Imagine a matriarch or patriarch of a family who has control over the family finances or family office. That individual, however, has a drinking problem that has grown to the point of affecting memory, decision making, relationships with relatives or personnel, or potentially otherwise impacting finances.
The family is concerned. They see the possibility of needless or duplicate payments being made, alienation of those around them, or family finances or reputation being jeopardised. What if they got in an accident? Could they harm they cause put themselves or the family at financial risk?
Fearing a breach of decorum, family members and staff don’t want to address the problem. Yet, by avoiding the conversation, are they causing even more potential harm? Absolutely.
Replace alcohol with prescription or illicit drugs, or dementia, or the mental health issues that plague society. These are conversations we must have at every level.
No one is immune. Pennsylvania U.S. Senator John Fetterman checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment for clinical depression. Actor Jason Sudeikis and the cast of “Ted Lasso” attended a White House press briefing to discuss the importance of tending to mental health.
Those who know me and those who are frequent readers of my articles know I take the attention to and treatment of mental health very seriously. I’ve lobbied lawmakers in the state capital and written about the challenges mental health brings with family wealth and how wealth, power and fame cannot buy the peace that comes with a stable mind.
I consider mental health as residing on multiple “spectrums.” Like the colour of the rainbow each one represents a different emotion and how we react to them: temper, humour, anxiety, ability to read non-verbals, or ability to comprehend sarcasm. Everyone reacts differently and sits somewhere on each continuum. So, what is normal?
Unfortunately, spectrum is more commonly used to describe children with Autism-related disorders (ASD). These include Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Kanner’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder. Yet the greater concept, at least to me, is how each is unique – it may be mild or severe, leaving the child, or adult, high-functioning or in need of a lifetime of care and supervision.
I am in no way minimising the suffering endured by those with ASD. However, by applying the “spectrum” concept to mental health, it’s easier to understand the arc of suffering some may endure. Visualise it this way. To one extreme, you have people with no apparent, clinically defined mental health issues. They would be classified as “normal.”
To the other extreme, you have people who suffer from disorders affecting anxiety, mood, psychosis, dementia and cognition, and eating. An example would be Sen. John Fetterman, a man so beset by his depression that he needed inpatient care. An article from the University of Utah Health System reported other celebrities and athletes who suffer mental health issues: model Chrissy Teigen (postpartum depression), singer Demi Lovato (bipolar disorder), NFL quarterback Steve Young (social anxiety disorder), entertainer Donny Osmond (social anxiety disorder, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps (ADHD), and actor Leonardo DiCaprio (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
Why do we know that they and countless other celebrities, athletes and leaders of government and industry suffer mental health issues? Because they came out and told us publicly. A generation ago, they might have suffered in silence. Today, once-private individuals who have high social standing believe they have a role to play in sharing their stories of suffering and search for a solution. By sharing their stories, the hope is others also will see themselves as “normal” and seek care.
What’s more, many common health insurance plans include some level of mental health care. The pandemic also highlighted the pressing need for care, whether through smartphone apps or in-person sessions.
Today we know any stigma is misplaced and any suffering in silence fails the individual and society. Researchers and clinicians have discovered, and shared with the masses, that until we recognise that issues such as anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, even thoughts of suicide demand our attention and understanding, that those who suffer will not find calm in their lives.
Those who spend time lobbying in state capitals and the halls of Congress find their efforts are paying off. Last October, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis proposed, and the state Board of Education unanimously approved, a ground-breaking shift in how Florida supports the health and wellbeing of its students. Schools are shifting from “stigma-laden mental health education model” to an “empowering model based on resiliency and teaching kids the skills to learn how to overcome challenges.”
Even the 2008 government bailout program “Troubled Assets Relief Program” or “TARP” had hidden within it measures to address mental health.
Now, it’s up to us, and care is being addressed. While it’s illegal to inquire about one’s mental health, should issues arise, more employers are giving employees the care they need. Situations that in the past might have caused anxiety in the workplace should be handled more thoughtfully.
More to the point, we’re getting away from stigmatising people, feeling embarrassed for the person or family, or characterising mental health as “bad.” To be sure, the conversations or actions must be addressed with some care; if the courts are involved, they become part of the public record.
What we’re finding is that when that matriarch or patriarch or others in the family have a substance abuse or mental health crisis, we’ve grown better at addressing it carefully and with due tact. Even if you feel you need help addressing the issue, beyond the care of a professional mental health clinician, seek out guidance. An impartial third party can help assess the impacts on the family and navigate next steps.
Whatever you do, don’t wait. Mental health issues often don’t abate on their own. Addressing them early, can help the individual and family find a path toward a brighter future.