There’s no getting round it: the past year-and-a-half has paid a heavy toll on the nation’s mental health.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, nearly 400,000 children and 2.2 million adults sought help for mental health problems during the pandemic. Over one million more treatment sessions were given to adults between April and December 2020 (1,078,539), an increase of 8% on 2019. There were also 159,347 urgent crisis referrals made for adults, an all-time high, and a 2% rise on 2019.
Laura Dadswell, Partner at Penningtons Manches Cooper specialising in private wealth, has been well-placed to observe how psychological issues are impacting on “pretty much anybody, no matter their age, no matter their capability”, and that includes high net worth individuals (HNWIs). She says: “We’ve all been in a pressure cooker. I have seen mental health issues in clients of all ages.” While anxiety in young people is a huge and growing issue, older clients, whose families couldn’t visit them, were also suffering loneliness and uncertainty.
However, one of the positives to come out of a difficult 18 months is that a certain amount of taboo has been stripped away. For Penningtons Manches Cooper Partner Tom Walker, who specialises in employment and private wealth, the conversation around mental health is really part of a longer shift in both high-pressured law firms and other sectors. “It was well-regarded that stress was part of life, or part of the job, but that has been changing in recent years,” says Walker. “Now in the pandemic we’ve seen colleagues, barristers, clients and opponents open up about their mental health, one even saying, ‘Yesterday, I fell apart a bit’.”
With burnout reaching epidemic levels – 60% of leaders report they feel ‘used up’ at the end of the day, according to Forbes – what immediate initiatives can we put in place to help? Forward-thinking firms such as Penningtons Manches Cooper have a wide range of resources to support the mental health of their staff: “If you haven’t heard from someone recently, or maybe seen changes in their behaviour, you need to really watch out for that and, if needs be, put support in place,” says Walker.
Starbucks EMEA Finance Director and mental health campaigner Jonny Jacobs concurs: “Listening to everyone is going to be fundamental. We’re at a real stop and think moment.”
Mark Pigou, Founding Partner at MAD World Summit and Make A Difference Media, agrees that de-stigmatising and communication are important but adds that investing in workplace initiatives is key. “We all need to take care of our mental health, just as we take care of our physical health. As we look to 2022 and beyond, we need to maintain the momentum and ensure stigma shifts to investment in sustainable workplace mental health and wellbeing solutions.”
But what about those who think you should just get on with it? “In some ways, they’re vulnerable as well,” says Dadswell. “Things can come out of the blue and hit them harder than those who’ve developed coping mechanisms.”
Lasting Power of Attorney: What it is and why you need one
What happens if you find yourself unable to make decisions for yourself or manage your own affairs? Such a situation is not something that should be left to chance, which is why putting a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in place is a sensible precaution.
An LPA allows an individual (known as the donor) to appoint the friends or relatives they deem suitable to make decisions on their behalf and manage their affairs when they are unable to do so — due to an accident, dementia or other illness or incapacity.
LPAs are made for decisions around property and finances or for health and wellbeing issues such as care and treatment, with the ability to place restrictions on any decisions. An LPA can be set up by anyone over 18 and changed or ended at any time. However, it’s key that the donor still has mental capacity to do this and not wait until things have started to deteriorate before trying to put the arrangement in place.
There are legal structures to consider too if a family member is experiencing mental health problems. Central to this is the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), which gives individuals the opportunity to appoint others to make decisions on their behalf, if they’re incapable of doing so. It is imperative though that people set one up in advance before the illness takes hold.
However, this has added complications. For Dadswell, the legal framework “which supports people who cannot cope and need to take a period of time acknowledging they cannot manage their own affairs is currently not really fit for purpose [internationally]… there isn’t a joined-up network of attorney appointments that enables people to step in and take over for individuals”.
So, what’s her advice? “Look at the assets in each jurisdiction and make sure you’ve got the appropriate document power. There are moves afoot to create an internationally recognised power of attorney but we’re not there yet.”
However, she adds: “If there’s one positive to come from this, it’ll be an acknowledgement that even the most successful of us are not bulletproof; that it’s perfectly fine to say, ‘I can’t cope and I need help’. I think that’s a really healthy thing.”
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