Mental health: advisors can be canary in the coal mine

Canadian Mental Health Association buoyed by industry attitudes to tackling problem

Mental health: advisors can be canary in the coal mine

Advisors can be the “canary in the coal mine” for clients facing a mental health crisis.

That’s the view of Adam Wiseman, a manager at the Canadian Mental Health Association, who said he was heartened by advisors’ input into a study conducted by Bridgehouse Asset Managers and Navigator Ltd.

The research found that most finance professionals faced clients with mental health issues, ranging from anxiety (72%), diminished capacity (64%), Alzheimer’s/dementia (63%), depression (54%) and substance abuse (34%).

And while many advisors said they were tense because they didn’t know how to deal with these situations, the overwhelming majority wanted support in helping their clients.

Wiseman said: “There was a lot of promising stuff in there – like a lot of financial advisors really wanted support with it. It wasn’t something they were trying to avoid; they just wanted to get better at how to manage it, and specifically supporting someone who was having a mental crisis.

“A lot of it was a concern for doing the best for their clients. That’s why it was such a fun project to work on – everyone’s heart was in the right place.”

Wiseman stressed that advisors are not expected to do the job of a doctor and diagnose a client. However, they are on the frontline and should be able to spot warning signs and put the trusted contact person tool into action.

He said changes in baseline behaviour could be a sign the client is experiencing a mental health crisis.

He said: “What has come out through this project as well is that’s one of the huge advantages of having a live financial advisor involved. Dr [Anne] Ferguson, who was involved in the advisory board, called advisors potentially the canary in the coalmine, the first warning sign.”

Wiseman added that changes in a person’s behaviour could include a usually punctual client missing appointments, someone who is well groomed suddenly looking scruffy, or vice versa, and someone who wants to quickly and radically change their financial plan.

He said: “When someone experiences a mental health crisis, they potentially start making financial decisions that are really detrimental to their future and start losing some of their freedom.

“Unfortunately, by the time they get to our treatment team, the individual might have already lost financial resources that could have been so helpful to their treatment and quality of life. To have financial advisors taking the time to learn a little bit more about how to support people going through challenges is so important.”

Elizabeth Hoyle, chief marketing officer at Bridgehouse Asset Managers, said her company first picked up on advisors’ concerns about this issue two years ago. Adept at responding to reactions around market highs and lows, mental health challenges need a different set of skills.

She said: “Advisors were starting to see a more complicated client reaction that was due to a life event; somebody died or divorced or a son or a daughter was causing a little bit of difficulty, draining the finances for clients who were displaying signs of illness, depression and anxiety. The advisor just wasn’t tuned into what they were looking at.

“So we started to hear those types of stories and we did a lot of research and investigation into what they were and we uncovered a lot of areas where advisors could need some help on just knowing what they are up against.”

She added: “Some advisors said we are all into the numbers and portfolio aspect and that’s why we got into the business. My response to them was that’s ok, you are a financial advisor but you need to be very tuned in to the changes.

“Never abandon being a financial advisor but recognise clients are going to go through difficult things.”

Hoyle said that as well as the TCP, notetaking is a crucial way for advisors to protect themselves and observe changes in a client. SOAP notes (subjective, objective, assessment, plan) can act as a framework if you end up being taken to court or want to record factual observations.

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