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 2020 Mental Health Awareness Week theme is kindness – which couldn't be more relevant given the state of the world right now.
Since Covid-19 spread across the globe, isolating people to their homes and disrupting the way we live, something that has stood out most is kindness. Our social media feeds are brimming with stories of acts of kindness from strangers, neighbours are speaking for the first time ever, communities are thriving. Kindness seems to the 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 year's theme, 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. The term mentor refers to 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 4 ways that mentoring has a positive effect on mental health, for both the mentee and the mentor involved:
1. Supports isolation
Those struggling with mental health issues often feel isolated. While the stigma around mental health issues is decreasing, it can still be very difficult to speak up at work. This leaves people feeling isolated, and believing it's better to stay quiet.
In their guide on supporting mental health at work, Mentalhealth.org.uk lists mentoring as an effective solution. Having a support system in the form of a mentoring program for those who have lived experience of mental health can have a huge impact.
Peer, group, or team mentoring may be best suited for this kind of mental health support. You can read about the different types of mentoring here.
Also in the spirit of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week theme, kindness, remember to check in on your colleagues regardless of whether or not you're formally mentoring them. You never know what someone else is going through, and knowing that people are looking out for them can do a lot of good for someone suffering from feelings of isolation.
2. Reduces levels of anxiety
Those who suffer from constant anxiety are likely to often worry about their future and their own abilities. Anxiety at work drastically impacts general wellbeing, and is a huge set back for many people. Those feelings and worries can be reduced by having a mentor to turn to and share them with.
"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" – Mentalhealth.org.uk
This also works the other way. As the Mental Health Foundation highlight in their choice of kindness as this year's theme, helping 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. Increases 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 beliefs about ourselves that mental health issues make us 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 help to tackle mental health issues.
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.
4. Hope for the future
For those suffering from mental health, fear and anxiety about the future is a common struggle. The Advocacy Project shared some of the feedback from their mental health mentoring program, with mentees describing the experience as 'a light at the end of the tunnel' and 'empowerment and belief in you'.
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.
With more and more emphasis on workplace wellbeing and mental health, organisations needs to be ensuring their people are happy and healthy at work. Starting a mentoring program is therefore an effective way to tackle mental health issues while supporting personal development.