One in four people suffer mental ill health at some point in their lives and those with a serious mental illness (SMI) can have their average life expectancy reduced by up to 25 years. In fact people with SMI are in fact dying at a younger age than they were 30 years ago. Much of this situation can be attributed to lack of physical health care.
Being active forms a potent means of communication for the reintegration of the seriously mentally ill patients by helping them feel relaxed and stimulated so that they can express emotions.
In 2014 Durham University and Durham County Council began collaborating to provide a range of sport, dance and physical activities for adults with mental health problems, autistic spectrum disorders and/or learning disabilities. The project aimed to enhance the physical fitness and social and psychological well-being of those living with mental ill health.
The sessions, which are ongoing, vary in physical outcomes from competitive football and boxing to ‘calm to the core’, that fosters a therapeutic approach to movement and understanding the body. They continue to take place at two main hub sites within Durham University and Spennymoor Leisure Centre and additionally extend to outreach work in locations including Pelton, Chester-le-Street, Newton Aycliffe and Durham City.
Many participants live in specialised homeless shelters, residential accommodation, hospitals or attend day care centres. The service also works with community organisations, schools, behavioral units and isolated individuals.
There are 27 sessions run at various times from Monday-Friday. Research and consultation was undertaken prior to the timetable being devised so that clients on medication for example could have later start times. Regular partner networks and participant forums are also run in order to adapt the programme to meet client, carer and partner needs.
Over the last two and a half years an extensive partner network has evolved to include charities, community groups and health organisations.
Key project features
The community outreach and volunteering team has a long standing, national track record for delivering high quality activities that are progressive, challenging fun and socially orientated.
The project caters for all with a wide variety of activities including pilates, zumba, aqua, dance, Nordic walking, dog walking therapies, horse riding, tennis, badminton, football, hockey dodgeball, rowing and canoeing. For elderly or infirm clients, archery, boccia, new aged kurling and table cricket are also available.
There are also organised annual sports festivals and regular football tournaments bringing community partners together.
Outcomes and the future
Over 550 unique participants that have attended sessions across the county, which has exceeded projected targets.
There are 16 volunteers trained and working on the programme with more training planned for January 2017, which includes inclusive training, safe guarding, first aid and sports specific coaching qualifications. Personal development and leadership are key to supporting volunteers in gaining qualifications and experience, which means that some activities will run indefinitely.
The project aims to continue by acquiring further funding to pay for coaches and by training from within to maintain student volunteers who deliver some of the activities. Funding will also be sought for dance and theatre projects.
The adult outreach programme focuses on improving physical and mental well-being amongst the hardest to reach groups in society. Through creating a diverse range of ability appropriate activities throughout the local community participants keep returning and commit to regularly weekly activities.
Transport issues have been a main challenge for many of the participants despite the two hub sites. To help to combat this a more flexible approach has been developed, offering outreach sessions to residential units, day care providers and schools.
Anne, Resolve Care, Low House, has described how dog walking therapy has helped a client: “He looks forward to walking the dogs, his face ‘lights up’ when he sees them and it has improved his confidence greatly.”
Cat, Activities Coordinator, Resolve Care, said of another client: “Before the start of the dog walking programme he used to be unable to leave the house and was reluctant to leave his room or engage with any of the other residents. He has now come out of himself and gained the confidence to engage with those around him.”
In a letter to Deborah Cairns, Inclusive Sports and Performing Arts Outreach Manager, Graham Willis, Durham Pathways, states: “The Sports Relief Day was a great success, and could not have happened without the dedication, hard work and enthusiasm from you and your staff.”
Deborah Cairns, Inclusive Sports and Performing Arts Outreach Manager, Durham University
Tel: 0191 3342165