Investing in Your Family’s Mental Health

  • Posted at Jun 15, 2023
  • Written by yellowbrick
Investing in Your Family’s Mental Health

Investing in the mental health of each individual and the family supports family unity, trust, mission, and financial success.

Mental illness is present in one of five families, and research demonstrates that affluence is not a protective factor. This means that mental health and illness are vital to sustaining families’ personal and financial assets.

Recognition of mental illness is often an initial challenge for individuals and families. Cultural stigma, personal shame, fear, and disappointment can contribute to delayed intervention until a full-blown crisis or a collapse into disability erupts.

Families can best position themselves by developing a family culture that is accepting, non-judgmental, invites direct and supportive communication and embraces rather than rejects troubling behaviors as cries for help from troubled family members. Being prepared with a range of expert, vetted resources can allow for timely and effective assessment and intervention.

A comprehensive approach to family mental health includes identifying vulnerabilities, promoting resilience and wellness, embracing the family as a dynamic system, and providing expert and comprehensive care to affected individuals. Everyone in the family is impacted by mental illness, one way or another, so hoping it will just resolve on its own leaves everyone in a more precarious situation.

In addition, substance use disorders, either alone or co-occurring with mental illness, are highly prevalent in all three generations within families. Rates of substance use disorder in the young adult population range above 40%, and the rate of alcohol and prescription substance misuse among the elderly continues to rise at an alarming pace. Along with depression, substance use for those in middle age who experience their career trajectory to be failed or lacking is a powerful threat within family businesses and offices.

A great deal of attention is being paid to supporting the success of the “Next-Gen” within Family Offices. While the approach has been thoughtful towards helping individuals identify interests and needs, promoting communication across the family, and supporting effective migration among the generations, there is a notable absence of recognizing the risks associated with ignoring the prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse within families. While highly detailed and informative, the 88-page North America Family Office Report 2022 does not mention psychiatric illness and substance use within families or the need for strategies and vetted resources to support individuals and provide risk management for families and Family Offices.

The extended succession process can be an especially vulnerable time for all generations. The uncertainties, anxieties and tensions experienced normally within the succession process can activate psychiatric vulnerabilities which were previously dormant or manageable. Family consultants can be effective in supporting the family’s successful navigation of this window of risk as well as in early identification of family members who need individualized assessment and intervention.

“All happy families are happy in the same way, but all unhappy families are unique in their suffering.” (Tolstoy) The same can be said of individuals suffering from mental illness. “In fact, every family is unique, but all families share a bond that can be mobilized to support one another”. (SAMHSA) Each individual and family needs and merits professional compassion and expertise customized to their circumstance.

In summary, families are encouraged to:

  • Be open with the awareness and the intention of explicitly supporting mental health and acknowledging mental illness.
  • Create a culture of direct, supportive, and non-judgmental communication which embraces rather than ejects troubling and troubled individuals. This can be facilitated and sustained by introducing a family systems consultant as a normative member within the life of the family. Patience is important within this process as family dynamics most often have a long history and can cast a powerfully long shadow interfering with establishing and sustaining a collaborative dialogue across generations of family members.
  • Recognize that the family itself needs support as all family members are affected in direct and implicit ways when mental illness arises within the family. The family consultant is best positioned to embrace the family as a whole and component constituencies while also providing trustworthy and expert resources for individuals requiring treatment.
  • Honor the uniqueness of each individual’s experience and the family’s experience.
  • Understand that succession can be a particularly vulnerable time within families for all generations.
  • Be prepared with vetted, compassionate, and expert professional resources to avoid being compelled to act in a crisis.
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