COMMENT: Financial fitness and mental wellness are intertwined

·4 min read
Financial fitness and mental wellness are intertwined  (PHOTO: Getty Commercial)
Financial fitness and mental wellness are intertwined (PHOTO: Getty Commercial)

By Bryce Johns

SINGAPORE — As we have just observed World Mental Health Day, something that has been on my mind has been how mental health not only affects how we think and feel, but also has a strong link with our physical and financial health. While multiple studies have been done on the former, we are only just starting to discover the interconnectedness between our mental and financial fitness.

On a more surface level, more people are using their finances to boost their overall wellbeing. Just think of the wellness economy, which is currently valued at US$4.5 trillion according to the Global Wellness Institute. In the US, people are spending about US$287 a month just on their mental health.

But when you dig a bit deeper, you see an even more complex relationship. The UK’s Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that people with mental health problems are at significantly higher risk of financial difficulty, which in turn can exacerbate mental health issues and prolong mental health recovery.

The HSBC Life + Factor Study which surveyed over 10,000 people across Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland China and the UK between March and April 2021, showed some interesting findings. 

Of those in Singapore with ‘very low mental health’, only 15% considered themselves very financially fit. Conversely, a majority of people in Singapore who identified as having ‘above average mental health’ scored "very fit" for their financial fitness.

What this tells us is that the better our mental health, the better our overall financial fitness. When asked about their wealth and holistic wellness, 91% of people in Singapore indicated that they needed to be mentally healthy to allow them to enjoy their wealth, while 80% felt that their mental health and financial position were related.

Another element to come out of the survey was an emerging health legacy to challenge the traditional concept of an inheritance based solely on wealth and property. With society’s enhanced focus on wellbeing — no doubt driven in part by the pandemic — people indicated their ‘legacy’ is not only about the wealth they pass onto the next generation, but healthy lifestyle habits as well.

This health legacy phenomenon was prevalent across all age groups in the study but strongest amongst the 25 to 34 age group at 81%.

When it comes to ways to boost our mental wellness, the study found significant differences in the level of mental wellbeing between people who do or don’t undertake long-term financial planning. Respondents who review their financial plan at least once a year tended to be in better mental health than does who do not.

Of respondents with a comprehensive retirement plan, 80% felt that they had average or above average mental health. This is understandable as having a proper plan in place can help to alleviate extra stress about the future.

The pandemic has changed not only our lifestyle and behaviours, but also the way we think. It has shone a light on the importance of mental wellness and how we tackle it as a society.

Now you must be thinking to yourself, why would a CEO of a Global Insurance business be so concerned about this. Simply put, one can no longer think about wealth without health – both physical and mental. When your job is to offer protection to people, how can you not consider the interlinks between the core dimensions of wellbeing?

Mental wellness should be something that we prioritise beyond World Mental Health Day, so I am pledging to talk with my family and friends about our holistic health, to take stock of each component and consider how they are connected.

I’m motivated to do this not only because it will help us be at our best – financially, mentally and emotionally – but also because our study identified a fourth dimension to holistic wellbeing: people with above average mental and financial health are more prone to contribute to society. They not only donate to charity and engage in community events more, they are also more likely to invest in sustainable or ESG funds.

This highlights the fact that being mentally and financially healthy doesn’t just benefit the individual, it also has a bigger impact on our contribution to society at large, which in turn allows us to enjoy a fuller life.

The Covid-19 crisis is a significant call to build back a better, more inclusive and sustainable world. And it’s important we all do our part.

Bryce Johns is Global CEO, HSBC Life and Insurance Partnerships, based in Hong Kong.

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