Imaan Wright, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Heath

International Women’s Day: How inclusion can help women break out of the money and mental health cycle

8 March 2024

  • On International Women’s Day 2024, under the theme ‘Inspiring Inclusion’, we reflect on our policy note, Through the lens: Gender, money and mental health. This research into money, mental health and gender found that gender plays a key role in how we experience money and mental health problems.
  • The mental toll caused by finances is felt more prominently by women than men, but this gap widens where mental health challenges are involved. Our research also suggests that women with mental health problems can be at risk of lower levels of financial resilience. This is in part due to lower incomes and unpaid caring responsibilities.
  • To combat these issues, we’re calling on employers to offer flexible working to ensure women with caring commitments can thrive in the labour market. The NHS should also routinely enquire about financial difficulties in primary and secondary mental health services, to improve the support women receive. 
  • To gain a broader understanding into the impact of gender, money and mental health, the government should routinely investigate and report on the mental and financial health of people who are transgender, non-binary and gender diverse.

Today is International Women’s Day – and the theme is ‘Inspire Inclusion’. It’s a day to celebrate the contributions, reflect on the experiences and, as this year’s theme suggests, inspire the inclusion of women across the globe, from all walks of life. 

With this in mind, International Women’s Day provides an apt opportunity to reflect on our research paper, Through the lens: Gender, money and mental health, which explores the interaction between money, mental health and gender. Our research found that women with mental health problems are most likely to feel burdened by their financial commitments and less likely to receive support.

Is it such a big deal?

Across England, more than 1.5 million people are experiencing the vicious cycle of both problem debt and mental health difficulty. But within this group, we are not all impacted equally. Gender plays a key role in how we experience the interplay between money and mental health.

We asked members of our Research Community – a group of over 5,000 people with lived experience of mental health problems – whether they found keeping up with domestic bills and credit commitments a burden. Of our respondents, 59% of women reported being burdened with these payments, compared to 52% of men – a 7 point difference. This difference is far wider than between men and women without a mental health problem (44% and 42% respectively). This suggests that the combination of mental health problems and gender is placing an additional level of burden on women with mental health problems.

Both women with and without mental health problems are at risk of lower levels of financial resilience, in part due to barriers to a good earnings from work, inadequate social security rates and unpaid caring responsibilities. However, the addition of mental health challenges can compound these issues for some women, making them even more susceptible. Unpaid caring responsibilities was the most common point raised by women in our Research Community, inhibiting them from taking up or increasing their hours of paid work. Our research also found that, as a result, women with mental health problems are more likely to have to take measures like using less energy, cutting back on food, or reducing essential spending to make ends meet.

A lack of support

But unfortunately, the disparities don’t end there. While women with mental health problems feel the financial pinch more acutely, they are less likely to receive support from health or social care professionals. In fact, we found that men with mental health problems are twice as likely to have spoken to a health or social care professional about how their financial circumstances affect their mental health (30% and 15% respectively) and more likely to have received proactive support, compared to women with mental health problems. Only 16% of women with mental health problems had financial matters included in any care treatment, plan or assessment, compared to 25% of men. 

Why is this? The reasons are not explicitly clear, but female members of our Research Community reported that they didn’t always feel that they were taken seriously in a mental health setting, leading to fewer questions being asked regarding their financial wellbeing and less support being offered.

“I think too often women are considered to be irresponsible and emotional, which so often isn’t the case, but there are so many assumptions and generalisations that are ingrained in both financial and medical settings, leading the professionals working in them to stereotype people and therefore provide inadequate care…” Expert by experience 

Inspiring inclusion

In light of these issues, our policy note calls for a number of solutions, rooted in greater inclusion, which can help to break the link between money, mental health and gender. 

We want to see more employers offer flexible working. The growth in flexible working arrangements shouldn’t be seen as just a blip of the Covid era. It represents huge potential for the workforce to better support those of us with mental health problems, caring commitments or both – many of whom will be women. The greater inclusion of women in the workforce, by way of flexible working arrangements, can help to improve financial resilience.

“The gender pay gap [affects my finances] generally, as well as [the fact that] flexible roles to fit around caring responsibilities, and to accommodate physical ill-health, are harder to find and are most often at a more junior level than I am qualified for.” Female expert by experience

We also want the Department of Health and Social Care to incorporate questions about financial wellbeing into services offered by GPs, A&E departments, and community mental health teams as standard. This would help ensure that more people struggling with both mental health and money problems – but particularly women – can be signposted to financial support, reducing the risk of a deepening mental health and money crisis. It is also important that signposting directories include services that are equipped to deal with gender-specific barriers to good mental and financial health, to ensure support is most effective. 

Lastly, whilst our research focuses on the intersection of money, mental health and gender, we recognise that our understanding is incomplete without a more diverse range of gender identities represented. This is why we are calling on the Office for National Statistics and the Department for Work and Pensions to routinely investigate and report on the mental and financial health of people who are transgender, non-binary and gender diverse. This would help to paint a broader picture of the issues at the intersection of gender, money and mental health, and to ensure policy solutions are most effective for all people. 

Addressing the inequality gap between individuals with and without mental health problems will produce benefits for everyone, regardless of their gender. But unique problems require unique solutions. In the case of money and mental health for women, inclusion lies at the heart of the solution. We are confident that healthcare services and employers can make small but significant changes to ensure that women facing money and mental health problems are not left behind.