Too Rich to Feel Like Shit? – Men, Money and Mental Health

With the recent death of footballer manager Gary Speed, public Twitter depression of player Stan Collymore and discussion of the economic system, I’ve been asked my
opinion on happiness and wealth/success recently. I work a lot with resilience training – staying sane under pressure (with everyone from bankers to aid-workers) – and also train on behalf of Grassroots, a local mental health and suicide prevention charity. Having lost several friends and relatives to suicide and suffered from depression in the past myself, this is a personal matter and a passionate blog.

Let’s start with the fact that three times more men kill themselves than women. Part of this can be attributed to the lethal means which men tend to pick for suicide and I would say that an inability to talk about emotional difficulties and reach-out for help is another. Footballers and other sportsmen have traditionally held up as models of macho stoicism and it takes great courage to speak publicly about depression as Stan Collymore did. While sports have always been about emotion, there is a world of difference between someone crying when their team loses and publicly admitting vulnerability and mental ill health. I see it as a sign of progress that the Professional Footballers Association is at least sending information to players and depression is being discussed seriously. I hope that football can do for mental health stigma what it did to reduce racism is past years. There’s still a long way to go but I think we’re beginning to make progress from the national “stiff upper lip” emotionally repressed stereotype.

If the manly world of football is starting to acknowledge the impact of stress on players, and the possibility of depression where then does prejudice around this area still exist? Sadly it’s my experience that in many workplaces there’s still much denial of how stress effects us. The economic situation has simultaneously made many people’s lives more stressful, and more reluctant to complain about this lest they be forced to join jobless millions. The private sector is under increasing pressure, the public sector has been decimated and charities are in my experience often better at looking after others than themselves. While I never thought I’d say it, many organisations could learn a lot from Stan Collymore.

One ignorant comment I have heard in the wake of Gary Speed and Stan Collymore is “but surely they’re too rich to feel like shit?”.  I have also observed that many ofthe bankers that people are angry with are also miserable despite great wealth. Psychological research shows that beyond a minimum level, wealth does not lead to happiness. Like footballers, many of the financial services employees I work with are often under great pressure to perform while simultaneously being told to repress and deny stress in a culture that confuses vulnerability with weakness. This is problematic for all of us actually as this denial of feeling can lead to business “losing it’s soul” and essentially, acting psychopathically. We all need permission to feel, and can become monsters if we do not have it. If the financial world continues to treat it’s own and other people like it does, it will suffer, and we will all suffer too. Emotions matter, humanness matters, and as I shared after being told “COMPUTER SAYS NO” while applying for a small business loan recently from a bank bailed-out billions, people matter.

It’s also worth pointing out that relative wealth disparities lead to unhappiness and aside from the moral arguments there is a mental health case against the growing wealth divide we see in most Western countries. I have lived in Brazil, a large wealth gap makes everyone crazy.

Conclusion and Action Points

It’s my experience that issues around stress and pressure, and depression and other areas of mental ill-health are still stigmatised but happily this seems to be changing. If you agree and would like to see this trend continue despite the economic situation I’d suggest the following as potential steps:

Share your own experiences of mental ill-health to reduce stigma – in the comments below and in life in general. Especially if you are a rough-tough macho man like me.

If you have a position of influence in a organisation that suffers from stress, burnout or other well-being problem such as addiction and suicide get me or someone else in to help with this and help change the culture. If you have no budget contact me anyway as I can give you some advice and resources for free.

If you are Sussex based and want to help people locally, I suggest supporting Grassroots Training who will soon be collaborating with Brighton and Hove football club outreach group – Albion in the Community. Samaritans as ever do a sterling job of suicide prevention nationally.