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Let’s talk about saving money, lives

Financial distress such as bankruptcy affects the mental health of people across all sections of society

mumbai Updated: Sep 04, 2018 00:49 IST
Mumbai,money,depression
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 3.3% of the 1.33 lakh suicides in India in 2015 were a result of bankruptcy, change in economic status and financial distress, a rise compared to the 1.8% of total 1.31 lakh in 2014.(ILLUSTRATION: SUDHIR SHETTY)

In June, Rajesh Bhingare, 45, his wife Ashwini, 40, and sons Tushar, 23, and Gaurang, 19, ended their lives by consuming insecticide at their house in Government Colony in Bandra. The same month, K Sushma, 27, a stock trader from Mumbai, committed suicide in a hotel in Hyderabad. In February, a Pune-based family of four—Nilesh Chaudhary, 35, his wife Nilam, 33, their daughters Shravani, 9, and Shreya, 7, – were found dead.

Financial stress, according to the police, was the cause of all these suicides.

With depression and suicides over money matters on the rise, HT looks at the problems and how equipped the city is to offer help at the right time.

MONEY MATTERS

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 3.3% of the 1.33 lakh suicides in India in 2015 were a result of bankruptcy, change in economic status and financial distress, a rise compared to the 1.8% of total 1.31 lakh in 2014.

Psychiatrists attribute the rise in those suffering from depression triggered by financial distress to debts, job insecurity, downsizing, and lifestyle aspirations. “Of the 20 patients a day, at least one is facing financial stress. A decade ago, it was one patient a week,” said Dr Anjali Chhabria, a psychiatrist based in Vile Parle.

“At least 10% of my patients are depressed about money. The situation was particularly bad after demonetisation. People were unable to cope with the change in reality related to cash or repayment of loans. Some were suicidal. We tell them to seek help from finance management firms, but there is shame in revealing financial problems,” said Dr Kersi Chavda, a psychiatrist associated with the Indian Psychiatric Society.

The problem is across all economic groups. “In public hospitals, at least 20% patients are depressed over financial troubles. They don’t have the money to make ends meet. In private hospitals, patients don’t necessarily struggle with money, but mainly with aspirations,” said Dr Sagar Mundada, who formerly practised at civic-run KEM Hospital in Parel, explaining how a patient earning ₹2 lakh a month was depressed because it didn’t match his expectations. “It is a result of aggressive marketing of a certain kind of lifestyle.”

Recounting the case of a city-based family that couldn’t pay the children’s school fees after returning from a lavish international holiday, Chhabria said, “When aspirations and affordability don’t match, there is a lot of confusion.” “Chronic stress leads to anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and early cardiac problems. Some of them resort to alcohol, smoking or drugs to deal with it,” said Dr Milan Balakrishnan, a psychiatrist at a Parel hospital.

SPEAK UP

According to the data published in the Economic and Political Weekly this year, nearly 75% of Indian adults don’t understand the basics of finance. This, experts say, comes in the way of managing money, leading to the resultant stress. “For some, financial planning only means investment,” said Aparna Ramachandra, founder director, Rectifycredit.com, a credit guidance firm.

“Financial wellness is a well-documented need. People take bad decisions owing to financial stress. Debt is another problem. The mistake people make is they over-leverage themselves,” said Vishal Dhawan, a certified financial planner and founder and chief executive officer, Plan Ahead Wealth Advisors, a Sebi-registered investment adviser.

Mental health and debt, doctors say, have stigma associated with it. “We have always been taught to save and avoid debt. The principles of an EMI- or credit card-based economy are different. This leads to conflict between our ingrained values and current situation,” he said.

This means there is not enough communication with a person struggling with finances. “If I don’t tell you I have fever, how will you cure me? People don’t come out to say they are in financial mess. Unless they say they need help, how will you help,” asked Ramachandra.

There have been instances where banks come ahead for debt counselling, however, with vested interests, they only look at issues pertaining to them, said Ramachandra.

HELP AT HAND

With the shame associated with mental health, the government is trying to spread awareness, though not specifically for financial distress. “The Centre conducts awareness programmes on mental health. Mental illness is like any other illness and it is nothing to be ashamed of,” said Deepak Malhotra, section officer for mental illness, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

“Under the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP), there is a support office with a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, psychiatrist social worker and nurse on district as well as sub-district level. There is no financial advisor or financial planner in the team.”

Even in institutes, there are not enough processes for formal financial counselling. “We tell our students to understand financial distress,” said Gururaj Gopalkrishna, professor, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences.

Financial planners and advisors say this is not enough. “There is no mechanism for psychologists to refer people with financial problems to a financial advisor or a financial planner. It could be a good start if authorities do it on a basic level,” said Ranjeet Mudholkar, vice-chairman and CEO, Financial Planning Standards Board India.

The Tata Institute of Social Sciences has an initiative to help families stay out of financial distress, but the programme is limited to the poor.

“We encourage our students to teach money management and budgeting to families who approach us for work. For counselling, we don’t only look at the psychological aspect. We look at the economic aspect too. We have a course in our institute called financial planning and management. It is a choice-based course. With inflation and consumerism, the financial crisis will only escalate,” said Juvva Srilatha, professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

First Published: Sep 04, 2018 00:49 IST