Dealing with Issues of Mental Health in Coaching and Mentoring

In recent years mental health has become part of public discourse. The good news here is that the stigma associated with issues of mental health is slowly giving way to a more open discussion and better understanding of such issues and how to address them. The COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis contributed to an 30%-80% increase of reported feelings of anxiety and depression (OECD, 2021). Young people (15-24) were more likely to report mental health issues than older people. Such numbers could reflect that young people are more open to talk about and address mental health issues than adults, who might still think of such issues as a stigma. Mental health issues are far too complex to draw simplistic conclusions, i.e. self-isolation or closing of schools and universities contributed significantly to such an increase and therefore should be avoided. In the context of NEETs the issue is far more complex. The increased number of people with mental health issues could not be met adequately before or during the pandemic despite research and policy recommendations to build-up adequate capacities (OECD, 2015).  NEETs depend more on their family systems, i.e support from parents, grand-parents, siblings, and often live on limited space where protecting others from a COVID-19 infection is much more difficult if not impossible. Thus, the situation created a volatile and existential threat.

Research shows that the Subjective-Well-Being (SBW) deteriorated significantly during the pandemic which negatively impacted resilience (Yue and Cowling, 2021), which lead to decreased performance triggered by feelings of loosing control (Jarosz, 2021). Women were more affected by the pandemic (Manolova, 2020) and financial distress directly impacted SBW and resilience (Fleming, 2021). Lasater et al. (2021) argued in favour of a more compassionate approach towards mentoring addressing needs of sense-making, understanding and flexibility while grappling with personal-professional boundaries and well-being as mentors. Whilst these issues are related to the effects of the pandemic we have seen these phenomena before when working with unemployed or underprivileged, disenfranchised and low-status audiences. It could be argued that the pandemic had an impact on mental health issues and complex, inter-related factors contributed to it. But we should be are that a lower SBW, deteriorating resilience, feelings of losing control and isolation are not a new phenomena. We should also be aware that dealing with mental health issues has been part of supporting NEETs. What does that mean for coaching and mentoring NEETs?

From the very first days of the pandemic strengthening resilience of coachees and mentees has become almost an imperative. This begs the question whether a focus of resilience is good enough, or whether resilience is best to be recognised as an outcome of interventions employed to address various issues, which might be related to mental health. There is evidence that too much resilience can be harmful and requires a careful balance of self-awareness and openness to share vulnerabilities (Rhodes, 2021). This requires a safe space which, at least in theory, is right down coaching and mentoring alley. Coaching and mentoring NEETs would ask for a good understanding of the environment and wider system of their lived experience. Quite often we have noticed a reduced sense of control over their life and environment, NEETs seem to be shaped by other peoples expectations and perspectives, which makes it much more difficult for them to develop alternatives and making informed decisions (Bachkirova, 2022). Again, this could be observed before the pandemic. It is worth noting that the dependency on others as well as limited option and opportunities for NEETs during the pandemic exacerbated the issue and might have contributed to draw mental health issues into relief. This could be observed well before, during and after the pandemic, for example when coachees/mentees appeared to have no personal or professional ambitions, their appearance indicated a lack of self-worth, i.e. neglecting personal hygiene, poor diets and a lack of physical activities. Such factors could indicate mental health issues or neurodiverse needs which have not been addressed adequately. It goes without saying, that coaches and mentors should avoid to diagnose or draw premature conclusions, but should read such indicators as a hint toward potential issues. From a duty or ethics of care we could argue that in developing the relations of caring we enable human beings to live and to progress. However, mental health issues require a deeper understanding and probably additional counselling or therapy. Therefore, it seems to be good practice to discuss such cases with peers and/or experts in such matters, rather than attempting to solve the situation single handedly. This is relevant as in the sector support for coaches and mentor, i.e. supervision or peer-learning formats, are still not available at scale.

From impact assessments of counselling and therapy two factors have been identified as contributing towards the effectiveness of such interventions: the quality of the working alliance, in other the relationship between the dyads, and access to external resources (de Haas, 2008). Trust and rapport are key elements in the working alliance, where the autonomy of the beneficiary is not threatened and where alternative options can be developed and explored. This would probably require a more developmental approach to coaching and mentoring rather than a competency or deficit based approach. It is critically important to build that trust which allows coachees/mentees to develop a sense of psychological safety in a non-judgemental environment. Coaching is associated with coachees being able to draw on external resources and make use of their own, sometimes unused, skills and abilities. However, NEETs very likely do not have access to such external resources. Coaches and mentors are probably the only external resource they can tap into. Therefore, the quality of the relationship becomes even more relevant. Reports from the counsellors and therapists indicate that cost of living crisis renders such interventions less effective as more people do not have the financial resources to pay for such services. Additionally, (good) living conditions contribute to mental health and wellbeing but that is threatened by finical insecurity (Dober, 2022), factors neither coaches, mentors nor therapists can influence.

To conclude, it might be worth exploring alternative processes for coaching and mentoring. Physical activity, a healthy diet and nature have long been recognised to have a positive effect on the subjective well-being. Therefore, leaving the office and going for a walk to encourage the coachee/mentee to express their thinking and feelings could be an alternative. Bringing small bottles of water and some fruit to share might encourage the coachee/mentee to reflect on their diets. Such alternative approaches ask for flexibility of programmes and environments which are perceived as supportive and create a space where the coachees/mentees can be who they are rather than what others expect them to be. Coaches and mentors need to be acutely aware of their own limitations and need additional support to inform their practice with a view towards dealing with mental health issues. It is almost impossible to come up with general recommendations to address these issues. Sometimes coaches and mentors are the only lifeline and their commitment and support is critically important for young people. Looking into the future, we should make a joint effort to educate ourselves about mental health and contribute towards creating a community of discovery so that we as coaches, mentors and programme designers do not have to leave the most vulnerable behind but can offer adequate support.

Joerg Schoolmann, Autoocupacio


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Dober, C. (2022) People are cancelling their therapy with me because of stress about mortgages and rent – it’s heartbreaking. The Guardian [Online], 15 Nov 2022. Available from:

Fleming, R. S. (2021) “Small Business Resilience and Customer Retention in Times of Crisis: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Global Journal of Entrepreneurship, 5(S1), pp. 30+.

Jarosz, J. (2021) “The Impact of Coaching on Well-Being And Performance of Managers and Their Teams during Pandemic,” International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 19(1), pp. 4–27.

Lasater, K., Smith, C., Pijanowski, J. and Brady, K.P. (2021) “Redefining Mentorship in an Era of Crisis: Responding to Covid-19 through Compassionate Relationships,” International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 10(2), pp. 158–172.

Manolova, T. S. et al. (2020) “Pivoting to Stay the Course: How Women Entrepreneurs Take Advantage of Opportunities Created by the Covid-19 Pandemic,” International Small Business Journal, 38(6), pp. 481–491

OECD (2015). Mental Health and Work.

OECD (2021). Supporting young people’s mental health through the COVID-19 crisis.

Rhodes, J. (2021). The Commandos, mental mutiny and mindset.

Yue, W. and Cowling, M. (2021) “The Covid-19 Lockdown in the United Kingdom and Subjective Well-Being: Have the Self-Employed Suffered More Due to Hours and Income Reductions?,” International Small Business Journal, 39(2), pp. 93–108.


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