The hidden link between money and mental health
India has the largest number of young people in the world. However, with a stagnant economy, our teenagers are an anxious lot, worried about their future. And it has only grown worse with the impact of Covid-19, which leaves them more time on their hands to worry, their thoughts running in circles.
While we worry about college admissions and lost years, why not convert this into an opportunity to direct their minds from worrying to taking action by learning useful life skills?
Academics is not unimportant, but it is not enough for success in life. Our youngsters need to know how to deal with people, manage their money, and be healthy. While there is enough known and even taught in schools about physical health, not enough is done to help teens navigate their mental health, which is why we see high levels of anxiety and depression in this age group. And small wonder. At that age, we all remember how scary the adult world was, and how little confidence we had that we could navigate it successfully.
The biggest fear we faced was handling money. Those of us lucky enough to have parents who emphasised the need for budgeting and saving were way ahead of our friends who started their careers by blowing up their paychecks on a regular basis. Most of us used to drag along an elder to open a bank account.
The girls always had it worse. Not only did we have fewer opportunities outside the home and marriage, but we had fewer role models, and often enough, we were told to 'leave money to the menfolk'. Everyone knows an auntie who is frightened to go to a bank alone or who cannot write a cheque even after several decades. Mention mutual funds, and she will run away and hide under her bed!
This is ironical, since we have a woman as the Finance Minister of India and prominent women have some of India's top banks, including SBI, ICICI and Axis Bank.
Our girls need to be financially confident. That way, they will take better decisions regarding their finances, and learn the skills of logic and data-based decision making. These will help them navigate their careers with more assertiveness. They will have the confidence to chuck a bad job, a bad boss, a bad marriage, or a traumatic situation, secure that they have enough money to avoid being forced to compromise their mental health.
Be.artsy, run by social entrepreneur Shikha Mittal, has been in the business of building awareness since 2010. Their experience running awareness programs on the prevention of sexual harassment and financial literacy has shown that one of the best preventive measures is for women to be aware of their rights, and have the financial confidence to be able to say no and make it stick. This has culminated in the release of their new program, 'Be Your Own Lakshmi', a financial literacy program exclusively for women. As of October 2020, Be.artsy has run 31 sessions of this extremely popular program among 1700 from 18 cities. 63% of the participants were aged between 18 and 25.
The aspirations of the participants vary. 20% want to break free of the patriarchal assumptions on women being unsuited to financial independence. Others have more practical goals, ranging from buying a house (14%), to higher education (18%), emergency funds (9%), travel (7%), and even supporting their ageing parents (4%).
Participants have loved the program, rating it 4.6 on a scale of 1 to 5. Participant Aishuwarya Sudarshan sums it up best: "We invariably have been conditioned to believe that we will need some help from people when dealing with money. Like dad, brother, auditor, financial analyst and this makes us a little handicapped because we rely on so many people instead of building the strength to hold ourselves up. So Be Your Own Lakshmi is such a good way to train women to understand that it is your money, you worked hard to earn it, you should work a little more to be able to see it flourish."