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Depressed or anxious about finances amid inflation and rising rates? You’re not alone

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As rent, mortgage payments, grocery bills and the cost of just about everything else rises, more and more Canadians are feeling the weight — not just on their budgets, but also on their mental well-being.

Canadians are grappling with what a November report from MNP Ltd. called “inflation isolation”: loneliness brought on when avoiding the expense of social events means less time with friends. Two in five are feeling stressed or anxious because of inflation and higher interest rates, the report found.

But financial and mental health experts say it’s crucial to break out of the cycle of shame and avoidance that money struggles can cause and ask for help, whether from friends and families or from professionals.

“The best thing that we can do for ourselves is to treat financial stress in the same way you would treat any other stress,” said Megan Rafuse, a registered social worker and psychotherapist, and CEO and co-founder of online mental health practice Shift Collab.

“Ask for support, talk to people you trust, seek professional help, and don’t shame yourself.”

Often, people feel as though they’re solely to blame for their financial situation, said Rafuse, even if external factors like inflation or the housing crisis are making things more difficult.

“That is the narrative that tends to be placed on us,” she said. “If I work harder, if I control everything, then I will be financially secure. And we know that for many people, that’s just not reality.”

People often try to navigate financial difficulties alone, said Chantel Chapman, CEO and co-founder of the Trauma of Money, a certification program on trauma-sensitive approaches to finance.

They may avoid taking action, or spend more moneyon something to make them feel temporarily better, creating a destructive cycle, she said. But it’s important to know that if you’re struggling with money and feeling shame about it, you’re not alone.

One in three Canadians feel shame about their financial situation, according to a study released Dec. 7 by Coast Capital.

Financial struggles can perpetuate mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, Rafuse said. In turn, those challenges can affect a person’s financial situation, such as their spending habits, budgeting, or ability to maintain a steady job.

It can be difficult to figure out where to start when you’re trying to address financial problems, said Desjardins Group financial planner Angela Iermieri: “What do I cut? What expenses should I let go of? What debts should I pay first?”

Rafuse recommends starting with small, short-term changes that can help you to feel more in control.That might look like unfollowing social media accounts that perpetuate unhealthy comparisons, or meal-prepping over the weekend to avoid ordering takeout during the week.

She also recommends keeping a discretionary spending fund, however small.

“Don’t forget to include some self-care in your budget, because that really goes a long way in making your budget feel sustainable.”

People often put off finding help, because they’re worried about judgment or think their situation isn’t bad enough to warrant professional help, said Iermieri. But getting good advice early on can make a big difference and stave off bigger problems in the future, she said.

“A lot of people don’t take action, because they don’t have the knowledge, and they don’t have the confidence,” she said.

An October survey for Edward Jones Canada found that though only a third of Canadians work with a financial adviser, those who work with one are less likely to feel overwhelmed about financial decisions and are less concerned about things like debt or saving for a home.

Advisers at financial institutions generally don’t charge fees, said Iermieri, making them a free source of advice and information.

But Chapman said it may not be easy to find a financial expert you trust or feel comfortable speaking with. She recommends meeting with several experts before putting your trust in one, which can also help you feel more like you’re in control.

When it comes to mental health resources, Rafuse said there are options out there for free or low-cost support, if you know where to look.

These include self-directed therapy programs, volunteer walk-in clinics or clinics with student interns, sliding-scale payments for therapy, and agencies with programs for specific communities.

For example, the Canadian Mental Health Association has a free program called BounceBack, which helps adults and youth aged 15 and up learn skills to manage concerns such as depression, anxiety and stress.

As for financial help, Rafuse said you should start by asking people you trust, such as family and friends, if they have any recommendations, either for an adviser or for other resources.

There are free programs, workshops and tools available online, through financial institutions, universities, non-profits, the government or even through community organizations like the YMCA, Iermieri said.

You can also find free resources like podcasts or library books that can help you to build your financial literacy, Rafuse said.

“Spend some time building your personal finance literacy, because it gives you the language to know what you need, and to know what you’re looking for.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2023.

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The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press is Canada’s independent national news agency that informs Canadians, providing depth, breadth and perspective with regional, national and international news 24/7/365.

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