Showcasing: Active8 Physical Health & Wellbeing Program

Region
South Eastern NSW

Lead agency

NEAMI National Health and Wellbeing Team NSW, in partnership with other services including Flourish Australia and the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service.

Living Well domain
Providing the right type of care

Program overview

Active8 is a physical health and wellbeing project that supports people in South Eastern New South Wales with lived experience of mental health issues, as well as physical health issues. The program offers a combination of one-to-one coaching for physical health delivered by a peer worker and a group program (Eat, Plant, Learn) promoting healthy and sustainable eating. The program launched in March 2017 and is funded by Coordinare (the South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network). Nearly 160 people completed the program during 2017 and 2018 with a further 100 referrals received by the service.

Challenge

People who have lived experience of mental health issues can have compromised physical health, including obesity and related chronic conditions. This can be for various reasons including smoking, alcohol and other drug use and medication side effects. It can also be challenging to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regime.

There is an increasing call on healthcare professionals to consider physical health needs when treating psychological wellbeing and vice versa. However, there are limited programs available to the Illawarra-Shoalhaven community that are designed to help people make healthy choices while also improving mental health outcomes and literacy.

Solution

Active8 supports participants to identify and work on physical-health-related goals, as well as to improve their mental health literacy, engagement with health services and ability to manage their physical health needs.

NEAMI National developed the program in line with its existing recovery oriented practice framework. This ensured that the Active8 program is person centred, collaborative and designed to maximise opportunities for participants to build skills in self-management. Four mental health peer support workers help to run the project alongside people with lived experience of mental health issues who remain at the core of the program’s design, implementation, communication and evaluation. 

Outcome

The program has been successful because of the model of care used. The significant role that peer workers and people with lived experience of mental health issues have played in Active8’s formation, review and evolution has contributed to the success of this program.

An evaluation of the 2017-2018 program was done using several data collection methods including focus groups and questionnaires. 

The findings revealed 123 people received coaching for physical health referrals – of which 81 engaged in sessions and of the 156 ‘eat plant learn’ referrals, 142 participated in three or more group sessions.

Participants report they now feel better equipped to make educated choices around food sourcing and selection, incorporating exercise as part of a daily routine and participating in local initiatives that prevent social isolation, enhance their personal wellbeing and allow them to feel they are making a positive contribution to the community in which they live.

 “The peer health coach also looked at my diet with me – we looked at healthy foods I could buy cheaply. I had been running out of food before. My coach connected me with the local food pantry… I’m not running out of food now.”
-    Participant 

“I work with individuals and see a lot of good news stories. Small change that I believe will ultimately have a huge impact on their lives.”
-    Peer worker

The program has been created with the vision that it will eventually be available at all NEAMI sites across New South Wales and into other states. Once the program concludes, there is the hope that it will be incorporated as a core business within all community mental health services.

For more information, visit www.neaminational.org.au.