By Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor
Psychologist/Educator Team Lead (Crisis Intervention Team).
Not all of us can swipe a card easily at the supermarket to pay for groceries or are able to put three square meals on the table to feed our families on a daily basis. In the last two years, the uncertainties of the pandemic created many job losses and pay cuts in salaries for people who have had to make major adjustments to their lifestyles and minimise their eating choices and expenditure. What may seem like ‘no big thing’ for some has become a constant worry, shame, and embarrassment for many: when the money is gone, and the month has just begun. When costs of living rise faster than our wages, more people will experience financial difficulties, and money worries will impact mental health in a serious and debilitating way.
Why are so many groceries unashamedly exploiting their loyal customers by such exorbitant increases in food prices, the worst that I have ever seen in this country, thus placing a strain on many households? Wages have not increased and there seems to be no sympathies for a population that is bending under this increased strain on pocket and on tolerance levels. Something has to give, and it has begun to show in the increases in criminal activities, suicide rates, relationship issues and general poor mental health and well-being.
October is Mental Health Awareness month. The theme for this year is “Make Mental health and wellness a global priority”. Is mental health a priority for policy makers in this society, who shake their symbolic whips, and make us jump every time that budget changes are made in the interest of the economy? No real concern seems to be given as to how these ‘necessary’ measures have begun to affect the overall mental health of citizens, and more importantly, no time given to adjust these changes in households. At least, these changes could have come into effect in the new year, giving persons time, yet again, to see where corners could be cut.
Without money, it is a fact that persons feel vulnerable, display many anxiety-related symptoms and panic attacks, as they constantly worry about unpaid bills and mouths to feed, which can lead them into choosing undesirable behaviours such as the ‘pimping’ out of their girl and boy children, and other nefarious activities. The move to increase the age for retirement from 60 years to 65 years is a key example of a lack of awareness on the effect of financial changes to mental well-being. Sure. It will ease the economy, but will it ease the anxieties and sleepless nights of those who were looking forward to a much-needed rest, after more than 45years for some, in the workplace? This disregard and continued lack of awareness about the significance of mental health and well-being for this society by significant stakeholders, was clearly seen in the Republic Day awards. Many accolades were given to everything else, but not even a mention to the mental health counsellors and hotline experts who helped more than 2000 citizens, free of charge, every day for the last two years and counting, to weather the storms in their lives during the pandemic and provide comfort to a population that was reaching out for mental and psychological help amidst their many personal and domestic difficulties. Not even a thank you!
Even before the budget, the concerns by many citizens of the increases in costs of living and the financial pressures that came with layoffs, drastic pay cuts and retrenchments were addressed in counselling sessions. Now more so, it is envisaged that the new increases will further impact mental health causing anxiety, low mood and stress as people make difficult decisions about what they can and cannot afford. Poor mental health also affects one’s ability to manage money such as not knowing where to start or how to make the dollar stretch a little more…and more.
But take heart, people. Let us look at a few changes that can be made in these tough times:
· Keep track of your spending. If you know where the money goes, it will be easier to plan. Create a monthly budget. Buy the essentials like food first
· Identify your spending triggers – when you are stressed out, did that shopping spree or online shopping calm you down? You can revisit this and limit impulse spending
· Manage your stress levels – exercise always boosts energy levels. No fancy gym here, but running in place in the mornings and getting your stretches in. Stop your worrying at intervals, and let your mind and body relax
· Eat healthy foods. Limit the everyday spending on lunches.
Not all of us can do, but those who can, should do. In this age of uncertainty, I would like to thank all the persons on the hotlines, who continue to provide mental health services to our people. There is burnout across many levels and in all pockets of the society, from the very young to the old. It is important therefore, to proactively address the stresses in our lives to minimise the negative effects that it can have on our overall health. In this month of October, let us be more conscious of our mental health and that of the persons in our lives.
Take care. Be safe.