Pete the Planner: Money-related mental illness is no joking matter

Source: Pete the Planner: Money-related mental illness is no joking matter

America’s mental health crisis continues to negatively impact our communities as very few sufferers are seeking or receiving proper treatment.

Whether a person is receiving treatment or not, our mental health challenges aren’t experienced in a controlled environment. They occur in our lives as we live them. They affect our relationships. They affect our jobs. And they affect our finances.

The relationship between mental health struggles and financial struggles almost seems perpetual. A person’s mental health challenges can create financial challenges, those financial challenges can create more mental health challenges, and the cycle rarely ever stops. Assets are spent through, debt is acquired, and then financial hardships nearly surpass the mental hardships which seemed to set the whole thing off in the first place.

Sometimes the negative financial consequences of mental health concerns are directly related to the condition itself, and sometimes the financial struggles are simply the byproduct of a life greatly affected by a mental health condition.

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To better understand our brains and money, let’s look deep inside our brains.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel better after spending money. It’s completely natural. You can credit dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which helps control the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. It’s produced in the ventral tegmental part of the brain and is released when a person expects or receives a reward of any kind.

In this case, the reward is the rush of acquiring something new via a purchase. There’s a more common phrase for this: retail therapy. Yes, retail therapy is real. If you’ve ever gone shopping to feel better about a bad day or a bad week, you’re actually on a quest to get dopamine flowing into your brain and experience its rush of pleasure. Believe it or not, the relationship between your money and your mental health is actually physical.

What I’ve just described is a very healthy and normal process. But sometimes our relationship with money can crossover to compulsive.

Compulsive buying disorder is a very serious medical condition, which is characterized by an obsession with spending money and shopping, in spite of adverse financial, social, and personal consequences. If you’ve ever witnessed it, you might describe it as a frenzy or a mania of poor spending decisions. CBD can arrive alone into a person’s life, but it often presents itself alongside other mood and anxiety disorders, making it very difficult to treat. It’s a chronic condition which can ruin the financial life of both the person directly suffering from it, and the person’s family.

CBD knows no limit. It can wipe out a small fortune or a large fortune if not treated. Like many other mental health conditions, CBD is often stigmatized and trivialized. You see people every day celebrating their status as a “shopaholic” with a sense of playfulness. But there’s really nothing fun about it.

To make matters worse, the advent of online shopping and easy access to credit, paired with predatory lending, have stoked the fires of spending addiction. With as much consumer debt and rash consumerism as there is in the U.S., you wouldn’t be alone if you wondered where the line between CBD and nonmedical financial irresponsibly begins and ends. The American Journal of Psychiatry notes that roughly 5.8 percent of the population suffers from CBD, yet there numerous types of spending addictions and compulsions which are either isolated issues or symptoms of deeper mental health concerns.

As much as the family of those affected want to shout advice like “stop spending money,” it simply doesn’t matter. It’s just as pointless as telling someone who is suffering from depression to “stop feeling so sad.” Mental health problems must be treated — and not just explained away by well-meaning family members.

Suffering financially as a byproduct of a mental health condition is a bit more nuanced. Understanding stress and its impact on a person’s life is a great place to start. Prolonged stress can lead to increased occurrences of heart disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease. The stress that triggers all of this can show up for a bevy of reasons, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that 71 percent of Americans cite their finances as the key source of stress. Think about that. Financial stress causes health problems, which cause health and financial stress, and then once again the cycle is seemingly impossible to stop.

Not only do these health conditions cause even more stress, but the cost to treat them can be crippling. Stress also can create problems in a person’s ability to earn income. Well-being experts know the impact stress and other mental health conditions have on productivity at work. These productivity issues can lead to job insecurity and eventually job loss. The fact is, neither the employer nor the employee wants the employee to suffer from mental health issues, financially related or otherwise. But if mental health conditions aren’t treated, there will be financial consequences.

I generally try to provide practical solutions and actionable tips in each one of my columns, however today’s column is strictly about awareness and support. If you are financially suffering directly or indirectly because of a mental health challenge, seek help. You aren’t alone in your desire to feel better. Everyone around you wants the same for you, and they’re willing to do their best to connect you with the resources you need to get better.

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Where to watch

Tune in to Pete the Planner, who also is Fox59’s personal finance expert, at 8:15 a.m. Wednesdays.