Up and Running for mental health and wellbeing

Up and Running for mental health and wellbeing

“Up and Running” is a joint initiative between Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Trust (TEWV) & Hambleton District Council. The pilot scheme consisted of an eight week running and social programme to people receiving secondary mental health care. The scheme was created and delivered by Glen Hilton – Mental Health Worker for TEWV, and David Earl – Hambleton District Council Development Officer – Health and Wellbeing, who offered support, advice and guidance on the positive mental health benefits of running in addition to providing a health programme and nutritional advice.

Glen is a Mental Health Professional of 14 years, working with and supporting patients receiving mental health Secondary Care. He is also a board member and coach of the very successful Allerton Junior Athletics Club and an experienced runner. David works as a Development Officer – Health and Wellbeing, for Hambleton District Council and a very enthusiastic and long-time trail runner. David set up the Hambleton Running Hub initiative. Working with England Athletics, run leaders and participants are encouraged to sign up to the ‘Mental Health Ambassador Scheme’, which raises the awareness of mental health issues experienced by runners throughout the groups and ensures that there is a network of support and encouragement.

Glen and David worked together on various running related projects and have a shared enthusiasm for encouraging and supporting runners of all backgrounds and abilities to take part. They also share a desire to encourage runners, and potential runners, who are dealing with mental health issues to become part of the strong running community within Hambleton and further afield. They are both keen believers that running has a positive impact on many facets of peoples mental health. Through conversations between them around this subject the idea for “Up and Running” was born.

Initially Glen and David met with members of the Community Mental Health team to promote the scheme and to encourage the mental health professionals to make referrals. They then made contact with the running groups across the area via social media, in addition to producing flyers, posters and press releases.

The biggest challenge at this point was getting the athletes along in the first instance. Because the pilot was aimed at patients receiving mental health secondary care it was crucial that the correct health checks were in place and that relevant GP’s and Health Professionals were consulted. Ensuring that an effective referral network is in place and more importantly potential athletes are supported and encouraged from the very first point of contact was certainly a challenge.

Glen is a long standing parkrunner and David was instrumental in setting up the Northallerton parkrun, working with a team of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers. Both are firm believers in the parkrun ideal and have seen and felt the positive community spirit that parkrun delivers.

The sessions consisted of a warm up and stretch session, followed by a steady walk and building up to a gentle jog. Each athlete was supported and encouraged to ensure that they always felt comfortable and developed at their own pace. The athletes were also given advice on strength training and nutritional advice and given their own development programme. Every session was rounded off by a drink, biscuits and chat. The fun, social element was encouraged and developed at all times.

As the sessions developed and the athletes gained in confidence, pathways were identified for the athletes to follow at the end of the session, completing a parkrun was set as a goal for two of the athletes and longer runs were incorporated into the programme to accommodate this.

The two athletes completed Northallerton parkrun on 23 September 2017 supported by Glen and David. Though both athletes found it a challenge, in many ways, they did it and were rightly overjoyed and proud. 111 other parkrunners attended that day, encouraged by 17 dedicated and enthusiastic parkrun volunteers.

There are many opportunities for the athletes to continue to be physically active and healthy and Glen and David have encouraged and enabled them to do so – Community Run Groups, parkrun, Take That Step Health Referral Programme, ‘Think with your feet’ social football programme. All of these sessions are in place to promote and support health and wellbeing in the widest sense and to build and encourage a strong social healthy community for all.

All of the participants benefited from the sessions in many ways – health, confidence, social standing and friendships. These benefits were clear, both visibly and mentally (using a prescribed ‘wellbeing’ measuring tool).  During the sessions friendships were forged, social skills were enhanced and athletes overcame fears – one of the participant has a fear of crossing bridges, and bridges needed to be crossed, both physically as part of the parkrun course, and metaphorically. Such was the friendship within the group the bridges were crossed and fears were overcome. The group even did a spot of trail running, around a beautiful reservoir on the North Yorkshire Moors in the pouring rain… gorgeous!

The one piece of advice that both Glen and David would give to others looking to set up a similar initiative, is to ensure that you have a network in place that enables you to reach the people who will benefit the most from the programme and that you are able, if possible, to personally support and encourage the athletes through the programme and onto a suitable, sustainable activity at the end of the programme. Make it fun and encourage a team environment of encouragement and support.

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