How to spot the signs of financial and mental stress

If you are working at a local suburban bank branch and you suspect a customer is experiencing financial or mental health problems, what do you do?

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How do you engage compassionately? How do you offer help, let alone have a hard conversation about money? Unfortunately, this is not an abstract question.

"The report found people experiencing financial challenges were at least twice as likely to encounter mental health issues than those who aren’t, and vice versa.”

With the cost of living hitting everything from power bills to food to mortgage costs, the reality is more Australians will be struggling to get by in the foreseeable future.

This is why the mental health, financial and utility services sectors have joined forces to support people experiencing financial and mental health challenges.

Beyond Blue and partner Financial Counselling Australia have developed the Services Guide for Financial and Mental Wellbeing to inform the sectors how to identify and support people experiencing financial or mental distress.

With input from people with lived experience, the guide explains the link between financial wellbeing and mental health. It provides frontline staff with the framework to assess whether customers are thriving, doing well, getting by, struggling or in crisis.

The guide is based on insights drawn from the Money and Mental Health: Social Research Report – a collaboration between Beyond Blue and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

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Source: Beyond Blue

Downward spiral

The report found people experiencing financial challenges were at least twice as likely to encounter mental health issues than those who aren’t, and vice versa. There’s no doubt financial stress and mental health concerns can combine to create a downward spiral for vulnerable Australians.

The more financial hardship a person is facing, the more significant their mental health concerns. Combined with adverse events such as increases in cost of living, natural disasters, global health crises, loss of social connections, job losses and housing instability, the effects can be devastating. 

The report found about 40 per cent of Australians experience financial hardship at any given time and one in seven people experience both financial hardship and a mental health condition.

Unsurprisingly, the groups most at risk are young adults, women, First Nations People and small business owners. Additionally, a Beyond Blue survey found 37 per cent of Australians reported cost of living as the greatest negative impact on their mental health. 

Given the current economic and social climate, there is more work to do. The services guide is the first step for Beyond Blue in establishing stronger alliances to help people get well and stay well.

For a person on the frontline of financial services, the guide helps them identify the signs that a customer may be experiencing financial and mental distress.  It also offers practical advice on how to direct them to timely and appropriate support.  But these conversations are never easy.

One of the best ways we can help – and the guide talks about this – is to empower a customer to make decisions. This can help them deal with bad news but also make them more likely to accept referrals to other services.

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Source: Beyond Blue

Signs of strain

Every step that individual frontline workers make will build capacity across the entire workforce – not just within specialised hardship or vulnerability teams. This is a crucial step in providing help across society – particularly in environments where signs of strain may first appear.

For that reason, we hope organisations use the guide as a teaching and learning resource. Australia will be a better place if we can provide more empathetic and accessible support. 

To be clear, people working in the financial, energy and water sectors are not expected to become mental health counsellors, nor are mental health services suggested to provide financial advice.

Keeping distinct expertise within sectors is key to quality service and outcomes. However, there is a great opportunity to strengthen the value proposition of empathetic practice, looking for signs of hardship and knowing what to do. 

For more resources about money and mental health, including an online training module, visit the Beyond Blue website, or watch for examples of how financial and mental wellbeing are connected from people with lived experience of both.

Beyond Blue Support Service: 1300 22 4636 or

Irene Verins and Luke Martin are Wellness and Prevention Programs Lead and Wellness & Prevention Engagement Manager at Beyond Blue

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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