Why being wealthy can make mental health problems worse

Why being wealthy can make mental health problems worse

Being wealthy can have all sorts of advantages. But it can also emphasize and exaggerate many mental health problems. 

In fact, some of the most wealthy people in the world are extremely emotionally damaged and suffer from various mental health problems. Tragically, we are always hearing about rich celebrities ending their life by suicide.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), despite being one of the world’s wealthiest countries for decades, the US is one of the most depressed nations in the entire world.

In terms of most years of life lost due to disability or death adjusted for population, WHO’s research found that overall the US was third of all the world’s nations for the biggest burden of disease for mental and behavioral disorders. This included being behind only China and India for high rates of depression, anxiety, and alcohol and/or drug use.

A recent study actually discovered that once a specific annual income has been reached – around $100,000 in the USA – people are more likely to have reduced wellbeing and less satisfaction in life.

Wealth and health connection

Today the word “wealth” is used to mean “an abundance of valuable possessions or money; being rich; material prosperity”. But to understand the connection between today’s problems it helps to understand from where the word is derived.

When it was first largely used in the English language during the 12th Century it was from a word meaning “well” and it was used to indicate good health. The word “health” itself is of Germanic origin meaning “whole”, a word that can still be used to mean healthy – certainly in terms of emotional wellbeing.

Today’s meaning of wealth is part of our modern world that started with the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the late 18th Century. Since then, most of the Western world has become increasingly materialistic.

We are taught from early years the idea that having money means we are successful. We learn that being financially rich means happiness and that this is guaranteed despite what might have happened in someone’s childhood or how someone lives their day-to-day life now.

Stark statistics from such as the WHO research reveal this is often not the case that financial wealth assures someone of a happy life. Yet Western society seems to continue in its direction, unabated – but with ever-increasing numbers of people struggling with emotional problems and suffering from various mental health conditions.

A true measure of society?

Physician, author, and renowned addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté makes an extremely interesting point on all of this: “We have the GDP, the Gross Domestic Product,” he says. “This is how we measure success. It’s how much wealth.

“In a materialistic society, we measure success by the possession or the control or the production of matter, of materials. It’s materials that matter.

“But is that really the true measure of human society? Well, it’s one measure.

“But is it a true measure of a successful society? Can a society be called successful because it produces, controls, or owns more matter than some other society?

“An equally important measure, at least as important a measure of society and culture, is to what degree does it meet human needs? How well does it promote healthy human development and to what degree and ways does it undermine it?”

Wealth does not guarantee health

Wealth does not guarantee health

Having plenty of money does mean you can access better care, whether that’s for a physical condition or mental health problems (which are so often linked). But in some instances, it also means people are more likely to need such care.

One aspect to consider is that the love of money – and the material things it can buy and often the accompanying status – can be an addiction. As with many addictions to such as drink or drugs as well as a behavioral addiction, those addicted to money will put it at the top of their priorities.

This is not a conscious choice. It is a way to cope with their inner pain and emptiness. 

Because they’re trying to fill an inner emptiness and mask or block their pain they will actually be unable to do anything other than this. That is unless they transfer their addiction to something else.

Or ideally, find out what is behind their inner emptiness and pain. Then learn how to properly deal with it, which usually involves some form of therapy.

But while they are living as they are, there will be almost relentless anxiety and stress. The money means so much to them – in a similar way that alcohol does to an alcoholic – that there will be constant thoughts of how to ensure they keep making money and how to hold on to the wealth they presently have.

Consequently, although they may have much more money than the vast majority of people, they are much more worried about it. Because it’s their “fix”, they need to know it’s there and so often someone like this may also be quite miserly with what they have and be living in a continual state of stress and anxiety.

Compressed torment of generations

Generations addicted to spending

As with many mental health disorders, the struggle is often intergenerational. Many people from wealthy families are at least in part struggling because their parents were largely absent from their childhood.

This could be, for instance, because one parent was addicted to making and keeping money, while another was addicted to spending. But every child needs to have their basic needs met: they need to feel loved, valued, validated, and secure.

If one or both of the parents were not there, this is not possible. A mother or father may justify that they are always away from the family home (or preoccupied with working when they are there) by saying they are doing it all for their family to have comfortable lives now and in the future.

Similar justifications will be said for sending children off to board at school or to a school that may be a long way away from the family home. But ask any child what they most want and it will be that they want their parents to be there to listen to them, to hug them and to play with them…

There’s no denying it’s great to have some lovely things such as a large beautiful home and a brand-new car. But it’s also a fact that so much emotional and mental health suffering in adulthood starts in childhood due to a child with unmet needs growing up into an adult that feels unloved and unlovable.

Widening the gap

Mental health issues caused by being wealthy

Making and having lots of wealth can make mental health problems seem even worse for many people. Western society’s message certainly plays its part in this with the overall culture being a materialistic one – such as with commercials almost everywhere telling us that we need this or that to be happy and successful.

Author Matt Haig writes with great expertise about this in his bestselling Notes On A Nervous Planet. In this book, he writes about how our modern world feeds anxiety and other mental health conditions. He says that many commercials, as well as social media, contribute to this, in that they seek to make us feel less than, worried, and as if we are failures. Unless we buy the product or service they are selling.

But what happens to a lot of people who reach a level of financial wealth, and often a certain degree of status too, is that they still do not feel happy or well. This is because they can look around them and see that they have all that money can buy – and yet they, for instance, still feel depressed.

So in many ways, this exaggerates their suffering. They might reason or people say to them that there is no reason for them to feel depressed. So now they feel even more pain, even further lost in life.

Of course, if our happiness was solely based on material things, then there would be no reason for someone with financial wealth to feel depressed. So it is clear then that this is not what it is about at all.

However, there is always a solution. If you or anyone you know is suffering, the best thing is to speak with someone who has expertise in these matters.

Our friendly professional team has great experience in helping people with all types of mental health and emotional disorders. Call us today for a confidential chat about how we can help you or someone you know.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

Reader Interactions

Leave a comment