Since 1949, May has been a national observance month for mental health. During Mental Health Month, awareness is raised about the impact of mental health conditions on individuals, families, and communities. Recognizing the importance of this observance, WellStaff@PRA, Policy Research Associates’ staff wellness committee, organized its first annual Mental Health Awareness Step Challenge in 2017. As we work to improve the well-being of our staff, foster work-life balance, and promote the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, hosting a step challenge was a way to honor these commitments to employees, while also increasing awareness of mental health within our networks.  The PRA Step Challenge for Mental Health Month is a way to both bring attention to the importance of mental health and to support multiple dimensions of wellness of our staff, like:

  • Social wellness: Employees walk together; talk with each other about how they’re creatively increasing their daily steps
  • Physical wellness: Employees move more and for longer durations; PRA also participates in the CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge in May, allowing staff to use the step challenge as part of their “training” for this corporate event
  • Environmental wellness: During the beautiful month of May, many employees take the opportunity to add to their steps by walking outside in nature on the rail trail
  • Occupational wellness: For many of those who participate in the step challenge, there is satisfaction in this event and its coordination by WellStaff@PRA
  • There’s no wellness category for competitiveness, but the step challenge also brings out a healthy dose of this trait in some participants

In 2018, we brought the step challenge back and maintained our original goal of achieving 10 million steps by PRA employees in the month of May. We worked out logistical kinks faced in 2017, offered prizes (shown to increase employee participation), and made sure everyone without a wearable who wanted to participate knew how to track steps on their phone – and even how to convert other activities, like gardening or bike riding, to steps.  With some experience and additional preparation, we had stellar results in 2018:

  • In 2017, the highest total number of reported steps taken by a PRA employee in the month of May was 461,657. The total steps taken did not quite meet the goal, totaling 8,980,858.
  • In 2018, the highest number of total steps reported by a PRA employee was 527,882; and staff exceeded our goal, walking 10,013,523 steps!*

In 2018, more staff talked about being mindful of their movement: parking further away from the office building, taking walks on the rail trail for strategic renewal (vs. the intentional organizational coordination of those walks in 2017), riding their bikes to work, and walking to connect with coworkers in their offices during the workday rather than emailing or calling them.  If friends, partners, family members, or others asked about the boost in activity, this provided an opportunity to talk about mental health and raise awareness of the impact of mental health conditions.

With 2018 coming to an end, it’s the perfect time to start planning for Mental Health Month 2019.  It will be the 70th anniversary of this monthly observance.  Here at PRA, we’ll host our third annual Step Challenge for Mental Health Month. We hope our readers will also plan activities for May that support well-being while increasing awareness of mental health!

*Participation in the PRA Step Challenge for Mental Health Month is voluntary. Those staff who choose to participate report their steps on a shared tracking sheet.  Those who choose not to participate received a default step count of 3,000 per day in 2018 (the high end of the average for a sedentary individual). Using the same default step count, the 2017 total would’ve been 8,980,858.