Wealthy Family Mental Health Risks

1. What is Affluent Neglect?

Affluent children are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse issues than their peers. But, why would growing up on easy street be so difficult?


Studies show parental pressure, affluent neglect and a lack of boundaries can lead to mental health issues amongst affluent children. At Paracelsus Recovery, we often find that affluent neglect in our client’s childhood is a leading factor in the onset of substance abuse dependencies or mental health issues later in life.

Affluent neglect happens when children are disconnected from their parents and do not spend a lot of time with them in their childhood. It is a type of neglect, which the NSPCC defines as “the ongoing failure to meet a child’s basic needs.” Childhood neglect almost always results in trauma. Countless studies show that trauma increases your chances of developing almost all mental health issues and substance abuse dependencies.

When we think of neglect, we typically think of a child who is unwashed, hungry, lacking adequate clothing, put into foster care, or who grows up without supervision. As a result, neglect in affluent homes can be a lot harder to spot. For instance, because children are often looked after by nannies and a team, they could be well-groomed and ‘presentable’ even though they feel abandoned and neglected by their parents.

Affluent Neglects Leads to a Deep-Seated Loneliness.

Our research (2015) has found that emotional neglect is a pervasive problem for children raised in ultra-wealthy families. Their parents often have high-powered, stress-ridden jobs that require their undivided attention for, sometimes, up to 70 or 80 hours per week. As compensation for lost time, these parents may shower their children with luxurious possessions.

However, if you experience a lack of connection and support in childhood, it means that your emotional needs were unfulfilled. Children are hard-wired to idealise their parents and seek their love and attention. Without it, a child’s brain may perceive their absence as rejection. This can lead to deep-seated loneliness and insecurities that sets the stage for narcissism, depression, or addiction later in life.

Affluent Neglect Increases Your Chances of Developing Mental Health Issues.

Narcissism is a psychological disorder whose quintessential trait is the inability to feel empathy, which can be understood as an inability to connect to one’s peers. Studies (2014) show that there is a link between attachment disruption in childhood, subsequent feelings of inner loneliness, and narcissistic personality traits. Research (2005) also indicates that affluent children are at an increased risk of developing a substance dependency because of this emotional distance from their parents.

How Can Parents Avoid Affluent Neglect?

One of the greatest methods of ensuring our children feel connected to us is to be present in the moment. Being fully present and connected with your child for only one hour means far more than spending days on end in their company, but emotionally, being on another planet.


​​2. How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health

Is your child struggling right now? You are not alone. Rates of mental health issues continue to skyrocket as the pandemic takes its toll. To help ease the load, we asked our experts for their top tips on helping you help your child.

Tragically, suicide remains the second leading cause of death among 15 to 19-year olds, and it increased by 178% from 2007 - 2017 amongst 10 to 14-year-olds. Unfortunately, pandemic-related stress such as a lack of social contact (which is a developmental necessity for children) are causing mental health issues amongst children to increase even more. The pandemic has taken its toll on everyone, but sadly, younger generations are carrying an unfair share of the burden.

At Paracelsus Recovery, we work exclusively with ultra-high-net-worth clientele, and we have noticed an increase in referrals for young adults and children struggling with gaming addiction, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, and many other concerns. To help parents out there navigate these issues, our experts recommend:

  • Manage Your Expectations

Research (Luthar, 2003) has found that affluent children are more likely to suffer from anxiety than their peers. Children of highly successful parents often put enormous pressure on themselves, believing they have to overachieve as their parents did. Studies (Smith & Book, 2008) note that anxiety is often co-occurring with substance abuse. Anxiety also induces stress in our bodies, thereby increasing the effects of the drug and the chances of overdosing.

It is vital to make clear to your child that you expect them to only try their best. Try to remind them of this, even if you feel it is obvious. Our children will always try to make their parents proud. If you are a highly successful individual, that might make them feel as though the bar is very high. Remind them as often as possible that you love them, and you are proud of them simply because they are who they are.

  • Establish Clear-Cut Boundaries

Sometimes, as compensation for lack of time spent together, the child may be showered with money or material possessions. However, an abundance of luxury early in life can lead to feelings of entitlement and a lack of clear boundaries. Limitations are vital for an individual amidst the confusion of adolescence. Without them, the child may lack an understanding of consequences, such as those involved with excessive consumption of illicit substances, which drastically increases their chances of an overdose.

For example, one study (2012) found that kids from upper-middle-class backgrounds showed significantly higher rates of drinking to the point of intoxication than their peers in the general U.S population. The study also noted that across the board, lax repercussions were an important factor in the development of addiction. It is vital to communicate with your teenagers about the risks of substance abuse, ensuring they have a strong understanding of both consequences and delayed gratification.

  • Set Time Aside for Them

Affluent neglect is a common cause of mental health issues in children who grow up in wealthy households. We understand that no parent willingly neglects their child, but it is a common problem in affluent households as their parents tend to be highly successful individuals who often work 80-hour weeks.

