We interviewed Leigh Dunkley, Financial Wellbeing Lead, Schroders Personal Wealth (SPW) for this article on the effect of the current soaring cost of living on our collective financial wellbeing.
During this conversation it became clear why Dunkley is so passionate about changing the face of financial wellbeing and, in particular, making the conversation much more inclusive: she has her own heart-breaking story of financial ill-health behind her, from which she learnt the vital importance of considering this aspect of ourselves and our employees.
People find it hard to talk about money, especially in the UK, which is why we are increasingly looking to profile courageous leaders prepared to go on the record on this topic, as Dunkley does in this profile piece.
But, as Dunkley says, financial wellbeing is the “last taboo” and, while we are increasingly seeing leaders be more open about their mental health, it’s still very rare to see them talk about any wobbles with financial health.
It’s rare for leaders to talk about financial health struggles
“I don’t think we are at the stage yet where someone is willing to stand up in a senior position and talk about challenges with their finances,” she says. “Our finances underpin every area of our lives. Even a walk in the fresh air requires that you have bought the shoes on your feet. That’s the way of our world.”
However, as she rightly says, we don’t have to “reinvent” the wheel here. If leaders are talking honestly about their mental health journey, for instance, then they can include their financial wellbeing as part of this narrative. “So if you’re a senior employee talking about a bout of depression, think about – was there any impact on you financially from this? How did you cope with those stresses and strains? How can we weave those impacts into the existing stories we’re sharing?”
In Dunkley’s story below she puts her money where her mouth is (pun intended!) about how she learnt, the hard way, why we need to look after our financial health.
Leigh’s story: how I learnt about financial health the hard way
When my fiancé left me for another woman 6 weeks before our wedding, one area of my wellbeing that I overlooked, but was hugely impacted, was my financial wellbeing.
Ben and I had been together for two years. In that time we had travelled to Asia, bought our first home together, celebrated each other’s successes including my move to Schroders Personal Wealth and had supported each other through times of challenge and sadness.
When we got engaged, we planned a huge wedding, later downscaled due to the pandemic, for 22nd August 2020. The text I got from him on 11th July changed my world as I knew it forever.
He was leaving me for someone else.
Pain, heartbreak, shame, anger. Feelings hit me like a tonne of bricks. He came home that day, packed his things and left me in our home surrounded by our memories which now just left me hollow.
Very early on I confided in my line manager and one other colleague, taking time off work to gather my thoughts. It was in September that I realised that something wasn’t right. I wasn’t the bubbly, positive person that I used to be. I didn’t like looking at myself in the mirror. I didn’t want to be around people or even get out of bed most mornings.
On the 17th September 2020 I laid in bed and the thought of ending it all crossed my mind.
It was in that moment that I made the decision to take back control of my life and seek the professional help that I needed. Less than a week later I had my first counselling session. These continued through to the New Year when I finally found the strength to move forward and the happiness within myself that I had neglected for 6 months.
It was only after this that I considered the huge detrimental effect in the sense of my financial self and its piercing ramifications on my overall mental health.
Losing my husband financially, and everything we’d created together in terms of our personal wealth, was also part of the whole of losing him physically and emotionally, too.
Money lost through cancelling the wedding, costs associated with a relationship breakdown and additional expenditure to seek professional support were some of the tangible impacts.
Increased anxiety, stress and feeling overwhelmed about my financial position and how to navigate my new life were also tangible impacts but ones that caught me off-guard. It was a stark reminder that our finances can be intrinsically linked to our mental health.
Looking back now and reflecting, my heart still fills with sorrow. It was a period in my life that I’m still grieving.
However, that grief subsides when I remember my strength and courage. That’s why I’m so passionate about my job and empowering others to take charge of their financial health.
As our research shows, there is a large gender gap when it comes to financial wellbeing and women are often more stressed and save less than their male counterparts. They often tend to feel more ‘voiceless’ in conversations with financial professionals, too. I’ve certainly witnessed horror stories when it’s only the male in the room that is addressed, not the female. This obviously puts women at a huge disadvantage with their financial wellbeing – especially if they find themselves in unfortunate money situations like I did.
I am determined to change this and while change in the industry is slow, too slow for my liking, it is coming.
And I implore anyone who might find themselves in a scary situation, like mine, to remember to look after all pillars of your health, not neglecting financial.
Fast forward to today and I am now living back in my hometown of Leeds, surrounded by supportive friends and family. The past 18 months have made me realise that I am truly grateful for the love and support that my family give to me and how important it is for me to be closer to them both physically and emotionally.
I am excited for the future. I am excited for a fresh start. But most importantly, I am excited to create the life that I now know that I deserve.
If Dunkley’s story has inspired you to tell yours, so we can open up the conversation even more, please get in touch.
About the author
Suzy Bashford is a freelance journalist, podcaster and workshop facilitator.
She is passionate about destigmatising mental health by creating a more honest, helpful narrative around it, and related topics like emotional intelligence, stress management and empathy. She also believes in the power of creativity and nature to improve our wellbeing, which she covers regularly in articles for the likes of Psychologies magazine and her own podcast, Big Juicy Creative.
When she’s not writing or podcasting, you’ll probably find her dipping in a cold loch, hiking with her dog or biking the mountain trails in the awesome Cairngorms National Park, where she lives.