I am writing this blog with the hopes of raising awareness about a special population that is not typically recognized by mental health professionals as being vulnerable. A population that is actually a minority that is in desperate need of specialized care and attention. Recent research has shown that there is a strong correlation betweeen high socioeconomic status and behavioral health issues. Affluent individuals are also higher risk for suicide then the average population.
Many mental health profesionals don’t understand the unique challenges associated with wealth and privilege. “He is a trust fund baby, how can he possibly have any problems?’ “Her problem is she is entitled”. Many professionals have a bias against high net worth individuals due to a lack of understanding or the misconception that access to resources decreases vunerabilty. In my graduate studies, there was extensive discussion about the importance of “cultural competency” and “special populations” yet the culture of affluence was not a topic that was discussed. As a native of the Main Line who attended private schools and graduated from a prestigious ivy league school, I am very familiar with the culture affluence and the immense pressure and expectations associated with being raised in this environment. The pressure and expectations caused me immense emotional distress percipitating self-destructive behaviors in my adolescent and young adult years. Perfectionism, grit, achievement, prestige, social status are the constructs of success in the affluent culture.
Happiness is not considered a prerequiste to success. Feelings are not appropriate for the dinner table. This culture promotes isolation, lonliness and despair which is reinforced by the age of technology. The stigma associated with admitting that one is struggling let alone asking for help perpetuates the problem. In the affluent culture asking for help is a considered a weakness and feelings are not part of the vocabulary. High net worth equates vulnerabilty and subseptibilty for exploitation reinforcing the stigma.
My firsthand experience growing up in this culture coupled by my professional expertise provides me with a unique perspective to help a special population that needs professionals who can speak their language and validate their perspective. If you are reading this blog and can relate, I hope that you will consider reaching out for help. Asking for help was the hardest yet the greatest achievement of my life.
Sarah Espenshade, LCSW, CEO/Founder