Newsletter #476 – Coaching, Leadership and Mental Health Literacy

An article in American Psychologist (April 2012) discusses something called mental health literacy. The article makes no mention of coaching or leadership but it reminded me of an article I once read about well-intentioned leaders, especially coaches, who undercut their own effectiveness because they are oblivious to mental health issues in themselves and in their clients. Sometimes we even harm the people we work with because  we lack basic mental health literacy (MHL).

Briefly defined, MHL is “knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention.” Research data from a variety of countries confirms that treatment is delayed and problems often worsen when mental issues are unrecognized or ignored. As a result, coaching, leadership, career development, spiritual development and personal effectiveness all suffer. For many years pastors and other spiritual leaders have been on the front lines of spotting and intervening in mental health issues. Shouldn’t coaches and others be able to do something similar? Shouldn’t basic mental health literacy be a part of coach training and leadership development programs?

This does not involve in-depth knowledge of mental health issues. Instead, MHL includes building awareness about:

  • Basic signs of mental disorders. This is the ability to recognize when a disorder is present or developing.
  • A willingness to raise evidence of mental instability in coaching clients or coworkers without implying criticism or disapproval.
  • Mental health first aid including: assisting in any crisis (like substance overuse or debilitating stress), listening non-judgmentally, offering support and information, and encouraging professional help or support from friends or family.
  • Knowing where help is available and how to get it.
  • Self-help strategies that people can apply on their own. This works best with milder problems.
  • Effective evidence-based treatment options.
  • Ways in which mental disorders can be prevented.
  • Prayer and other spiritual resources.

The magazine article concludes that “the public [including politicians, coaches, leaders, educators and pastors] need to be convinced that mental disorders have a major impact…. as the most important contributor to disability in the population.” How have mental health issues impacted your work? What do you think of mental health literacy? Should MHL be included in coach or leadership training programs? Please comment.


    1. Hi Chris,

      Did you read the posts by Amy and Keith on last week’s newsletter? Did you see my response? Better question, do you have any ideas about how something can be produced to met this need? Even better, why don’t you do this in your spare time? Sewriously, I would appreciate your input or input from anybody else who is inclined to help.


  1. Sounds like a great idea! Sign me up! 🙂 While I have no interest counseling or psychoanalyzing my clients, I would love to have some tools for recognizing mental health issues.


    1. Dear Amy and Keith

      Thanks to both of you for your posts. I confess that I don’t like this but you have challenged me to put action behind my words. It is no good for me to write about MHL and then not find or produce tools that can be useful for coaches and coach trainers who recognize the need for this but who have no interest in “counseling or psychoanalyzing.” Let me work on this. I will try to find some things that we all can use. Please hold me accountable for this. It will take some work to do this well but it will also be something that can be useful and needed.


  2. This is a brilliant Idea indeed. As a minister I’ve made use of some basic info in your book “Christian Counseling” to gain some knowledge on the subject since it is even more complex down here in Africa as it is mainly associated with witchcraft and/or spirituality…. Thank you Gary for all the wisdom and inspiration


    1. Thanks so much for your note from Africa. The older I get the more I believe that mental health issues and their treatments are very cultural. What works in the UAS or elsewhere does not always work in other cultures. Too many mental health professionals seem oblivious to this. The posts from Amy and Keith have challenged me to come up with something that can be helpful (and a lot lot shorter than
      my Christian Counseling book.)


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