Research has shown that people with severe mental illness have 15-20 years reduced life expectancy compared to those without mental illness. The overwhelming majority of this is due to physical health issues that are preventable.
Australian and Austrian researchers were in Ireland this week to speak about innovative ways that physical activity is used in their mental health services to help improve patient outcomes at an event in the School of Health Sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).
The event, which provided information for clinicians, carers and service users about best practice in physical activity implementation in mental health care, was organised by Evan Matthews, a Doctoral Researcher (NMPDU HSE scholarship) in the Department of Nursing & Health Care along with Dr Suzanne Denieffe, Dean of the School of Humanities at WIT and former head of the department of Nursing & Health Care.
Speaking about the Irish context, Mr Matthews said, “Currently, physical activity levels of people with mental illness in Ireland are low, but we are developing innovative ways for mental health service users to work together with service providers to design their own interventions”.
“Physical activity is among the strongest predictors of health for people with mental illnesses, but often underutilised as a therapeutic resource in mental health care. The event featured talks from international experts in the field and health services management tasked with implementing physical activity strategy” he continued.
Speaking at the event, Dr Simon Rosenbaum, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Psychiatry UNSW Australia, Director of Exercise and Sport Science Australia said, “In Australia, developing the role of the accredited exercise physiologist in mental health settings was a challenge; we had to change a culture. Now exercise is integrated as part of routine care in many Australian mental health settings”.
Dr Wolfgang Schebesch-Ruf, post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Sport Sciences, University of Graz, Austria said that “It is important to focus on the reasons why people engage in exercise. This should determine the settings where exercise can be delivered most effectively for individuals with mental illnesses”.
Dr Derval Howley, Area Lead for Health and Wellbeing at the HSE said that it is very promising to see the work being done by our national mental health services and Irish led research from Waterford Institute of Technology and other institutions. This work will improve physical and mental health outcomes for people with severe mental illness in our services.