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Rhiannon Rosalind , CEO of the Economic Club of CanadaAjani Charles/Handout

Rhiannon Rosalind, CEO of the Economic Club of Canada

Financial turmoil and poor mental health are in my family DNA. For decades prior to my arrival in 1984, my family was accustomed to poverty and addiction.

It started with my grandfather, Eddie Jack, who in the early 1940s was known as the whiz kid in Canada’s aircraft industry who helped invent, develop and produce the famed Canadian Mosquito fighter-bomber. Although he contributed to great successes (his invention carried out 213 operational missions over Germany during the Second World War), like many soldiers, he suffered in silence, living out the rest of his life with undiagnosed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When my grandfather was at the peak of success, my family had it all. Then slowly, everything vanished. His drinking, abusive temper and eventual bankruptcy were all evidence of a broken man suffering in silence. As a result of the shame, my grandmother, who was one of my primary caregivers, chose a path of denial through debt addiction. I watched her posture herself as wealthy in public when we were really living paycheque-to-paycheque, often having our utilities shut off.

Alcoholism was passed on through my grandfather’s children and eventually to me. I had my first drink at 12 and drank to medicate my anxiety and trauma until I eventually sought help and got sober. My alcoholism was only second to my workaholism. In a society that sees money and status as success, I fooled many, including myself, into thinking that I was fine for many years. The pain and shame of my past was a driving force that pushed me to try to overachieve my way out of trauma.

Only a few weeks ago, I, too, received a diagnosis of PTSD – a classic example of intergenerational trauma and how patterns repeat themselves across time until someone is ready to wave the white flag and get help. In more than a few ways, my story eerily echoes my grandfather’s. I, too, am an inventor, but I prefer to say I was born entrepreneurial. I started my first business at 10 and, at 26, I became the youngest, and first female, chief executive of the Economic Club of Canada.

When I first took over the company, I struggled deeply with imposter syndrome. Like many women in executive roles, I felt like a fraud despite my successes. My imposter syndrome made me feel inadequate and unworthy, but my trauma around money made me feel downright shameful, especially when working with some of the richest and most successful business leaders and policy makers from around the world. In many ways, I felt as if I had sneaked in the backdoor – Bay Street felt like such unfamiliar territory.

I knew that it was unique for someone like me to be in my position, and I desperately wanted to use that privilege for something good. So, I used my coveted rolodex of financial experts, policy makers and business leaders to launch the Jr. Economic Club of Canada. My intention was to help others who grew up like me. In a decade of operation, we have provided financial literacy, truth and reconciliation programs, and experiential business opportunities to more than 50,000 youth from across the country.

Fifty-three per cent of Canadians still live paycheque-to-paycheque and money is the No. 1 reported cause of anxiety, stress and poor mental health. COVID-19 is only amplifying these issues. Preliminary data suggest that some segments of the population are recovering quickly while others, primarily Black, Indigenous, other racialized groups and women, are actually being pushed further down into stress, debt and despair. This financial turmoil is compounding existing mental-health issues among these vulnerable groups.

Looking through the lens of my inherited financial trauma and mental-health issues, I started to recognize that most youth financial literacy programs fail to produce any real measurable results. This is because poor financial habits are strongly related to PTSD and other mental-heath issues. Now more than ever, I feel that it’s important to call out the elephant in the room and address the mental-health issues that are related to long-term financial stress, something all too familiar for victims of systemic racism and economic injustice.

To address these deficiencies, on Nov. 16, the Jr. Economic Club of Canada will unveil its newest financial wellness program, Mindfulness & Money, in partnership with the CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals. CEE is dedicated to creating a society and economy where Black youth can thrive and make meaningful contributions. Both organizations know that economic empowerment cannot happen without addressing the financial trauma that hurts many communities affected by racism and other systemic barriers.

This program uniquely considers the emotional and social barriers that prevent financial wellness by teaching financial literacy skills through a trauma-informed lens that considers: mental health, intergenerational trauma, and the emotional and social aspects of financial well-being. It will help young people address their financial trauma by better understanding how intergenerational financial hardship affects one’s ability to thrive.

This psychological approach to money is imperative if we want to reverse the negative trends of debt, addiction and trauma that so many Canadians experience. Our planet and our communities are in need of healing and our economy is an integral part of that.

I’m fully transparent about my story because, like all the other children who grew up just like me, my trauma, failures, upbringing, mental health or even successes, do not define me. They change nothing about my inner strength. They are just a part of who I am.

To all the Canadians out there who feel this pain, I see you, I walk beside you and I believe in our capacity to heal. Economic healing is possible when we address the mental-health issues that prevent us from achieving financial independence.

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