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Taking Depression Seriously—Why FAs Should Seek Help

In Phoenix, Ariz. last week a successful 46-year-old businessman killed himself, leaving behind a grieving widow and five young children. The family seemingly had it all—millions in personal wealth, a beautiful home, and a wide circle of friends. I knew this family and this businessman. He was well-loved, respected, and always seemed to have a smile on his face. It’s a stark reminder that clinical depression can strike anyone, regardless of their financial or social status—and that some chronic battles with depression end tragically.

Research has shown that individuals in helping professions can be especially vulnerable to the cruelest consequences of depression. Practicing doctors, for instance, are nearly twice as vulnerable to depression and/or suicide than the general population.

I recently learned that depression may be even more rampant among physicians in retirement – by about 33 percent. Doctors are notoriously conditioned to keep their emotions in check starting in medical school. Retirement can exacerbate the feelings of isolation already present in the profession. If you have retired doctors as clients, it’s good to keep in mind: doctors (and their loved ones) need to be able to recognize signs of depression and seek appropriate help.

Financial advisors, like other “helping” professionals, can feel a tremendous sense of responsibility for their clients’ well-being—and may be at more risk than others of succumbing to depression—especially if they don’t get help. The financial advisory profession, like the medical profession, also tends to encourage stoicism with emotions and a “buck up” attitude that may not serve individuals well in every instance.

Psychiatrists and counselors offer the following guidance:

  1. Don’t go it alone. While you may think you can get through your struggles, depression is a chronic illness that can warp your sense of reality. It can take away your will to live. Even small problems can seem hopeless and insurmountable when suffering from depression. There are millions who suffer from this medical ailment, and it’s important to recognize that you can’t fight it by yourself.
  2. Medicine can help. When under the supervision of a medical provider, you can find medical treatments that help alleviate some of the pressure you feel, and reduce your sense of overwhelming gloom. It’s exciting to hear stories of individuals who have been helped by psychiatric treatment, who are overcoming their sense of hopelessness and feeling more empowered in their lives.
  3. Talk it over. Seeing a counselor or confiding in a spiritual advisor or close friend can be life-saving. Regular talk therapy is essential for those battling a mental illness, as it can help you sort out your difficulties, and gain much-needed perspective. We can’t always expect our family members to be able to shoulder the emotional burdens we may carry or have the expertise we need. That’s why a therapist can contribute greatly to our mental and emotional well-being. It’s especially helpful for those in helping professions to have someone on whom they can offload some of their day-to-day problems.

As a financial advisor you face numerous stressors: financial markets that are out of your control, client and prospect behavior that is out of your control, as well as business conditions and employer decisions that are out of your control. When you feel like life is spinning out of control, you feel there’s no place to turn.

It may sound like a bunch of clichés, but seeking help, taking one day at a time, and remembering not to carry the world on your shoulders, is good advice.

When it comes to depression, we all need to take it seriously. And get the help we need.

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