“Money” and young people’s mental health: Is there a relationship?
Image credit: Jonathan Woodcock http://www.gettyimages.ca/detail/illustration/nature-head-royalty-free-illustration/97404061
Of course there is right? Right. We know this intuitively. But it’s not something we typically talk about. I mean, how many of us talk openly about our finances in detail with our friends? Well, perhaps we do with our closest of friends. But perhaps not, especially if we are the ones who are struggling or have more financial security than a friend does.
Say you are the one who is a bit further along financially than a friend of yours. You have enough for food. You can pay your rent. You have a stable job for the moment (or your parents do). You don’t have to worry about having enough money to pay for that dinner and movie out next weekend like your friend does. Do you invite them out with you? Do you offer to pay for them? Or do you stay silent and just not mention it?
This is just one of the several dynamics that were described to me when I engaged 30 young people from the Vancouver area to explore how “money” and their socio-economic environment affects their mental health within my Ph.d. research.
To quote one of them, “Cassie,”* a 15 year-old female living in Vancouver: “Money affects everything. Money affects where you live, how you grow up as a child, what you get exposed to, what you become afraid of, what you become confident with. It creates a setting in your head. Money. Of course not money like the dollar sign, but money like what it gives you. Money, like your lack of money and what that gives up. And of course, it affects everything, right? It affects what school you go to. It affects how your family does. It affects how your parents feel. That affects you a lot too, ‘cause you learn from your parents, of course, right? It affects your friends. I mean, if my friends have problems it affects me because I’m their friend, right? I always want what’s best for my friends and vice versa . . . It affects everything, I think. And all that affects your growth and what kind of person . . . like, the potential of your being.”
Cassie’s reflections capture the openness with which these young people shared about the role that their socio-economic environment plays in shaping their self worth and their connections with others and their natural environment.
The catch is, we don’t tend to think of our socio-economic environment as being a prominent force in young people’s lives when we work to promote their mental health in our mainstream health system.
It tends to be regarded as a “contextual factor.” We tend to look at it as background to the real work of exploring young people’s inner thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and in more intense therapeutic work tracing these inner experiences to young people’s relationships with their families.
While health professionals are increasingly recognizing the importance of our societal and economic context, existing mental health promotion programs continue to focus mainly on teaching young people how to work with their thoughts and emotions at the individual, peer, and family level. We pay little attention to improving aspects of our broader community that challenge young people and their friends and family in their day-to-day lives.
In striving to change this, I’ve developed this blog to share the findings from research that looks at how money and various aspects of our socio-economic environment affect young people’s mental health and how to support young minds to flourish. I’ll start by sharing about my Ph.D. research and then move into sharing updates on emerging studies, news reports on how socio-economic trends are affecting young minds, and updates on upcoming events and community groups that are supporting young minds in creative ways.
Folks who are interested in exploring how to promote young people’s mental health from a socio-economic (broader environmental) perspective are welcome to join me here. Together, we’ll explore the impact of diverse aspects of our socio-economic environment on young minds, including the influence of the commodities we produce (make), sell and consume, to the ways that we organize our learning and work spaces, to the ways that we relate with each other in community life and in media, advertising and nature. Importantly, we’ll explore new ways of organizing our economy in ways that free young minds to thrive.
For now, I’ll close by sharing that I’m aiming to engage diverse young people and their allies in conversation within this blog and/or in person. If you know of community groups that would be interested in hearing about the findings from this dissertation research, feel free to share this website with them and/or contact me to arrange a time for me to come out and share the findings with your group.
To start, you can have a look at the Research, Trends and Events section of this blog for shortened summaries of the findings. If you’d like more details, here is a link to the full dissertation: http://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/54590
To receive updates on blog posts, feel free to follow this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/youngmindsecowellnesscollective/info/?tab=page_info&edited=long_desc
* note that I’ve used pseudonyms and altered identifying information to protect the confidentiality of those who participated in this study
With recognition that I am working on the unceded, ancestral traditional territory of the Coast Salish nation
Vancouver from a Distance James O’ Neil at Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.ca/license/573310091
And a big thanks to Jessica Barrett, Mark Carras, Jodi Lundgren and Colleen Varcoe for their feedback on the initial drafts of this blog.