Navigating Mental Health And Wellness As A Coach
by Jordan Shearer-Grimmett
Mental Health, Mental Wellness, and how I navigate this as a coach?
For many of us, when we are talking about Mental Health we automatically think about mental illness and/or distress. The things that tend to pop into our mind are some of those common mental health conditions – like anxiety, depression or PTSD. But here it is… all of us have mental health, just like we have physical health. Throughout life our mental health changes. At times it shows great health, at other times it can be injured or ill. It has some ups and downs, some highs and lows. In fact there can be no health at all without both physical and mental health.
For many years, Mental Health has had a “stigma” attached to it… meaning that there is a mark of shame or disgrace or negative judgement. There has not just been societal stigma but also self-stigma. Feeling like something is wrong with you, or you are weak because of your mind health.
This stigma can cause individual discrimination. Often because of it, someone may not seek support or help from their friends, whanau, or professionals. This can be due to fear of being judged or being perceived as weak. It can be hard to admit they are struggling, or that they have a diagnosed illness. They might feel that people wouldn’t trust them, or they couldn’t do their job properly.
Mind vs Mental
Take time thinking about your own answers to the questions below:
1. When I think of those two words separately (mind and mental), what thoughts appear?
2. Does one seem more positive or negative to me?
3. Are they the same or are they different?
In terms of definitions (sourced from Google):
The adjective “mental” describes anything having to do with the mind, just as “physical” has to do with the body. Mental has to do with the intellect, the mind, or the brain.
Mind (noun): the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.
In Māori, mind and mental is the same word -“hinengaro”. Taha hinengaro is your mind, heart, conscience, thoughts and feelings. It’s about how you feel, as well as how you communicate and think. It seems to encompass both the mind and the mental definitions above in to a wonderful non-judgemental word that we can understand as being a part of all of us. And it is an area that as coaches, we often work in with our clients.
I believe that if everybody could put up their hands in this world and agree that “we all have mental health” – we would be leaps and bounds ahead in breaking away from the stigma, the misunderstanding and discrimination that occurs throughout societies towards someone diagnosed or challenged by their mental health.
Do I put my hand up and agree that I have mental health?
Do I look after it?
As you may have figured, this is not just an article that you can read and be done with. I’m also going to ask you to do some things for you, and for your mental mind. I’ve already asked you a number of questions and if you didn’t spend time thinking about your answers the first time, I’m giving you another opportunity to go back now, re-read, reflect, think and answer. If we can’t understand our own mental health, how on earth are we going to help our clients with it? And if we can’t identify changes in our own mental health, how are we going to see those changes in a client, and be able to help them in the best possible way?
So let’s build upon our understanding of mental health by talking about the Mental Health Continuum.
Mental Health Continuum
The mental health continuum is a range of wellbeing having “mentally healthy” at one end of the continuum and “mentally unwell” at the other.
Every single one of us sits on this continuum, whether we have a diagnosed mental illness or not. We all move and we all fluctuate on this continuum dependent on the person’s individual circumstances and what’s going on for us in our lives at any one time.
The mental health continuum goes from healthy, optimal state (green), through common, mild and reversible distress (yellow), to more significant, persistent injury or impairment (orange). The red end of continuum is severe and persistent distress including clinical illnesses and disorders requiring more concentrated medical care. The continuum shows that mental health is not a one or the other type thing – we are not just mentally healthy or mentally unwell, there is a lot of ground in between in which we move.
Common signs can be reflected on the continuum such as physical health, mood, habits, attitude, sleep, social activity, and life stages. Some examples are shown below:
Take time now to think of moments in your life where you may have been in different areas of the continuum. Ask yourself:
What signs and symptoms can I identify in myself at those times?
What factors in my life contributed to my being in that area?
Take another moment to think about previous clients. Ask yourself:
What signs and symptoms did I identify in my coaching sessions?
What factors in my client’s life contributed to them being in that area?
There are multiple factors that can contribute to anybody’s movement on the continuum. Whether it’s you, your client or someone with a diagnosed mental health condition.
Remember, it’s not just negative things that influence our movement down the continuum to the unhealthy end, but also positive things that help move us back up the continuum to the healthy end.
So what do we do with it? And how do we manage ourselves and our clients in each area?
Firstly, be very clear on what these zones mean, and what these zones mean for you as a coach and your clients.
The healthy and reacting areas of the continuum are the self-care and social support zones. This is not saying that we can’t get professional care in these zones too. Just that predominately we should be able to manage with self-care and social support.
The injured and unwell areas are our professional care zones. Again, this is not saying we can’t have elements of self-care and social support, just that it is important in these zones that we also receive professional care.
The coaching zones
As a coach, it is important first and foremost that you know your limits and you are clear on your skill set and capabilities. That you understand that coaching is in no way a substitute for therapy and professional mental health care or any other type of health care.
Coaching is something that prevents therapy and illness. Think of it as the care points well before a person even sees the edge of a cliff. The points in which you can help a person uncover alternate routes, opportunity for change, and identify patterns in which have been serving them well, and those that have not. Then support them to navigate that change.
At no stage you should attempt to diagnose or manage someone alone with coaching in the professional care zones as a coach. Unlike therapists, coaches don’t specialise in treating complex clinical problems. However, they do help clients manage emotions, challenge negative thinking patterns, improve relationship skills, and reduce stress and anxiety — all of which strengthens mental health and resiliency.
As a coach predominately you will be working with clients in the healthy and reacting areas of the continuum.
