Grace McKeon is an exercise physiologist and a PhD candidate within the school of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. Her work focuses on the role of physical activity to protect and improve the mental health of high risk groups including emergency service workers and their families. She is interested in investigating how we can use digital technologies (e-health) to implement novel lifestyle interventions. Grace also works clinically and is leading the new exercise physiology clinic at a mental health medical research institute, the Black Dog Institute.
Title: The experiences of peer-facilitators delivering a physical activity intervention for emergency service workers and their families
Author(s): Grace McKeon1, Chiara Mastrogiovanni1, Justin Chapman2, Robert Stanton3,4, Evan Matthews5, Simon Rosenbaum1,6
1School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 3Cluster for Resilience and Well-being, Appleton Institute, Central Queensland University, 44 Greenhill Road, Wayville 5043, Australia, 4School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, Central Queensland University, Bruce Highway, Rockhampton, Queensland 4702, Australia, 5School of Health Sciences, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland, 6Black Dog Institute, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Introduction: Emergency service workers (e.g. police, fire, ambulance officers) are regularly exposed to occupational stressors and potentially traumatic events, resulting in an increased risk of poor mental and physical health. For example, emergency service workers are twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts compared to the general population and one in ten will develop posttraumatic stress disorder. Despite this, emergency service workers face barriers to accessing traditional mental healthcare. Physical activity is a non-stigmatising, evidence-based strategy for improving mental health, however, novel ways to increase adherence to physical activity interventions are needed. Peers with lived experience may be well-placed to co-deliver physical activity programs alongside health professionals. The aim of this study was to understand the experiences of peer-facilitators in delivering an online mental health informed physical activity intervention for emergency service workers and their families.
Methods: Qualitative interviews were conducted with 6 peer-facilitators involved in the delivery of a co-designed physical activity intervention. The peers had lived experience of being an emergency service worker/family member and of being through the intervention as a participant previously. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and analysed using exploratory thematic analysis.
Results: Two main themes emerged. The first theme related to the value of lived experience that reflected two subthemes, i) credibility and relatedness by virtue of experience; and ii) knowledge and confidence by virtue of experience. Peers delineated the roles of the study exercise physiologists and themselves, identifying their role as an opportunity to provide emotional support and motivation to exercise, rather than technical exercise prescription. The second theme related to the impact of the role on the peers themselves, whereby peer-facilitators reported feeling an increased sense of purpose and social connection.
Discussion: This qualitative study provides insight and guidance into how peer-facilitators can complement health professionals in the delivery of physical activity interventions for emergency service workers.