The term “mental illness” can mean everything from mild depression to schizophrenia, and if you are looking for mental health skill building activities that can help you feel better, it is much easier to find than you think. While these activities are no replacement for a visit to a doctor or psychiatrist, they can help the average person feel better in numerous ways.
What Is Mental Health Skill Building?
Mental health skill building is very much a goal-directed service, and it is usually delivered by psychologists or psychiatrists who are trying to help people with specific mental illnesses live more independent lives. When delivered this way, it is always a personalized, one-on-one activity. However, there are also group activities that patients can utilize to improve their mental health.
These skill-building activities are also designed for different age groups. For example, activities directed towards children include:
#1: Board games. You can use existing board games or make up one of your own. The latter could include making up a card game and developing your own set of questions and answers for the patients.
#2: Trivia games. These games are great for kids because kids are good at memorisation and learning various types of information.
#3: Cooperation games. These include gym activities and others, and they should include problem-solving and team-building activities.
#4: Charades. Kids love this game, and it is a great way for them to learn better motor development, as well as other skills.
In addition to games, you can also have the kids participate in arts and crafts activities. These can include the following:
#5: Coloring activities. Have pictures of both bad and good behaviours for them to color, or maybe have them color only the pictures of good behaviours.
#6: Origami. This increases kids’ patience levels, and kids love it. Buy a few origami books and get started.
#7: Write your own brochure or book. Create a brochure of your own with the kids, and it can be on any topic you wish.
#8: Create a collage. Have magazines available for the kids to cut pictures from, then have them create their own collages or even a group collage.
For some mental illnesses, you can even utilize role-playing activities such as the following:
#9: Role play. You can use any type of role-playing scenario that is appropriate and helpful. This is a great activity to teach kids real-life skills.
#10: Dealing with anger. Have the kids write down something that triggers their anger, then practice role-playing so that they can deal with their anger better the next time it happens.
Of course, not all mental health skill building activities are designed for children. Indeed, they can be designed for any age group. For instance, below are some activities that are perfect for adults who are having problems with eating disorders or other health and wellness issues.
#11: Exercise activities. Any type of exercise will do, because it gets people physically active, which directly affects their mental stability.
#12: Nutrition activities. These can include activities that help determine caloric contents of certain foods or even those that help people learn about the nutritional benefits of certain foods.
#13: Self-care activities. These include painting fingernails, hair-cutting, and hair-design activities, and even learning how to wear makeup properly.
Since emotions are so closely tied to music, music therapy can be used for many mental illness groups. These include:
#14: Relaxation groups. As a group, practice relaxation and maybe even meditation using soothing music and deep breathing.
#15: Stimulating the mind. This one is especially good for groups of elderly people. Have them sing and make music as a group, and watch them start to open up to one another and smile more.
#16: Emotional awareness. Play clips of various songs while participants write down the emotions they feel as the songs are played. Discuss those emotions after the songs are complete.
#17: Building insight. Have participants go through the lyrics of a particular song and decipher their meaning. You can also have them rewrite the lyrics to an already popular song.
People who have problems with self-control can benefit from activities such as the following:
#18: Anger management activities. There are numerous ways to devise these activities, including discussing a trigger and practicing anger control techniques.
#19: Bad habits can be eliminated. Have participants make a list of everything they do in a certain day, then identify bad habits and discuss how they can be replaced with healthier habits.
#20: “Simon Says” and others. Games such as Simon Says teach people how to pay attention and how to follow directions, which many people need to learn.
There are many other activities that can help with certain mental illnesses. This includes a variety of relaxation activities, including:
#21: Guided imagery. Have participants close their eyes and describe what they see and feel under certain circumstances. These circumstances can include what they would see and feel if they were at the beach, in the mountains, in a candy store, and more.
#22: Pet therapy. Try to get some pet therapy animals to come and delight the participants.
#23: Progressive muscle relaxation. Participants close their eyes while the leader reads a script. For instance, the script might start with, “relax your toes; now relax your feet;” and much more.
Attention and memory games are also great mental health skill building activities. These can include games such as:
#24: Go Fish.
#25: “I” Spy.
#28: The Alphabet Game. Look around and find something that starts with an “A,” then something that starts with a “B”, and so on, until you get to the last letter of the alphabet.
Certain problem-solving activities can help participants in this area. This can include:
#29: Completing jigsaw puzzles in a group setting.
#30: Looking at recipes. And then deciding as a group how you can adjust the ingredients for different groups of people.
#31: Plan a party. Deciding how to plan a birthday party for someone.
