Genevieve Smyth Equally Well UK Clinical Group member from Royal College of Occupational Therapists
Covid-19 has presented lots of opportunities to rethink and reframe challenges as opportunities. Like many of us, occupational therapists have had to roll our sleeves up and generate practical, everyday solutions to keep people physically active and healthy. Less opportunity to get out and about, more time to sit at home and smoke/eat/drink too much can have disastrous consequences for any of us during Covid-19 but for people with serious mental health problems, it can exacerbate health inequalities. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence advocates that “people with psychosis or schizophrenia especially those taking antipsychotics should be offered a combined healthy eating and physical activity program by their mental health provider”. Has this been happening during our rush to control the pandemic?
Staying Covid-19 Safe and Active
Well, in some places, this has been happening with some problem solving and creative thinking, often relying on relatively small changes to have a big impact. For example, people who usually use hospital or inpatient gyms have found them closed for much of the pandemic. Solution? If you can’t get to the gym, we’ll bring it to you! Often small pots of emergency funding have meant gym, basketball and yoga equipment could be brought into mental health wards for use in communal areas like the garden. Thinking through how to make equipment available for people with a range of physical abilities has been crucial to its success, which encouraged people to get outside and exercise, in turn improving mood and wellbeing.
Another example: you’re leaving the ward and the local gym is closed. Solution? Create your own mini gym at home! MadCOVID charitable funds have really helped people prepare for staying active at home, for example with boxing equipment, which can be vital for people to cope with negative emotions and prevent relapse.
Increasing motivation and Inspiration
Of course, having the right equipment helps but what about when we’re feeling tired, lethargic and sluggish? Solution? Tap into the wealth of motivational exercise routines and guidance on the internet! Again, local charities have been brilliant at organising iPads for inpatient wards, not only to stay in contact with family, advocates and therapy dogs but to take part in Zoom Yoga or motivational morning workouts. Getting the right systems in place quickly for wifi access, personal secure log ins and how to “wipe” personal data between use has meant the iPads have been well received and well used.
Finally, people living at home alone have been at risk of worsening mental health with less social contact, daily structure and everyday routine. Occupational therapists created #StayAtHomeKits, Mental Health Toolkits and activity packs with resources about how to stay well, manage anxiety, relax, not overeat/drink and keep physically active. They were also shared with family carers and care agency staff so they could be used to structure weekly telephone calls or visits. Feedback included that the kits were a “lifeline”. For more information about these examples and many others, please look at our Small Change Big Impact Story Wall, and filter for mental health examples or email Genevieve.firstname.lastname@example.org.