FIRE, Suicide, and Mental Health

This blog post is part of the 4th Annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Month blog tour. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741

If you’re focused in on FIRE (Financial Independence, Retired Early), you’re probably thinking about things like cutting expenses, getting side-hustles to raise more money, and how to get to that magic 25X expenses that will mean a life of freedom. You’re probably not thinking about things like mental health and suicide. You’re just thinking about how great it will feel to go to work that last time, surprise everyone when you tell them that you’re leaving. No, not another job. Just leaving.

But you absolutely should. There are a lot of medical emergencies like a broken leg, a bout of the flu that puts you in the hospital for a couple of weeks, or even an appendicitis that can set you back a little in your quest for FIRE. But mental health can knock you right off your path and make things like money and budgets seem silly. You can have big expenses that pile up and put a huge hole in any financial plan. But you may not even care because just trying to get back to “normal” where you’re worrying about things like vacation plans and mowing the lawn seems like a challenge. In today’s article, we’ll talk about mental health and suicide, a topic that has been taboo way too long.

Let’s end the taboo about mental health

Mental health has had a stigma for way too long. You wouldn’t feel like you needed to hide something like heart disease or cancer, but mental health issues have been covered up and hidden. At one time it was thought that some one who had mental health problems must be a sinner or even possessed by evil spirits. Others were thought to be faking it to get sympathy or avoid work.

But mental health is just like any other disease. There are chemical imbalances in the brain caused by some organ not functioning right or due to stresses and traumatic events that have happened to the person. Just as our body does not always function correctly or can become injured in an accident or through improper diet or overuse, our minds can start to not work correctly or be injured. When this happens, it can take both drugs to help restore correct function or make up for the chemicals that are not being produced and therapy to retrain our minds and strengthen them.

Diseases like depression can show up at any time, either after a traumatic event knocks us out of balance or just because. Anxiety can be a lifelong issue, where we worry too much about everything, even about being worried. Psychosis like schizophrenia show up in the late teens when the brain begins pruning back neurons, going from a young brain designed for learning into an adult brain designed for efficiency. These are not things we can control or predict. Thankfully, they aren’t things that are contagious, so there is no reason to be fearful of people with mental diseases.

Seeking FIRE can be a lifesaver

Financial Independence, the “FI” part of FIRE, can actually be a lifesaver when it comes to mental health. There are two reasons for this. The first is that debt, and the hopelessness that comes from it, is a strong contributing factor to suicide. People who live the standard, American lifestyle get deep into debt, feel like there is no way out, and then start to see suicide as a viable solution to their problem. Keeping your spending at levels that are well beyond your income, such that you can actually put money away and be a lender instead of a borrower can prevent you from getting into debt in the first place.

Still, even if you do find yourself deep in debt with the creditors knocking at the door, you still have lots of options. Therapists will tell you that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If you change your lifestyle, you can almost always climb your way out of debt over time. There are legions of stories of people who were $10,000, $50,000, or even $100,000 in debt who paid it off and went one to financial independence. It can be done.

If you need help getting out of debt, please check out Debtors Anonymous.  There is help out there, and the worst that can happen is you push reset on your finances, change your habits, and start making your life better. There are hundreds of stories of people who have gone from deep in debt to debt-free within 10 years or less. Even some who go on to millionaires. It just takes time and learning what you need to do to manage your money better.

And even if you’re in a situation where you can’t pay it off, like your debt is just too high and the interest compounding too fast for your job to ever cover, you can always declare bankruptcy and either have the debt wiped clean or get on a payment plan with lower interest rates that you can tackle. You can also often talk to your creditors and explain to them that you can’t pay everything owed, but you can pay a portion if they’ll settle. Realize that because a lot of the debt is due to interest and fees, your creditors will be happy to just get back what you actually borrowed, what things actually cost them, or something close to it.

A credit card may tack on several thousand dollars to a what you actually borrowed on the card if you miss a payment or two and don’t pay off the card. But what they actually want is what you actually spent. The rest for them is gravy. If they think they’re not going to get the whole thing, they’ll be happy just getting their money back plus a little for the use of their cash. Just make sure that you get everything in writing so they don’t come back later and say you owe more and that you have the cash ready before you make the offer.

With medical bills, there are all sorts of inflated fees included that are there to cover the cost of other procedures for people who don’t pay or get a little more from the insurance companies. Aspirin, which cost $6 for a bottle of 1000, don’t suddenly cost $10 each just because they enter a hospital room. If you ever look at the bill after an insurance company has made adjustments, you’ll see an $80,000 bill cut down to $12,000, of which they pay eight and you pay four. Hospitals are often expecting to get maybe 10-20 cents on the dollar, so they will often be willing to reduce bills if you can pay them off quickly.

