The Role of Physical Activity During Personal Recovery at a Voluntary Sector Mental Health Organisation
Research has shown that people who participate in regular physical activity (PA) can experience improved wellbeing and quality of life, including better physical health, cognitive function, positive affect, and self-esteem (Fox, 1999). Such benefits support the application of PA as a strategy to improve the general population’s mental health and those recovering from mental illness. However, the contemporary understanding of PA and the recovery from mental illness is almost exclusively underpinned by the principles of clinical recovery (e.g. symptom remission), which can overlook the patient’s values. Conversely, personal recovery may reconnect people with their inner resources, personal strengths, and offer opportunities for people to reconstruct hope, meaning, responsibility and a positive identity as part of recovery (Slade, 2009). These values also mark a shift in the UK Government’s (2011a) mental health strategy, toward integrating personal recovery as part of people’s mental health care. Yet, few studies have examined the role of PA within the context of personal recovery, including the impact of PA on the wider elements of personal recovery. Accordingly, this thesis sets out to examine the role of PA during the personal recovery from mental illness, as a case study at a voluntary sector mental health organisation. The research methodology was guided by social constructivism, and data was collected between October 2010 and June 2014 using participant-observations, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and photo elicitation methods. Seven members of staff and twenty-two attendee’s volunteered to participate in the research study, and their accounts were analysed thematically (Braun & Clarke, 2006) using NVivo to manage and aid the data analysis. Additionally, effort was made to satisfy the authenticity criteria throughout the research to maintain constructivist rigour (Lincoln & Guba, 2013). The research findings identified six high-ordered themes that indicate a process of personal recovery through PA. These were (a) “Battles against the mind”, (b) ‘the centre as a place of refuge and support’, (c) “exercise is one part of the whole package”, (d) “the connection between body and mind”, (e) “my gateway onto other things”, and (f) “from small acorns to big oak trees”. These findings were congruent with the existing literature, and added that PA participation can support people’s meaningful engagement in their personal medicines and other life events (e.g. employment, being with family, and relationship with pets). The findings are discussed in relation to the delivery of PA in mental health services, the relationship of PA with meaningful activities during recovery, and the impact of PA on elements of hope, meaning, positive identity, and personal responsibility. The thesis concludes with a guiding standpoint on the application of PA for personal recovery as a personal medicine or as an adjunct activity. This standpoint can be used to inform the general population, mental health and exercise professionals, multiagency mental health service staff and attendees, commissioning bodies and policymakers.