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The relationship between mental health and income

Imagine these scenarios - someone is feeling 'stuck' in their job, their mental health is declining as a result, someone else maybe doesn't feel the same joy they used to in their role. You might be able to think of someone contemplating a career change to follow a passion and also there are those just desperately seeking work. These individuals can talk to loved ones, or even peers, about these problems to seek advice. Perhaps they scroll through social media for some inspiration, with the ever-growing availability of motivational quotes from people ready to tell others how to 'live their best life'. Whilst many may receive considered and compassionate advice, there can be this generic attitude or response portrayed that 'money isn't everything', 'you need to be happy', 'prioritise your health' and 'chase your dreams'.

How many times have you heard it?

To be honest, I have seen or heard this attitude it so many times. Not even just in the context of working, but just generally around attitudes towards money. Whilst the overall sentiment may be well intended, it can generally be quite offensive to the reality of the necessity of financial stability. Some even appearing to imply that wanting sufficient salary to survive and enjoy life is a materialistic concept.

Money may not be 'everything' but it sure accounts for a lot.

Of course, there is a whole separate conversation about the desire for so-called 'materialistic' things in life and the relationship (or lack of) between money and happiness for if and when we do possess these things. However, we have to be entirely realistic that money is a crucial part of daily life and wellbeing.

If we don't have sufficient income we are at risk of so many, very worrying, situations. For example, we may be unable to pay rent or mortgages and therefore at risk of losing our homes. We also have a whole host of issues such as being unable to pay bills and therefore having increasing debt or incurring bailiff involvement, being unable to pay for the transport or petrol we need for independence or access to work and education, being unable to buy food, unable to heat our homes... the list goes on. All of these difficulties are known to have a significant impact on stress and mental health, which ultimately then causes harm to our physical health.

So whilst the sentiment I imagine (and hope) is meant to be more about 'money can't buy happiness', we have to really and truly appreciate that without sufficient income it's extremely common that people can become unhappy, unhealthy and at risk of serious harm to their mental health and wellbeing.

There is a big difference to someone wanting a Lamborghini and mansions being told 'money can't buy happiness' vs. the sentiment of 'money isn't everything' to people who are at risk of, or already in, poverty.

Figures suggest 14% of the country live in absolute poverty* before household costs are considered, and 18% are in poverty after these costs are factored in. When focused on children in poverty, these figures are 17% and 25% respectively. [1]

It's a bigger problem than we might first realise.

So why am I talking about money when my company is largely focused on improving workplace wellbeing?

Research shows 2/3 of staff struggling financially reveal at least one sign of poor mental health that impacts work such as loss of sleep, concentration and motivation, and that staff members with financial concerns are around half as productive as those without. [2]

People with mental health problems are 3.5x more likely to have a difficulty with debt and nearly 50% of people in financial difficulty have a mental health problem. [3]

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute suggest 5% of employees struggle to make ends meet, which reflects around 1-6 million people that have poor mental health as a result of financial difficulties. [2]

Even more staggering is the information linking debt difficulties to suicide attempts.

1 in 14 adults are suggested to be in 'problem debt' and this section of the population are 3x more likely to have considered suicide in the last year. 2017 research showed that in the previous year around 420,000 people in problem debt considered taking their own life with around 100,000 attempted to. Job loss and financial insecurity are cited as part of the debt problems suggested as leaving people feeling like they have no way out of their financial difficulties. [4]

We are currently hearing about the rising cost of living, the impact to petrol costs, mortgage rates and our energy bills. When you combine these daily financial worries with work-related concerns, you can see why employment and financially connected factors can impact mental health. For example, there has been such change and loss of employment as a result of the pandemic and many jobs that are on temporary or fixed term contracts which causes financial uncertainty. There is also an ever growing number of job adverts that appear to conceal salaries or advertise them as 'negotiable', whilst this can have benefits for some, it can also mean valuable time is wasted on an employment process that they cannot accept anyway.

So what can employers do?

To those advertising roles - providing job salary ranges can considerably help potential employees know whether the role is suitable for them financially, which ultimately saves them, and you, a lot of time and stress. In an ideal world, money wouldn't stop people applying for a role but we have to be realistic that people have bills to pay and some salaries won't allow them to do that. For some, it may indicate to them that if they do want the job, they could consider applying for other supplementary smaller roles elsewhere; these other smaller roles can become a form of salary boost that allows them to continue the application process with your company. For employers, you know what you pay your staff but you don't know their personal financial situation. What may feel like a reasonable, or even high, salary may actually not be proportionate to that individual's cost of living. It is not for you to judge what position they are in financially and this post is also not posing an expectation on employers to fix staff debt.

However, figures clearly show that individuals with financial worries are at high risk of mental health decline, as well as potentially being at risk of suicidal ideation or attempts.

An employee's decline in wellbeing not only impacts them in their personal life but can affect their ability to engage in work. For those already in work, we can see from the statistics already discussed that individual performance at work is impacted by financial worries.

So why not do what you can?

Creating a signposting system that allows staff who are worried about their finances to access discreet advice can be a simple, but effective, method of support. Whether a staff member chooses to tell their manager is up to them, but either way they can seek the information they need.

You may choose just to create a poster that could be in key areas for all to see, such as staff toilets, notice boards or online portals. You could disseminate a bulletin of financial support awareness to staff at periodic points in the year.

There are various charities and organisations that can offer free financial advice, such as national organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau and StepChange, as well as localised money advice centres.

If you need support in producing a signposting bulletin or poster, please feel free to contact us via to access a basic template.

If you want to discuss how you can support staff further with their wellbeing you can also book a free 45 minute consultation via our booking system:

You never know, by sharing these services, you may save a life.

If you are an individual reading this, worried about your own financial situation, you seek free advice by contacting the below:

StepChange - Debt Charity

National Debt Line

They also offer a webchat service for those who find it difficult to engage with phone calls or face to face appointments Samaritans

116 123

Take care,



"An individual is in absolute low income (or absolute poverty) if they are living in households with income below 60% of the 2010/11 median, uprated for inflation. By using an income threshold that is fixed in time, this measure looks at how living standards of low-income households are changing over time."

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