How to Support Your Partner Struggling with Mental Illness While Also Managing the Business

By Practice Growth September 28, 2022

In a perfect business scenario, partner contributions are all equal. All partners are on the same page about running the practice and what needs to be done to ensure success. While this often occurs the way it should, this isn’t always the case. It’s essential to consider what happens when one partner isn’t pulling their weight. An added complication that might arise is a partner’s inability to contribute enough due to mental illness.

It’s estimated that almost 50 percent of adults in the United States will meet the criteria for a mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime

This might seem unlikely, but the number of people who suffer from mental health issues is staggering, and physicians are not immune. It’s estimated that almost 50 percent of adults in the United States will meet the criteria for a mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime, varying in degree from mild to severe. Suicide rates among physicians are 1.4 to 2.3 times higher than that of the general population. Additionally, physicians experience a decrease in their mental health throughout the course of their careers, experiencing anxiety and depression at elevated rates when compared with their non-medical peers.

Based on this data, it’s unsurprising that a partner may no longer be able to handle their business responsibilities due to mental health issues.

Now What?

The above statistics are worth noting to show how prevalent mental health issues are in general, and especially amongst physicians. You clearly went into business with your partner for a reason; something about this person moved you, impressed you, and gave you the confidence that they could fulfill or exceed their duties to the partnership. So, it can be surprising and incredibly unsettling when things take a turn for the worse. What happens when your partner can no longer hold up their end of the deal due to mental health issues?

In an ideal circumstance, you and your partner have a business agreement that addresses this scenario and has safeguards in place. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Many partners go into business as friends or colleagues, and neither considers this scenario when executing the partnership agreement.

In many cases, having a frank discussion can resolve your issues. Your partner might be willing to admit that they are struggling and don’t have the capacity to take care of the business. If this is how the situation plays out, it will be fairly simple for you and your partner to figure out a plan while they are recovering. Open communication is important, and it can be helpful to remind your partner that you aren’t trying to push them out of the business. Having a firm but compassionate conversation about your care for them and the business might be enough.

When a Conversation Doesn’t Work

Unfortunately, a conversation won’t always solve the problem. Your partner might be in denial, unwilling to admit that they are suffering from mental health issues that are affecting their performance. This is incredibly problematic because it can lead to poor patient outcomes or clinical outcomes. Their instability can lead to a toxic workplace, affecting you and other employees. It could end up tanking the entire business in some cases. If having a conversation with your partner doesn’t work, it’s time to look into other options.

Review Your Partnership Agreement

While your partnership agreement might not specifically address a situation where one partner is unable to perform due to mental health issues, it’s very possible that it has a clause that could still apply. In most partnership agreements, there will be a clause regarding partnership duties and what happens if one partner isn’t fulfilling theirs. There’s almost certainly a clause about dispute resolution as well. Most agreements will spell out what steps will be taken when partners disagree and what happens if one partner isn’t pulling their weight.

All agreements should also include a clause that details the termination of the partnership. Terminating the partnership may sound extreme, but it might be the only solution in some cases. Your agreement likely discusses what happens when a partner has health issues or simply isn’t holding up their end of the deal and provides a solution that you and your partner previously agreed upon that can be implemented. Whether it’s mediation, a buyout, or your partner taking time off to get healthier, this clause can be very helpful in coming up with a solution.

Even if your partnership agreement doesn’t match your current situation in every aspect, pointing to any of these clauses might help you and your partner come to an agreement about what happens next.

Offer to Help Your Partner

If you went into business with another person, it’s likely that you trust that person and genuinely care about them, especially if your partner is a former colleague or a friend of yours. While the business aspect of this situation is crucial to take care of, it’s also important to ensure your partner receives the help they need.

You can offer to help them find a treatment facility to go to, a therapist to see, or support groups to attend. This will show them that you care about more than just the business, which in turn, will probably help facilitate discussions about how the business is currently operating and possible solutions.

Consult With a Lawyer

It’s always better if the problem can be resolved without legal intervention, but unfortunately, sometimes that just isn’t the case. As much as you care about your business partner, you know that you can’t continue to let the business suffer because of their actions. Seeking legal help doesn’t mean you have to pursue any type of legal claim against your partner, but it is always helpful to know what your options are. In many cases, the simple fact of speaking with a lawyer will push your business partner to an agreement that works for both of you.

Protect Yourself and Your Business

Disagreements are inevitable when you’re in business with another person. Most of these disagreements can be solved through discussions and negotiations, and don’t risk the health of the business. When you find yourself in a situation that is more dire and has the potential to hurt the business significantly, you have to protect yourself and your business. Mental health is a serious matter and can cause people to behave in ways they typically wouldn’t. You can care about your partner as a person while also realizing that steps must be taken to protect what you’ve built and ultimately protect your own mental health. Do what you can to keep the relationship amicable, but recognize that you might have to make difficult choices that could inadvertently hurt your partner. And give yourself some grace. This isn’t an easy situation to navigate.   The time to have a frank, open, and respectful conversation with your partner about the business and your expectations is now. These matters get much worse if you don’t confront them sooner than later.

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