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How Are Leadership and Mental Health Linked?

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

People often ask if there is a link between mental health of employees and the leadership within an organisation.

I also asked myself this for many years. So, I decided to take get a counselling and psychology education to find out, as well as to do some digging on the subject to prove that what I thought could be the case, had any truth to it.

Firstly, let me bring you to a report by BMC Health Services in 2008. They conducted research and were the first researchers to look at a service users’ perspective of the care that they received in a psychiatric hospital. Prior to this all studies had been done only with the perspectives of health care professionals. BMC wanted to find out ‘The importance of relationships in mental health care’ so a qualitative study was done from the service users’ perspective (people admitted to the hospital) within the UK.

From receiving feedback from 19 service users BMC concluded that ‘relationships formed the core of service users’ experiences. In fact, themes of communication, safety, trust, coercion, cultural competency contributed to the concept of the relationships. The service users identified that trust was gained by individuals providing effective communication, cultural sensitivity and the absence of coercion. 100% of the service users identified trust or mistrust of others in all interviews conducted. Highlighting the importance of trust in a relationship for mental health. People that were trusted were described as professional and able to manage situations that supported the safety of others.

The overarching theme of all the interviews and research that they conducted was about interpersonal relationships that contributed to their wellbeing.

BMC therefore conclude that human relationships can be argued to be the primary motivational force in life.

Secondly, I highly recommend watching the TEDx talk by Robert Waldinger on ‘What Makes A Good Life?’ He talks about The Harvard Study of Adult Development. This is the longest study that has been done on happiness and spans over 75 years. What they have learned is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. They learned that loneliness kills, and the conclusion was that it is the quality of our relationships that matter not how many. The challenge however is that as humans we want a quick fix and that is not the case with relationships. They are lifelong and complicated. We must continue to work at them. A good life is built with good relationships.

From these two cases it is clear to see that relationships are important. When in a team environment it is the leader that is responsible for the success of the team and helping each employee reach their potential. I hear so many stories of lack of commitment, lack of relatability, employees feeling undervalued and being made to feel that they don’t matter.

Often managers or leaders will be quick to track under performance, lack of engagement and be the first to say ‘this person has to go’ when in fact if you speak to any HR professional what they will tell you is that management require further training in people leadership and empathy or emotional intelligence.

There are also many reports of people being supported by counsellors or occupational health then once back to a mentally healthy state are sent back into the workplace only to relapse with ill mental health again.

Within the business world people are being trained in mental health awareness and not having people leadership training as organisations are not seeing that the two are highly linked. There is an opportunity to hold managers more accountable to how their teams feel through ensuring a quarterly employee engagement survey. If your company is doing this it’s a great first step, the next step is to ensure there is action taken and extensive follow up. The best results and quality relationships ultimately equal your reputation.

The managers and leaders that had the strongest relationships and emotional intelligence have been found to also have the best performing teams.

Coming back to the studies mentioned earlier, we must create an environment where people trust their leaders and are not being coerced. They need to know that they are accepted, loved by their leader and can trust them enough to open up about how they feel without feeling that it will lead to being mistreated. We hear so many stories about an employee confessing how they really feel to someone else and their manager never knowing. We also know that people who leave an organisation are usually because of the relationship with the leader.

Let’s create an environment where people can trust their leaders and that they feel like they matter.


The Modern Mind Group have created The Canary Concept 8 Key Principles to create happier healthier environments. This is being offered as a training course to managers and leaders. Click the link here to see what the course covers -


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