The Positive Impact of Mentoring on Mental Health

May 20, 2020
Nicola Cronin

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we wanted to focus on the positive impact mentoring has been proven to have on mental health.

The Mental Health Awareness Week theme in 2020 is kindness – which couldn't be more relevant given the state of the world amidst the global pandemic.

Since Covid-19 spread across the world, isolating people to their homes and disrupting the way we live, something that has stood out most is kindness. Our social media feeds have been brimming with stories of acts of kindness from strangers, neighbours started speaking for the first time ever, and a sense of community have returned to neighbourhoods.

Kindness seems to be the overwhelming byproduct of this virus, filling us with hope, and reminding us that we're not alone.

"One thing that we have seen all over the world is that kindness is prevailing in uncertain times. We have learnt that amid the fear, there is also community, support and hope." – The Mental Health Foundation

Another key reason behind this theme of kindness, is that helping others actually does wonders for our own mental health and emotional wellbeing. And so in practising kindness, we're also taking care of ourselves. It's a win-win.

What's mentoring got to do with mental health?

At its core, mentoring is about helping another person. A mentor is somebody who advises, supports and guides another in the right direction.

There are many benefits of mentoring, which is why this type of relationship is established in schools, universities and organisations the world over. Many celebrities have cited their mentors as having played a huge role in their success, and finding a mentor is on the top of many people's career development lists.

But less often discussed is the positive impact, for both the mentee and the mentor, that the relationship has on mental health and wellbeing.

How mentoring helps mental health 🧠

Here are 5 ways that mentoring has a positive effect on mental health, for both the mentee and the mentor involved:

1. Supporting isolation

Those struggling with mental health issues often feel isolated.

While the stigma around mental health issues is thankfully decreasing, it can still be very difficult to speak up, particularly in a workplace. This stigma can leave people feeling isolated, and believing it's better to stay quiet. This is even more relevant following the effects of 2020, with feelings of loneliness reaching a record high in UK adults.

In their guide to supporting mental health at work, the Mental Health Foundation lists mentoring as an effective solution. Having a support system in the form of a mentoring programme for those who have lived experience of mental health can have a huge impact. This could be in the form of peer, group, or team mentoring, or equally traditional one on one mentoring can provide someone struggling from mental health issues with a person who is invested in their success, leading them to feel less alone. You can read more about the different types of mentoring here.

💜  In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week, remember to check in on your colleagues regardless of whether or not you are formally mentoring them. We never know what someone else is going through, and knowing that people are looking out for you does a lot of good for someone suffering from feelings of isolation.

2. Reducing levels of anxiety

Those who suffer from constant anxiety are likely to worry about everything from the simplest of tasks, to the people around them, to their own abilities.

Anxiety at work drastically impacts general wellbeing, and is a huge set back for many people and organisations. In fact, the World Health Organisation estimates a global cost of $1 trillion per year in lost productivity as a result of depression and anxiety.

There are many actions that businesses can put in place 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 minimised by sharing them with a mentor who can encourage and inspire you.

'Work politics can be a real challenge when we have mental health problems. It can be helpful to find a mentor or a small group of trusted colleagues with whom you can discuss feelings about work.' – Mental Health Foundation

While we often focus on the benefits of mentoring for those receiving it, this also works the other way. As the Mental Health Foundation highlight in their choice of kindness as 2020's theme, helping other people feels good.

Harvard Business Review conducted a study researching the positive effects of mentoring on the mentors themselves, and 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. These findings were also found in a study by Cambridge Judge Business School, with mentoring reducing anxiety in mentors.

3. Increasing self-confidence

Mental health charity Mind says: '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 so can really help to tackle 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, and so investing in building the self-confidence and self-esteem of your employees is a highly effective way of improving mental health across your 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.

4. Feeling listened to

This may seem obvious, but having a safe and formalised space where you feel 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 day to day lives, particularly in our working lives. For those who do not have a family or friend unit they are close to, these spaces can be hard to come across full stop.

A mentoring relationship, especially one established formally through work, is built around mutual trust and confidentiality. It therefore 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 might not have many people 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. If running a mentoring programme for mental health support, this is an important reminder to share with all participants throughout the programme.

5. Hope for the future

For those suffering from mental health issues, fear and anxiety about the future is a common struggle. People can feel dread and detachment when thinking about what lies ahead for them. This is another experience which has become more widely addressed during the Covid-19 pandemic, and something which mentors can support with.

As a mentor helps someone work towards achievable goals and accelerates their progress, they can reduce these anxieties and instil hope and optimism around the future.

The Advocacy Project shared some of the feedback from their mental health mentoring programme, with mentees describing the experience as 'a light at the end of the tunnel' and their mentors giving them 'empowerment and belief in you'.

This is truly powerful and can make a huge difference in the lives of those suffering from poor mental health. If running a mentoring programme tailored towards mental health support specifically, ensure your mentors have received adequate training in 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.

For more practical tips to support employee mental health while working from home, check out this blog post.

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With more and more emphasis on workplace wellbeing and mental health, organisations needs to be ensuring their people are happy and healthy at work. For the reasons discussed in this article, starting a mentoring programme 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. Find out how Guider can help: 


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