It often starts with a healthy worry concerning current financial status. Then worrying become obsessive. Gradually, getting more money to meet financial obligations becomes a desperate measure. Things could work out fine and normalcy is restored. But when it doesn’t, and debt – huge or small – is in sight, there is something to worry about. The sensible thing to do at this stage is to cut out frivolous expenses and get a scale of preference which may include getting economy class tickets instead of the usual business class. Luxury foreign trips will be let go. For those who are not that high on the economy pyramid, similar changes are also expected in lifestyles. Dry fish will replace fresh fish in soup, and at least a zero will replace one of the 1’s in the familiar 1-1-1 food schedule. These happen externally. But beyond these outward manifestations of personal financial recession, the empty wallet and partially empty bank account are taking an unhealthy toll on the health status of the owner. It is called Money Sickness Syndrome (MSS).
Money Sickness Syndrome is the least known but most widespread condition affecting people all over the world. While there is no all-encompassing literally right and scientifically correct definition, the condition could be described as the physical, psychological and social manifestations and symptoms experienced by people who are worried or are excessively concerned about their financial situation. The syndrome was first described in 2006 by mental health expert Dr Roger Henderson who carried out a survey with insurance company AXA in the UK.
From the results of the study, it was documented that about 90 percent of adults in the UK are displaying psychological symptoms brought on by financial stress and anxiety as a result of worries about money. A critical analysis of the results showed that 21 percent of mid–high level managers experience “constant” financial worries while only 9 percent of skilled manual workers suffer from this problem. The syndrome costs the UK economy about £3.7 billion ($6 billion) annually, while 20 percent of skilled manual workers and junior managers/admin staff are the groups most likely to turn to alcohol consumption to cope with the syndrome.
Just as HIV is the cause of AIDS, money stress is the cause of Money Sickness Syndrome. When it creeps in, it insidiously invades the body’s psychological and physiological systems. After its invasion, an individual begins to show an array of extensively varied symptoms.
Money and anxiety have close ties with consanguinity. Suze Orman, Oprah, Ellen, Chelsea Handler and a host of other primetime TV show hosts frequently talk about the duo, yet the incidence of money-induced anxiety is on the increase. According to a recent (October 2011) survey carried out by the American Psychological Association (APA), 80 percent of Americans found financial crisis as a significant cause of stress – about 14 percent higher than previous April figures (66 percent). While explaining the figures, APA’s public education coordinator for Pennsylvania, David Palmiter, PhD, said: “People see money as a safety net, as in, ‘I may not be able to count on people, but I can count on my cash.’ Hence the thought of losing the safety net is a first class ticket to abyss.”
Weight Gain and Eating Disorders
Weight gain is another symptom of money sickness syndrome. In the wake of the recent global financial crisis, trends showed many Americans and Canadians were eating more than usual and were losing their battle against the bulge even as they tried to control their diet. Dr. Penny Kendall-Reed is an internationally acclaimed naturopathic physician who helps patients to use their brains and holistic measures to put their diet under control without the “sick” feelings that are associated with dieting. He said: “During the financial crisis, I was seeing nearly three new patients daily for several months and about 90 percent of my patients had money sickness-related eating issues.”
Scientifically, the nexus between bad financial situation and eating disorders could be explained by the stimulation of the brain’s hunger center by stress. This stimulation upsets the body’s carefully balanced blood sugar (source of energy for daily activities) and affected individuals become resistant to their body’s anti-hunger messengers whose major role is to guard against indiscriminate food intake that could lead to eating disorders. Furthermore, the level of serotonin (happy hormone) is also greatly reduced and these manifestations trigger food cravings that inadvertently lead to weight gain and eating disorders.
Depression is another symptom of Money Sickness Syndrome (MSS). Statistically, one in ten people is suffering from depression. According to a World Health Organization study, depression is a more disabling condition than angina, arthritis, asthma and diabetes. And people who suffer from depression in addition to chronic illnesses such as diabetes have poor prognosis (i.e. they fare badly). Lynn Mitchell belongs to this category of people. According to the BBC, Mitchell has a terminal health condition – chronic obstructive lung disease. Two years ago, during a financial crisis, she got depression diagnosis which took her health to a rock bottom. Now she’s on antidepressants and is recuperating. “I think if I hadn’t had help with the depression, I would have been dead” she said.
