Women hit harder by recession; mental health suffers

Women are having a tougher time with the financial crisis and are more likely to struggle to stay on top of their finances, according to a new report. Twice as many women (68%) as men (32%) sought help with their finances between January 1 and April 30, says Financial Finesse, a financial education company. Financial Finesse reviewed calls to its financial helpline service that is available to over 500,000 employees at more than 300 organizations, as well as usage of its online learning center.

Financial Finesse found that women who called the helpline were more likely to be behind with their bills than men. About 74% of women said they paid their bills on time, compared with 90% of men. Also, 43% of calls from women were about debt, compared with 36% of calls from men. About 29% of the women who called about debt were dealing with serious issues, such as how to avoid foreclosure or bankruptcy, or whether or not to borrow money from a retirement plan.

"When I looked at the research I was pretty shocked when we pulled these numbers to see how women are behind," says Nancy L. Anderson, CFP, a resident financial planner for Financial Finesse. Anderson says most of the women falling behind financially were still employed, although some had been laid off or had a spouse who had lost a job. But many of the female callers were more focused on helping others, which didn't help with their own financial situation.

"Women tend to put other people first, so instead of building their emergency fund, they're helping their kids through college," she says. "I always say kids have 40 years to pay [student loans] back. I know we don't want to saddle our kids with loans, but there is no grant for retirement."

Anderson says that in addition to helping their college-age and adult kids, many women are helping their parents, too. One woman who called the helpline was about to be evicted, but was more concerned about helping her dad pay for his supply of oxygen because he didn't have health insurance.

A recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) also shows that women tend to put others first, and that the financial crisis has taken a toll on their mental health. The APA survey found that more than two-thirds of women polled said the recession had negatively affected their lives or the lives of loved ones. Women surveyed reported increased stress, anxiety, frustration and other negative mental health indicators since the recession began, and that job losses have contributed to their woes.

The poll also found that many women may be neglecting their own needs while focusing on their families and other concerns. APA surveyed 1,000 women ages 30 to 54. The women ranked their ability to provide food, clothing and education for their families; relationships with family and friends; and personal finances, such as mortgages and retirement savings, as more important than their own mental and physical health.

While many women are dealing with job losses, workplace demands and running a household, the APA found that 76% of women polled said they were participating in more positive activities than they were six months ago as a way to cope with stress. Positive activities included spending time with family or friends, praying or attending religious services, exercising, watching TV and reading.

The APA says women can better cope with stress related to the economy by taking care of their mental and physical health. Stress management, improving diet, getting enough sleep and exercising can help. Mental health can also be improved by women balancing their needs, focusing on the positive, surrounding themselves with positive people, socializing and having fun. It is also important to know when to seek help from a religious or spiritual adviser or mental health professional.

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