Justin Chapman (PhD, 2016) completed his doctorate in measuring and positively influencing physical activity behaviour in adults with mental illness. Dr Chapman is a Lived Experience Research Officer at Metro South Addictions and Mental Health Service (MSAMHS), Research Fellow at Griffith University, and Program Manager at PCYC Queensland. Across these organisations he takes a state-wide approach in translational research in health service models to improve the physical health and wellbeing of people with mental illnesses. Through extensive industry partnerships with non-government organisations, hospital and health services, and sports and recreation organisations, Dr Chapman has successfully scaled up programs evaluated in RCT designs to be translated into social impact for over 600 participants with mental illness. CI Chapman’s work has been acknowledged with two Open Minds Mental Health Week Achievement awards (2018: one individual award, and one organisational award for interventions CI Chapman developed), and the Australian Rotary Health award for Mental Health Impact (2020).
Title: Group-based exercise to improve sense of belonging and quality of life in people with mental health issues
Author(s): Justin Chapman, Jane Kugelman, Greg Pratt, Amanda Wheeler
Introduction: People with mental health issues tend to have poorer health outcomes than the general population. Psychosocial stressors such as loneliness and isolation can contribute to psychological distress, and reduce quality of life. Exercise can improve quality of life and may improve social connection; however, people with mental health issues tend to have low exercise because of a range of barriers, such as low accessibility to appropriate exercise support.
Method: People identifying as having a mental health issue were referred from hospital and health services, non-government organisations, and general practice clinics. The PCYC Healthy Lifestyle programs involved an initial assessment, and weekly group-based exercise and health sessions in North Queensland (Manunda, Edmonton, Mareeba). Sessions were delivered by an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) and mental health staff from partnering organisations. Data were collected between October 2020 and June 2023. Assessments included self-reported quality of life and sense of belonging; regression analyses were conducted.
Results & Findings: Over 200 participants entered the program over 2.5 years; more than 537 group sessions were delivered with 2,466 individual attendances. Significant improvements were found for psychological distress, wellbeing, quality of life (‘mental health’ and ‘coping’ dimensions) and sense of belonging. Sense of belonging is strongly correlated with mental health outcomes. Qualitatively, participants reported that the program improved their wellbeing and confidence which subsequently improved sense of community and relationships, and that the AEP was an essential component in facilitating these benefits by providing a safe space for group exercise.
Discussion:Group-based exercise can improve quality of life and sense of belonging for people with mental health issues. Quality of life domains 'mental health' and 'coping' may be most responsive to group-based exercise, indicating that this approach may be effective as early intervention to improve resilience, prevent worsening of psychological distress, and improve wellbeing.