People who have money crisis could also have insomnia. It is often said that there is an indirect (inverse) correlation between the severity of financial woes and hours of sleep i.e. the higher the financial crisis, the shorter the sleep duration. This was proven to be true when Forbes reported a survey which showed that since the economic stress hit US, more than 90 percent of American workforce now suffers from insomnia of varying severity. Apart from sleepless nights of starring at the ceilings, insomnia further exposes individuals to diseases and infections; it also interferes with immunity, cognition and emotion. It’s been ascertained that individuals who sleep for less than 7 hours nightly are 3 times more likely to suffer from common cold than people who sleep more. People with insomnia also have 66 percent higher chance of suffering from hypertension and are 5 times more predisposed to diabetes than those who sleep well.
Libido and Sexual Behaviors
Money Sickness Syndrome is also showing its effects privately – as in, the bedroom. Worrying about money has a negative effect on sex life, notably libido. As personal economy plummets while the national nosedives, sexual problems are rearing themselves in different dimensions such as sexually disturbed behaviors, erectile dysfunction, and conscious or unconscious avoidance of sex and sex-related activities otherwise known as “sexual anorexia”. As reported in London during the financial recession, money worries could also increase the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. In the study carried out at a clinic, a 20 percent increase in STDs was recorded among individuals who are older than 35 years and are experiencing financial difficulties.
When it comes to sex, Money Sickness Syndrome becomes a compulsive, self-destructive, reality-avoiding attitude. Lucy Beresford, a psychotherapist and media commentator, says: “the loss of money creates the reality of attacks upon fragile egos, and these attacks lead people to be scared and angry, which leads to reckless behaviors that are responsible for increase in STDs.”
Palpitation is another clinical presentation of Money Sickness Syndrome. Wikipedia defined it as an abnormality of heartbeat often accompanied by difficulty [in] breathing. Causes include overexertion, alcohol, nicotine (in cigarettes), caffeine (in coffee), cocaine, amphetamines, diseases (e.g. hyperthyroidism and pheochromocytoma), panic disorder and it could be secondary to money sickness syndrome-induced anxiety. Frequent uncontrolled palpitations could lead to profuse sweating, faintness, frequent headaches, migraines, chest pains or dizziness.
Sense of Humor
Being broke or foreseeing foreclosure isn’t funny. Hence sense of humor is one of the personality features that Money Sickness Syndrome erodes away at onset – little wonder happy broke people are hard to meet. Money Sickness Syndrome takes smiles away from peoples’ faces, replacing it with frowns and long stares. Confidence is also lost. Bad temper festers. People with the syndrome also fail to communicate well since ego is lost and frustration is few feet away.
It is therefore not another attempt to direct attention and attract funding to scientists, psychologists and other categories of researchers who are involved in Money Sickness Syndrome. Rather, the cosmopolitan nature of the syndrome is a call for action. This call becomes imperative since almost everyone is affected – rich and poor, young and old, male and female, business executives and artisans. Furthermore, it is also very important to identify and publicize the preventive measures.
At the corporate level, employers should pay more attention and should not ignore the tell tale signs that suggest that an employee is undergoing financial stress that could lead to the syndrome. To serve as financial immunization, companies can organize financial management courses for their workers. They can also give workers periodic access to financial experts as well as encourage members of staff to spend quality time on their finances. According to Eugene Farrell, AXA head of psychological health and wellbeing, “employers should think about how they can help employees get to grips with their financial problems before they get out of hand and make them too ill to work.”
At the individual level, the key to tackling Money Sickness Syndrome is to “take control”. This is true financially and medically. Taking control means taking charge of the situation and addressing problems directly. Many a times, people are too busy to address situations involving figures. It might be fear or paucity of ideas. But realizing that problems not solved now will not resolve themselves on their own should spur people to action.
Medically, “taking control” is highly therapeutic. Via a series of complex physio-psychological steps, it has been established that the more someone feels in control, the fewer symptoms he or she will have. Therefore, an important step when taking control of one’s financial situation is to have a plan of action that not only reduces the burden of debt, but in doing so, it also helps to reduce the physical and psychological symptoms.
“Penny wise, pound foolish” goes an old saying. But with the current trend of Money Sickness Syndrome, it is clear that wisdom does not lie in prudence but in adequate planning and taking precautionary measures which include keeping a spreadsheet where records of expenses are kept, constant evaluation of lifestyle in order to cut back on wasteful spending, getting a scale of preference that will guide allocation of funds for recurrent and capital expenditures, making realistic plans to offset current debts, and seeking a third party independent and objective professional advice on how to regain control and reduce the impact of Money Sickness Syndrome. Believe it or not, everyone is affected.