A guide for those dealing with clients experiencing mental health and financial stress

Following some articles last year dealing with mental health issues and financial difficulties – see for example Financial failure, bankruptcy and mental ill health, and Mental health and bankruptcy, a guide has been issued by Mental Health First Aid for use by members of CAANZ, accountants being closely involved in assisting clients on financial issues.

The guide is said to assist chartered accountants identify, refer and support a client who is experiencing financial difficulties and mental health problems.  While it is not clear why this is confined only to those members of a professional body, it is nevertheless a useful guide, and initiative of CAANZ, for those accountants dealing with clients in relation to financial difficulties.

This may be in the context of a struggling business, domestic finances, health costs, failing investments, tax problems, litigation or any other such issues where money is involved. Bankruptcy or related demands may be an added pressure. At the same time, the mental condition may be quite unrelated to the financial pressures, and vice versa.

In particular the guide lists standards indicators of mental distress, some of which are not readily observable without some understanding and knowledge.  It also lists do’s and don’ts in verbal communications with such clients.  It goes into the more serious illnesses, and the potential for suicide. It explains the areas in which accountants and their staff should be trained, and also explains self-care tasks for the professionals involved.

It does not directly address the role of a bankruptcy trustee or liquidator, the former in particular not having the debtor or bankrupt as a client, but rather as a person to whom legal duties are owed and from whom legal compliance is required.  Nevertheless, the guide is useful for those undertaking such insolvency related roles.

Ultimately, any non-medical professional has to know the limits of their assistance, but knowledge, including of referral contacts, is important.

Financial counsellors probably have the most direct contact with those suffering debt and mental health problems. A very useful guide is Mental illness and debt, of Good Shepherd, 2010.

Lawyers can also deal with financially distressed clients, although the issues can be different; for example, in trying to recover money defrauded, or in defending court or insolvency proceedings, or conducting a defended criminal prosecution. The guide would nevertheless be of assistance in those areas.

Lawyers also have a broader focus, and in many other areas of human conduct, in relation to the task of making some assessment of a client’s mental capacity to give instructions, including to conduct litigation. See for example Re WS [2017] NSWSC 745 (self-litigant’s capacity to manage his own ordinary affairs, but not the litigation in question arising from his loss of his taxi licence). See also When a client’s mental capacity is in doubt – A practical guide for solicitors (NSW, 2016). Lawyers also tend to have a broader tertiary education where study of the human sciences are often coupled with law.

In the end, the Mental Health First Aid guide is useful in raising the level of knowledge of mental illness in the context of a person’s financial concerns.

See A Guide for Chartered Accountants: Engaging with people experiencing mental health problems and financial difficulties, Mental Health First Aid Australia, Melbourne 2017.

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