Debt makes you sick

By on May 9, 2014

Spend less than you make:
the rest is commentary

Many components of our lifestyle, such as diet, inactivity and even loneliness, can be bad for our health. But until I saw the table shown below I never thought that debt could actually make you sick.

Debt and financial stress affect many people and families. Financial stress is the feeling that one cannot afford the basic necessities of life or make ends meet. It may also arise from future obligations like educating kids or having sufficient income in retirement.

Stress from debt was the factor used to build the table below. Debt may be tied to other factors like illness and unemployment that also contribute to stress. However, there is no doubt that improving one’s financial situation alleviates stress regardless of its causes.

Impact of Stress from Debt on Health

Health Issue                              High Debt Stress                        Low Debt Stress

Migraines/headaches                                44%                                                   15%
Severe depression                                      23%                                                     4%
Insomnia/sleep issues                               39%                                                   17%
Severe anxiety                                            29%                                                      4%
High blood pressure                                  33%                                                   26%
Heart attack                                                  6%                                                      3%
Ulcer/digestive issues                                27%                                                     8%
Muscle tension/
low back pain                                              51%                                                     31%

Source: T.E. Wealth

That many Canadians feel their income is not sufficient for their needs is reflected in our collective high level of personal debt. The Bank of Canada has been warning us that our large burden of debt is going to get us into trouble and this is reflected in our health.

To avoid debt and the resulting stress and illness, we need to be financially literate. In the last century, literacy was the basic three R’s: reading, (w)riting and ‘rithmatic. John Dewey, the well-known educational expert of the early 20th century, thought that once the population had these basics society would prosper. Now we need a much higher level of continuous lifetime learning, including the rudiments of economics, basic money management skills and an understanding of how investments, interest rates and other financial elements work.

First and foremost, financial literacy is needed at the level of the individual and family. But a financially knowledgeable population benefits more than itself. We all become much better at looking at economic issues as they affect our communities and governments and can then make more informed and viable choices at the political level with positive effects on our communities and the society at large.

The good news is that the younger generation (those between 18 and 34) seems to be doing better on the money management front than other Canadian age groups. A digital coupon website,, conducted a poll which showed that these young millennials are more likely to save rather than spend any tax refund. They are also more likely to create a budget to live by, seek financial advice and use coupons to reduce the prices they pay. Maybe it is the negative example of their stressed, indebted parents that inspires them.
More good news is that the federal government has recognized Canadians’ need for greater financial literacy. They have appointed Jane Rooney as Canada’s first National Financial Literacy Leader. Her challenging job will be to sort out all the public and private organizations in the field, determine gaps and best practices and encourage the implementation of those practices, hopefully reducing our debts and the resulting stress.

In the Middle Ages, a wise guy asked the rabbi Hillel to teach him all the wisdom of the bible while standing on one foot. Hillel said, “Do not do to others what is hateful to you. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”
For those wishing to acquire financial literacy in the same time timeframe, I humbly offer: Spend less than you make. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it. -TroyMedia

Troy Media BC’s Business columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker and can be reached at

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