We’ve recently seen several world-class athletes bow out of competition for mental health reasons, highlighting that mental health and physical health are equally important and should be treated as such. Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka being two high-profile examples. They have shown us that just as they wouldn’t be embarrassed to have a sprain, fracture, or cold, likewise they shouldn’t be embarrassed if they’re experiencing anxiety or depression. We can understand this in the context of the high pressure and visibility of these athletes' lives, however the same applies in our everyday lives.
This awareness and normalisation of mental health has massive relevance to coaching - not just in the sports coaching analogy, where the coach needs to look at the physical as well as emotional health of the athlete to get the best performance for them, but of course in our world of career coaching and executive coaching as well.
The following statistics represent the major mental health illnesses in Australia from 2018, however, these stats represent only the people who have been diagnosed, and the statistics were gathered before COVID. As financial strain is one of the greatest triggers of mental health issues, we can expect these numbers to be much higher in today's reality.
Realising any of the behavioural and physical symptoms of mental health from the following list is the first step towards cognisance and bringing about a discussion regarding support and resources to the coachee. All professional career and executive coaches need to be trained in how to identify and raise awareness of these issues, and should be ready to make referrals to other professionals where needed.
In the scenario of professional career coaching or executive coaching, we’re dealing with mental models, behaviours, and emotions all the time - sometimes this is within the range of ‘health’, where we’re optimising a professional's skillset and habits to enhance an existing success story. However often ‘successful’ people have mental health issues intertwined with high functioning competencies, so where do we exactly draw a line in coaching?
In our executive coaching contracting process, we’ll always raise awareness regarding the boundaries of coaching and mental health. A coachee can certainly undertake both coaching and psychoanalysis or counselling in parallel to coaching, however we need to be clear on the boundaries and objectives of each. Most professional executive coaches will be clear in this up-front process about the confidentiality of coaching, except for situations where they are concerned about self-harm. So a coachee should be assured that their coach will hold their mental health in the highest regard, and will help you explore feelings of depression and anxiety, particularly with regards to the duration and severity of the experience so they can refer resources and professionals appropriately. We're looking out for the following:
Absolutely. If you’re experiencing mental health challenges, this doesn’t preclude you from making systematic skills improvements and attaining your career goals. It’s normal. It happens to most of us at some stage in our lives, so don’t hesitate to share your mental health status with your coach – we’re here to help you. We recommend that if you're already aware of your mental health challenges, you can consider working with a professional or reaching out to your local resources to address this firs, however a coach can certainly help you to find the right resources for you, and define your professional development goals in parallel. Consider some of these resources: