can just feel completely overwhelmed … that’s where we’re getting the calls, when people are completely overwhelmed,” Olesky said, adding that sometimes in the worst-case scenario, people are suicidal because they think there is no way out.

“They’re not alone … there are a lot of Canadians that have struggled and are struggling with their finances … it’s very easy to feel isolated.”

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Olesky said the CCS helps people by looking at their net income, household expenses and all their other expenses before determining if that person would benefit from a credit counselling appointment in person or over the phone.

“We look at assets and liabilities, and we also look at debts, and with that information, we can offer out to the consumer some options,” Olesky said. “The numbers will dictate the solution.”

Olesky wants people to know that a credit counsellor can look at the numbers for them and share information that can help them come up with questions to ask financial professionals. They can also direct people to free online classes and webinars that help with budgeting and managing a savings account.

“This empowers them to know they’re not alone and there are solutions available,” Olesky added. “The longer we wait as Canadians, the fewer options we have and the worse it feels.”

As of February 2019, Hutton is planning to be “completely living financially healthy.”

When she graduates from the payment program at CCS, Hutton will be given a credit card with a small limit to start rebuilding her credit, which scares her.

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“I had a moment of anxiety because I was thinking, I don’t want to get into the same mess that I did previously,” Hutton said.

She plans to put one small bill that she knows she can pay off on her new credit card, and that’s it for now.

When asked what message she wants to leave with Canadians, Hutton said she wants others to know they can also change the way they think about money and that can make a big difference.

“Breathe, there is help out there for you, all we have to do is ask for the help, and then receive it.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

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