The True Cost: Money and Mental Health

small pile of coins with plant sprout

Money is a complicated topic, and money issues are so prevalent that for many it can feel like an unavoidable part of life. Whether you are a therapist or a client, stress resulting from financial challenges is often chronic, and not spoken about openly. As we dive into this shared experience it’s essential to know just how valuable it is for individuals to have support when it comes to the stress cycle of money, so they can change the cycle and move in a new direction that can provide relief.

Money is a huge part of everyday life, and as such can be an immense source of stress causing mental and physical illness. You are not alone if you have experienced this, it’s cultural and goes much deeper than just having or not having financial resources. Like other stressors, individuals with high levels of financial stress can manifest through physical symptoms. Anxiety, guilt, shame, headaches, digestive issues, weakened immune system, muscle tension, depression and a general feeling of overwhelm are just a few of the things someone going through financial challenges may deal with. As both a Clinician and a Client, there are some steps you can take to address the connection between money and mental health. The more we talk about issues like money and financial stress, the less covert the topic becomes, bringing relief for those who are, or have experienced, their own financial challenges.

Mental Health = Your Money Habits

In recent years caring for your mental health has become a hot topic of conversation, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever before people are seeking out mental health support through therapy, and prioritizing it just like they would their physical health. Let's take a look at some of the leading ways mental health can affect the way you deal with money:

  • You get a brief high from spending, meaning you might overspend to feel better.
  • Your mental health affects your ability to work or study, possibly lowering your earning power.
  • You make financial decisions on impulse when experiencing mania or hypomania.
  • You may lack motivation to manage your finances, or avoid doing things to stay on track with money in an attempt to sweep it under the rug and ignore it.
  • You might not be able to afford the things you need such as housing, food, water, heating, or treatments like medication and therapy.
  • You lose sleep over money problems.

Feel the Feelings About Money 

Another way money can affect your mental health is through the feelings of pessimism, fear and shame about money. These feelings are often so deeply ingrained that we don't even realize how much they're hurting us. We may feel ashamed of our financial situation and think that it's our fault for not having enough money to pay off debt or save for retirement. But the truth is that no matter what your situation is, there are ways to make it better — you just have to be willing to take action.

Some common feelings around money may be:

  • Fear of looking at your bank balance
  • Guilt for spending money on essential items or other things you can afford.
  • Ashamed for needing support from family, friends, etc.
  • Tired or burned out from struggling with money problems for an extended period of time.
  • Stress over supporting yourself or others financially.

Taking a pause and getting to know the feelings and emotions you have around money might help you to spot patterns in your behavior, and lead to you feeling more in control. It can be helpful to remember that money is not an end in and of itself; it's just one of many tools you'll use to achieve your goals and dreams.

Money is just an exchange system we use so we don't have to barter goats for grain anymore. A dollar bill isn't actually worth anything except as much as other people are willing to trade for it—in other words: your dollar has no intrinsic value whatsoever.

Supporting Clients With Money Struggles

Money is a common source of stress for therapy clients and while therapists are aware of the challenges associated with financial struggles, you may feel unprepared to discuss money with your clients. Starting from a place of compassion and curiosity is a great place to begin, allowing you an opportunity to practice the following with clients and creating a plan together to improve their mental health surrounding finances.

Some strategies for connecting with clients over this common challenge:

  • Listen.
  • Ask questions that allow the client to tell their story and explore what they are feeling. For example, “What is the worst part of your financial situation?” or “How do you feel about money?”
  • Ask them what they would like to achieve from therapy: “Do you want to make more money, spend less, or both? How much extra would make a difference for you?”
  • Ask them about any new goals they have for themselves: “What will be different in your life or in how you feel if this happens?”
  • Ask about things that might stay the same: This can help give perspective on what is important and should not change as well as provide insight into why certain behaviors persist despite attempts at change (e.g., spending habits).

Overcoming money-related mental health challenges is possible. The first step to addressing your anxiety about money is simply to recognize and acknowledge the problem. If you find yourself constantly worrying, stressed or feeling like you're not good with finances, know that it's OK. You're not alone.

By taking small steps toward improving your financial situation—and seeking professional help if needed—you'll be on a path toward a healthier relationship with money and overall better well-being.

Are you ready to get more support?

We’re here to help, reach out to us to schedule a free 30 minute consultation with one of our qualified therapists.

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