As you will see from the above image, coaches can also work in the injured zone. This will depend upon your limits, your skill set and the endorsement and support of any mental health professional that is already working with your client.
How to apply this in your coaching…
Below are some starting tools to be able to be mindful of our mental minds within our coaching sessions.
Step One – Know your own Mental Health.
As a coach, it’s important that we look after ourselves and our own mental health well before stepping in to a session with our client. Below are some exploration questions for you to ask yourself.
1. What challenges and stresses do I have going on in my life at the moment?
2. What do I do to relieve the pressure of the challenges and stresses that are going on in my own life?
3. How do I put myself in my client’s shoes to be able to understand their feelings and show empathy while protecting myself?
4. What do I do after a session to reset?
5. What are my limits and skills in terms of working with clients moving on the continuum?
Step Two – Be mindful of the language you use.
As coaches, we all know the power that language has within our coaching sessions and within our client’s lives.
It is just as important that we are mindful of our terminology and language when talking about mental health in our own everyday lives as well as in a coaching session. Many people use terms like depressed, or OCD as “throw away statements” … meaning that someone may say “I’m so depressed” when really they are just a little bit sad, or “that’s my OCD” when really it’s just that they like something a certain way. When we used language in that way it creates misunderstanding and it adds to the stigma surrounding mental health. If people with diagnosed mental health conditions hear you talking in that way, then they too feel misunderstood.
1. Do I use words such as depression in a way that would mean someone with a diagnosed condition would feel understood or misunderstood?
2. How could I improve my own language to ensure understanding?
3. Have I noticed others using such terms as “throw away statements’?
Step Three – Keep an open mind
Mental health is not as simple as perceived “negative” signs and symptoms in the mentally unwell area of the continuum and “positive” signs and symptoms in the mentally healthy area. Mental health is not black and white. For example, just because you see someone that is happy, fit and connected does not necessarily mean they are mentally healthy. Equally if you see someone sad and aggressive, does not mean they are mentally unwell. Signs and symptoms of different areas of the continuum are different for everyone. It is important that we calibrate on the individual person before making assumptions.
1. Have I automatically assumed that someone was mentally unwell because of signs and symptoms they were displaying?
2. How do I know what depression or anxiety is if I’ve never experienced it?
3. Do I have an ability to recognise the signs that may suggest a possible mental health issue and the capacity to explore these signs with my client so that premature judgements are not taken?
Step Four – Know the importance of referrals
What you need as a coach is:
• an ability to recognise when coaching may not be an appropriate solution to an individual client’s needs and
• to know how to proceed in a way that covers the best interest of the client.
This is true for both new and existing clients.
1. Do I know where I could refer clients to if I need to?
2. What indicators would be visible that may tell me that a client needs additional support?
3. What would I be looking for on an intake form that may mean I would like more information before booking a coaching session with a client?
4. Do I want written or verbal support from other professionals if they are already working with my client for mental health care?
Action step: Put together a list of providers that you could give to your clients (see below for key supports as a place to start).
Remember: Continue to ask yourself, is coaching appropriate for my client? Recognise when a client’s behaviour suggests a referral to a suitable mental health specialist may be the best course of action for the client.
Key supports and places we can refer clients to:
1. The GP: A GP is a good place to start as most people are enrolled in a medical centre. A GP can help a client initially and can also refer onwards to other Mental Health professionals.
2. Ask your client if they have access to EAP services: EAP services is an Employee Assistance Programme that may be available free of charge for your client through their employer. This is a confidential and free service that your client can access counsellors, psychotherapists, or psychologists.
3. 1737 Need to Talk?: 1737 is a 24hr free text or call service where a person can talk to a trained counsellor 1:1 or a peer support worker. https://1737.org.nz/ You can also order free wallet 1737 cards to be able to give to your clients (along with many other free resources) through www.healthed.govt.nz
4. Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP).
5. Youthline: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or online chat.
6. Samaritans: 0800 726 666
7. Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).
8. Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 or free text 4202.
9. What’s Up: 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, 12noon–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available from 3pm–10pm 7 days a week, including all public holidays.
10. EDANZ: improving outcomes for people with eating disorders and their families. Freephone 0800 2 EDANZ or 0800 233 269, or in Auckland 09 522 2679. Or email email@example.com.
11. Parent Help: 0800 568 856 for parents/whānau seeking support, advice and practical strategies on all parenting concerns. Anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
12. Family Services 211 Helpline: 0800 211 211 for help finding (and direct transfer to) community based health and social support services in your area.
13. Alcohol and Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797 or online chat.
14. Are You OK: 0800 456 450 family violence helpline.
15. Gambling Helpline: 0800 654 655
16. Anxiety NZ: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY).
17. OUTLine NZ: 0800 688 5463 (OUTLINE) provides confidential telephone for sexual or gender identity support.
111 should be used for emergencies and if someone is in immediate physical danger.
Keep an eye out for Mental Wellness workshops coming soon.
This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.
Jordan Shearer is a Life and Career Coach and NLP Practitioner, based in Wellington, New Zealand. Jordan gained her coaching certification in 2015, NLP practitioner certification in 2017 and holds a Master Trainer Coach Certification with ANZCAL. Alongside her own business, she also specialises in Mental Health, and is the Wellington Regional Trainer for St John Mental Health First Aid courses and a trainer for New Zealand Life Coaching School. Jordan is available in person in Wellington and via Zoom for Life and Career Coaching, Relationship Coaching, Business Coaching, and Mental Health Coaching.
+64 (0) 27 408 4703