More money more problems?
When it comes to mental health, that is not always the case. I was privileged to interview Dr. Tecsia Evans, founder and CEO of Your Therapy Now, to learn more about the influence of money on mental health. Her knowledge opened my eyes to the critical need to connect damaging money habits to mental health issues. In our Q&A below, Dr. Evans provides insight and solutions on how to deal with mental health issues that stem from experiences with money.
What triggers can damage our mental and financial health?
Triggers that can damage our mental and financial health are:
Lack of self- care,
Poor eating and sleep habits,
Unaddressed or unresolved conflict that is causing significant distress,
Lack of support system (people that you trust that you can confide in and support you in a healthy way), or not relying on your support system,
Mental health illness that is not being professionally treated or managed (i.e. depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc.),
Life transitions such as a loss in the family,
A new baby or marriage, and
Job loss or job transition.
When mental wellness is compromised or healthy coping skills are not being used to deal with such triggers, it can lead people to engage in riskier spending habits such as spending too much as a way to cope, avoiding financial responsibilities, choosing to be blind on the ins and outs of a financial budget, being too conservative on finances, and/or not enjoying resources due to making decisions based on fear and anxiety.
What are common signs that our financial situation is negatively affecting our mental health?
One common sign is that you spend a good amount of time ruminating on your finances and this rumination does not produce any type of viable plan that can be used to reduce financial stress. When people ruminate often, it can fuel anxiety and sometimes depression.
Another sign is that you use money/spending as a way to cope with a stress that would be better managed in other ways. For instance, you might spend more than intended when shopping because you had a bad day at work or you had a conflict with your spouse. Or, you might spend money on material things you may not need as a way to cover up an insecurity.
What role does comparison play in the relationship between money and mental health?
Comparison with others can sometimes lead people to feel anxious or depressed about not being "good enough" or "as good as ....." It is really important to be mindful of comparing behavior that fuels insecurity and can negatively impact mental wellness and financial habits.
If comparison is negatively impacting your mental and financial wellness, seek support from people you trust to determine the underlying cause for comparison and insecurity.
What type of people are more susceptible to having mental health issues influenced by money problems?
When using the term mental health, I am also including matters such as high levels of stress - not just severe mental health disorders. With that said, based on my clinical experience, people who may be more susceptible to mental health issues influenced by money problems are:
People who have more expenses than income and are not actively engaging in a plan to manage this dilemma,
People who live below the poverty line and have to work multiple jobs to keep afloat, and
People who have poor money management/spending habits.
How does poverty affect mental health?
Poverty can induce a severe amount of stress, worry and sadness. These feelings may be intensified when poverty is coupled with limited coping skills, a limited support system and a low sense of hope that things may get better.
How can you preserve your mental health while struggling financially?
Anxiety usually grows when there is uncertainty. To manage uncertainty, I recommend using free online resources or a professional to create a simple financial budget that helps reduce the financial challenges.
When a plan is put into a place and followed, it helps people feel empowered and hopeful. It frees up mental energy to focus on taking care of self physically, mentally and spiritually.
In worst case scenarios where it's hard to not to ruminate about finances, it is still important to carve out a little time in the week to do one thing that strengthens your mental wellness. This can be as simple as going to bed on time, eating healthy, doing a 15 minute walk, talking to a friend for a support, or not talking to an individual who makes you feel worse about your situation. Engaging in these activities may seem impossible at first, but with discipline, they can help you manage your mental health so that it begins to improve over time.
What can poor parents do to help their children have a positive relationship with money?
Parents can talk about money with their children from an early age such as 5 years old and on. They can let their children know about the purpose of money (spending, saving, giving, making, investing) and have their children observe money being used in these different ways. This will help children broaden the meaning of money and how it functions, rather than see money through a narrow lens of the haves and have nots. This practice can be as simple as having your young child
earn a quarter when they do chores,
join you to pay a bill,
create a small business (selling lemonade or cookies, babysitting, etc.) so they can see what is involved in making money, and
have them donate some of their earnings to church or a local non-profit.
Often times we think the grand actions are the key to help re-shaping how we see money, but it's really the small gestures and behavioral practices with money that are done consistently over time that help foster a more positive relationship with money (no matter how limited you may be with your resources).
Can having too much money negatively affect your mental health? If so, how?
It can if the access to money is unlimited and there is no teaching about the importance of money, the importance of not being wasteful with resources, the acknowledgement that having money is a blessing rather than a right and the importance of giving.
The unlimited resource and lack of principles being taught may increase someone to be more susceptible to having poor boundaries and a skewed understanding of how the world operates - which can cause problems with how they may interact with others. Having healthy boundaries, interpersonal skills and empathy for others fosters positive mental wellness. When these areas lack, it can create challenges that may hinder mental wellness.
What can wealthy parents do to help their children have a positive relationship with money?
I would recommend the same habits as for parents with limited resources. One thing I would add for this demographic is not making access to money for their children unregulated and unlimited - this can cause problems later in their lives where they may form the belief that life is unregulated and certain limits do not apply to them. I would also recommend that the practice of giving and sharing ones resources is highlighted so that it balances the perspective a child can have about the use of money, especially when the family is blessed with this resource.
What should we do once we realize our mental health is negatively affecting our financial situation?
Identify one financial area that is causing stress/impacting mental health and then identify how you want that financial area to improve (i.e. I am able to consistently pay my phone bill on time, or I do not have any overdrawn activity on my account, or I only want to spend X on food each week or I want to give money to a local organization more).
Next, identify how you want your stress to improve (i.e. I want to be present when I am hanging out with a friend rather than thinking about my finances, I want to sleep seven hours a night, I do not want my stress to cause me to be so agitated with others).
Then, identify one to two steps you can engage in every week to help you reach your financial and mental health goals. For instance, these steps may include not eating out as much, or being more charitable with your resources or choosing to exercise. Even though these mentioned steps may not change your financial situation immediately, they can overtime help to improve your mental and financial wellness. .
Finally, make a commitment each week to engage in practicing your step that will help you get closer to your goal. I recommend you start off by doing something small so that you can begin to gain confidence, and then move on to a medium size goal and then a larger goal.
Who should we share our financial struggles with?
Those who we trust and that will support us in making necessary changes, rather than people who are going to judge us or help us continue to make poor choices.
Tecsia Evans, PhD. is the founder and CEO of Your Therapy Now. She has also been a consultant and media specialist in the area of mental health. Her expertise has been featured in magazines/media such as Essence, Ebony, First For Women, CBS Bay Area and Presbyterians Today. Her clinical specialties include relationship counseling, Christian therapy and working with African Americans. In addition to being a psychologist, Dr. Evans is the director for Ross Dance Company, a professional Christian dance organization. She loves spending time with her husband and two sons and is grateful to use the gifts God has given her to bring about healing and transformation.
For additional information on financial planning resources, contact The Little CPA.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisers before engaging in any transaction.