Oxfordshire Mind: embedding physical activity in mental wellbeing programmes

Oxfordshire Mind: embedding physical activity in mental wellbeing programmes

Posted: Mon, 04 Jul 2022 17:06

Oxfordshire Mind: embedding physical activity in mental wellbeing programmes

Oxfordshire Mind's Physical Activity, Health and Wellbeing Coordinator Ellen Allsop shares how they embed physical activity into their mental wellbeing programmes and how partnership working allows mental health to kept at the forefront of wider discussions across the County:

At Oxfordshire Mind we are passionate about making physical activity a key part of mental health recovery. Whether it is going for a short walk each day, joining a football group, or doing yoga from the comfort of your own home, any physical activity will have a beneficial effect on mental health. While talking therapies can have long waiting lists, physical activity is something that can be done instantly to improve mental health, allowing people to have control over their own mental health recovery. The 'high' that people often experience after exercise is caused by changes in neurotransmitter levels in the brain. These are very similar changes to the way that medications such as anti-depressants work on the brain, without the negative side effects associated with these medications. Engaging in physical activity also has a positive impact on physical health. People with mental health difficulties often also have physical health difficulties, and so by increasing physical activity levels we are able to improve both mental and physical health.

In addition, when exercising with others, the social aspect of this can be really helpful for reducing the feelings of isolation that often come with mental health difficulties. This is why physical activity groups offered by mental health organisations such as Oxfordshire Mind can be really helpful – you are surrounded by people who are going through similar difficulties to yourself and can provide support to each other. Feedback from our service users has shown the importance of this: "The interaction and relaxed open forum for conversation with people that have or have had poor mental health and been a valuable resource for helping me on my journey to better mental health". Lots of our service users also access Sport in Mind activities, and enjoy the social support aspect of this, as well as the physical activities on offer.

Walking for Wellbeing

Our main project is our Walking for Wellbeing service, this provides walks for those with severe mental illness. We currently have walks in Oxford and Banbury, and an online peer support group, but are planning to expand our geographical reach to other areas of the county. This project was originally funded by Sport England (2019-2022) but due to its success, it is now funded internally by Oxfordshire Mind. Despite the difficulties caused by Covid-19, in its first three years our Walking for Wellbeing project managed to reach 310 people across Oxfordshire. These people often come from areas of deprivation and/ or unemployed, groups which report higher levels of mental health difficulties. By providing free physical activities we can support these individuals who might not be able to access paid for services.

Data collected during the three years of this project showed that both the number of active minutes per week and the wellbeing of individuals accessing this service increased, showing the benefit of this project. Working with Active Oxfordshire allowed us to promote the Walking for Wellbeing project at a local, regional and national level.

Oxfordshire Mind also has workers embedded within the Oxford Early Intervention Service, who work with individuals with psychosis. As well as providing physical health checks for these service users, the Oxfordshire Mind workers also provide sports activities for Early Intervention Service patients. This is crucial as anti-psychotic medications can have a detrimental effect of physical health, and so by providing targeted physical activities for these individuals we are able to support their mental and physical health.

We also offer short term physical activities, such as tennis, Stand Up Paddleboarding and gym sessions. These activities provide our service users with a wide range of physical activities to get involved in. The range of activities on offer is something we are actively looking to increase, to make sure that there is something on offer for everyone.

Physical activity training

A new part of the physical activity services at Oxfordshire Mind is to provide training to staff from other teams at Oxfordshire Mind. This training will focus on the benefits of physical activity, the current physical activity guidelines and how to support people to become more physically active. The aim of this training is to increase the confidence of other teams in Oxfordshire Mind to talk about physical activity with their service users. Those who are completely physically inactive have the most to gain from physical activity but may not directly contact the physical activity and health service and so having these conversations with staff from other services will be crucial in increasing their physical activity levels. Contacts formed through conversations with Active Oxfordshire have been crucial in developing this training.

Working in partnership with Active Oxfordshire is also really helpful for knowing what other physical activity projects are going on around Oxfordshire. This allows us to signpost our service users to these services, such as Move Together, enabling them to get the best possible support. Our work with Active Oxfordshire also allows us to feed into and benefit from the physical activity work that they are developing across the county. This helps to keep mental health at the forefront of discussions, which will help the wider community in Oxfordshire.

By embedding physical activity into their programmes, Oxfordshire Mind are seeing first-hand the difference that this is making to the people they support. This is why we've launched our new collective framework, to work with existing and new partners across the county to embed movement in everything we do. To find out more about our collective framework and get involved, visit https://www.activeoxfordshire.org/creating-healthy-active-oxfordshire-together

Tags: Active Body Healthy Mind, Active Communities