There may be no challenge more tricky to navigate for a business family than the emergence of behavioral health problems in a family member.
Arden O’Connor, who is not only a professional in the field but also someone who has faced addiction in her own family, shared with us her tips to help you start to deal with a behavioral health problem in your own family:
1. Openly discuss any genetic predispositions toward mental illness or addiction—be honest about your family’s strengths and vulnerabilities.
2. Identify and address signs of a behavioral health issue swiftly. One sign in isolation may be meaningless, O’Connor says, but a combination of smaller problems or a more serious problem might warrant attention. Issues like overspending, legal trouble, and some medical situations (e.g., a young adult having to get their stomach pumped while at college) may suggest a deeper problem, including a mental health challenge, substance abuse, or an eating disorder.
3. If a loved one resists care, set boundaries and stick to them until the person becomes more receptive. Consider an intervention.
4. Find a team of qualified professionals to make diagnoses, to outline a care plan, to recommend inpatient or outpatient treatment, and to monitor progress.
5. Assume that your loved one will need therapeutic support and accountability over the long term (one to five years).
6. Advocate for your loved one. Question the care providers when you’re uncertain about the course of action and get a second opinion.
7. Proactively manage privacy releases—HIPAA (the medical privacy law), healthcare proxy, college grades—so that family members can’t hide brewing problems. Ask your family member for permission to see these critical records as a way of keeping track of how they’re doing. “We recommend that parents introduce the release of information concept early on, to all of their children (not just individuals with pre-established challenges),” O’Connor says. “The language could be something like, ‘We love you and want to make sure that we can access information if you wind up in a hospital or incapacitated. Because we are investing in your education, we also want to get a sense of your progress.’”
8. Identify a professional to work with family members (parents, siblings, children, etc.) on how to productively support someone with an addiction issue. Important topics include understanding the diagnosis, setting healthy boundaries, and maintaining individual self-care routines even during crises.
9. Working with professionals, create a reasonable plan for financial support. In the most complicated cases, the beneficiary received (or will receive) a lump-sum payment at a specific age, regardless of their mental wellness. For individuals who have behavioral health issues, the estate-planning document should include contingencies that allow the distributions to be discretionary, or dependent on specific criteria. Ideally, the professionals who draft and implement the actions in the document have access to mental health education and professionals.
10. Grieve the loss of your dreams for your loved one. Try to accept that your loved one may live a different life than the one you envisioned, but it won’t necessarily be a lesser one.
Sweeping a problem under the rug does not help the family member you dearly love. With mental health or addiction issues, trying to handle a family problem on your own can hurt key relationships, sometimes irreparably. Allowing a behavioral health problem to go unaddressed threatens not only your family member’s health and your family relationships but also ultimately the health and reputation of the business you’ve worked so hard to build.
For a fuller discussion of navigating behavioral health issues in your family see O’Connor’s interview with Banyan’s editorial director here.
*Adapted from the Harvard Business Review Family Business Handbook by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer. Pages 156-159.