With research showing a strong link between personal finance, stress and mental and physical health, it’s time to make financial literacy part of wellness efforts, participants at last month’s Mental Health Summit in Vancouver heard.

“When you look at most surveys that ask individuals what stresses them the most, personal finance — managing day-to-day money, managing debt, saving for retirement and unexpected expenses — often tops the charts,” Marie-Hélène Pelletier, assistant vice-president for workplace mental health and integrated health solutions at Sun Life Financial, told participants at the Vancouver event.

The 2014 Sun Life Canadian health index found personal finance was a greater source of stress than personal relationships or work life. Pelletier noted stress related to personal finance can have a major impact on people’s lives, with 46 per cent of those surveyed reporting they had lost sleep and 40 per cent saying it causes arguments within couples.

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“One of main variables to how we react to personal finances is our tolerance to risk,” she said, noting some individuals are fine navigating financial difficulties but others experience significant stress. “There is definitely an individual component to this equation, so how we interpret the issue actually matters because interpretation of financial health is a strong predictor of mental health.”

Numerous studies show a link between physical, mental and financial health. For example, research found higher antidepressant usage followed the U.S. housing crash, young adults with financial stress had higher blood pressure and those seeking debt counselling were 11 times more likely to report back pain.

“In a context where we have limited resources to look after our health, we’ve been looking after physical health and we’re working more and more on psychological health, and it also makes sense to spend resources looking after our financial health,” said Pelletier. “An integrated approach can lead to stronger results, and employers and their partners have an important role to play.”

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Many employers already have programs in place that can help. “If someone is experiencing significant stress from financial issues, they can be directed to resources such as a psychologist or mental health counsellor through their EAP or EFAP,” said Pelletier. Saving money through company plans and personalized advice from third parties can also help. “If we can bring more financial literacy to our workplaces to help individuals have better knowledge and a more realistic assessment of their situation, we can help them move to actions that will be healthier for them.”

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