Dear Nick: 'I need to disengage a client with serious mental health issues'
Nick Elston advises an accountant whose client has serious mental health issues. Should they disengage gently or try to help?
The dilemma: My client inherited some money when his father passed away and that seems to have been the catalyst for his problems. Since then he has embarked on a series of get-rich-quick schemes, bad investments and bad choices of business partners.
Earlier this year he started sending me elaborate e-mails with links to websites he was involved in which outlined conspiracy theories about the government and Treasury's involvement in child trafficking and the manipulation of the property market.
He refused to sign his 2018 SATR and told me not to file as he was going to 'invoice' HMRC as they owed him a lot more than he owes them. At this point, I should have disengaged but I was also acting for his distraught wife and sought to support her. She signed her SATR and begged and borrowed funds to pay her share of the CGT due on property sales; her husband had spent the sale proceeds paying debts and she did not receive a penny from the profits.
Yesterday I received an e-mail from him 'updating' me on his dealing with the Treasury and warning me that the new 5G mobile phone tech also incorporated soft-kill technology into street lights which can be used to eliminate people.
This is the last straw. I need to disengage but due to his fragile mental health (he has had at least two nervous break-downs in the last 10 years) I need to do this gently.
Read the full dilemma on Any Answers.
This dilemma really resonated with me. When I deliver talks on mental health, anxiety and wellbeing the most common question I get asked is: “How do I help my *insert close friend/family/client here?”
The sad truth is you can’t. The closer we are to people the more they see us as a set role in life: a husband, wife, brother, sister, accountant, and therefore cannot form part of a solution.
A sadder truth is this stuff impacts the carer or in your case, adviser, equally if not more than the person experiencing their challenges.
There is more and more focus being made on financial wellbeing. I have been a speaker, written articles and mentored people more over the past 12 months from a financial wellbeing element than ever before, specifically paying attention to the link between mental health, wellbeing and our relationship with money.
It appears from reading your extremely articulate account of your history with this person that the spiral has worsened with every ‘bad’ decision that has been made along the way.
Quite often people with not only mental health challenges but also low self-esteem and low-confidence will use money, distractions (schemes, alcohol, drugs, sex etc) and the pursuit of material gain to replace the pursuit of more enlightened happiness and personal fulfilment.
The spiral worsens when you throw in guilt, shame, debt and all of the negative outcomes from these endeavours get thrown into the mix.
Then to compound it all, we go into 'man cave' or 'she shed' mode where we cut off our avenues of support such as advisers, friends, family, or medical professionals until we reach a state of depression.
It’s when people lose hope that they lose everything. The hope of something better is the one thing that drives us all: whatever that means to us.
Sometimes, as per your client, we put our hope in the wrong places.
Your client’s experiences and your relaying of the timeline of his actions indicate he has severe mental health challenges, even if his wife was ‘onboard’ in helping. The fact is that unless he chooses to acknowledge his problems and accepts help nothing can be done, unless forcibly so.
I asked myself after reading and rereading this sad tale: how would I have wanted to be handled back when I was at my darkest? It would be exactly as you have done.
You have also safeguarded yourself by ensuring you are accompanied. And in the event of any unwanted persistent contact ongoing, you may need to take further steps to ensure that full closure is secured.
Active signposting is a valuable tool for that. I am a mental health champion for Time to Change. I know I can signpost people there but also Mind, Mental Health UK, Rethink and many more. So they can find their own way forward.
In my experience people are not looking to be fixed they just want to be heard. Hopefully, your action will have triggered something in him to make him want to address his issues.
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Nick Elston is one of the leading inspirational speakers on the subjects of anxiety, mental health and wellbeing - from an experience sharing perspective - and delivers his talks to stages, corporates, boardrooms, factories, universities, schools and events worldwide. His coaching programme is called Life On Your Terms.