Muslims, Money and Mental Health

The vicious cycle

rom the highs of receiving a pay cheque, to debt-induced anxiety, the impact that money can have on our mental health is by no means simple. Being a practising Muslim adds another layer of complexity, whereby questioning the “sharia-compliance” of common financial products, and making the difficult decision of whether to use them or not, can increase the effects of money-induced stress.

This is exemplified further by stigmas surrounding financial precarity and its common consequences — such as debt — as well the mental health problems this can induce. At Kestrl we’ve delved deeper into this issue and examined some of the specific issues that contribute to the struggles of financial management and mental health.

Debt

When it comes to the negative impacts of finances on mental health, the causes are plenty: bills, creditors, the threat of repossession, the inability to access mainstream financial services, living below the poverty line, working additional hours etc. However, a stand out issue for us is debt.

Debt is often the result of preexisting financial difficulties, before itself becoming a burden on those carrying it.

Money and the Mind’s report found that 12.7 million households in the UK are in debt, and 46% of those experience mental health problems.

Debt is linked to a myriad of mental health issues such as anxiety when dealing with creditors whose tone and approach is a particular cause of stress for those indebt. Furthermore, it can be an isolating experience, causing breakdowns in relationships, and loneliness — all common depressive symptoms. Money and the Mind further found that those with “problem debt” were 4.2x more likely to still have depression — after an initial display of symptoms — 18 months later. In this way, those in debt are significantly more likely to experience long-term depression.

A key contributor to the isolation felt by those in debt, is the social stigma surrounding debt itself. Our culture of individualism propagates the narrative of personal responsibility, whereby debt is the result of personal failure on behalf of the indebted. This leads to the guilt and shame often associated with debt, causing those in debt to isolate themselves and fall deeper into depression.

Muslims are not immune

Although debt is discouraged in Islam, Muslims are not immune from it or it’s harmful impacts. Therefore, it is crucial to approach this from a perspective of empathy and compassion. A significant percentage of British Muslims are working-class; the Muslim Council of Britain reported that 46% of the UK’s Muslim population live in the 10% most deprived authority districts in the UK, and 28% of Muslims live in social housing. This indicates relatively low household incomes and potentially more precarious financial situations. In fact, Muslim Census 2020 report on the Financial Impact of Covid-19 on the Muslim Community, illustrated that Muslims suffered significantly and uniquely when it comes to finances. For example the report showed that Muslims are falling into poverty at 10x the rate of the rest of the population.

Most importantly, it showed that 28% of its participants resorted to borrowing money in order to cope with the financial stresses brought about by the pandemic.

This is significant as it reflects the prevalence of debt within Muslim communities, the result of increasingly volatile financial circumstances, despite Islamic attitudes towards it. Therefore, the stigma associated with debt which we’ve mentioned, is compounded for Muslims because of both the Islamic prohibitions on it, and stigmas surrounding mental illness that prevail in many Muslim circles. This can undoubtedly amplify the suffering of Muslims in these circumstances.

We’re keen to help our users develop a sense of control over their finances. We understand that there are structural issues in place that contribute to the disenfranchisement of Muslims, which is why we believe in destigmatising debt. We’re also keen to create and launch products which will democratise financial education, to demystify financial planning, and to make them both accessible to as many Muslims as possible.

If you find yourself in debt, or struggling with your mental health — whether it’s caused by financial problems or otherwise — we’ve compiled a list of resources to help you in overcoming these difficulties:

Kestrl is an app that helps Muslims to achieve their financial goals without compromising on their religious values.