An image of a planning meeting

Running a staff session on mental health and wellbeing

Holding a staff session on mental health and wellbeing is a good way of sharing information and getting people together. A well organised and well attended event can increase awareness and start to normalise the conversation around mental health.

It may be that you’re in a position where you can run a session like this with your team. Or if you think it’s something your manager should do, you may want to suggest some of these steps to them, or refer them to this information.

    • When will you hold it? Will it be an optional lunchtime session (a ‘lunch and learn') or part of a staff meeting or away day? How can you involve staff who work remotely?
    • How will you advertise? Posters, desk flyers and emails are all good ways of spreading the word. It can help to ask managers to talk to their team about the session and encourage them to attend. Make sure you advertise the session in good time to ensure people can make time to attend.
    • Will it be a one-off session, or part of a series?
    • Where will you hold it? Choose a space where people feel comfortable. An informal space with lots of small tables or groups of chairs might encourage more conversation than a lecture theatre.
  • This will depend on the size of your organisation and the number of people you expect to attend.

    Is this an introduction to mental health and wellbeing or a reminder of existing initiatives? Is it part of an ongoing series of sessions promoting staff mental health?

  • You could include one or more of these suggestions.

    • An introduction to a new commitment and a request to fill in a survey or take part in an audit.
    • An introduction to new strategy or future plans – and a chance to offer feedback.
    • Sharing the results of your mental health audit and explaining the actions you’ll be taking as a result.
    • A chance for staff to offer general feedback and suggestions.
    • Invite a speaker to talk about their mental health and how they manage it – if this is a staff member then all the better.
    • Ask a mental health first aider or external expert to give a talk about the course and what they do now they are trained.
    • Run an interactive learning session on mental health – what it is and why we should we look after it (take a look at some of our activity ideas below).
    • Introduce the five ways to wellbeing and encourage staff to think about how they could include these in their daily home and work lives.
    • Share your organisation’s mental health policies (just make sure you make it interesting!).
    • Run a session with information about how to support a colleague or friend who is experiencing a mental health problem.
  • Interactive activities are a good way of keeping staff engaged and encouraging them to share ideas and concerns. Here are some ideas to get you started.

    Opening and closing rounds

    If you have a small group, an opening round is a good way of ensuring everyone has had a chance to speak out. Once you’ve spoken once in a meeting or session, it’s easier to speak again. For example, you could ask everyone to introduce themselves and tell us one thing that they enjoy doing. Be encouraging and enthusiastic about every suggestion.

    Don’t pick anything too sensitive or people will panic. Make sure you start so people know what is expected of them.

    A closing round helps to end the session on a positive note. You could ask people to share one thing they’ve learned or one thing they’re going to do to look after their mental health today.

    Mental health word association activity

    This is a good way to introduce mental health and the differences in the way we think about our mental and physical health.

    • Activity – Tell the group that you’re going to do some word association. You’re going to shout out some phrases and you’d like them to share the words they associate with those phrases.

    Start with ‘physical health’. Encourage staff to keep sharing ideas and associations. When you have had a number of responses, move on to something completely different, perhaps ‘winter’ or ‘school’. It doesn’t matter; this is just to break up the activity a bit. After a few more associations, shout out ‘mental health’.

    • Discussion – You’re likely to find that for ‘physical health’ people’s associations are a mixture of both illnesses and ways to look after their health – for example exercise or healthy eating. In contrast you may find that people’s associations with ‘mental health’ are more negative – mainly diagnosis and treatment.

    Highlight this to the group. Explain that this is a good example of the way we think about mental and physical health. When it comes to physical health we are much more aware of how to look after it as well as what might go wrong. Why do they think this is?  What kind of things could they have said about mental health?

    Pairs discussion about looking after your mental health

    Ask the group to turn to the person next to them and share their tips for looking after mental health and wellbeing. You could make this more specific by asking them to think about mental health at work.

    Asking people to give tips and advice can be a good way to start the conversation. It’s easier to give advice than to talk about yourself.

    You could always extend the discussion by asking people to move on to talking about what they do themselves.

    Pairs discussion about what your organisation could do to support staff mental health and wellbeing

    As above but focused on workplace support and initiatives.

    Stats quiz

    Search out some key facts and figures about mental health. Make up some cards that divide the stat from the rest of the information. For example ‘one in six employees’ and ‘will experience a mental health problem at work this year’ would be written on different cards.

    Ask staff teams or groups to race to match them up correctly.

    Five ways race

    Introduce the five ways to wellbeing. Ask teams to come up with as many suggestions as possible for things to do in each of the five categories. If you want to make it really competitive you could score by giving additional points for any realistic suggestion that no other team came up with.

    Group questions – crowdsourcing with post-it notes

    People may be uncomfortable about sharing their ideas and experiences. Instead of asking them to speak up in a group or in pairs, put some questions on big sheets of paper on the walls. Flip chart paper works well – or you could print something out specifically.

    Give your staff access to lots of post-it notes and pens. Ask them to wander around the room looking at the questions and adding their notes and suggestions on post-it notes. You could also provide small ‘voting’ stickers that they could add to suggestions they like.

    This enables staff to contribute more anonymously.

    You might ask some of these questions.

    • How well does [your organisation] look after staff mental health and wellbeing at the moment? What do we do well? What could we improve?
    • What could we do to help you feel happier at work?
    • How could we help you look after your mental health at work?
    • What do you do to look after your mental health?
  • It’s helpful if there are tangible things for staff to take away from the session. These might be leaflets and info but actions are good too. It might be filling in a survey, looking up your mental health policies, volunteering to be on a steering group or pledging to do something to look after themselves each day. Some organisations set up wellbeing challenges and give staff stamps for each positive action they take.

    Make sure you follow up on the session. Write up the post-its into a brief report or summarise the discussions you had and what staff can expect to see happen next.

    How can I make sure that staff attend?

    • Think about what you call the session. Will people attend if it’s called ‘mental health and wellbeing’? People might think it doesn’t apply to them if they don’t have a mental health problem. Other options for titles might be:
      • Staying happy and well at work
      • How can we help you work better?
      • Staying stress-free at work (people tend to find it easier to talk about stress rather than mental health).
    • Consider whether lunchtime is the best option. You might find that an optional session doesn’t reach the staff who you want to hear from, and that you just see those who are typically proactive and engaged. Can you schedule a session in a staff away day or all-staff meeting to ensure you capture more people?
    • Make it a priority. When deadlines loom it’s easy to give up optional sessions in favour of getting another hour’s work done. Talk to managers and make sure they share it with staff and encourage them to attend.
    • Get senior staff to attend. This can help staff see that this is a priority and the organisation is committed to change. If any of your senior staff are willing to share their own experiences, other staff may be encouraged to attend and hear what they have to say.
    • Make it an opportunity for staff to have their say. If employees have feedback or suggestions to give, they may be more likely to come along. Explain that there’ll be an opportunity to give these confidentially.
    • Think about employees who work remotely. How can you help make sure they can attend? If it’s not possible, make sure they receive the follow up email and updates.
    • Bribery! Could you provide a healthy lunch – or some tasty snacks?

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Highly Commended in Wellbeing in the 2019 BMA Patient Information Awards

  • Produced by Clare Foster, freelance health editor, and Nick Ridgman, Head of Health Content, Bupa UK, September 2017
    Next review due September 2020

    Bupa UK expert reviewers:

    • Naomi Humber, Psychology Services Manager, EAP
    • Stuart Haydock, Resilience Lead, Health Clinics
    • Sarah Deedat, Head of Behaviour Change
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