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Concerns raised over HNW mental health

Money can't guarantee your mental health, and its time HNWs find experts they can turn to during troubled times, writes Sam Forsdick

We often assume that because poverty is linked with mental health concerns that wealth can solve them, however, mental health issues aren’t cured by success, and in many cases can be a symptom of it. On Time to Talk day Spear’s hopes to break the stigma and explore why a preoccupation with wealth can be detrimental for your mental health.

Mental health organisation, Mind, states that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and this figure does not discriminate across wealth. Billionaires such as, CNN founder, Ted Turner and businessman Doug Meijer have all been open about their depression. Similarly, Markus Persson, who made £900 million from the sale of his videogame company to Microsoft, was not immune to feelings of depression and isolation in spite of his success. He candidly shared his feelings on Twitter, stating, ‘The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible.’

So why are these highly successful and well-off individuals suffering mental health problems?

Dr Raj Persaud, who works in private practice in Harley Street, London, has been described as seeing more billionaires than any other therapist in the world. His many clients frequently come to him with issues of depression, isolation and a lack of self worth.

‘High net worth individuals are just as likely to suffer with anxiety or depression however the reasons for this may be different,’ explains Persaud. The three main factors he gives are: difficulties forming relationships, lack of motivation and money worries.

The last reason may seem oxymoronic as we often see money as the answer to many of life’s problems but this comes with its own issues. ‘HNWs still have concerns over their wealth,’ states Persaud, ‘This can cause extreme levels of stress and anxiety, whether that’s in relation to how they manage it or how to ensure it is preserved for their next of kin.’ The Knight Frank Wealth report found 67 per cent of HNWs rank succession and inheritance at the top of their list of concerns.

Relationship issues are another major contributor. ‘High profile and HNW people often receive unwanted or intrusive attention. People therefore often want to befriend them for the wrong reasons – whether that’s to boost their own status or benefit from their financial position.’

Even the process of making friends can be an isolating experience for the top one per cent. Dr Persaud gives the example of people in a pub discussing their most recent holidays, ‘One person may have spent a week in the Mediterranean, another may have gone to France, but if the third person has taken their private jet between Monte Carlo and LA then people will find that very hard to relate to.’ HNWs only have shared experiences with a limited few, and it is upon these shared experiences that we build relationships.

UHNWs, who are untethered to a work routine, may struggle with a sense of direction and purpose too. Although not needing to work 50 hours or more a week, like some HNWs, might seem like a luxury it can be a poisoned chalice, over time it can lead to a lack of purpose and a lower sense of self-worth. ‘These issues, in my view are especially problematic,’ states Persaud, ‘In my clinical experience I have noticed that this perceived lack of purpose can lead to high rates of substance abuse. Wealthy people frequently turn to drugs and alcohol to solve their issues as these are a “quick fix”.’

Clive Hamilton, author of Affluenza, has also drawn links between wealth and depression, ‘Money and materialism are ultimately empty pursuits,’ said Hamilton, ‘which is why many wealthy people have an unshakable, if hard to admit, sense that their lives lack meaning.’

The rise in mental health issues amongst the children on wealthy families is also a pressing concern. ‘There’s only one thing more corrosive than having too much money, and that is having too much money that you didn’t earn,’ notes Hamilton.

Libby Caudwell, daughter of British tycoon John Caudwell, has previously spoken about her bouts of depression. ‘I was neurotic about my studies, unable to sleep for fear of failing,’ Libby said in an interview with Grazia. ‘I told myself that I was interesting and worthy because he [my Dad] was. I lived vicariously through Dad’s success.’ Her depression grew so extreme that she eventually asked her father to cut her off and booked a one way ticket to Australia.

Research by Dr Suniya Luthar, Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, found that children whose parents earn over £100,000 are more than twice as likely to have mental health problems as their less well-off peers and this relationship only increases the wealthier their parents are.

‘We found that serious levels of depression anxiety and substance abuse were substantially higher amongst upper class children,’ said Luthar. ‘Two national studies have demonstrated a U-shaped curve between school based affluence and substance abuse,’ she adds, pointing out that this means, the problem is primarily affecting the poorest and the richest in society. Evidence of the same trend has been seen in Norway, Australia, India and the UK.

Once again it boils down to the notion of purpose, says Luthar: ‘Children tend to copy what they see in us.  Wealthy families sometimes define self-worth in terms of achievements and accomplishments. This places extensive pressure on their children, making the consequences of failure more extreme resulting in anxiety, depression and, in some instances, substance abuse.’

But something else is at play here for HNW families. ‘These children tend to have much less contact with their parents,’ says Persaud, ‘instead being brought up by a nanny or spending time alone whilst their parents are hard at work running their businesses or away socialising.’ Because of this they often end up feeling neglected. Parents, therefore, need to take a more active role in their children’s lives.

The route to recovery is never a simple one; the answer to overcoming difficulties may include therapeutic treatment but Persaud adds a condition. ‘The issue is many HNWs are used to buying into luxury, which is all about making life easier. They therefore search for a therapist that offers an easy solution but unfortunately a “quick fix” doesn’t exist. My mission is to be realistic about their hardship without making them run screaming from the room. There will be no helicopter ride to the summit of Mount Everest, the climb will be long and arduous but it will be worth it.’

Were you to ever want a driver to the summit of Everest, there are those that can help. The Extraordinary Adventure Club offers clients therapeutic adventures, which reinstill a sense of self-worth by overcoming challenges in the Guyanese jungle or climbing mountains in Norway, whilst Addcounsel offers a fresh approach to addiction recovery for HNWs. The key is finding a treatment that works for you and sticking at it.

If you are affected by any of the issues discussed contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Samaritans on 116 123

Sam Forsdick is a graduate journalist at Spear's