If you are worried about your child, try to set aside time each week, ideally two or three evenings, that is just for you and them. For example, you could go out for dinner, go for a walk, or even just sit in silence and complete a jigsaw together. Remember that self-harm, rebellious acts, and substance abuse in childhood or adolescence can be a way of communicating a genuine need for additional support and attention.

  • Ask Direct Questions and Have an Open Dialogue

If your child is suffering from depression, ask them if they feel suicidal. If you are worried that they are abusing substances, ask them if they are developing an addiction. Ask similarly direct questions if you are worried it is an eating disorder, gaming addiction, and so on.

Although it will seem counterintuitive, difficult questions like these can be helpful because they encourage absolute honesty, which will help the individual suffering feel connected to you. Further, this helps that young person recognise that their pain is real, but it is not an obstacle to a connected life. Of course, you will need to decide if you think it is safe to do so, and only do this if you can approach the subject from a non-judgemental place, and with unconditional love.

In addition, work together to find ways to manage their symptoms. This, in turn, lets your child know that you see the pain they are in, and you are here to help them carry the load.

  • Seek Professional Help

Finally, above all else, if you are worried your child is hurting themselves, seek professional help. Mental health issues are akin to physical issues in that the sooner the individual seeks treatment, the less long-term damage. For example, contact your family GP, a treatment centre, or go to your local emergency room if you believe your child is in danger. In the UAE, parents can book assessments with a child psychologist, which can create a positive change in a relatively short period.

Paracelsus Recovery is the world’s most individual and discrete addiction and mental health service, with 15 staff focusing exclusively on one client at a time. Working primarily with UHNW and celebrity clients, the clinic provides cutting-edge treatment delivered by a passionate and empathetic multidisciplinary team in a discrete environment. Originally based in Zurich, services are now also available in London.

www.paracelsus-recovery.com info@paracelsus-recovery.com

3. Growing up in a Wealthy Family Comes with Mental Health Risks

Studies (2017, 2013, 2012) are now calling affluent youth a "newly identified at-risk group" as rates of substance abuse continue to skyrocket.

Groundbreaking studies have shown that affluent teenagers are growing more and more vulnerable to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. However, due to a combination of laxed parenting and a lack of time spent with their parents, these children are also much more likely to self-medicate these issues with substance abuse than their peers. For instance, Luthar's research has shown that kids from wealthy families are two to three times more likely to develop an addiction than their peers.

Why Are Affluent Children Suffering?

  • Parental Pressure to Excel

Research shows that growing up on easy street increases your chances of developing perfectionism and anxiety. In our experience, this is often because children of highly successful parents tend to put enormous pressure on themselves, believing that they must overachieve like their parents did. Countless studies show that when a child feels under pressure to succeed, it increases anxiety and stress levels. Tinted in painful irony, these difficulties usually result in lower academic achievement.

Hence, if you think your child is putting pressure on themselves (or if you are worried you are putting too much pressure on them), try to have an open conversation about how they are doing in school, and whether their goals are achievable. Working together, try to create a realistic weekly plan that includes time to rest and enjoy hobbies or activities which have nothing to do with their academic success.

  • Lack of Boundaries

Parenting is an artform when it comes to navigating boundaries. On the one hand, if we are too strict, it prevents our child from going out in the world and figuring out their own boundaries for themselves. In this instance, the child often rebels excessively once they leave home which sets the stage for numerous other issues.

But, on the other hand, children need rules. In fact, some theorists argue that when teenagers commit antisocial acts (e.g., substance abuse, skipping school, stealing, etc.) they are attempting to figure out at which point the boundary begins. In other words, they feel afraid and confused about what is and isn’t’ acceptable, and they are acting out in an attempt to re-find that sense of safety and protection we find in boundaries.

Unfortunately, ultra-wealthy parents tend to struggle to create these rules for their children, often because they do not spend a lot of time at home with them and it is hard to enforce boundaries virtually or otherwise. For example, Luthar's study (2012) found that kids from upper-middle-class backgrounds showed significantly higher rates of drinking to the point of intoxication than their peers in the general U.S population. The study also noted that across the board, lax repercussions were an important factor in the development of addiction.

If your child has begun acting out and you are concerned about their behaviour, the first step you need to take is to let them know that you are worried about their wellbeing because this behaviour is unacceptable. Then, try to create a plan of action together. That might involve seeking professional help, outlining what is and isn’t okay for them to do, or trying to help them understand what family values you hold and why they are important.

  • Emotional Neglect

All too often, our rose-tinted glasses fail to grasp just how lonely growing up on an easy street can be. Research (Luthar, 2005) has shown that affluent children are more predisposed to addiction because they are far more isolated, both physically and emotionally, from their parents.

