Discover more from Sarah Fay
What Do the Girl Scouts Have to Do With Our Mental Health?
Answer: Not much, but they have money and money has a lot to do with our mental health
In October, MacKenzie Scott (née Bezos) donated $84.5 million to the Girl Scouts. Yes, the Girl Scouts. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this mammoth bequest. We all have our favorite charities and nonprofits. Maybe an organization with the slogan “All fun, no filter” that produces special edition cookies like 2022’s “Raspberry Rally” is more important than I think. (Full disclosure: I was never a Girl Scout.) Some of Scott’s donation will go toward the organization’s science and technology education programs, making its camps more sustainable, and improving its diversity and inclusion policies.
Except the Girl Scouts aren’t exactly hard-up. The organization has a net worth of $28.4 billion (yup, billion). Its cookies alone bring in $800 million every year. That’s a veritable Do-si-do, Trefoil, Thin-Mints racket.
Sure, the Girl Scouts empowers girls and is about so much more than just cookie badges and pins and a vast website selling Girl-Scout gear and collectibles, including a Diane von Furstenberg limited-edition scarf. But other organizations that depend solely on charitable donations and public funding would have relished that kind of support.
Take Thresholds in Chicago, for instance. The organization offers so many services for those struggling with mental illness and substance use disorders that it boggles the mind: residential programs, mobile crisis response teams, mental health outreach, workforce development and employment services, housing, youth and young adult programs (they even have a high school), integrated primary healthcare, legal assistance, peer services, transitional support from hospitals back into the community, and creative arts therapy. They also have special programs for veterans and the deaf.
To be fair, some of the $12 billion Scott has given away since 2019 has gone to mental health organizations. She gifted $30 million to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and $7 million to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, among others.
All of this made me think of money and mental health. The two are entwined on many levels. There’s the influence of economic inequality on people’s mental health. There’s the financial stress we feel regardless of whether we have a psychiatric diagnosis or are experiencing emotional distress. Then there’s the cyclical nature of and symbiotic relationship between money and mental illness and emotional distress.
Most Americans say that finances are the number one cause of stress. In a recent Money and Mental Health survey, 42 percent of Americans said money negatively impacts our mental health. Financial strain ranked ahead of politics, work, and family.
But finances are more stressful for some than others. A 2022 Money and Mental Health survey highlighted the different levels of distress between the haves and the have-nots. Only 30 percent of people with incomes over $100,000 said money is a strain on their mental health. Compare that to the 48 percent of people, including families, who earn less than $50,000 who said it is. A recent Kaiser Foundation/CNN survey found that 61 percent of those living on $40,000 or less say that finances cause them mental distress. A 2022 study found that psychological distress is more prevalent among those with greater economic instability: those who are unmarried, unemployed, live in low-income households, and rent.
One inherent issue with financial hardship is that it often prevents people experiencing mental health difficulties from getting help. (Financial hardship is defined as being unable to get food, shelter, or medicine in the past year.) In the Kaiser Foundation/CNN survey, nearly 40 percent report that people in their income bracket can’t use mental health services due to the cost.
One result is the cyclical nature of money and mental and emotional distress—but which came first—the mental or economic distress? A survey conducted by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute in the U.K. found that 1 in 5 people who suffer from mental health conditions are in debt and three-and-a-half times more likely to be in severe debt. A 2019 study found that 59 percent of people with serious mental illness struggled with financial hardship.
Compounding this is the symbiotic relationship between symptoms of some psychiatric illnesses and financial difficulties. Poor mental health can lead us to spend more, avoid paying bills and returning calls from creditors, and make unsound financial decisions.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas Richardson studies the interplay between spending and saving and our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. His meta-analysis of longitudinal research shows the impact of financial stress on self-esteem; how hope and shame factor into how we handle money; and the links between spending and mania, depression, and anxiety.
The interview with Richardson below is fascinating. A few points of interest:
The amount of debt you have matters less in terms of mental and emotional distress than how much you worry about it.
Hope and shame are the largest factors in how you deal with financial stress.
Often mania is associated with spending money, but anxiety has been linked to impulsive spending and depression with comfort spending.
Compounding this even further is the fact that many Americans—especially those who’ve spent a large portion of our lives battling mental illness—aren’t educated about finances. According to a 2022 study by Standard & Poor’s, only 57 percent of American adults are financially literate, meaning have a basic understanding of four fundamental concepts: risk diversification, numeracy, inflation, and compound interest. (I showed my financial illiteracy by having to look up Standard & Poor’s; it’s the company behind financial credit ratings and the S&P 500.) We aren’t inept; we’re untrained.
The following resources may help guide you and your loved ones in building your financial and mental health:
The Jed Foundation provides guidelines for dealing with financial stress.
Mental Health America gives a thorough, beginner’s overview on managing money.
Tony Robbins’s Money: Master the Game was my first introduction into the world of finance. It was inspiring and informative. Caveats: 1) it’s from 2014 and 2) Robbins has been accused of conflict of interest for promoting companies he’s involved with.
GoFundMe offers this list of ways to secure financial assistance and find free resources. (Note: it’s primarily geared toward helping people with costs for therapy.)
Read the exclusive publication of Cured: The Memoir for free through 2023. The premise of Cured is simple: recovery from mental illness, even serious mental illness, is possible.