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Let’s Talk…About Mental Health and Mental Illness

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Let’s talk statistics for a moment…

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that one in four people suffer with mental illness. Of particular prevalence are depression and anxiety disorders. Worryingly, figures of mental illness are understood to be incredibly inaccurate due to the stigma surrounding mental health. While there are many social and organizational initiatives seeking to remove this stigma and improve mental well-being, organizational mental health presenteeism is prevalent and an enormous economic challenge. What’s more, stress and unhealthy workplaces significantly increase the likelihood of developing a mental illness.

Over the last 20 years, there have been several calls for coaches to acknowledge mental health. In 2002, Steven Berglas identified the organizational damage of coaching if the psychological issues of leaders aren’t attended to. In 2009, Diane Coutu and Carol Kauffmann discovered coaches are frequently hired to coach personal issues beyond the professional context. Anthony Grant, Linley Curtayne and Geraldine Burton proposed that between 25% and 50% of all coaching clients have clinically significant levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

What does this mean to coaching?

The coaches interviewed considered mental health and mental illness a real, practical issue facing the coaching industry. My research suggests that many coaches are actively seeking a deeper understanding of mental health in coaching practice and want practical support in knowing how to appropriately respond. Coaches identified that mental illness isn’t always beyond the boundary of coaching.

What can you do as a coach?

Think about how you would support a client whose mental health declined during coaching; how would you explore any concerns you had with them? If needed, who or where would you refer the client to? Would you continue to support your client? And if so, how?

My final thoughts…

I believe that coaching can feel therapeutic and does improve well-being, but the concept of mental health within coaching practice is incredibly complex. More research is needed to fully understand mental health in coaching.

This article was first published on ICF Coaching World.

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