Elena is a Senior Peer Rehabilitation & Recovery Worker at Wellways in Wollongong and supports participants with mental health conditions to achieve their recovery goals. Elena has a lived experience of mental illness and has struggled in the past with the negative impacts her mental health has had on her physical health. During her recovery journey, Elena has experienced the shame and judgment that is often felt when individuals are medically prescribed exercise. Elena has a keen interest in providing peer led physical health support for people experiencing mental health challenges and is committed to reducing shame and anxiety around exercise.
Title: Walking towards Wellness – peer lead physical health and wellbeing program
Author(s): Matthew Fluder
Introduction: Walking towards Wellness is a co-designed six-week peer-led program supporting people with mental health challenges to make physical health goals sustainable and actionable in everyday life. The program, led by lived experience and informed by evidence, is accessible and straightforward. A pilot program has seen positive feedback from attendees and change in physical wellbeing behaviour.
Method: Walking towards Wellness leverages evidence-informed techniques found in behaviour change and mental health recovery research. Peer-facilitated, Walking towards Wellness is based on Wellways peer work principles, focussing on hope and recovery rather than illness and equal relationships built on shared experiences. Developed within the CHIME framework for personal recovery, Connectedness, Hope, Identity, Meaning and Empowerment are foundational for participants to move through Stages of Change. Facilitators create inclusive discussion to help participants articulate their vision for a good life, positive self-efficacy to help people believe they can make change, motivational interviewing to support changes in behaviour, and resilience planning to maintain changes over time.
Results & Findings: The pilot commenced with six participants of Wellways’ Community Living Supports Program and concluded with five. On a 4-point Likert Scale for physical health learning outcomes participants saw a 92% positive improvement in physical health literacy over the course of the program. On a 4-point Likert Scale developed by Schwarzer and Renner (1992), participants showed a 45% increase in positive physical self-efficacy. All participants continued exercise and reported positive health seeking behaviours six weeks after program completion.
Discussion: Wellways is collaborating with NSW Health Illawarra and NSW Shellharbour inpatient unit to run Walking towards Wellness and gather data on positive behaviour changes relating to physical health within a non-clinical peer-facilitated health and wellbeing program. Understanding the connection between physical and mental health wellbeing and addressing collectively through programs like Walking towards Wellness is a Wellways priority.