by Maddalena Fumagalli – iCN Journalist (Switzerland)
There is little doubt that 2020 has been one chaotic, difficult, draining year for most, if not all of us. This 2021 was already underway and, despite new hopes and opportunities, we still cannot see the end of the tunnel. For this reason, we might expect that more and more people will turn to coaching as a way to improve their lives and well being in this challenging 2021. This brings renewed emphasis and attention to the theme of coaching, mental health and wellbeing.
The debate on the ethical, personal, and professional boundaries that need to be set when coaching someone suffering from stress, mental distress or illness is ongoing, and the dialogue between coaching and mental health professionals is being established. I believe that, especially in this situation, it is even more important that each of us takes a moment to reflect on these boundaries.
In my opinion, the first needed step is the acquisition of a basic, minimum knowledge and awareness of what mental health is, what behaviours are most effective, and how coaching can become a suitable intervention. This would allow us to understand what type of support does the coachee require, if they are in a suitable state to fully engage with, and benefit from the coaching process, and what type of coaching relationship would be most effective. Respect for the coachee and honesty are then required to identify and communicate the best course of action for the coachee: do we feel comfortable and have the competencies to best serve them, or we would better refer them to other professionals and interventions?
Here, I put together a condensed ABC on what I consider to be paramount when reflecting on coaching and mental health. It is based on the knowledge, tools and resources I acquired over the past months through my Practitioner Coach Diploma and a Mental Health First Aid course. This is by no means an exhaustive compendium, but rather a gentle introduction to the theme of mental health and its implications in the coaching process.
A – Awareness
- What is mental health, and what is mental illness?
Mental health and illness are not two sides of a coin, but rather the extremes of a continuum ranging from good mental health, to distress and illness. During the course of our lives, each of us normally and constantly move along this spectrum, in either direction.
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
 WHO (2007) Mental Health: strengthening mental health promotion (Fact sheet no 220). Geneva: WHO.
About Maddalena Fumagalli
Maddalena is a scientist and an individual with broad interests in biodiversity, conservation and sustainability. She believes that a sense of togetherness and connection are required to let discourses progress and new solutions emerge. She is driven by strong ethics and an imperative to use my personal and professional competences to solve conflicts and help make our lives fairer, more respectful and harmonious with each other and with nature. Madda is an experienced field researcher, scientist, project manager and educator. So far, her research and efforts have taken her to Italy, Tunisia, Egypt and New Zealand, where she focussed on assessing and interpreting wild population responses to anthropogenic disturbances, as well as on investigating social, economic and human perspectives in collaboration with local and international partners.