As a society we have become comfortable discussing just about any topic – sex, religion, politics, health, marriage, fertility, parenting, the list goes on. However, two topics still remain deeply intimate and largely taboo. The first topic is money. And the second is mental health. Given that money has been found to be the leading cause of stress in Australia, it is important for all of us to acknowledge the interlinked relationship between our financial and mental health, and to start by openly sharing our own experiences.
As someone who suffered from clinical depression for several years in my late 20s, I know firsthand how tough and isolating mental illness can be. But the fact is that poor mental health is more common than we think.
In fact, life insurance company TAL reported that in 2020 mental health conditions were the second most common reason for making an insurance claim (the first was cancer). Furthermore, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 45% of all Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.
So in the spirit of openness, here are the steps that helped me on my road to recovery, and I hope that they will help you too.
Step #1 Speak up
Between worrying about being a burden or letting down those who count on you and dealing with the stigma surrounding mental health, it can be extremely difficult to open up about how you are feeling, but it is absolutely essential that you do. Whether this means negotiating flexible work arrangements or deadlines at work or letting your friends and family know that you are not OK, having the right support around you is key to improving your mental health.
Doing this isn’t always easy. Not everyone knows how to respond or the right thing to say. So if you find yourself surrounded by people who are lacking in ability to respond adequately (I recall someone telling me they didn’t understand how I found the time to feel depressed), then do not hesitate to reach out for professional support. These people are well trained, understanding, compassionate and can help to make the load feel that little bit lighter:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
1800 Respect 1800 737 732
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Step #2 Give yourself permission to slow down
The next step on my journey was to give myself permission to take a break. I found this particularly hard, especially since I was a self-declared workaholic living in a corporate culture that frowned upon sick days. I quickly learned, however, that it was important that I approach myself with the same level of understanding and compassion that I would afford to someone else.
Try to take some time to reflect and ask yourself – if money were no concern, how much would I want to be working right now? If you wish to continue working, consider whether your current workplace is the right setting to support your recovery.
Step #3 Name your money fears
When our health takes a hit, with it often come added medical bills. If we add to this the thought of reducing our working hours or taking a lower paid job, chances are your financial stress levels will start to rise. I know mine did.
While the temptation is there to bury your head in the sand and try not to think about it, this is likely to only make your financial anxiety worse. Instead, try to tackle your fears head on. As a starting point, putting your bills on a direct debit payment plan can mean you don’t have to worry every time you get a bill in the mail, and speaking with a financial counsellor (it’s a free service) can help you to prepare a budget and feel more in control of your finances.
Step #4 Review your insurance policies
If you don’t already suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety, now is the time to review what cover you currently have in place to make sure it’s adequate or consider taking out an income protection policy if you don’t already have one.
If you are already experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, and don’t already have income protection insurance, talk to your employer and super fund. You may find that you actually do have some form of income protection/salary continuance cover in place. If this is the case, and especially if the cover commenced before you fell ill, be careful not to close this super account, so that you don’t lose the valuable insurance.
Because life insurance is a notoriously complex area and not all insurance policies are the same, I strongly recommend you seek professional advice in this regard.
Step #5 Make a claim
Depending on the severity of your depression or anxiety, it may be necessary to take some time off work to take care of yourself and recover.
Before making an insurance claim be sure to talk to your doctor about taking time off work and let them know you intend to make an insurance claim. Next, talk to your super fund or the insurance company so you have a good understanding of the claim process and what the terms are of your cover.
It is important to know:
- Waiting Period: how long do you have to be off work before you can make a claim?
- Benefit period: What is the maximum time you can be on claim for?
- Additional terms:
- Partial Disability – Will your insurance compensate you for loss of income if you have to reduce your work hours? (eg if you drop from full time to part time hours)
- What is the maximum number of hours you are allowed to work without affecting your claim?
- Do you have to use up your sick leave before your claim can start?
Managing your finances can easily feel overwhelming, especially when you’re already not feeling your best. Try not to put it off for this reason and instead reach out for support. Your spouse or a friend, super fund, HR department, financial counsellor and insurance company are all sources of support to help you along the way.