Title: Community Mental Health Gym and Swim Program: Building community, cardio-metabolic health and confidence
Author(s): Sarah Ludowici, Katie Thorburn
For long-term, sustainable lifestyle change it is important to involve the key human need of human connectedness. Severe mental illness has a significant impact on psycho-social functioning, and individuals face considerable barriers to initiating and maintaining behaviour change. Exercise is a tool that can holistically address social functioning, quality of life and the often neglected physical health needs by building community.
A Gym & Swim program was developed with the aim of increasing individual physical activity participation and to support the transition from community mental health services to general community services. The program aims to develop exercise autonomy by supporting self-efficacy, developing exercise skills and confidence and supporting access to sustained community programs. SLHD collaborated with a local community aquatic centre to provide a feasible, cost-effective program that reduces the common barriers faced by this population in attending traditional gyms. The program runs on two days per week and has an open referral policy. Key features include co-facilitation with the peer-support worker, and community exercise physiologist, personalised programming, carer attendance, and low-cost, non-contractual, membership options to work towards.
Since program commencement in October 2018, initially with one weekly session, the program has seen 106 participants, with an accumulative 1323 exercise sessions completed. Approximately 25 participants have attended more than 10 sessions, with 8-12 participants at each session. The success however, of the program is evident in the transition of participants to access community exercise services independently, and the growing confidence of individuals to do this. As a result participants build a community around them involved in positive lifestyle behaviours. A recent review of past, present and current participants highlighted the barriers and enablers of the group to help shape future programs. Key insights include the importance of collaboration, social health in creating long-term sustainable change, and having relevant health professionals available.