Investing in Family Mental Health

  • Posted at Mar 25, 2024
  • Written by yellowbrick
Investing in Family Mental Health

Why invest in family capital?

Within the field of family wealth, consider the fact that increasing attention is being paid to the needs of human capital. These needs extend beyond the reach of the quantitative disciplines that traditionally serve families of wealth.

Reflect for a moment: What is your family’s and your family business’s most valuable asset? It’s not Bitcoin, or your Apple stock, or even your highly valued expert advisors. The most valuable family office asset is the family, both individually and collectively. After all, what really is wealth? Both Gandhi and Ralph Waldo Emerson, from very different cultures and times, are quoted as saying that health is the first and only real wealth.

Our world has spent much time, effort and treasure these past few years seeking to protect our health with vaccines. Wealth is not a vaccine for protecting any of us from mental illness. Like that shingles commercial, mental illness doesn’t care how much money you have. One in five families will have an individual suffering from mental illness, one in five families will have an individual suffering from substance abuse, and of course, many together will have both. In fact, research informs us that the high and ultra-high net worth population is actually at a higher risk for mental health issues, along with the very poor.

Individuals with mental illness die from medical illnesses over 20 years earlier than others, due to lifelong stress activating physical illnesses, poor self -care, and the complications of substance abuse. COVID’s 1 .1 million deaths over two years is considered a devastating, once-in-a-century plague. It turns out that the number of psychiatric and substance abuse related conditions deliver a comparable number of deaths every four years. Every four years, there’s a once-in-a-century plague from psychiatric and substance abuse conditions. The collateral suffering, distress and dysfunction across families is incalculable.
Research clearly demonstrates that family dysfunction and stress early in life results in a lifetime of psychiatric symptoms, substance abuse, and emotional suffering.

Within family offices, there are impressive efforts to prepare the next and future generations for assuming leadership. And while that approach has been thoughtful about helping family members identify and communicate interests and needs across the generations, there’s a notable absence of recognition of the risks associated with ignoring the prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse in families. The US Family Office report of 2022, while extremely detailed and informative, in 88 pages makes no mention of psychiatric illness or substance abuse within families, or the need to have strategies and vetted resources to support individuals and provide risk management for families and family offices.

Without expert and compassionate, personalized care, mental illness keeps punching. Tolstoy said, “All happy families are happy in the same way,” but each unhappy family is unique in their suffering. Investing in the mental health of each individual and the family supports family unity, trust, mission, and financial success.

Ultra-high net worth families face unique challenges

Among the characteristics of ultra-high net worth families, we find individuals who are high-achieving, pragmatic, effective, and enterprising. These virtues often derive from divergent, non-mainstream neuropsychological capacities that also sustain core family values of self-reliance, independence, and loyalty to family values – the same values and practices that can rub up against the psychological vulnerabilities of the most troubled family members.

We know that a major barrier to seeking help for common psychiatric conditions is shame. Shame is the experience of being unworthy of any special care or consideration from anyone, including and particularly loved ones. In many ultra-high net worth families, the combination of self-reliance, family loyalty, and a very well-developed commitment to family privacy, can all contribute to a vulnerable young person’s determined efforts to hide, deny or minimize their struggles, only to find that those struggles become worse rather than better. Those characteristics that make many ultra-high net worth families so successful in the business world can become barriers to seeking and obtaining the help needed by their most vulnerable members.

Other family virtues that can become liabilities for vulnerable individuals include the family’s very high expectations for success. Family members who don’t necessarily share those interests or have those talents can struggle to fit in, weighed down by persistent feelings of inadequacy that bleed into self-worth and identity.

These struggles are often accompanied by a deep fear about the world outside of one’s immediate family. The family ethics of privacy, loyalty, and self-reliance can create powerful tensions within those individuals who would otherwise be preparing to launch. Reconciling one’s basic need for connection with one’s emerging, developmental need for separateness becomes enormously difficult against an undertow of insecurity and mistrust.

Building a safe and supportive family culture

Mental health is an issue for all families at one time or another, and ultra-high net worth families are no better insulated from that than anyone else. But there are some things that families can do that promote resilience and adaptability in the face of mental health challenges. One is to create and maintain a practice of open dialogue within the family about one’s inner emotional experience. The aim here is to keep lines of communication open about emotional needs, fears, and other concerns essential to health and well-being of even the most vulnerable member of the family.
Another valuable practice is the cultivation of gratitude and appreciation. Many people have an easier time finding their way into acknowledging emotional concerns and vulnerabilities in the context of expressing things that they appreciate and are
grateful for.

It’s also helpful for family members to learn about and share stories of others who have opened up about a personal challenge or struggle, received help, and been the better off for it. We often have those stories tucked away in our own family histories. There are also publicly known accounts of highly successful people who have their own backstories of personal struggle and vulnerability. Especially helpful are those stories in which the central character successfully copes with or overcomes some challenge or adversity with the help of others. We’re not talking here about some kind of mythic self-reliance, where you go off into the wilderness and work on yourself and come back a better person for it. That model is not a helpful one. Better stories are those that portray human connection and interdependency. The family value of inclusion means that everyone matters, and that there’s no one right way to build a life of meaning and purpose.

Everyone matters. Everyone has a role, including those who may not have an instrumental role in the family business. No one gets left behind.

Research indicates that for the rising generation, finding a role within the family is right up there in importance with finding unity within the family. This is especially true in business-owning families, in which the business is the center of the galaxy. It can be so hard to feel valued or useful if you’re not meaningfully part of the business. So, it’s very important to build an ethic of inclusion in which everyone has a place and everyone matters.

When there’s a mental health issue in the family

Know an experienced professional who can serve as a resource when someone in the family is struggling. In our experience, it’s better to seek out the counsel of people who work with individuals and families facing mental health challenges, rather than simply reaching out to someone you know who’s on the hospital board or the CEO of an organization simply because they have been a go-to person to solve other kinds of business problems. You want to connect with people who are actually on the front lines, who have experience working with similar challenges.

Try not to get too attached to your personal convictions of the nature and motivations behind the particular presenting problem. Keep in mind that one’s approach to a complex problem is only as good as one’s view of that problem. So, it’s worth making the effort to obtain a professional assessment.

The brain is the organ of the mind. Both brain and mind need to be evaluated, because people’s challenges and struggles involve both. At Yellowbrick that takes a full week and about 40 hours of professional time to evaluate neuroimaging, genetics, and every psychological dimension of individual and family life. A comprehensive, in-depth assessment is tremendously useful and adds a lot of value for the time and money spent.

Why is family capital important?

Remember that the currency of family capital are the family members themselves. And since family capital rises and falls on the family’s values, make sure that you’re living your values. Make sure those values are positive and unifying beyond simple self-interest. Make sure they support the inclusion of everyone in the family. After all, families are the building blocks of culture and society, and it’s at that level that all the blocking and tackling gets done.

Yellowbrick was founded 18 years ago to meet the growing need for integrated mental health care for at-risk young adults and their families. Yellowbrick is designed around a model of care which integrates contemporary research in neuroscience, psychotherapy, cognitive psychology, and support for executive function and life skills, to provide Emerging Adults and their families a robust therapeutic community to join as part of the process of healing. In the years since, Yellowbrick has become a national referral center for high-risk adults with complex psychiatric and neurodevelopmental challenges. Its staff is made up of senior, doctoral-level clinicians who share a commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration that integrates state-of-the-art clinical theory and practice.

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