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Care for clients' mental health

8 June 2018

It’s advisers' job to know their clients and their money – should they be asking ‘are you ok?’  By Shane White.

img-power-of-a-little-care-hero.jpg "That understanding you have for them – they can be aware of that without you telling them you are there for them," says Samuel Johnson.

For financial advisers, helping clients is what the job is about. Ensuring people are in a financial position to chase their dreams is the ultimate goal. But can that help extend beyond advice – and if so, when?

The relationship advisers have with their clients, where they are privy to personal, often sensitive information, puts them in a unique position to identify mental-health issues. If an adviser can see their client is suffering, how can they ask them: R U OK?

“You are in position of leadership,” Aaron Williams, chief executive officer of Mindstar, an online mental health and wellbeing tool, told the ANZ APEX Inspire 2018: Beyond Advice event in May. “You’re leading people to set up a lifestyle and that can't be disconnected from their general wellbeing.”

“You can help people to also deal with the life [issues] they have … and that’s often as easy as providing them with access to [the right] information. It should be something we feel comfortable talking about,” says Williams.

Normalising mental health

Williams and fellow guest speaker at the APEX event, actor and long-time campaigner on cancer issues, Samuel Johnson, both agreed it was vital for advisers to normalise addressing mental health with clients – and they have a unique duty of care to do so.

“I'd encourage you to be casual and to normalise it,” Johnson said. “It's the difference between going ‘so, are you actually okay?’ or just 'so how have you been?’. I think the more focus you put on it, the more uncomfortable clients are going to be.”

“If you create a relationship that's based on listening it should bring that kind of stuff out without even soliciting it directly.”

Johnson said the key to broaching the subject – with clients and anyone else – was “intellectualised and finely tuned empathy”.

“That understanding you have for them – they can be aware of that without you telling them you are there for them.”

Advisers are in a unique position

Advisers are in a unique position as they are exposed to an area of their clients’ lives that many have high-stress around – their finances.

A 2011 survey from the Australian Psychological Society found 52 per cent of Australians listed their financial health as the number one cause of their stress, above even personal health and family.

This is on top of the one-in-five people aged between 16 and 85 who will experience mental illness, according to the Black Dog Institute. More than 40 per cent of Australians will experience mental illness in their lifetime.

For Williams, these are important figures for advisers to consider. “Think about 20 per cent – one-in-five of your workplace, of your kid’s school, of your street, of your family," he said. This of course extends to clients too.

Be aware of business-related stress

For clients who own and operate small businesses the risk is increased, according to Williams. A 2017 study found 24 per cent of entrepreneurs said they had become physically unwell due to the effect of business-related stress.

“More than two-thirds of small-business operators have experienced personal challenges including fatigue, financial stress, loss of motivation or relationship strain because of their work,” Williams said. “More than one in 10 small-business owners have been diagnosed with depression, stress or anxiety at some point.”

“The real problem is 41 per cent of small business owners say they're never going to discuss that with anyone. They’ll struggle on through in silence.”

Social media distorts reality

Both speakers agreed social media played a role in increasing mental-health distress.

“When we started to roll out social-media technology there was so much excitement,” Williams said. “It was going to increase our level of connection and decrease social isolation.”

“We were finally able to connect across the world and support each other and there was amazing stuff happening online.” He said the reality was social media did two things.

“Firstly, it is an incredible amplifier of our own insecurity,” Williams said. “Because we start to think everyone we know is doing better than us or they look so unbelievably happy on social media at all times. [But] the pictures they have or the posts are often completely unrelated to reality.”

“The second thing is, while we've never been so connected, we have all probably never felt so isolated and lonely.”

Research suggests people are feeling increasingly isolated because “we’ve started to interact through Facebook or text and so we don't feel like we have that human connection”, Williams said.

Johnson added that increasingly, children and adults, are far-more reliant on social media than they perceive.

“Kids are checking their Facebook 125 times a day,” he said. “They think they're checking it about 50 or 60 times a day, 50 per cent less than they actually are.

"Social media is unwittingly creating two realities", Johnson continued. “We think social media is representative of our life. But we've got to be careful because sometimes it can just be creating an alternative.”

What are we telling ourselves?

Williams said as humans, our brains are constantly talking to us telling us stories. The problem, he said, is they are not always positive. They are often negative stories – such as worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.

“I doubt whether this morning anyone got dressed, looked in the mirror and their brain went ‘Wow, you look hot today’. All of our brains tell us things like: ‘You are going to fail’ or ‘you are not good enough’.”

“The reality is life is a rollercoaster. It has its ups and it has its downs. That's just real life. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.”

“The good news is we all have incredible power over how we think and feel. If you are mentally healthy, you will be successfully able to deal with those low dips on the rollercoaster of our life we all experience from time to time.”

Shane White is senior production editor at ANZ’s bluenotes.

 

The ANZ APEX Inspire 2018: Beyond Advice event took place over five locations in May, with events in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, SA and Victoria.

A combined total of over 620 advisers attended the events, spreading an important message around mental health through the financial adviser community.