money and mental healthWe’re not really supposed to speak about money in polite company.  Therapists who are incredibly comfortable talking to their clients about sex and intimacy and even abuse can balk when it comes to discussing their clients’ finances.  In some ways, it feels like the last taboo.

But money does affect mental health, and it can certainly affect our relationships.

For example, if I’m meeting with a depressed client, someone who’s experiencing reduced interest or pleasure in her life, we might generate ideas about how to get back to things she loves.  But what if a lot of those things cost money, and she doesn’t have much of it?  That in itself can be a source of further depression.

I’m not saying that you can buy your way out of depression.  But money can give us more things to look forward to (in the form of possessions or activities.)  It can reduce stress on us and on our relationships.  After all, don’t they say the number one thing couples fight over is money?

Personally, I disagree with that particular finding.  I think that what couples are really fighting over, when they fight about money, is their values and their sense that they are valued (or not valued) by their partner.  But there’s no denying that being short of funds is a stressful circumstance, and that can shorten the tempers of everyone involved.

What’s the solution?  Everyone just needs to earn more and they’ll be happy?  Obviously, it’s not always feasible to find high-paying jobs.  Some of us are in fields that are satisfying yet not very lucrative.   We’re not in boom times in the economy.  And if you prioritize money over everything else, you might just find yourself unhappy in a new way.

But sometimes recognizing that finances are part of the problem can start to generate new solutions.  Often, we avoid looking at our finances because we become so distressed and begin to feel so hopeless when we do.   We avoid talking to our partners.  And so it stays the same, or worsens, month after month.  It’s the stress that doesn’t dare speak its name.

So it’s not just that we avoid talking about money in public, but we can avoid admitting to ourselves where we are and how much it limits our choices.  Once we do an honest analysis of our budget, we can figure out if we’re really spending money on what we value most, or if we’ve stopped making choices at all and are, instead, spending by habit.

Possibilities might start to open up–whether it’s getting more creative about how we spend time with our family (there are plenty of websites with cheap or free suggestions), or cutting out the daily Starbucks, or putting out feelers for new jobs.  But this only comes about if we shatter that last taboo.

Empty wallet photo available from Shutterstock