Why Mental Heath is the Elephant in the Room in Personal Finance Conversations, and What You Can Do About It.

I love personal finance blogs, books, podcasts, etc.  This is what I listen to in my car, what I read, and where I get a lot of my motivation for working toward my personal finance goals.  However, there is one big problem with most of the personal finance content out there, which is that most are ignoring the role of mental health in money management.

Many books, blogs, and podcasts share the technical details of how to do things like set up a savings account, negotiate a lower interest rate on your credit card, set up automatic transfers to your investment accounts, understand compounding, etc., and while this is all wonderful information, none of it matters if you can’t manage keep any of your money long enough to dedicate it to your goals.

This is where I take issue with much (but of course not all) of the personal finance content that I encounter.  I’m talking about the kind of ‘tough love’ content that says things like “It’s easy”, “Just do it!”, “Just stop what you’re doing”, If you just knew these simple rules this would all be so easy for you.”, “It’s simple, just follow these 4 steps, dummy!”  In my view, there is a failure to accurately take the perspective of others in this type of material.  Just because it is easy for you, doesn’t mean it is easy for someone else.

The cold hard reality is that for many people struggling with things like anxiety disorders, histories of trauma, ADHD, substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, or even many sub-clinical (not warranting a diagnosis) mental health patterns, just managing to not spend all your money, or to manage your emotions and behaviors generally can be the work of a lifetime.

When people struggling with issues like these hear the personal finance messages that sound like “It’s simple, just do this.”, the difficult emotional and mental struggles associated with mental health concerns are the elephant in the room.  Like “YEAH, I’d LOVE to save all my money and stop spending if this elephant would stop getting in my way!

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Am I saying that individuals struggling with these issues can not succeed in their personal finances? Absolutely not.  They can succeed, and they likely will, if they have and use the tools and supports that they need to manage any symptoms that might be making money management more difficult.

It can be the case for people struggling with mental health concerns that they need to address the symptoms, feelings, thoughts, or behaviors first, before they can try to implement the valuable strategies that many personal finance blogs, books, and podcasts talk about.  It might be that feelings like anxiety, fear, emotional distress, or distractibility need to be directly addressed and managed before we can move on to other tasks.  Managing these types of feelings and experiences is a significant task on its own, requiring its own respect and representing its own significant achievement.

The thing is, if you’re not struggling with mental health concerns, then all you have to do is the technical part of personal finance.  If you are struggling with mental health concerns, then you’re trying to accomplish your financial and other goals while something significant is continually getting in your way.

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Knowing this, it makes sense that those secondary things end up being that much more difficult.  Yet so many of us are just not talking about the elephant in the room.  So let’s talk about it, and let’s address it, so that everyone can succeed in accomplishing their goals.

So how can we get the tools and supports needed in these areas? 

There are lots of ways to do this, and if you think you might be affected by some of these things, the best place to start could be with a professional.  This is someone who is trained to assess the situation properly to determine what type of support would benefit you the most.  If you’re lucky enough to have insurance, this is something you can go through your doctor for.  If you don’t have insurance, there are lots of reduced-cost or “sliding-scale” services available.  The best place to start on this is to do a search for reduced-cost or sliding scale mental health services in your specific area.

MHCM

How do I know when to seek help? Generally the recommendation is to seek help in the yellow-orange (“yorange”) area of a chart like this, and definitely when we reach the red area. However, we can always go when we are in the green for maintenance, much like we get oil changes for our car to prevent future issues from developing.  

If you have already been assessed by a professional then you know where to start and you can seek out resources to support yourself in that area.  If you don’t want to spend money on this, there are lots of resources available online.  However, while we’re on the issue of cost here, here is a question I like to ask people when it comes to mental health: How much will this mental health issue cost you if you don’t address it?  Not just in money, but in emotional pain, in issues with the people you care about, and in lost progress toward your goals?   If you think that the cost in these other areas might be greater than the monetary cost of some professional help, then this might be a good expense to prioritize.

Here are some online resources for further information:

Anxiety:

Depression

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Mindfulness Meditation Skills

Calm Breathing Audio Resources

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) for Stress Reduction

Self-Compassion Meditation

General Mental Health Resources

Is this a Crisis?  Please contact crisis supports:

 

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room in these personal finance conversations, and let’s do something about it.  Instead of continually running into the same walls, let’s address our mental health concerns head-on in an open and honest way, so that we can all succeed in personal finance, in our goals, and in life.

As always, thank you for reading.

Debt Dummy

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