Remember that the worst that can happen financially is that you go bankrupt, wipe out the debt, then start again. This isn’t the end, it is a new beginning and a chance to do it over and get it right. You’ll be back to normal within a few years. Maybe even a better place with better control of your money. This is a temporary problem!

The other reason financial independence is important is that mental health care, so critical for preventing suicide, costs so much. If you, a spouse, a child, or even a parent becomes anxious or depressed, leading to suicidal thoughts, the treatment can be very costly. Psychiatrists and therapists often don’t take insurance. Many don’t even take credit cards, requiring cash or a personal check. It also isn’t like a regular medical visit where you go once, take some pills, and you’re done. The pills tend to be cheap (but not always), but you’ll need to go to a psychiatrist maybe once per week at first, then once a month, perhaps for a year or more. You may need to go to a therapist once or twice a week for several years. Therapy and office visit costs can easily exceed $10,000 to $20,000 per year. This is what you’d spend for a stay in a hospital for a car accident or a birth, but you’ll pay it every year.

And, speaking of the hospital, it is likely that a person who is suicidal will need to go to a mental hospital at least once. Many end up going a few times. Often going to a place that is safe is the only way a person who is actively suicidal can be brought back into a state where they are safe to be home. Inpatient care allows psychiatrists to experiment to find a mental health drug combination that is effective for the patient, which is important since a drug that will work well for one patient can actually cause another to become suicidal. A time for counseling and reflection is also helpful to bring someone back from the brink. Stays of a week to ten days are typical. Entry into a mental hospital is also often started by a visit to the emergency room, which carries its own bill. Not to mention you may end up paying first for an ambulance to the emergency room the first time and then for an ambulance transport to the mental hospital. Even with insurance, you can expect to pay $5000 to $10,000 out-of-pocket.

Having a substantial emergency fund with enough backing to cover a big, sudden expense comes in really helpful if you are unfortunate enough to need to cover a mental health emergency. It is also helpful when you need to spend money for a hotel, meals out, or other expenses to support a child or spouse in the hospital. Also, because of the ongoing costs of treating mental illness, having a good, passive income cash flow from investments it can be critical in helping you cover the medical bills. If you still have your regular job in addition to a portfolio of stocks or rental properties, it can help you cover your day-to-day expenses and provide insurance coverage for some of your medical bills.

Getting mental healthcare without insurance and a FI portfolio

While being in a good financial position should you or a family member suffer a mental health emergency, you can still get help should a condition arise and you aren’t sitting on a large portfolio. While therapists and psychiatrists are expensive, many have a sliding scale for their fees based on the patient’s income. Some may even offer free care if you’re in need and clearly can’t pay. One source of free or reduced-price therapy can be found through the Open Path Collective . You can also check your local college to see if their graduate program in counseling offers discounted sessions. 

Hospitals are also not able to turn people away in life-threatening conditions even if they can’t pay. If you or a loved one is having a serious issue, go to the emergency room and get an evaluation. Worry about the bills later.

It’s not like the movies

In the movies, a character who has decided to end it grabs a bottle of pills or climbs to the top of a bridge. At the last minute someone is able to talk them out of it and they go off to the hospital. The next scene, they’re back to their old self, confident and ready for life.

Unfortunately, real life isn’t like the movies. There is normally a fundamental reason that people are suicidal. It is often a disease, just like cancer or heart disease, and not everyone will make it. People are deeply depressed, extremely anxious, or suffering from conditions like PTSD. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about an individual who is suicidal is that they are perfectly fine physically, yet could be gone at any moment. In a way it is like a killer is stalking them, but there is no real way to protect them from the stalker because he is always with them. They could also damage their physical health through their actions even if they are not successful in a suicide attempt.

A suicidal person will need time and support, along with therapy and possibly medications. If they are depressed, they have a chemical imbalance in their brains that will take time to reset. If they are anxious, it is like they are constantly concerned that a tragedy will occur, a safe which is painful to be in for even a few hours, let alone weeks and years. They will need to find ways to cope and relieve the anxiety so that they can find relief. They will need support through this time, but, eventually, they can reach a better place.

If you are considering suicide, or have a family member who needs help, there are many resources available. Please see the links below for some of the best:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 

Project Semicolon


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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

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