According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in five adults living in the United States lives with a mental illness. This includes more common issues like anxiety and depression, as well as more severe conditions.
Many people live functional lives with a mental illness. So, as a real estate professional, you may not immediately recognize that someone even has a mental illness. But it’s important to be aware of mental illness and to have a basic understanding of what it is and how it can affect people. Being educated about it will help you to deal effectively with people suffering from mental illness and minimize your chances of facing a lawsuit.
Understanding Mental Illness
Mental Illness is the collective term to describe all diagnosable mental disorders. Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are very common. Other disorders including schizophrenia and psychosis affect a smaller portion of the population.
Mental illness can affect how a person thinks and feels, and it can also influence their behavior. The person may have periods of distress or difficulty being part of work, family or social activities.
Despite efforts by national and international mental health organizations, a negative stigma about mental illnesscontinues to impact those affected.
Research suggests individuals with mental illness are more likely to experience housing and employment discrimination and homelessness compared to the general population. They are also subject to generalizations and stigmatizing beliefs about their competency which can affect financial independence and their autonomy. It can also limit their opportunities.
One of the misconceptions about people with mental illness is that they are more likely to be violent. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, most people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. People with serious mental illness are actually more likely to be a victim of a crime.
As a real estate professional, you probably have clients that live with mental illness, even if you don’t know about it. Many people with mental illness live active and productive lives so it’s not always obvious.
Strategies to Effectively Deal With Clients with Mental Illness
Understand the stressors and potential triggers
Some clients may be triggered by particular things. For example:
- The thought of having strangers in their home may cause anxiety about the sale.
- A client may have heightened anxiety due to a fear of contracting COVID.
- Depression about moving away for someone who has many years of memories in their home could also be a challenge.
- Or, in the case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the need to have things perfect and in order could elevate stress levels for a seller.
If you recognize signs that particular parts of the selling or buying process are causing discomfort to your client, ask them how you can help.
- Strategies such as virtual tours to qualify buyers and limit the number of property walkthroughs may be a solution.
- Or factoring in some flexibility to the sales process to accommodate special needs.
Understand the difference between stress and mental illness
Buying and selling a home can be stressful, regardless of a person’s mental health. Living through a pandemic can be stressful. Understand that not every person who is having a hard day has a mental illness. Similarly, not every person who has a mental illness will show visible signs of this to their real estate licensee.
Remember, people with mental illness are people
Forget the stigma and generalizations about people with mental illness. Deal with the person, not the illness. People with mental health conditions deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Mental illness is treatable. You wouldn’t discriminate against a person with a heart condition, so why would a mental illness be any different?
Practice empathetic communication
If you’re dealing with a person with mental illness, practice empathetic communication. That means thinking about the other person’s perspective and not just your own. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand what they’re feeling. As a real estate professional, you oversee dozens of transactions every year. But, your client may only sell or buy a house once or twice in a lifetime.
How to Avoid a Lawsuit for Discrimination
You cannot legally discriminate against someone with a mental illness. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against a person because of disability (which includes mental illness). Some states, like North Carolina, also have legislation in place to ensure fair housing.
Despite these legal protections, however, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that people with mental illness still struggle to get the same service as others in a real estate transaction.
They are less likely to get a response from a housing inquiry, to be notified about a property, or to receive an invitation to inspect a property. As a licensee, you must not discriminate. Learn more about the Fair Housing Act.
Not dealing with people with mental illness effectively can also limit the growth potential for your real estate business. Remember, one in five adult Americans lives with a mental illness. If people in your local area know that you treat people with mental illness with respect and sensitivity to guide them through their real estate transactions, you may end up with referrals and extra business opportunities coming your way.
Protect Yourself With E&O Insurance
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