Someone you care about is coping with financial instability

Questions and strategies to help you have a supportive conversation when someone you care about is coping with financial instability.

This is one of a series of topics in the Supportive conversation library. Review the guidelines including what to do if you are concerned for another’s safety before engaging in the conversation.

What do you notice?

You notice that someone you care about  financially instable, and it’s negatively impacting their mental health. Maybe they mention disrupted sleep, headaches or health concerns, such as lack of energy. Perhaps they show signs of stress and anxiety (irritability, anger or extreme worry). Maybe they communicate feelings of shame or guilt about their current situation and that it’s taking a toll on their personal relationships.

What do you need to understand?

Financial worry is often an unrecognized mental health stressor, and its impact is far reaching. Since our sense of worth is often tied to our ability to provide for ourselves and loved ones, financial instability can impact our self-esteem and emotional wellness. Though financial instability is often not a direct result of our efforts in life, there’s a cultural perception that it is. Those with financial instability can feel this is a comment on who they are, which can negatively impact their mental health.

What do you need to consider?

Financial worry is strongly tied to our emotional and mental wellness. However, society presents it as a taboo topic, which makes it difficult for people to talk to each other about it. It’s helpful to find ways to address an individual’s concerns about financial instability by framing the conversation in a way that doesn’t place blame on their ability to provide or earn consistent income so they can get the help they need. Since financial instability deeply impacts the way someone feels about themselves, be sure to check in frequently with how they’re feeling during this confusing time.

Engaging in a supportive conversation

Have the right mindset

Come into the conversation from a supportive place. Watch out for your hidden agenda, such as wanting to fix or influence the individual. Avoid “you” statements, such as “you always do…”. They often make the person feel judged or invalidated. Be curious and have the mindset that you don’t know anything about their experiences.

Questions to check your mindset:

  • What are my assumptions about this situation?
  • How will I keep my assumptions out of the conversation and be supportive?
  • What do I hope to achieve by having this conversation?
  • How can I keep my desires for an outcome from interfering with my ability to be supportive?

Notice

Notice changes in behaviour that aren’t typical for the person and ask about them. Don’t add your assumptions or opinions about why those changes may be  happening. If you’re wrong, it may discourage the person from wanting to continue the conversation.

Examples of “noticing” conversation starters:

  • “I noticed that you mentioned not feeling physically well lately. Are you okay? What do you think is impacting your health?”
  • “I noticed that you mentioned having a lot of stress lately and this is impacting you. I want to support you, please share what’s going on in your life.”
  • “I noticed that you said you’re feeling worthless. Are you okay? I’m concerned.”

Preparing for the response

Not all supportive conversations lead to an understanding of how you can help. Remember, the goal of a supportive conversation is to understand the individual’s needs and wants and whether they’re open to assistance. The guidelines below can help prepare you to respond when the person is open or not to a discussion.

When the individual doesn’t appear open to discussion – a closed-door response:

Not everyone’s comfortable being asked how they feel or exploring reasons why they’re behaving differently. You might get avoidant responses, like “I’m fine” or “It’s none of your business.” If this is the case, you can reiterate your concern and leave an opening for them to walk into when they’re ready.

  • “I was concerned about you and wanted to ask. If you say you’re okay, I’ll trust you, but if that changes, I’m here to support you if you need me.”

If the supportive conversation ends here, you should feel good that you noticed and asked about their well-being. Try not to take the response or tone personally despite the conversation not going anywhere. It takes courage to initiate these types of conversations, and it’s not your responsibility to force another to notice or change their behaviour.

When the individual appears to be open to discussion – an open-door response:

If the person confirms they feel different or that life circumstances have changed for them, you’ve opened the door to having a supportive conversation.

The next statement might be:

  • “Tell me more. I want to better understand what you’re going through.”

Continue to follow the guidelines below for having a supportive conversation.

Continuing the conversation

Listen

Listen for where the individual feels unsupported or doesn’t have their needs met. When they’re finished speaking, confirm what you heard by rephrasing it and asking if you understand it correctly.

Examples of “listening” in the conversation include:

  • “I’m hearing that you feel physically unwell as a result of your worries over money. Is that right?”
  • “I’m hearing that money is a source of conflict between you and your partner and that it’s causing you a lot of stress. Is that what I’m hearing?”
  • “I heard that you have a lot of strong uncomfortable feelings, such as guilt and shame, about your current financial situation. Is that right?”

Highlight

Highlight strengths you see in the person. Some examples could be courage or persistence in dealing with the situation they just shared with you.

Here’s an example of “calling out strengths” in the conversation include:

  • “I’m so glad you felt comfortable sharing these concerns. It takes courage and this is something you need not take on alone.”

Identify

Identify what support  the individual wants and connect them with relevant resources. Don’t insist on support or resources they don’t want or aren’t ready to accept.

Examples of “identifying support” in the conversation include:

  • “You’ve identified the need to address the [feelings, or physically symptoms] you’re having during this vulnerable time, so how can I best support you at this time?”*
  • “I can support you with finding resources that might help to address this – would that be helpful?”

*Note: If there’s a limit on how you can be supportive, be specific about how you can help. The offer of support needs to be realistic and in line with your abilities and available time. Otherwise, talk about what’s realistic for both of you to do to create change in the other’s life.

Create

Create an action plan with the individual to leverage their strengths and follow up on a regular basis, adding additional resources when they’re ready. Give a clear timeline or understanding of  how you’ll be supportive. Here’s an example of “creating an action plan” in the conversation:

  • “I’m so glad we had this conversation. You mentioned a few things you wanted to explore to create some change in your life. I’ll follow through with my offer of support in the next week.”

Thank you for being supportive! You’ve taken the time to learn to have a conversation that lets  your loved one or friend know you notice and care about them. By showing concern, you can help them evaluate whether they should continue as is or address certain elements in their life. For some, this may be the beginning of a journey that will require the assistance of additional support services or professionals.

Additional resources

To be an effective supporter, it’s helpful to understand more of what your family member or friend’s experiencing. Check out these resources to provide more context about their experiences: