How to talk to someone who is struggling with financial health

Dealing with a serious debt problem is often a lonely and stressful time in someone’s life. Research shows that people who suffer with poor financial health also often suffer with mental health issues. The stigma around debt and mental health problems only makes matters worse. Many suffer in silence, too ashamed to reach out for help.
Awareness campaigns like #BellLetsTalk teach us a lot about how to relate to people who are emotionally or psychologically distressed. Simple acts like listening; changing the words we use, and knowing the right questions to ask can make a huge difference in the way someone is feeling.

Indeed, talking helps. It’s why we think a similar conversation about the way we talk about money can benefit those who are struggling with their financial health.
How should you talk to someone who isn’t doing well financially? What are the triggers to avoid and the positive words of encouragement you can share that will contribute to someone’s road to recovery?

Here are some tips to help you lay the groundwork for creating a safe space in which your friends and family will feel more comfortable about sharing their financial worries.

1. Check your financial privilege.

It’s always a good idea to remember that everyone is in a different place; no two financial situations are the same. Being mindful of the way you talk about money will go a long way in making your friends and family feel comfortable about opening up to you about their issues. Are you tempted to complain to your friends and family about how much money you owe on your tax return? About how you can only afford to go on one vacation this year and not two? Try to be considerate of how this would come across to someone who is dealing with issues more serious than your own.

2. Don’t assume that people’s financial health problems are their fault.

Oftentimes people will lack empathy for someone’s financial hardship because they believe that their problems are self-inflicted. Certain narratives can sound dismissive of a financial problem: “They chose the wrong career.” “They didn’t try hard enough at school.” “They lack willpower.” A common misperception is that a person’s financial successes are always directly related to their efforts, and that good fortune, demographic factors or other social phenomena have little effect on someone’s financial situation. It’s almost always more complicated than you think. In fact, more often than not, there are unexpected life events like health problems, job loss, loss of spouse that are to blame. Moreover, assigning blame or perpetuating generalizations might make someone in your life question your capacity to understand them and their struggles.

Simple acts like listening; changing the words we use, and knowing the right questions to ask can make a huge difference in the way someone is feeling.

3. Don’t encourage a friend or family member to spend more than they want to.

When a person is trying to take control of their finances, they are likely already trying to curb unnecessary spending. Do your best to encourage these positive steps. If someone you know is hesitant to spend on an activity or an outing, try to be open and willing to think of less expensive options. Being mindful of the negative effects of financial peer pressure will not only help them stay true to their goals, it will also go a long way towards relieving any stress or shame they feel about their financial limitations.

4. Lead by example.

Talking about money isn’t always easy. Pushing your financial advice on someone who might take it badly can make the conversation even more difficult. Instead of directing and telling someone what they should do, model the behaviour you think would help that person. Share your experiences and challenges openly. Share a story of how you were able to resist buying something you didn’t really need. Or share the ups and downs of your debt repayment journey. Trying to overcome money problems is a goal that almost anyone can relate to. For someone who is struggling financially, this can help them feel less isolated.

5. Let them know you are willing to help.

In any relationship, it never hurts to let someone know that they can talk to you. Make this explicit. Reassuring someone that they don’t have to bottle things up and pretend that everything is fine can be a real comfort, especially if they’re going through a tough time financially. Being patient and empathetic may also help them take the necessary steps towards getting debt help.

6. Know the resources they can turn to.

If you have arrived at a place where a friend or family member is able to open up to you about their financial struggles, knowing the resources they can turn to will make their journey a lot less intimidating.

If their employer offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), help them explore this resource. You can also suggest some money management tools and options. Our local BDO offices are also a great source of local resources and can help point you in the right direction. Finally, a Licensed Insolvency Trustee is a source of trustworthy and empathetic advice on all matters related to debt.

Ending the stigma around mental and financial health is one of the simplest ways you can help the people in your life open up, recognize a problem and start looking for solutions. Have you helped someone get through a financial hardship? Join our conversation on Facebook or on Twitter #LeaveDebtBehind