UK mental health patients to see their fitness boosted by Australian programme

  • Developed by surfers at Bondi Beach in Australia, a new ‘lifestyle medicine programme' will be used by the NHS to improve the physical health of people with mental health illnesses. /images/mentalhealth.jpg

    For five years health workers in the Bondi Beach suburb of Sydney who were treating young people experiencing their first episode of serious mental illness began to raise concerns about their patients' rapid weight gain.

    Professor Katherine Samaras, a diabetes and obesity specialist at the University of New South Wales, and one of the architects of the Bondi programme, told the Guardian that despite international expectations of a sunny climate and beach culture Bondi, Sydney (and Australia in general), shares first-world problems of inactivity and overeating calorie-rich foods. Antipsychotic medications also increase feelings of hunger and encourage inactivity, she says, thereby creating a potentially lethal mix.

    This resulted in the ‘Keeping the Body in Mind' project. A multidisciplinary programme which provided patients with vital life skills on what to eat, where to buy produce, how to cook it and how to exercise. Then, each patient gets twelve weekly individual sessions with a dietician and exercise physiologist, weekly group education sessions and access to a gym.

    The "show how to cook/exercise/eat/shop" part of the programme was so popular, it was integrated with seeing the psychiatrist and mental health workers, which boosted attendance and engagement, says Samaras. "We have compiled a cookbook of recipes, to which the young people contributed to as well, with their favourite recipes."

    "Our programme was relatively cheap and of course this early investment in health offsets the cost of treating heart disease and diabetes," says Samaras.

    Some 60 young people aged 15-25 come through the Bondi model. It now forms part of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) guidelines on the care of young people with serious mental illness. And it is being piloted by the NHS in Worcester under the guise of Shape - the Supporting Health and Promoting Exercise - programme for young people with psychosis with a view to it being rolled out across the NHS, reports the Guardian.

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