Financial Health & Financial Stress in Human Services

The Financial Health Institute defines “Financial Health” as:

“The dynamic relationship of one’s financial and economic resources as they are applied to or impact the state of physical, mental and social well-being.”

There is widespread evidence that a person’s financial health can impact their physical health and vice-versa. People who are struggling financially or are experiencing a downturn in their personal financial or economic situation are much less likely to visit the doctor, pay for medications, take their medications, eat healthy and even exercise. Stress can cause fatigue, headaches, insomnia and other symptoms that affect people’s ability to manage their financial situation. People who are navigating chronic diseases or serious medical conditions frequently find themselves struggling with immense debt, having to file for bankruptcy, having their credit seriously impaired, using all of their savings, eliminating discretionary income and perhaps worst of all, feeling hopeless that it will ever get better.

We define “Financial Stress” as:
“A condition that is the result of financial and/or economic events that create anxiety, worry, or a sense of scarcity, and is accompanied by a physiological stress response.”

“Chronic Financial Stress,” then, is ongoing (yet frequently intermittent) financial stress. Typically, as Financial Stress increases, a person’s state of Financial Health decreases, creating a damaging effect on physical health, as well. Chronic Financial Stress is the most typical intersection where financial and physical health mutually impact.

Why it is important for clients

The Stress in America Survey is commissioned each year by the American Psychological Association (APA) to measure attitudes and perceptions of stress among the general public and to identify leading sources of stress, common behaviors used to manage stress and the impact of stress on our lives. It has confirmed that there is a strong link between stress and overall health. Participants’ responses have revealed high stress levels, reliance on unhealthy behaviors to manage stress and alarming physical health consequences of stress — a combination that suggests the nation is on the verge of a stress-induced public health crisis.

The APA reports that, in 2012, Money (69%), work (65%) and the economy (61%) were the most frequently cited causes of stress for Americans. Money and work have been at the top of the list of stressors for almost every year since the APA began collecting this data. Additionally, a growing number of Americans (51%) are citing personal health and their family’s health as a source of stress. Approximately seven in 10 Americans report that they experience physical symptoms (69%) or non-physical symptoms (67%) of stress. Symptoms include irritability or anger (37%), fatigue (37%), feeling overwhelmed (35%) and changes in sleeping habits (30%). Finally, many people are not coping effectively with stress: People report lying awake (42%), overeating or eating unhealthy foods (36%) and skipping meals (27%) in the past month due to stress.
The impact of chronic stress on the body and mind is also well documented. Chronic stress impairs cognitive ability, memory and learning. It increases the likelihood of sleep disturbances. It increases the likelihood of maladaptive coping strategies, thereby increasing the likelihood of future and/or chronic financial stress and/or other behavior-related diseases, including Cardiovascular Disease, Adult Onset Diabetes, and Obesity.

Poor Financial Health and high Financial Stress are not concepts that are reserved for low-income populations or for people living in poverty; Financial Stress impacts up to 75% of Americans. As we will see throughout the Financial Health for Case Managers training, stress is an extremely subjective experience.

Throughout the human services field, in most instances the clients being served are struggling financially and/or economically. By definition, the bulk of the clients entering into the human services system are struggling with some part of their personal financial or economic condition. The client’s Financial Health has been impaired, either acutely or chronically, sometimes due to factors within their control and sometimes not. Frequently the client is struggling to reduce their Financial Stress and improve their Financial Health and this is how they find their way into a human service agency.

Organizations frequently tell us that their clients need to learn how to budget their money better, that clients need to understand the differences between wants and needs and to prioritize, that clients need to understand the importance of saving money and paying their bills on time. The majority of low-income clients that we have worked with over the last eight years have identified similar sentiments: they would like to budget, save, improve their credit and control their spending. However, they inevitably raise another point. They repeatedly tell us that Financial Stress is their biggest concern and they would like to be able to reduce the Financial Stress in their lives so that they can be better parents, spouses, family members and employees.

Why it is important for case managers

Clients all too often look to Case Managers as their de facto personal economic experts. Yet, we have found that the majority of Case Managers have had very little training in personal finance for their own lives or for their occupation. We also know that for Case Managers there is very little available in the way of tools for or training on how to navigate a client’s financial or economic condition. And the few programs that are available offer very little insight into understanding difficult sociological and behavioral components of personal finances and economics, specifically as they relate to stress and well-being.

Due to lack of training and resources, we have heard from many Case Managers that they are uncomfortable trying to explain personal finances and economics to their clients. Frequently, when it comes to getting into the nuts and bolts of personal finances, Financial Stress and even financial trauma, whether for themselves or their clients, the Case Manager feels unprepared.

The Frameworks in Financial Health Training provides detailed information on the causes of Financial Stress and the subsequent physiological and behavioral responses to Financial Stress. The training looks at programmatic flaws that can inadvertently have a potentially negative impact on client performance. Finally, Frameworks provides essential tools to help Case Managers better assist their clients as they navigate and potentially lessen Financial Stress in their journeys to improve their Financial Health.