Anne Shreiner, Research Community member

My money and mental health story

16 December 2019

Nothing makes me feel lower than money issues. 

Today, my debit card was declined. It was terribly embarrassing, and when I tried my other card I couldn’t remember the pin, which added to the embarrassment. Rather than blame the bank and pretend it was an error like I normally do, I was honest and said I don’t actually have the money right now. I know that any sensible person who can read a credit card slip can tell when a card failed vs. when it’s declined (I worked for American Express and Visa, I know how these products work). Declined doesn’t always mean you’re out of money, over your credit limit, or through your approved overdraft – but it often does.

In a sense I do have money, but I need to go looking for it. By this I mean I have to sit down, and go through the process of filing for reimbursement on the private dental work I needed, paying my puppy’s bill for her broken leg, and depositing a check from my father, which I am grateful for, but is in US dollars, not pounds, which means processing it is a bit more complicated.

How my mental health affects my spending

When I am in a period of serious mental ill-health my financial situation goes from bad to  worse. I want to feel better, sexier, prettier. I want to not hate myself. I also want to feel smarter. So I buy things. Recently, I bought some philosophy books and I have started to re-learn Arabic. I also bought a raincoat for my puppy that cost more than my own raincoat – I am very ashamed to admit this. 

It’s not just buying things to make myself feel better. I also am spending money to get myself out of the house. Having only recently returned home after a stay in hospital, I really struggle to leave the house in the morning. Once I am out, I am usually able to do what I need to do and I can even sometimes take public transit later in the day. This week I have found that ordering a cab makes it easier to get out of the house. But my bank keeps blocking my debit card for e-commerce transactions so the cabs go on my credit card. I am also avoiding looking at that account as well.

The added cost of care

Since the age of 19, I have not gone for more than six month without being under the treatment of a psychiatrist and a psychologist. It started in middle-America where I am from, continued for eight years while living in New York City, and has now been nearly five years in London. When I was in the US, my medication and treatment was mainly covered first by my father’s medical cover, and then my own, which was offered by my employer. Although this required some financial contributions, it was manageable from the point of view of care. 

In the UK, I continued to purchase private insurance through different companies but found the cover inadequate in comparison to the US, and my cover was eventually cut-off once nine months had gone by and I was deemed “chronic’. I then moved to self-pay, and tried to ration my care to no more than once a month for a visit to my psychologist (£150 for a 50 minute session) and my psychiatrist (£200 a 30 minute session).

I also didn’t understand for the first year or so how to get my private prescriptions through the NHS. My psychiatrist could not explain this to me, despite working part of her time for the NHS, so I also sometimes spent hundreds on medications. By the time, I was sectioned for the first time this summer, I was in a massive amount of debt and was feeling worse than I ever had. 

A reason to hope

In the past, my debt has also led me to feel suicidal. I sometimes don’t understand what’s wrong with me – how can I hold down a stressful job but not be able to do a basic budget and stick to it? At times, I do feel utterly pathetic.  But two weeks ago I started with a new psychiatrist and I have a radical new diagnosis – ADHD, Dyspraxia and Hyper-mobility. People with ADHD often struggle to sit and do boring things, like filing bills.

After initially refusing to accept the new diagnosis, I started reading about it. It was like I was staring in the mirror. People with impulse control issues struggle with money – managing it and keeping hold of it.  It’s sort of nice to know that in large part it’s my brain, but it also makes me look back at the last 34 years in a new light. What would I have done with my life? Would I have actually followed my childhood dream of becoming a chef, or later, the dream of getting into American politics? How much money would I not have wasted? How many friends might I have not lost?

However, I am also trying to be more stoic about my situation – like the British. I am only 34, I have new knowledge that should and will empower me, and allow me to adjust my life to fit with this new diagnosis. At least that’s my hope. I also hope that my sharing this helps others with similar issues feel they are not alone, and that struggling to manage money shouldn’t be filled with shame. I regularly participate in Money and Mental Health’s Research Community because I think the work they are doing is vital to help people experiencing mental-ill health feel more empowered when it comes to money, and, equally importantly, helping companies understand how to better support vulnerable customers.