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Our Mental Health Marathon was phenomenal!

On May 8th and 9th 2019, as part of our LifeSpeak15 anniversary give-back program, we ran our first ever “Mental Health Marathon” as a way for participating clients to mark Mental Health Health Month in a meaningful and practical way. The Marathon’s success surpassed our wildest expectations; here are some of our takeaways.

1. The appetite among LifeSpeak users for the Marathon is enormous.

  • Thousands upon thousands of people signed up to participate in the web chats.
  • We had experts available to answer questions about mental health from 9am until 8:30pm EST on both days (one day in English, the next in French), and the activity, though very slightly higher during the morning and midday sessions, did not slow down significantly throughout the entire day.
  • Each of our nine experts focused on a slightly different aspect of mental health.
  • The sessions which focused on children’s mental health and supporting a loved one with mental illness were the most popular.

2. Creating a community of LifeSpeak users sharing their challenges is invaluable in helping people normalize their experiences – and our users step up and help each other out given the chance. Here are a few examples (we have removed the users’ aliases):


Participant: “Just want to say thanks! This session has been really helpful, and though I don’t know the others I finally feel like I am not alone”

Participant: Please pass my thanks to Dr Nik for taking the time, even though late in the day, to discuss concerns re workplace mental health. This Q&A has been helpful to me in many ways.”

Users helping other users:

Participant #1: What are some techniques to calm ourselves during an anxiety attack?”

Dr. Nik Grujich: “During an anxiety attack, there are many different ways to calm yourself down, trial and error will lead you to a the best strategy for you.  My first line of defense is to evaluate your thoughts.  eg if my heart is racing and I am worried I am having a heart attack, I would encourage the person to challenge their thoughts, “I have had a rapid heart rate many times and it has never been a heart attack”.  Alternatively, or in conjunction, one can try “box breathing” or paced breathing, visualization or medication, distraction techniques, physical exertion or reaching out to a love one.”

Participant #2: @Participant #1. my son deals with anxiety attacks all the time. He does belly breathing, any kind of distraction to take his mind off it. Any kind of meditation for mindfulness apps like “Stop, Breath and Think”, “Calm”. He often sings out loud, as silly as that sounds, it helps that part of the brain settle down for him”

Participant #3: “@Participant #1 – I learned a grounding technique to use in a panic/anxiety attack and it can help a lot. First, notice 5 things you can hear, then 5 things you can see.. Then go to 4 things you can hear, see, etc. Try to make them different things each time. Do this until you get to 1. This can be a great grounding technique and it has helped me many times :)”

You’re actually doing great:

Participant: Hi Dr. Deborah – My significant other suffers from depression and has body image issues. He can’t take any compliments I give him (even though he’s really a handsome guy). Is there another approach I should be taking when complimenting him? I’m also looking for tips on how I can be more understanding or say the right things when it comes to his depression instead of getting frustrated or angry with his behaviour. On the outside he’s a confident guy, but on the inside he’s struggling.”

Dr. Deborah Ledley: “Hi there.  I am wondering how you know that your kindness and compliments aren’t helping?  It can be very hard to “cure” depression and body image issues and this isn’t your job.  Your job is to listen and to be loving and caring.  I would ask your partner what you do that helps and what you do that isn’t helpful.  And, I might stick with your gut.  If he looks particularly handsome one day, tell him, give him a hug, and a big smile.  It won’t solve the problem but it will help.”

3. Users of all kinds took advantage of the Marathon. Obviously, people had questions about issues they grapple with in their personal lives – but some also took advantage of the opportunity to learn how to better perform at work. Here is an example of a manager reaching out for help:

Participant: “Hi, i have someone on my team that is a great performer in terms of quality of work and overall level of aptitude. This person struggles with mental illness (depression) and sometimes meds also make it difficult to function. As manager how can I better support this person. Are there any tips you can share?”

Dr. Deborah Ledley: “It sounds like you are already a very understanding manager.  Kudos to you – I don’t know that all managers would “get it” like you do.  I like the idea of keeping the lines of communication open so that the person on your team can ask for what he needs without feeling ashamed.  But, you might also have to manage the feelings of other people on the team.  I can imagine that if they regularly need to pick up the slack, they could feel resentful.  Perhaps you could encourage all the people on your team to be able to rely on one another for different life challenges – depression is one, but so is taking a child to a doctor’s appointment, or going to your yearly mammogram, or whatever takes you away from work for a day.”

4. Devoting a full day to employees’ mental health and doing so by giving them easy, anonymous access to support and information is a simple idea – but a very powerful one.

Consumption of LifeSpeak’s mental health video content skyrocketed during the Marathon. As users spent time on the web chat page, we gave them easy access to our mental health video content which they clearly devoured. Even a participant who simply read the questions posed by other users (and the answers to them) and watched expert-led content got an enormous amount of information out of the day.

5. Will there be another Mental Health Marathon?

This round was such a success, and so clearly responded to an unmet need for our clients and our user population, that we are considering creating another one to mark October’s Mental Health Week. We are excited about the possibility of refining the experience even further using what we learned this time around. Stay tuned!