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Understanding Financial Stress and Mental Health for Service Members


Inflation continues to be a global economic challenge, impacting everything from food costs to housing affordability. Military families are not immune to the impacts of inflation and may experience service-connected financial stress. A recent OneOp webinar identified the causes of inflation and explored strategies for service providers to help service members inflation-proof their budget.

In addition to inflation, additional economic challenges facing Americans today include rising interest rates, housing prices, and a return to federal student loan repayments. Other financial stressors may include debt, medical bills, or rising day-to-day expenses like food and housing-related costs. According to the 2022 Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families (2023, p. 71), active-duty families report financial stress around housing costs, relocation costs, unemployment or underemployment and student loans.

Financial worries such as those aforementioned can be both objective (a stressful event) and subjective (a perceived stress) (Asebedo & Wilmarth, 2017). For example, job loss is an objective financial strain (i.e., sudden unemployment is a stressful financial event). An individual’s subjective stress in response to the objective event provides important context for service providers to capture. In this case, if a military spouse experiences job loss due to relocation, and the family is dependent on this income source, there is subjective stress. Conversely, if job loss makes way for a new employment opportunity, or provides respite from a toxic or stressful work environment, the subjective stress may be experienced differently.

Service providers can ask open-ended questions to identify and explore the subjective response (i.e., perceived stress). For example:

  • How would you describe your current financial situation?
  • Can you share any recent changes or events that have influenced your financial well-being?
  • What emotions come to mind when you think about finances?

According to Ryu and Fan (2023), the relationship between financial worries and psychological distress were higher for unmarried individuals, renters and non-home owners, and unemployed individuals utilizing data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) in 2018. This suggests that marriage, income, and homeownership are “protective factors against the negative influence of financial worries on psychological health” (Ryu & Fan, 2023). Understanding both objective financial events and the client's subjective experience of the events can be an important part of providing and coordinating care, especially when assessing protective factors that may mitigate financial-related psychological distress.

Implications for Extension Professionals

Understanding the connection between financial well-being and mental health can help Extension professionals support the military families in their service network.

  • Mental health providers must be aware of financial worries that may be impacting a client’s presenting problem or treatment issue.
  • Financial professionals can “help clients to better manage their finances and reduce financial worries and stress” to buffer psychological stress (Ryu & Fan, 2023, p. 26).

Care coordination is essential for clients who are at an increased risk of experiencing financial and psychological distress. Both mental health providers and financial professionals can expand their knowledge of the connection between financial well-being and mental health and make intentional referrals by expanding their professional network.

To increase your impact with military families, learn more about the connection between financial well-being and mental health and the intersection of these professions in financial therapy in the OneOp webinar, Mind and Money: Connecting Mental Health and Financial Well-Being. The webinar includes holistic interventions that you can incorporate in your work right away.


Asebedo, S. D., & Wilmarth, M. J. (2017). Does how we feel about financial strain matter for mental health? Journal of Financial Therapy, 8(1), 5.

Blue Star Families. (2023). 2022 Military Family Lifestyle Survey: Comprehensive Report.

Military OneSource. (n.d.) Resources for Financial Stress.

Ryu, S., Fan, L. (2023). The Relationship Between Financial Worries and Psychological Distress Among U.S. Adults. J. Fam. Econ. Issues 44(1):16-33.

Cover photo by: Vittaya_25 / Adobe Stock

Written by: Kristen Jowers, M.S. and Nichole Huff, Ph.D, CFLE

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The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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