The Relationship Between Money & Mental Health and How a Financial Therapist Can Help

woman online shopping

Money, money, money. Some of us have a little. Some of us have a lot. Some of us are so far into the negative that the word money makes us cringe. Or vomit. Or hyperventilate. But, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of financial comfortability, we all know one thing: money affects just about every aspect of our lives—especially the aspect of life spent inside our heads. 

“Saying money might impact a person’s mental health is like saying food might impact a person’s weight.”

“Saying money might impact a person’s mental health is like saying food might impact a person’s weight,” says financial therapist Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, LMSW. “Having a relationship with money where a person feels in control of their money and is able to use it to their advantage makes all the difference in the world. For those who are comfortable financially, there can still be negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with their financial relationship.” 

“For people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck or are in large amounts of debt, it makes sense that their mental health would be impacted. Things like racing thoughts, worrying, and physical symptoms of anxiety and depression are common when a person experiences tremendous amounts of stress regarding money. While there is no direct link of poverty to mental illness, we do know that people in poverty are at higher risk for mental illnesses.”

“People in poverty are at a higher risk for mental illness.”

Studies have found that people with financial troubles are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation, and social consequences. People may feel shame and embarrassment about their finances and may subsequently isolate themselves from their friends and family members to avoid confronting the problem. While this relationship hasn’t been extensively studied, it’s easy to conclude that higher debt is often associated with worse health.

People with mental health problems are more likely to experience financial stress.

And the correlation goes both ways. People with mental health problems are more likely to experience financial stress as well. One UK study, “The Social and Economic Circumstances of Adults with Mental Disorders” (referenced here), found that 1 in 11 people reported being in debt. However, among those with mental health problems, the figure rose significantly to 1 in 4—and again to 1 in 3 among those with psychotic conditions.

It’s not really possible to pin down high-risk disorders, however. “The only disorder that explicitly talks about money and is recognized by the DSM-V is a gambling disorder,” says Bryan-Podvin. “Compulsive shopping is no longer a recognized disorder in the DSM-V; rather, we see compulsive buying behaviors existing alongside other symptoms in disorders such as mood, anxiety, substance use, and eating disorders.” (More information can be found here)

For those who have found themselves in financial trouble, the first step would be to seek out debt management services and resources. The Federal Trade Commission offers helpful information on navigating your options and choosing the right help. And, because money can be so strongly associated with mental health, one might benefit from seeing a financial therapist.


The Role of a Financial Therapist

Firstly, a financial therapist is “not a get-out-of-debt coach,” says Bryan-Podvin. A financial therapist may help you on your way to financial wellness, but they won’t be a substitute for a debt management plan, credit counseling, or bankruptcy proceedings.

Financial therapy isn’t just for those struggling with debt and balancing a low income with their expenses. “Many people who seek out my services have money and have psychological hang-ups,” says Bryan-Podvin. She notes that her client base is “almost equally split between people who are in debt and those who are doing well financially but have a hard time sitting with the fact that they have money.” Initial questions she often gets include:

  • Do I deserve this money when others have so little?
  • Can I have money and be a good person?
  • If I spend money, how will I know that there will be more?
  • Why do I feel nauseous when I log into my bank accounts?

“Because of the nature of financial therapy,” says Bryan-Podvin, “there is no one ‘best time’ for a person to seek services. I tell potential clients the time for them to start is when they are ready to consider a change.”

That change might be a wake-up call after someone realizes they’re drowning in debt. It might be that a couple is getting married, downsizing, or having a child. Maybe one person in a relationship is more comfortable managing money, while the other has historically taken a back seat.

In any of these cases, Bryan-Podvin says the role of a financial therapist is the same: “to guide a client to financial and emotional balance.” She notes, “For many people, financial literacy is the beginning of a healthy mind-money connection.”

As far as what to expect, she explains that “financial therapy is more interactive than many types of traditional talk therapy. It sits somewhere between traditional psychotherapy and life coaching in terms of how it feels to be in the space with a financial therapist. There is time for contemplation and reflection, and there is time to look at the bookkeeping side of things. That being said, a financial therapist should not offer specific investment or financial advice.”

For anyone struggling with their relationship to money, Bryan-Podvin advises, “Be kind to yourself when you are getting clarity with your money. It’s a huge part of our lives and continues to be an area that is off-limits in conversations.” That’s part of why her job is such a necessity; she offers a safe space to talk about what is still such a taboo topic.

“Be kind to yourself when you are getting clarity with your money.”

“Think about what you want your money to do for you,” she suggests. “Should it provide security, freedom, strength, peace, or something else? Once you know what values are important for you to align with your money, it becomes so much easier to look at the practical, black-and-white, bookkeeping side of things.”

Follow Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, LMSW on Instagram: @mindmoneybalance.

Kaitlin Willow

Kaitlin is Founder and Editor in Chief of The Vim. She works for Dermstore during the day and writes novels and short stories in the evenings. She lives in Long Beach, California with the coolest dog in the world, Benny. (Find him on Instagram: @bennythejetsetter)


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