Thanks to a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, Southwest Solutions is implementing the InSHAPE initiative to help those recovering from serious mental illness lead more active and healthier lives.
The highly regarded and promising initiative is part of our Healthy Solutions program, which is now funded by the Ford Fund.
Ken Jue, the program architect of InSHAPE (Self Health Action Plan for Empowerment), came to our Waterman Outpatient Clinic in late January to orient our staff. Ken created InSHAPE in 2003 when he as CEO of a community mental health agency in New Hampshire. InSHAPE is designed to address factors that can contribute to early death among the mentally ill. The effectiveness of the model has prompted Ken’s endeavor to implement it at other leading community mental health agencies.
“For this model to work, the agency must be steeped in the philosophy and principles of recovery-based treatment,” Ken said. “Southwest Solutions is among the top 1% of organizations in the country willing to take risks and take on the health challenges in the community.”
InSHAPE participants meet with health mentors weekly, and create individualized action plans to achieve health, nutrition, and fitness goals that reduce risk factors for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other conditions. InSHAPE also includes healthy living classes, smoking cessation measures, access to community fitness activities, and medical liaison support. Multiple community partners are involved in the program
Research shows that the average life expectancy for individuals with serious mental illness is 25 to 30 years less than those who are not mentally ill. The causes for this great disparity are many. Smoking is a prevalent habit among the mentally ill. Indeed, almost half the cigarettes sold in the United States are consumed by persons with serious mental illness. Because of depression or mild paranoia, mentally ill individuals can feel discouraged to get out and exercise. They often have unhealthy eating habits. In addition, psychiatric and other medications can induce lethargy or metabolic changes that cause weight gain.
“Looking at our own data, we are alarmed by how many of our consumers have died in their 50s,” said Joseph Tardella, executive director of Southwest Counseling Solutions. “Part of our aim must be to foster an organizational culture that promotes health in every aspect.”
“We are very excited to provide InSHAPE to our consumers,” added Graciela Villalobos, director of Adult Counseling Services at our agency. “We believe the program will help those we serve lead happier and healthier lives, achieve a higher level of functioning, and feel a greater sense of involvement and inclusion in the community.”
InSHAPE and Healthy Solutions are designed to enhance the self-responsibility and “self-efficacy” of participants. Self-efficacy is the confidence a person feels to learn a new skill or improve one’s own situation.
InSHAPE will serve at least 50 consumers this year. “Because we now better understand the direct impact of mental illness on physical health, we owe it to our consumers to integrate health and wellness programming into each aspect of our services,” said Monica Casarez, program coordinator of Healthy Solutions.