Activities for Teams on World Mental Health Day

October 6, 2022


For 20 years, the Resilience Institute has partnered with organizations worldwide to build physical and mental fitness in individuals and teams. We know that when people grow, business grows. That's why we present this comprehensive guide containing ideas for World Mental Health Day in 2022.

What is World Mental Health Day?

October 10th is World Mental Health Day. The objective of this day is to raise awareness and promote action regarding the importance of mental health. The day has been celebrated since 1992 and has gained popularity ever since. Initiated by the World Federation of Mental Health, World Mental Health Day presents a significant opportunity to reflect on how we respond to life's demands while learning about mental distress and discovering tools to support each other. In some countries, the initiative is observed for an entire week rather than a single day.

How Does Work Impact Mental Health?

We live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. In addition to workplace demands, we struggle with increasing digital distraction, and attention spans are shrinking. Mental distress occurs when we no longer have the capacity to respond effectively to pressure. We call this a downward spiral, and there are clear mental, emotional, and physical signals of mental health risk.

While many blame work for mental distress, Resilience Institute's 2022 Global Research Report demonstrates that factors such as sleep and relaxation are critical drivers of resilience, well-being, and mental fitness. Is work a significant cause of mental distress? Of course. Take this study, for example, which examined the negative impact of long working hours on mental health. Or this study exploring the adverse effects of work addiction. Stress, depression, physical fatigue, and suicidal thoughts are common themes in such scenarios.

How Can the Workplace Support Mental Well-Being?

Leaders are increasingly aware that mental distress is both a health and safety concern and a risk to productivity and performance. As we advance into the third decade of the 21st century, workplaces and leaders realize that they cannot expect individuals to work beyond their capacity without sufficient time for rest and recovery. We call this performance with care.

Future leaders will be adept at playing to each team member's strengths, providing the right level of challenge, and mandating proper time for rest and rejuvenation. First, however, these rhythms need to be modeled by the executive and leadership teams to create a culture of mental fitness.

Additionally, leaders must be trained in how to have better conversations about mental health - and equipped with tools to support employees when they notice the signs of a downward spiral. Leaders should never cross the line from manager to counselor or psychologist, but they should feel comfortable creating a safe environment for discussion and support. A key focus should be reintegrating an employee after they have experienced mental distress.

Activities to Promote Mental Health Day

Now, let us explore some activities organizations can engage in to promote World Mental Health Day. Whether you are in human resources or you are a senior leader, you can be the change you'd like to see in your organization by initiating some of the following activities. Not only do these activities increase awareness of mental health, but they also provide excellent opportunities to build camaraderie, trust, and empathy across the team. This is how you differentiate your organization as a great place to work.

But remember, these events should not be a token initiative, after which we all return to our desks with no space for mental fitness to emerge. Instead, senior leaders should support these events, and mental fitness should become a core operational practice rather than an isolated annual event.

So let's explore some ideas for celebrating World Mental Health Day.

P2P Appreciation Shout Outs

Feeling that your contribution at work is valued provides many benefits including increased trust, happiness, and satisfaction. Asking coworkers to openly or anonymously express appreciation toward each other is an enriching experience for all parties. It boosts confidence and strengthens bonds by combining recognition with gratitude. On World Mental Health Day encourage employees to send a note, text message or group email acknowledging someone's contribution. You could also go old school and tap someone on the shoulder and simply appreciate them face-to-face.

Remember that this practice does not need to be limited to October 10th - a public recognition wall might be just what you need to make appreciation part of your culture.

Self-Care Time

Many employees push themselves to demonstrate high performance and capability. However, there may come a time when they are physically, emotionally, or mentally at risk.

Consider high-performance sports teams - their coaches know very well that all performance without relaxation leads to overtraining and poor results.

Consider offering dedicated self-care time. This might be a thirty-minute break where team members can take care of themselves any way they like. Note that this isn't a lunch break. Instead, this is a deliberate space for rest, relaxation, connection, or exercise.

Encouraging rhythms of resilience that balance performance with care will differentiate companies with a thriving, energetic culture from those who struggle with burn out.

Group Exercises 

One of our clients organizes boxing classes for employees, to help them learn to stay calm under pressure while also having fun and finding flow state. Research demonstrates that group exercise can result in a 26% decrease in stress compared to exercising alone.

While boxing might terrify many office workers, many group exercise options are available. Leaders and employees should mix and mingle while exercising, whether walking in nature, playing football in a local park, or undertaking a step challenge. Yoga, pilates, and Tai Chi are great lower-intensity ways to get people moving together.

Some employees might not be comfortable with physical exercise so ensure there are alternative activities available, such as a learning lab or educational workshop.

How About an Educational Workshop? 