More often than not, successful parents have jam-packed, 24/7 work schedules, relying heavily on nannies to look after their children. As a result, emotional neglect is a common issue for children raised in ultra wealthy households. This can lead to an inner, deeply rooted, loneliness. When combined with the rapid hormonal changes ignited by puberty, it can overwhelm the child and lead them to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

It is vital to communicate with your teenagers about the risks of substance abuse, ensuring they have a strong understanding of both consequences and delayed gratification.

Finally, to note, at Paracelsus Recovery, we have treated just as many clients who grew up in ultra-wealthy homes as parents in those homes. We understand that no one wants to neglect their child or see them suffer. However, sometimes these issues can occur, and it is vital to avoid blaming yourself or your partner.

Instead, focus on figuring out why your child is suffering and what you can do to help them heal. Above all else, it is important that you are willing to seek professional help. Our mental health is just like our physical health insofar as sometimes, we just need to see a doctor and have a check-up. If you are worried about privacy, there are numerous treatment centres like our own that can guarantee absolute confidentiality.

4. How Does Your Child’s Mental Health Affect Their Education?

The academic pressures placed on affluent children make them three times more likely to experience substance abuse, anxiety, or depression than their peers.

The ability to learn requires a specific quality of mental health. In its most rudimentary form, it requires mental energy and the capacity to store information. If an individual suffers from a mental illness, it can damage this mental focus and ability to learn. One can think of it as akin to physical health; an active lifestyle requires a standard of physical wellbeing. If we are suffering from the flu, we cannot go for a run. However, for a child or adolescent, it can result in failed educational attainment, and this may take a drastic toll on their self-esteem, worsening their mental health. For example, studies show that teenagers suffering from depression are 50% more likely to drop out than their peers.

Affluent Children are at an Increased Risk of Self-Medicating.

Suniya Luthar, a professor at Arizona University, has completed multiple studies all yielding similar results - teenagers from high-income families are more likely to experience substance abuse, anxiety, and depression than their lower-income peers. For example, in 1999, in an analysis of 264 suburban youth and 224 inner-city students, Luthar found that one in five affluent 16-year-old girls had clinically significant depressive symptoms, three times higher than their inner-city counterparts.

The prevalence of anxiety produced similar results - with 22% of wealthy girls reporting symptoms, and 26% of affluent boys compared to 17% of inner-city kids. Substance abuse was particularly significant – with 59% of suburban boys using illicit drugs compared to 38% of inner-city adolescents. It was discovered that amongst the affluent youth, substance abuse as a means of self-medication was far more frequent.

Luthar has found similar results throughout her decades of research (2002, 2005, 2007, 2017) and noted that one of the fundamental factors involved was a cultural pressure to succeed which many children find unsurmountable. In her own words, “achievement of their extremely lofty goals is tantalisingly within reach, which renders it all the more obligatory…the life credo of these youths becomes, “I can, therefore, I must.”

Pressures and Expectations are Making Affluent Children “School-Phobic.”

There is a fine line between productive pressure and damaging levels of stress on a developing mind. The pressures come from all corners - parents, teachers, coaches, and even their own group of friends. Jan Gerber, the CEO of Paracelsus Recovery, has poignantly summarised it as “an individual might feel the pressure to perform in certain ways, such as one day taking over a position in the family business. They find that their life is planned out from day one and that’s a huge amount of pressure for any person.”

As a result, affluent teenagers are suffering from burnouts and developing mental illnesses at a far quicker rate than their peers. Consequently, they are losing the motivation to learn, potentially leading to a failed education, or a dependency on substances.

For example, unsurmountable pressure can lead a child to believe that they are not good enough. This sets the stage for addictive relationships to form because a pillar of addiction is not knowing when “enough is enough.”

 

How Can I Support My Child Without Putting Too Much Pressure on Them?

Focus on what your child can learn from each situation; good or bad. For instance, if your child has struggled with a test or aced it, help them identify areas where they’ve excelled and then include a few areas they could improve on. If you are upset with your child (or feel like they could have done more) always approach the matter with the knowledge that they have tried their best and they are not intentionally failing this exam, even if it is because they didn’t ‘study hard enough.’

No child wants to do badly in school, it is anxiety-provoking and painful to think you are not good at something. Instead, they could be struggling to focus or maybe academia is not their strong suit. Try to approach all these issues with as much compassion as possible and remember even if they are intentionally trying to upset you, issues like fear of abandonment or rejection will always be at the core.

Paracelsus Recovery is the world’s most individual and discrete addiction and mental health service, with 15 staff focusing exclusively on one client at a time. Working primarily with UHNW and celebrity clients, the clinic provides cutting-edge treatment delivered by a passionate and empathetic multidisciplinary team in a discrete environment. Originally based in Zurich, services are now also available in London.

www.paracelsus-recovery.com info@paracelsus-recovery.com

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