"'Mental accounting' aids depressed"
From The Toronto Star - Sept. 27, 1999
Your Business by Ellen Roseman

    Robert Sealey, 48 is a chartered accountant with an unusual focus. He helps clients deal with depression and other mental problems that affect their ability to handle money. 

    His distinctive service, which he calls "mental accounting" arises out of his own experience. He started having black moods when he was 17 and he struggled with depression for almost 30 years.

    "I saw seven different healthcare professionals." he says. "I was laughed at, misdiagnosed, mistreated, rejected and abandoned." 
In the depths of his depression, Sealey kept his accounting practice going by hiring part-time bookkeepers. "I never stopped working, but I just didn't work efficiently," he says. "I had to borrow from my parents to keep my house."

    Sealey controls his moods with herbal remedies. He takes gingko biloba, along with odourless garlic for stomach upsets and valerian at night for sleeping. His supplements cost $20 a month, compared with the $ 160 a month he was spending before on synthetic antidepressants, which made him worse. Self-employed with no drug plan, he was thrilled to find relief from low-cost natural supplements, which he has taken [since 1996] without side effects.

    Mood disorders, which affect 5 to 10 per cent of the population, can be treated, Sealey, insists. And while herbs may not help everyone, he encourages sufferers to find doctors who will listen and try different treatments.

    He has written and self-published four layman's guides which he sells on his web site. He has also done articles for Canadian MoneySaver Magazine.

    Sealey works from a basement office at his home, overflowing with hundreds of health-care books. His wife is a nurse and he has two school-age sons.

    The day I visited, he had just gotten a call from someone who "was at his wit's end" caring for a sister who had been depressed from the age of 14. She was now 60.

    He told me about a client, a senior programmer at a computer company, who hadn't filed an income tax return in five years. Sealey discovered the man was earning $90,000 a year, had modest expenses and did not need to panic about his finances. Yet when he received a letter from Revenue Canada, the chap couldn't open it.

    It turned out that in his former life, the client had [a traumatic experience at sea and lost his job in the coast guard]. Blamed for the accident, he [lost his job] and sued the Canadian government. "That's why he was afraid of [the tax department]"," says Sealey, who helped the man get caught up on his tax returns. "everyone who comes to me has his own story."

    Another client, a graphic designer, was having trouble managing his time and staying focused. His career was suffering as a result. The man was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, or ADD, and [he] started taking medication. His performance improved, but his [finances were] in a mess.

    Sealey helped the man review the profitability of his projects and plan how he could monitor his costs, quote accurately and make more money. Sealey determined the client's net worth and advised consolidating his debts by refinancing a mortgage.

    "It was a joy to help him reorganize his finances," says the accountant. "His numbers no longer overwhelm him. His cash flow crunch ended and collection calls stopped."

    Then Sealey went beyond what a typical accountant can to for a troubled client. He gave the man a better self-image by redefining his [ADD] condition as FASCE (flexible, attention-switching, creative and enthusiastic). "The client developed new confidence after realizing that his brain was superior for the people side of his professional selling and the creative side of his design work," Sealey says.

    While Sealey coined the term "mental accounting" and believes he's the only one doing it, he says there are precedents [for an accountant starting a new field]. Accountants with training in fraud [work became] forensic specialists, looking into irregular financial situations and suspicious business deals [i.e., doing fraud investigations, which Sealey did for one year]. These accountants don't practice law, but cooperate with police and lawyers.

    Sealey doesn't practice medicine or therapy but refers clients to professionals who treat mental problems. He's there to [consult about] the money 'madness' that is often linked to a [mental condition] such as depression. 

    A depressed person sees life through a dark filter. He or she thinks about money a lot and often becomes obsessed with saving and scrimping. Then, the black mood may swing into mania. The person gets overexcited, crackles with energy, shows poor judgement, spends impulsively and throws money around.

    "When I work with someone who is depressed, I have three clients in one," Sealey says. "I have to identify which of the three clients I'm talking to. (The third is neither up nor down and treats money responsibly.)

    I left Sealey's office with loads of articles, book referrals and advice on dealing with a family member who's prone to depression. He performs a useful service.

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