New partnership: program uses exercise to help with mental health

A collaborative program between NICM Health Research Institute (NICM) and the Belgravia Foundation called “Take Charge!”, has been celebrating success after providing community exercise interventions to over 300 people with mental illness in NSW and VIC.

The Belgravia Foundation was created in late 2017 by the Belgravia Group with the purpose of increasing access to sports, aquatics, fitness and leisure for every Australian.

Dr Joseph Firth, Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow from NICM, has been involved with the Belgravia Foundation prior to the Foundation’s inception after Belgravia Leisure, part of the Belgravia Group, took interest in Dr Firth’s published research on exercise positively assisting people to manage mental illness.

Acting as the Scientific Consultant to the organisation, Dr Firth has aided development of the ‘exercise on referral’ scheme for young adults with mental illness; called the ‘Take Charge’ program with the goal of engaging disadvantaged members of Belgravia Leisure’s community in physical activity.

This offers individuals referred from mental health services to receive 12 weeks of free access and supervised training at their local leisure centre, which is followed by a discount access scheme based on a person’s financial situation.

Within his role, Dr Firth has contributed to every aspect of the scheme, from intellectual conception, through to pilot implementation, and now the ongoing state-wide scaling of the scheme. This has involved regular consultation with regional managers, delivering talks and question and answer sessions for allied health professionals at community launch events, and connecting the leisure services with the local health services to establish the schemes.

Recently, Dr Firth delivered the keynote speech at the Belgravia Foundation’s Inspiration Breakfast in Sydney. He is now continuing to work with Belgravia in their efforts to deliver and evaluate this scheme, as the ‘Take Charge’ program is currently being rolled out by the Foundation throughout leisure centres in NSW and Victoria with the vision for it to become nationwide.

This is largely funded by the Belgravia Foundation itself. With the significance of mental health as a national priority, NICM is actively applying for additional local authority funding to gain further resources to accelerate the growth and evaluation of this important outreach program helping people with mental illness to experience the benefits of regular exercise.