Staying physically healthy and fit is a special challenge – and yet regular exercise and proper diet can be key elements in recovering from a major mental or emotional illness. InSHAPE is MFS’s special program that brings the benefits of exercise and a healthful way of living to individuals facing these concerns. We created this approach more than 15 years ago and it has now been adopted across the U.S. and in other countries.
Emily has been an InSHAPE participant since January '16. Before InSHAPE, Emily suffered from chronic back pain that affected her legs and resulted in needing a cane to assist her with walking. Doctors could not locate the origin for her pain and other methods prescribed for pain management were ineffective. Emily was told about the InSHAPE program by someone on her treatment team at MFS and figured "Why not? It wasn't going to hurt anything."
Emily has since been an engaging member of InSHAPE. Meeting with her Health Mentor, Emma, once a week and going to the YMCA regularly. Emily has joined multiple InSHAPE group outings and celebrations, where she has easily found her home in the InSHAPE community. Now Emily has been able to manage her pain level and does not need to rely on a cane for assistance. "I used to be on a lot of medication for pain. Now I rarely have to take just one, which is wonderful!" Although pain management was always one of Emily's goals, that wasn't her reason for joining InSHAPE. With support and encouragement from Emma, it was just one of the great outcomes on increasing your exercise and monitoring your nutrition.
Emily still has health and wellness goals and needs the support of her Health Mentor, but she has become increasingly independent and confident in herself and with being part of the YMCA. Emily is now down in inches and up in spirits; which she contributes, in part, to being in the InSHAPE program.
InSHAPE pairs a person with a severe mental illness, such as depression, with a personal health mentor who is also a certified personal fitness trainer.
Together, the mentor and participant tailor a unique personal health plan that the participant carries out with the mentor’s support. A participant’s plan may include walking, lifting weights, swimming, tai chi, dance, yoga, playing sports, or engaging in a variety of other physical activities at sharply reduced fees at our local YMCA, area dance studios, and other facilities. Each participant maintains an activity log, recording targeted risk factors and the activities completed. Health mentors guide, coach, and help to motivate participants as they set specific personal health and fitness goals, track progress, develop personal nutrition plans, and learn basic cooking, food shopping, and menu-planning skills.
Health mentors also help participants find smoking cessation programs, form relationships with medical professionals for regular and preventive care, and access other services that an individual may need.
InSHAPE participants meet at regularly scheduled celebrations to share their achievements, swap tips and success stories, and support each other in their efforts to make health improvements.
InSHAPE’s ability to improve the physical and mental health of persons with a mental illness has been studied by the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center, the National Institute for Mental Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program is being adopted by mental health agencies across New England as well as in Michigan, Texas, and other states.