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A PA Explains How Debt Is Hurting Your Body

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Did you know that the health of your overall finances actually affects both your mental health and your physical health? As a clinician, you may have a ton of financial stress from your six-figure student loan debt, not to mention your consumer debt from your credit cards or your car loan. Additionally, 49% of those of us with a six-figure income are actually living paycheck to paycheck! This is especially important to figure out when your financial wellness affects your overall wellness.

Money and Mental Health

The American Psychological Association (APA) found that nearly 3 in 4 adults worry about money. In 2014, the APA focused their Stress in America campaign entirely on health, stress, and finances. They found that 32% of adults said their finances or lack of money prevented them from living a healthy lifestyle.

Mental health and financial issues can feed off of each other, turning into a vicious cycle. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that 46% of those with problematic debt also have a mental health problem, and 72% claim that their mental health problems actually made their financial situations worse. 

Let’s break that down further. Debt is correlated with mental health issues, but it’s like the chicken or the egg. Which came first? It can be unclear … Was it the financial issues such as a large amount of debt that caused mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, etc., or was it the mental health issues that caused financial strain? If you have severe depression or anxiety to the point that you can’t work, this could lead to a lot of lost income and potentially large medical bills on top of that. This depends on your unique situation, but it can often be that a poor financial situation with a lot of debt can impact your mental health and that poor mental health can impact your financial situation for the worse. 

Interestingly, 72% of adults feel as though once they do have mental health problems that their financial situations get worse. If your mood is so low from depression or burnout that you can’t even get out of bed in the morning, then you likely don’t have the motivation to see your patients to earn a paycheck. Or perhaps your anxiety is so paralyzing that you can’t even leave your house to go to work. See how your mental health could impact your financial health? 

Finances and Physical Health

If your mental health and physical health are doing well, your finances may improve. For example, if you’re feeling well mentally and physically, you will likely have fewer office visits at the clinic, leading to fewer medical bills. When you’re fit and in shape, you may be more productive at work, which could allow you to earn more income, especially if your overall compensation or bonuses are based on a productivity model such as RVUs. When you have lower levels of stress and anxiety, you can often think more clearly. If you're thinking more clearly, do you think that would help you to make better medical decisions and possibly reduce the risk of having malpractice issues? This in turn could lead to an overall lower risk of being subject to a malpractice case.

Having a lower income can lead to a higher risk for having chronic disease (such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, etc.) and living shorter lives. Additionally, those with lower income could be more likely to participate in risky behaviors to help relieve their stress such as smoking cigarettes, overeating, or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. 

If you’re under financial stress, your sleep may suffer, which can make your mental health worse. You also could be at a higher risk of substance abuse. Poor mental health and substance abuse can unfortunately make your relationships worse with those around you — such as your family, friends, colleagues, or patients. 

Another study found that those with serious financial stress could be up to 13 times more likely to have a MI. If you have financial stress, you unfortunately could be up to 20% more likely to suffer from migraines, which could lead you to being less productive at work due to seeing fewer patients. 

If you carry around unsecured debt (credit card debt, payday loans, etc.), you can have more stress and anxiety in your life as well as physical health symptoms. For example, if you consistently have high debt, you’re 76% more likely to have pain that interferes with your daily life compared to those without unsecured or bad debt! 

Large amounts of unsecured debt could be caused from unfortunate situations like unexpected medical bills, but if you’re able to try to avoid taking on large amounts of unsecured debt by utilizing tools like insurance and emergency funds, your physical and mental health will likely be better over the years. 

Now let’s do a quick check-in: how are your mental health and your physical health doing? Do you feel like you need to take some action to help with these? Do you need to consider seeing a therapist, or potentially discuss starting some medication for your mental health? Do you need to focus on your diet more to eat nutritious foods while limiting sugar and processed foods? Do you need to move your body more or start an exercise routine? The term “health” has so many facets, so try to focus on the big picture of your overall wellness. 

My hope is that this information encourages and empowers you to learn more about finances yourself either through blogs, podcasts, books, courses, etc., as I have done. Learning about financial independence and taking steps to reduce our expenses helped me to recover from burnout from the pandemic, which improved my mental health overall. I was able to cut back on my clinical hours as a PA to free up more mental bandwidth and time with my family. I have noticed that my migraines occur less when I’m less stressed out about our finances. Once you take the necessary steps to learn more about financial independence, you can assure yourself that the information you’re learning about financial wellness will also help you to live a life with better mental health and physical health over the years to be able to care for yourself and your patients better. 

Katarina Astrup, MSPAS, PA-C is an outpatient telepsychiatry PA in Minnesota. She is the founder of the PA the FI Way podcast and blog where she enjoys teaching PAs and other HCPs about the importance of pursuing financial independence, preventing burnout, living intentional lives, and creating the option to retire early. You can follow her on Instagram (@pathefiway), Facebook, or LinkedIn

Image by enisaksoy / Getty

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