As an employer, it is essential to engage trusted external experts to deliver targeted and enriching training experiences to your team. On World Mental Health Day, there are many options to choose from. You could opt for:

  • A mindfulness/meditation expert - but remember that some employees will dismiss meditative practices as spiritual or esoteric, so frame the session with evidence to support the approach. In short, ensure that the facilitator doesn't jump straight to chanting mantras before explaining the science and benefits.
  • An inspirational speaker - someone willing to share their own experience of mental distress along with practical tools others can apply. Sports people are often a great choice.
  • Experts such as the Resilience Institute who use an evidence-based yet integrated framework to describe the downward spiral, with practical tools to bounce forward.
  • A mental health expert who can share proven ways to build self-awareness along with tools for managing mental distress.

Ensure that the session is scheduled during work hours so that employees do not need to sacrifice their lunch break. If you operate across multiple regions, ensure that the session is available in two or three time zones so that everyone enjoys a similar experience. It goes without saying that if you opt for a sports celebrity, then make sure their speech is relevant to all employees. For example, an American Football star might not appeal to teams in Europe, Asia, and Australasia.

Leadership Interaction

One of our clients tested many initiatives to engage employees and support mental well-being. However, an annual executive "open door" event was most appreciated and impactful. Senior leaders cleared their calendars for a few days, allowing anyone - from managers to administrators - to book a half-hour conversation. The impact was tremendous, and people reported feeling energized and inspired by the experience. Additionally, leaders learned a great deal about the needs of their team and uncovered many excellent ideas along the way.

Gift vouchers

You can't buy mental fitness, although financial security certainly plays an important role. Offering employees vouchers for experiences, memberships, or products to support their well-being is often a valuable and much-appreciated gesture. Consider experiences that employees can share with friends and family. If your workforce is primarily remote, then gift vouchers are a great way to get them away from the home office and out into the world. 

Team-Building Activities 

Team building activities range from seriously cringey to extremely fun. Approach with care and recognize that taking employees away from their daily work requires that you also adjust expectations relating to project deadlines and business-as-usual tasks. We've seen employees become distressed simply because they're away from work for a day, and the relentless deluge of emails means they will have to work late, ultimately detracting from their enjoyment of the day away.

A half-day activity is a great solution, and it could be anything from a walk outdoors followed by a group lunch to a game of high adrenalin laser tag. We recommend running a poll in advance to ensure employees are not unpleasantly surprised by your proposed activity. Be considerate and inclusive when planning team-building activities, especially on World Mental Health Day.

Create a Zen Space or Meditation Room

Organizations are waking up to the benefits of offering employees ways to rest and recharge amidst the noise and intensity of daily work. Some companies, like Facebook, even installed sleep pods at work so that employees benefit from the boost of a 20-minute afternoon nap. Sleep pods may be a stretch for most of us, but quiet spaces are more achievable. Convert an unused meeting room into a calm space with soft lighting, comfortable chairs or bean bags, and soothing music. You could provide headphones with guided meditations or devices like the Muse Headband. Promote this area as a device-free zone and encourage employees to use it at least once weekly. The benefits of meditation are well-established and will improve productivity and performance. 

Share Stories and Coping Strategies

Sharing stories with colleagues is a powerful way to build trust at work. Ask a range of employees, including at least one senior leader, to share their mental health journey with the team. This can be delivered as a single or multiple webinars, ideally leaving plenty of space for Q&A. By revealing vulnerability and sharing practical tips for bouncing through adversity, you will give permission to employees to discuss their own challenges.

Cook for Fun 

A group culinary event can be loads of fun both for those who love cooking and those who love eating. Book a venue or ensure you have space in the office to prepare the meal properly. Consider engaging a professional chef to oversee the experience and to bring people together. This is a fabulous way to demonstrate team flow in action - and enjoy a tasty meal afterward.

Arts and Crafts

As adults, many of us struggle to find time for creative pursuits. In a recent workshop experience with a large government organization, we ran a resilience workshop directly after a team art exercise. The teams were each told to create an artwork representing a specific theme. They were given a large canvas and a range of materials and encouraged to be expressive and experimental. The results were astounding. After the exercise, a senior leader announced that their artworks represented the organization's new values and would be placed in the office foyer for everyone to see. The groups were both delighted and energized. The resilience workshop was a major success, too!

What Does a Mentally Well Workplace Look Like?

To cultivate mental fitness requires rhythm, empathy, trust, and clarity of purpose. Ensure that employees understand the connection between what they do and organizational objectives. Reiterate the "why" before diving into the "how" and "what" - as per Simon Sinek's golden circle methodology. Train leaders in detecting signs of mental distress and handling these situations appropriately. 

Create space for rest and rejuvenation - ensuring that leaders model the rhythms of resilience. Share stories of success, send notes of appreciation, and consider all stakeholders - not just the bottom line. 

A vibrant, energized, mentally healthy workforce is achievable. Start by spreading positive messages on World Mental Health Day, and then continue the journey every day afterward. 

Mental fitness is not a competence that can be ticked off a training checklist - it is the journey of our lives.

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