Dealing With Depression During Tough Financial Times

by Amy Keeley
Depression During Tough Financial Times photo

When you can barely or can’t make ends meet, it is only natural to experience stress and depression. We get advice from a psychologist specializing in depression on ways you can cope during tough financial times.

Some people choose frugality and some don’t have a choice. Job loss, divorce, death in the family, medical issues, and more can take a family that had a secure home and future and put them in a state of chaos where they don’t know what’s coming next. This is known as situational poverty.

It’s hard enough to get through situational poverty. But a Gallup Poll said, “Impoverished Americans are more likely than those who are not in poverty to say they have ever been diagnosed with many chronic health problems – with depression being a particularly pronounced issue.”

Those who are going through a crisis, especially one that deals a blow to financial security, need emotional resources to draw on to prevent what’s called situational depression, a disorder caused by trauma or stress rather than chemical imbalance. But what if those resources are low or entirely gone? How do you get them back? And how do you prevent sliding into situational depression in the first place?

I interviewed Deborah Serani, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in depression and author of several books on depression, about this difficult topic. Here are her responses:

Q: What would you recommend to those who are going through situational poverty to prevent situational depression?

Dr. Serani: Depression is an illness that brings about much negative thinking and hopelessness. Anyone moving through difficult financial times should try to measure success not by the dollar sign, but by the non-materialistic things in the world – like love, family, laughter.

There’s the old belief that money can’t buy happiness and research says this is true. While rich people report feeling more security, they do not have happiness rates higher than those with less money. It is true that situations that brought about a change in economic status will require patience and test fortitude. To fight depression, one has to link hope with time, and to redefine what is truly meaningful in life.

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Q: In your article [on situational depression] in Esperanza, you mentioned therapy as the best solution for those suffering from situational depression. What would you say to someone who can’t afford therapy, or whose treatment isn’t covered by insurance?

Dr. Serani: I like to recommend three different paths: Professional, Local and Online.

The first is to see if professional individual treatment is available at either low fee or no fee. Many mental health associations have pro bono members, clinicians that offer sessions for no fee. Calling your local psychology, mental health or social work organizations can help you find out if this is possible.

The second path to consider is a community or religious affiliation support group. Again, many towns and cities offer community groups for children or adults who need mental health services.

Lastly, going online for a place to talk about your thoughts, feelings and struggles can be helpful if professional or group support isn’t available.

Note: Deborah Serani’s Esperanza article on situational depression can be found here.

Q: Are there any specific techniques someone can use until they can get help, or any resources you would recommend?

Dr. Serani:

Try not to “catastrophize.” It can be easy to slip into a belief system that everything is going to fall apart when money becomes tight. Taking issues one at a time and not going too far into the future with worries can help minimize this.

Create moments. Don’t let the lack of money make you or your family feel empty. There are many ways to fill time and make meaningful memories without spending money. Talk a walk together. Eat by candlelight. Have a tech-free night and play board games. (See Where to Find Free or Cheap Summer Activities.)

Practice self-care.  Situational depression, situational poverty or any experience that tests coping can be better endured when we self-care. Being able to refuel in quiet or special ways need not take money. Finding some time to be alone, sleeping in or going to bed early, savoring a cup of tea, cuddling with your pet or turning off the phone are great ways to self-care.

Reviewed March 2023

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