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How young Canadians are taking care of their mental well-being on a budget

It’s no secret that financial stress can take a toll on your mental health — especially at a time when Canada’s inflation rate remains high, layoffs are making headlines and there is talk of a looming recession.

It’s no secret that financial stress can take a toll on your mental health — especially at a time when Canada’s inflation rate remains high, layoffs are making headlines and there is talk of a looming recession.

Nearly one in four Canadians rank money as their top source of stress, nearly twice as much as personal health, work and relationships, FP Canada’s 2022 Financial Stress Index survey found.

One in three Canadians said financial stress has caused them anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges, according to the survey of 2,001 Canadians conducted by Leger.

Young Canadians are especially affected, the survey revealed, with 45 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 saying financial stress has hurt their mental health, compared with 31 per cent of Canadians aged 35 and up sharing that opinion.

Worrying about money can affect many facets of a person’s life, spanning their sleep quality, relationships and ability to work, said Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, CEO of Credit Counselling Canada and a professional coach and a certified personal finance educator.

It can also exacerbate a person’s pre-existing mental health challenges, said Yanchuk Oleksy.

“Money and stress go hand-in-hand,” she said.

But despite their budgets growing more and more tight, some Canadians have found free and cheap ways to take care of their mental well-being — and they say it’s helped them to better cope with their financial stress.

About a year ago, Amy Dyck said she went through a rough patch and was experiencing a lot of mental distress. Through word-of-mouth, she was able to find help despite her financial constraints and started accessing virtual group therapy funded by Alberta Health Services.

“It’s free, thankfully, because I don’t think I could afford a one-on-one therapist,” she said.

Dyck said group therapy has helped her regulate her emotions and learn by hearing other people’s stories. It’s a resource that’s been especially helpful at a time when Dyck has been overwhelmed by the rising costs of living, she added.

“I don’t dwell on it or anything,” Dyck said of her finances.

If finances are weighing heavily on your mind and are starting to take a toll on your mental health, remember to breathe and realize that you’re not alone, said Yanchuk Oleksy of the Credit Counselling Society.

“Many, many Canadians struggle with this because it’s not something we’re taught. We don’t typically talk about it around the dinner table or in the classroom, but we’re expected at 18 to magically know how to manage our finances — and that’s kind of silly,” she said.

Oleksy suggests reaching out for support, whether it be a non-profit credit counsellor who can help you sort out your personal finances at little or no cost, or a mental health counsellor with whom you can discuss your mental health challenges.

Dyck said she recommends people speak to their doctor about the free and affordable mental health services that may be available to them.

Some therapists in Canada also offer sliding scales, meaning a cheaper rate for their services based on a client’s income.

K Kealey, a 27-year-old living in Calgary, said they were able to find a therapist with a sliding scale through Skipping Stone, a non-profit organization that connects trans and gender diverse individuals with low-barrier access to mental health services.

Kealey said they were previously accessing free therapy through Alberta Health Services, but they made the switch to their new therapist — who currently charges $80/hour — because they wanted to speak to someone who had experience working with trans and gender diverse people who could listen to them without judgement and help them navigate their transition.

“I find therapy pretty essential for figuring out things in my life and handling stress of work, money, relationships, all the things that you have to deal with,” said Kealey. “I don’t think I could’ve transitioned without that support, without probably burdening someone in my life.”

The Affordable Therapy Network is another resource that connects people to cheaper therapy options across Canada. This includes in-person therapy available in major cities and virtual therapy available throughout the country.

Katie McCowan, director and founder of the Affordable Therapy Network, said all of the roughly 450 therapists listed in the network’s online directory offer a limited amount of either low-cost rates — at $65 or less — or sliding scale rates, which are supplemented by others paying the full cost of therapy.

“People really need support. And (some people) really can’t afford (it) … standard therapy’s about $150, oftentimes more, for an hour,” she said.

McCowan said she’s glad to see that access to therapy has improved in Canada over the years, but said she hopes to see more subsidized options in the future.

People should always reach out for help if they’re struggling financially, mentally, or both, Oleksy stressed.

“When you start to feel like you’re in control of your money, and you have a plan, it can kind of ease things up mental health wise,” she said.

“And vice versa, when you have a plan and a support system to deal with your mental health, it can give you a bit more breathing room to deal with your finances as well.”