People with serious mental illness are at high risk for chronic physical conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are associated with sedentary behaviour, poor nutrition, and reduced access to primary health care.
At the same time, mental illness can influence a person’s health behaviour. Studies indicate that depression, for example, negatively impacts a person’s nutritional choices, their commitment to exercise, and adherence to medical therapies. Choices around diet, exercise, smoking and treatment adherence can all have a serious impact on the state of one’s physical health.
To compound the issue, psychiatric medications can cause significant weight gain, and a high percentage of people with serious mental illness are smokers, often as a means of combatting the side-effects of medication.
Research evidence shows that increased physical activity and improved diet can have significant positive effects in preventing chronic disease, improving chronic disease outcomes and supporting recovery from mental illness. Exercise can alleviate primary symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as secondary symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Yet despite the known benefits, physical activity and healthy eating interventions are not commonplace or well integrated with other services delivered by community mental health care providers in Ontario.