Mental Health Creative Workshop

graphics by Lara Isaacson

In my Facilitating Creative Thinking course, we pitched to a real client. With a growing passion for mental health awareness in the group we reached out to a university counseling center and mental health advocacy club on campus. It was clear that the university was at a turning point, beginning to revamp it’s mental health care system, but the staff was spread thin and didn’t necessary have much time for visioning. Thanks to their gracious partnership, as Creative Director, I led my group in the creation of a 3-hour workshop for creatively brainstorming and finding the root causes of issues around mental health on campus.

graphics by Lara Isaacson

Co-facilitating this workshop was extremely rewarding and the participants were able to find common understanding and begin collaborative partnerships based in the insights from the workshop. We guided the group through a series of exercises and following the workshop, analyzed the artifacts and transcripts from the workshop, and presented back design directions and tools for further development of the work.

All of the activities were customized based on secondary and primary research around mental health at universities and this university in particular. After research, multiple demos, and iterating, the workshop formed.

one of the workshop demos

Run of the Show

  • Feelings Check In
  • Two Weaknesses and A Strength
  • Story Fabrication
  • Rose, Thorn, and Bud
  • Find the Roots
  • Elevator Pitch
  • Feelings Check Out

After laying from expectations and group rules from this sensitive topic, we started an ended with a nod to group therapy, by having everyone share one feeling word to presence everyone and acknowledge current states of being. We then moved to an ice breaker called Two Weaknesses and A Strength that we adapted from Two Truths and A Lie. In a fun and gentle way, the goal was to help participants empathize with each others weaknesses while showcasing that each participant has a skill to offer to the workshop. Next, we started a visualization exercise that helped participants begin to empathize with the students they are helping called Story Fabrication. This activity involved incorporating a chosen fabric and a given mental health disorder into a story about a student with this disorder on campus.

Rose, Thorn, & Bud activity during the workshop, led by Lara

With mental health care systemic challenges beginning to surface, we began the big brainstorm, formatted in the Rose, Thorn, Bud format (Roses=Past Successes, Thorns=Challenges, & Buds=Potential Solutions/Positive Futures). We started with individual brainstorming and then moved to group sharing in order to promote more idea sharing and less reliance on only the most outgoing in the group. Although this activity is common in creative brainstorming, we added our own twist to this activity by extending the plant metaphor and having the participants start to identify the ‘Roots’ or root causes of the brainstormed categories. This set the group up for the last activity of a custom fill-in-the-blank elevator pitch where participants would make an ask to those who have the resources to make their ‘Buds’ a reality.

workshop artifact analysis

Of course, we new all their problems could not be simplified to one elevator pitch, but the idea was to give them tools and a new way to safely explore solution or vision concepts. After analysis, we compiled a book of all our learnings and design direction for the mental health groups and provided some explanation of tools they may find useful, including the Spectrum of Allies.

graphics by Lara Isaacson

At the end of the workshop, we received one of the best compliments I could have hoped for that the workshop did not feel like 3 hours and that the participants were hopeful about future work. Weeks later we were thrilled to be told that the workshop continued to inform their work and planning for the next year. With a people-focused, carefully tailored approach, we were able to facilitate a space for meaningful work.