11/4/2013 – Helping CEOs in the Crucible of Mental Health Issues Part 2

In my previous post, I introduced the rationale for coaching specifically designed for executives and other professionals who are confronted by mental health challenges in themselves, in their colleagues or employees, or in their family members. Psychiatric conditions occurring in any of these contexts can increase stress levels and derail the optimal performance of executives who are charged with leading and growing their companies.

I introduced the ARCH acronym to call attention to the importance of finding the kind of support executives need to navigate these challenges. In architecture, an arch provides structural support for heavy materials bearing down from above which could otherwise cause the building to crumble. The ARCH of coaching provided by Leading Minds services are designed to provide similar support for dealing with mental health problems weighing down on the executive.

As a reminder, the ARCH acronym stands for:
A = Awareness
R = Recognition
C = Care
H = Health

AWARENESS of mental health issues is a prerequisite for managing their ill effects. Executives and other leaders of businesses and organizations must be tuned into the possibility that we are all vulnerable to developing psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety. Executives, who so often are under severe stress, may be particularly at risk for developing insomnia, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Long work hours and the constant need to multitask may bring out attention deficits. Under these circumstance, a subset of executives may develop even more severe symptoms like paranoid thinking or manic agitation. When that happens, the executive may need to take time off from work and even go into a residential or inpatient treatment facility.

Executives must also be attuned to the possibility that others can develop such conditions as well. What will the CEO do if a member of the executive team develops a psychiatric illness? Or if the sales manager becomes too anxious to perform his or her job, or so agitated or paranoid that he or she is inappropriate with potential customers? Executives must be aware of how common psychiatric disorders are in the general population and, by extension, among their colleagues and employees. The same goes for awareness of the potentially devastating impact of a mental health condition in a family member or someone else in the executive’s personal life.

RECOGNITION of mental illness is challenging across the board. In order to responsibly run a company, the executive needs to be self-aware and to recognize if he or she is being overtaken by stress, anxiety, insomnia, inattention, or some other behavioral abnormality. The executive also needs to be able to recognize warning signs in others, whether at home or at work. Overlooking the manifestation of such difficulties can be dangerous. On the other hand, recognizing the symptoms or behavioral changes associated with psychiatric disorders can empower the executive to intervene and direct colleagues, employees, family members, or others to the appropriate help.

CARE of the mental health condition is multifaceted. Depending on the nature and severity of the condition, the coach may need to help provide referrals for mental health treatment. With my dual training as a psychiatrist and executive coach, I have specialized experience in assessing these complex situations and designing individualized plans that may combine coaching and clinical treatment. In mild cases (like when an executive is struggling with anxiety or insomnia before an important presentation), I may coach my client on strategies to restore healthy functioning and may recommend “mindfulness” techniques like controlled breathing and meditation. In more severe cases, I may refer the executive for treatment with medications or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). My recommendations are always in accordance with state-of-the-art psychiatric science.

When a psychiatric disorder is occurring in someone close to the executive (e.g., a colleague or family member), the coaching is focused on how best to confront the situation in a caring yet firm way. Executives often need to provide leadership of their companies, or their families, to ensure that the mentally ill person receives good care. Since executives are not trained as mental health clinicians, they can benefit from guidance and coaching on how to manage these situations compassionately and effectively.

HEALTH is, of course, the desired state. But it is never a completely stable and reliable state, as new challenges and ongoing stress can again send things off the rails for the executive. My coaching engagements usually begin with intensive work to stabilize an unnerving, dangerous, and complicated crisis. As the situation comes under control and the executive is back to a more normal state of functioning, other coaching tasks become the primary focus: strategic planning, team alignment, leadership development, revenue growth, etc. But attention to the mental health issues must remain a key component of the work as well, even as the frequency and intensity of the coaching diminishes. What if the executive confronts new and unforeseen stress that could lead to a recurrence of sleep problems, anxiety, excessive alcohol use, or other such problem? Recognizing these patterns early can prevent relapse, and ongoing coaching can help to assure the goal of sustained mental health and wellness.

Even as the most intensive phase of the coaching engagement ends, Leading Minds Executive Coaching helps clients design a flexible, individualized plan for ongoing contact and more intensive services once again if and when the need arises.