Helping advisers address mental health for yourself and your clients February 2020


Glenn Baird joined TAL as their head of mental health in 2017. His journey to that position is not however, what you would likely expect. He played basketball professionally in the states before deciding to make a change to working in suicide prevention with clients from diverse backgrounds, including professional athletes, corporate lawyers and tradespeople. He now leads TAL’s mental health strategy, working with internal stakeholders and mental health groups to encourage the health and wellbeing of TAL’s people and customers.

Baird spoke to Industry Moves in advance of their new course designed to help support advisers who are working with bushfire affected clients.

The TAL Risk Academy course, Natural disasters: Supporting clients experiencing trauma and grief, launches as a live webinar on 26 February. To enrol in the course, click here.

Why should advisers focus on the mental health of their clients?

Advisers look out for the financial wellbeing of their customers. To look at it more holistically, when you're impacted financially, you're probably going to see an impact on your physical and mental health.

It is about trying to take that holistic view of the overall health of a person. I think advisers are in a unique position where they can encourage good financial health, a person to be proactive in their physical health and mental health to help manage their financial health more effectively. That, I think is real point of difference, to be able to say, "if you come to me as an adviser, yeah, I will look after your financial health, but you know, I care about you as a person too." And I think that's important.

It is a longitudinal thing for an adviser. You want people to come back to you, over the course of years, to build that relationship and you build that trust.

I've spoken to many advisers who tell me that, when they talk to their customers because they've had such a long-standing relationship, they know the person. They care for them.

Mental health issues can be trickier to recognise and diagnose. What are some things that an adviser can do to be able to identify that someone, who may not be forthcoming, is dealing with some mental stresses?

It's hard because people will share a certain amount and it varies between individuals.

For me, it's about looking for the changes in a person's behaviour. If you've been dealing with Joe Bloggs for a certain amount of time, you have an understanding of your interactions with Joe. But then, if you see some heightened anxiety, you see he's withdrawing, more than you normally would. He's a bit more fidgety than he normally is. Changes like these can stand out.

From there, you can have a conversation that is about transparency and honesty. "Hey, Joe, I'm noticing these things that seem a little odd for you. Is everything okay?" For me, the best way to jump into that conversation is to highlight the reasons for asking, and then ask.

While an adviser may want to help, they may not feel comfortable because they don't have mental health training or experience. They have a relationship with their clients. So, what can an adviser do to start a conversation about mental health?

That is what the webinar is about, helping people after natural disasters and understanding that everyone will handle those experiences very differently. Not everyone is going to be traumatised and you aren't trying to push people into talking about it.

We often hear, "you just got to talk about it." That's not always the best in those early stages. I think the simple answer is to just be human. To connect with people, understand them, listen to them, show empathy. I think that is so powerful.

We don't always have to have the silver bullet for people's problems. It's just about connecting with them and trying to listen and understand where they're at. That can go a long way. If more information comes along, great. If they want to share more, great. But it really is not trying to overstep the mark. Just listening and understanding, I think, and we can all do a better job of doing that.

That's a broader issue, too. I think a lot of us will come into that situation looking to have an answer. It's not necessarily solving the issue. It's listening.

Absolutely. You know, and I experienced this countless times in the counselling room, before any therapy. Initially, people just need to be understood. If we can do that, first and foremost, that's going to put us in good stead.

How can we counsel people when they are facing a crisis or coming out of a crisis, to avoid making reactionary decisions?

From a decision-making perspective, I think it is important that people consult those in their life that they trust, to get some perspective before making those decisions. Also, trying to ensure that you're in a good headspace to make decisions.

The second point would be trying to gather as much information as possible. And again, in the counselling room, we do this a number of ways. Weigh the pros and cons of that choice and look at the pros and cons of the alternatives.

While this is hard to talk about, I think your background in suicide prevention is useful here. If someone were to have that break down or break through in front of the financial adviser, what should an adviser do?

Firstly, as I mentioned before, listening, understanding, and being there. Don't be afraid to have an open conversation about suicide. That's absolutely fine to do.

But, if there is risk of a person taking their life, or they're saying that they are thinking about it, then it has to be escalated. Referrals to the localised crisis and mental health teams, the state-based assessment teams; they do a great service to those that are in need. And advisers can encourage someone to talk to their GP or a psychologist. Lifeline has also just launched a fantastic 24/7 service for people affected by disasters.

There are plenty of options out there for support.

What about advisers who are operating bushfire affected areas? They’re working with a lot of people who are struggling and having issues. What should they do for their own mental wellbeing?

It is about awareness for them. We see staff talking with people on claim; hearing the stories can be really difficult and taxing. It's so important that the advisers understand how these stories are impacting them, taking notice of changes in their own behaviour. Are they being a bit more irritable with their kids at home? Have they stopped exercising like they normally were? Being mindful of those changes and taking feedback from others if they are noticing the changes.

Then, it’s about self-care strategies. Making sure they’re exercising, maintaining social connections, taking time to do some mindfulness. A variety of different things, but self-care really has to be the top priority for advisers as they're dealing with people that are struggling.

Tell me a bit about the webinar and the ongoing TAL Risk Academy.

We've got Nicole Sadler, from Phoenix Australia. She is a guru in this space of trauma. She’s going to share her insights into how trauma affects us, how we’re affected, how different people are affected, and then also what we can say to those people – and what we should probably avoid saying.

We can understand the diagnostic criteria and treatments of PTSD, for example, but having the conversations… people really want your time, and they want someone to listen.

Because advisers are constantly having conversations, and if we can give them some tools to have an effective conversation and help someone feel understood, you know, I think this is going to really make a difference for their clients and their customers.

The Risk Academy itself is kicking some great goals, with just under 30,000 course enrolments since it began, 60,000 plus CPD hours have been offered. The courses being offered are growing.

The thing I love about it is there's the technical side that helps the financial advisers, but then there's also the client care side and the soft skills, which again, can be of great value in advisers’ interactions with customers.

Generally people come to an adviser when there has been a major life change. Often, that can be the death of a loved one. How can I, as an adviser, get better at dealing with customers who are in that position?

There is another Risk Academy course that I've delivered called talking to grieving customers. That is set up so advisers can, when dealing with a client who has lost their partner, confidently have those conversations.

It’s tricky because we want to say something, but what do you say? What’s the wrong thing to say? We always have the best intentions when we say these things, but it doesn't always land very well.

The talking to grieving customers course is on the Risk Academy and it is something that might help you have more effective conversations. That's the benefit of the Risk Academy. We've got so many different topics that are covered, and they're all there on demand, so that advisers can see what's of interest to them at any given time.

Anyone in financial services can register and all courses are free, except for our master classes which are normally a half-or-full-day. Again, anyone in financial services can register.

View Glenn Baird's profile