Mentoring and Mental Health

Our January theme is Mental Wellness with the mentoring being the focus of our first week. What does mentoring have to do with mental health and wellness?

Mentoring is about helping another person. A mentor is someone who advises, supports and guides another in a positive direction. Many successful people cite their mentors as having a great influence in their lives and achievements. There are many benefits of mentoring, which is why this arrangement is often established in schools, universities, and organizations worldwide. Mentoring helps both the mentor and the mentee, as well as having a positive effect on mental health.

Reduces Isolation

Those struggling with mental health issues often feel isolated. While the stigma around mental health issues is thankfully decreasing, it can still be difficult for those suffering to speak about it. This stigma often leaves people feeling isolated and believing it's better to remain quiet. An effective solution is mentoring. Having a support system in the form of a mentoring program for those who have experienced mental health challenges can have a huge impact. Peer, group, team, or traditional one on one mentoring can provide someone struggling from mental health issues with a person who is invested in their success and leading them to feel less alone.

Reduces Anxiety

Those suffering from constant anxiety are likely to worry about a host of things from the simplest of tasks, to the people around them, to their own abilities. Anxiety at work drastically impacts overall wellness and is a set back for many people and organizations. In fact, it’s estimated there are a trillion dollars lost worldwide in productivity each year due to depression and anxiety.

Businesses can take action to support their employees better and reduce that impact. Mentoring is one of those methods that has been proven to reduce anxiety, particularly around one's own ability. Those feelings and worries are minimized by sharing them with a mentor who can encourage and inspire. While we often focus on the benefits of mentoring for those receiving it, this also works the other way. Harvard Business Review conducted a study researching the positive effects of mentoring on the mentors themselves. The study found that people who served as mentors experienced lower levels of anxiety and described their job as more meaningful than those who did not mentor.

Increases Self-Confidence

While low self-esteem isn't a mental health problem in itself, they are closely linked. 

An increase in confidence can therefore positively impact mental health and help to challenge those limiting assumptions about ourselves that mental health issues cause us to feel. Those with mentors frequently report an increase in their self-confidence, particularly as they feel supported in their decisions and career path. Mentoring relationships are a safe space for mentees to explore new ideas and grow without fear of judgement, as well as receive reassurance from someone they admire. These factors naturally work to increase their confidence in themselves, and can help battle mental health issues such as depression.

Mental health issues feed off limiting beliefs about ourselves. Feelings of worthlessness and futility are closing linked with depression, so investing in building the self-confidence and self-esteem of staff is a highly effective way of improving mental health across the workforce. Mentors similarly experience improved self-esteem and confidence from the act of helping others achieve their goals. This rewarding feeling also results in improved mental health across the board.

Feeling Heard

This may seem obvious, but having a safe space where a person is listened to and valued has a positive impact on mental health. It's not often that those safe spaces are available to us in our daily lives, particularly in our working lives. A mentoring relationship, especially one established formally through work, is built around mutual trust and confidentiality. It provides a space to share without judgement, to be listened to and supported. This obviously comes more naturally if the mentor and mentee get along on a personal level, which is important when matching mentoring pairs.

For those suffering from mental health issues who may not have others to talk to, mentoring can be very cathartic and supportive. However, it's important to remember that a mentoring session is not a therapy session and a mentor is not a therapist. 

Hope for the Future

For those suffering from mental health issues, fear and anxiety about the future is a common struggle. People feel dread and detachment when thinking about what lies ahead for them. As a mentor helps someone work towards achievable goals and accelerates their progress, they can reduce these anxieties and instill hope and optimism around the future. Mentees describe the experience as “a light at the end of the tunnel” and their mentors empowering them and providing a belief in themselves.

This is truly powerful and can make a huge difference in the lives of those suffering from poor mental health. If running a mentoring program geared towards mental health support, ensure your mentors have received adequate training on how to broach topics surrounding the future, so as not to overwhelm or panic their mentees.

Typically, mentors may look to discuss and set long term career or personal goals with their mentees. However, for someone suffering from mental health issues this could be overwhelming and lead to them putting undue pressure on themselves. Mentors need to be aware of this and work on short term achievable goals to boost confidence and reduce anxiety.

With more and more emphasis on workplace wellbeing and mental health, organizations need to ensure staff are happy and healthy at work. A mentoring program is a highly effective way to tackle mental health issues while also supporting personal development. Don't be reactive to mental health support. Mentoring helps to create an inclusive culture built around community, mutual support and growth.