A recent qualitative study sheds light on how people cope with health and financial challenges.

The study highlights the important role that communication plays in these coping strategies.

“This is one of the first studies to look at how people respond to the combination of financial uncertainties and health uncertainties,” says first author Lynsey Romo, an associate professor of communication at North Carolina State University. “And it drives home that uncertainty about money and uncertainty about health go hand in hand. Financial limitations created significant health challenges—such as an inability to afford prescription medications. And health problems created significant expenses leading to serious financial challenges.

“The study also highlights that these challenges span income levels. You can have a good job, good insurance, do everything ‘right,’ and still find yourself struggling due to the nature of the healthcare system in the US.”

For the study, researchers conducted in-depth interviews of 17 US adults. All were white; 14 identified as women. Study participants had medical debt ranging from less than $10,000 to more than $150,000. Salaries also ranged from less than $10,000 to more than $150,000. The health problems that resulted in financial struggles included conditions such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, and stroke.

The researchers found that health-related financial uncertainty had significant adverse consequences for the physical and mental health of many study participants. For example, many interviewees reported experiencing symptoms of emergent depression and other mental health issues related to their health conditions and related financial challenges.

“Qualitative studies, like this one, are important,” Romo says. “There are lots of statistics about how many people are struggling with medical debt. I remember seeing survey data from early last year showing that more than 30% of US workers carry medical debt—and that was looking at people with jobs, before the pandemic.

Read the full article about health and financial uncertainty by Matt Shipman at Futurity.