There are also many activities that are based on social interactions, including:
#32: Different role-playing scenarios – short ones work best.
#33: Group charades.
#34: Acting out short stories or even plays.
Teachers Make a Difference
Dealing with students who have certain mental illnesses can be tough. Although teachers in these situations usually have small groups of students, it can still be a challenge. Below are some techniques teachers can use to help their patients with mental illness.
First, let’s look at the ways these teachers teach their students, which is different than teaching other types of students. To help mentally ill students, teachers should:
#35: Use a variety of teaching modalities, including hands-on, visual, standard lectures, and so on.
#36: Break all lessons down into smaller, more organized units.
#37: Grade with a green pencil, not a red one, and circle all of the right answers.
#38: Review tests thoroughly with the class before delivering the test.
#39: Always allow students to take the test over again.
#40: Help students realize their strengths and how to develop those strengths.
#41: Practice positive self-talk with students. For example, have them stand up in front of the class and say, “I am good at ____.”
Most Participants Are Part of A Group
In most mental health settings where certain activities or exercises are utilized, the participants are part of a group and the group learns together. This makes it easier to develop and apply these activities, which can include the following exercises:
#42: Physical activities. Activities that are also fun, such as cooking or dancing.
#43: Activities designed to practice creativity. Such as painting, acting, or playing music together.
#44: Group games. Activities like role-playing and wilderness ventures.
In addition, these groups can have numerous things in common, and the more individualized the group is, the better for all of its members. For instance, different groups can come together because of a certain mental illness, such as depression, because they each have a severe phobia, because they do not feel control over their lives, because they are trying to recover from an addiction, or for any other reason.
There are also mental health skill building activities that can be used for teens, adults, and even young people. These include the following:
#45: Great memories. Each person comes up with one terrific memory, and the group acts out the memory. Then, the group discusses everything that just happened.
#46: Friendship exercise. Take a large banner and write on it, “a true friend is someone who …”. Have each participant write something down to finish the sentence, then everyone can discuss the various answers.
#47: Resilience exercise. Have the participants draw a picture of something in nature that is able to survive something harsh; for example, a flower in the sidewalk or a fish at the bottom of the ocean.
#48: Inner child exercise. Have the participants draw a picture of themselves as a child. Then, they are to draw what that child needs, such as strong parents or enough food to eat.
#49: Animal exercise. The participants have to draw their three favorite animals in order, along with three characteristics for each. Then tell them that their favorite animal represents how they wish others would see them; the second represents how people actually see them; and the third represents who they really are.
#50: Morality exercise. Discuss with the group the six stages of morality by Kohlberg, which include doing the right thing to gain rewards; to avoid punishment; to have people think you are a good person; because you believe in social contracts; or because you feel it is the right thing to do.
#51: Physical versus emotional healing exercise. Have the participants discuss some treatments for physical illnesses, such as colds or a wound. Then, have them recognize the similarities between those treatments and treatments for mental illnesses.
#52: Four elements exercise. Using a creative medium such as drawing or painting, demonstrate the four elements of yourself; for instance, “the air of you,” “the fire of you,” and so on.
#53: Tree of Gratitude exercise. Have participants draw a large tree and very deep roots that get more complex as they go further down. They then have to add words to represent the soil, which stands for the things they are grateful for. They do the same thing for the leaves, which stands for the things they want in life.
#54: Rewriting history exercise. Have each person think of a bad memory, then draw or paint the memory in vivid colors. Have them add something they could’ve done that would’ve resulted in a better outcome. Next, have them write down in a journal all about the negative experience.
#55: Have them complete this sentence: “I feel ____ like a ____.” For instance, they could write, “I feel disappointed like a person who just lost a sporting competition.” You can tell a lot about their feelings with this exercise.
#56: Survivor exercise. Read to the group the lyrics to a song that describe survival; for instance, “I Will Survive.” Then, ask them what part of their lives they would like to say goodbye to, and how they are already a survivor. Discuss everyone’s answers with the rest of the group.
#57: Silver lining exercise. Have each participant draw or paint something that indicates what gifts resulted from some of the darkest times of their lives. Then have them draw a dark sky with a bright shining star to represent those gifts.
Some Final Thoughts
Not all mental health skill building activities are alike, but whether your group consists of adults, teenagers, or even children, you can easily find the perfect activities for their benefit. Whether your patient is an individual client or part of a group, you can easily find activities and exercises that can teach them the skills they need to live more freely and independently.
The ultimate goal of any type of therapy is to make it easier for the patient to acclimate himself into regular society, and these activities and exercises do a great job of doing just that.