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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

More attention needed to link between financial woes and mental health

Those with mental health issues are particularly vulnerable when it comes to spending

Those that suffer from mental illness are particularly vulnerable to mismanaging money. Getty Images
Those that suffer from mental illness are particularly vulnerable to mismanaging money. Getty Images

A time to be happy, a time to be sad. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.

This time of year is always filled with a mix of feelings, both positive and negative, which can be challenging for the mental health of even the most emotionally robust among us.

At a time when our feelings and emotions can spill over, so too can our spending. We’re sold the idea of partying, gifting, and being surrounded by people in the holiday season; but many people simply can’t afford it, are far from family and friends, and have a difficult time getting into the holiday spirit, for whatever reason. You can’t spend your way to happiness, or, in many cases, even just the ability to feel okay.

Mental health was identified in 2014 as one of the top five crucial health issues in the UAE, alongside obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. Mental health is never far away from the headlines, and rightly so. However, there needs to be more discussion about how mental health issues and money concerns are frequently intertwined.

Poor mental health can make managing money more difficult for people, while we all know that worrying about money makes our mental health worse. The result is a debilitating Catch 22 situation. Crisis becomes the operative word.

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The case of David Oliver, a former lecturer at the American University of Dubai, is a particularly sad one. Mr Oliver was detained last year for an outstanding debt he was unaware of, and subsequently faced treatment in a Dubai hospital for an undisclosed mental illness.

Fortunately, Mr Oliver was released earlier this month, and has since returned to the US. But surely he is one of many individuals in the UAE whose financial worries have exacerbated or caused debilitating mental health issues.

As the cost of living in the country rises, I’m sure that the number of people dealing with this is on the up. This is everyone’s problem.

A survey last year by the UK-based Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that 93 per cent of people with mental health problems said the spent more when they were unwell, with 88 per cent of those surveyed behind paying bills.

A couple of weeks ago I touched upon online impulse spending, something that the most vulnerable members of society are particularly susceptible to, even though they can afford it the least.

A study by Hong Kong scientists, published in 2013, found feeling socially rejected triggers riskier financial decision-making.

But the flip-side is that when participants in the study discussed a scenario in which they felt happy and accepted, they were more careful about making their financial decisions.

Over the course of our lifetime, sadness visits us all – at some point. Should it be mind your money, or mind over money? Make it both, and all will be ok.

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