Trinity Park conference hears how exercise could help Suffolk’s mental heath
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Thousands of people suffering mental ill health in Suffolk could see “huge improvements” to their quality of life through physical exercise, a conference heard.
Mental and physical health sectors met yesterday during a first of its kind collaboration to highlight the benefits of active lifestyles towards psychological wellbeing.
Richard Hunt, chairman of Suffolk’s Most Active County (MAC) group, which hosted the event, said there were “massive challenges” in encouraging people to become more active, but said the conference was an important first step towards growing collaboration on this issue.
Key speakers at MAC’s third annual stakeholder event told of the “huge burden” posed by mental ill health in Suffolk and the important role that physical exercise could play in prevention and recovery.
More than 100 professionals at the Trinity Park conference centre, near Ipswich, heard that around a quarter of the 735,900 people living in Suffolk were affected by at least one mental health disorder at any one time, while 10% of children in the county suffered diagnosed conditions.
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John Hague, mental health lead at Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, added that more than 47,000 people in Suffolk suffered with depression, with 67 deaths caused by self harm in the county last year. He said the there was a massive emotional cost associated with mental ill health but also a multi-million pound impact on the Suffolk economy.
“There’s a lot of people suffering,” he said, “It poses a huge burden on the health services and it affects all of us.”
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Dr Hague highlighted the pressures facing health services locally and nationally, which he said could be partially addressed if other groups and organisations promoted physical exercise more widely.
“We need to give people the tools to help themselves so that these problems don’t arise in the first place and so they are equipped to deal with them when they do,” he added.
Chris Rufford, clinical senior lecturer at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London School of Medicine said the UK was “terrible” when it came to physical activity, lagging behind most other developed nations, including the USA.
He said inactivity was the fourth highest contributor to early deaths while physical exercise was “hugely important” in warding off a wide range of conditions, both physical and mental. Calling for doctors to do more to promote physical activity ahead of pharmaceutical treatments, Dr Rufford highlighted the system in New Zealand where GPs can prescribe exercise to patients. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can reduce mental illness by half, he said.
Suffolk County Council’s Terry Clements said the event was one of the most important he had attended in his capacity as a councillor.
“Simple interventions at an early age can have a profound effect on the lives of thousands of people in Suffolk, rather than making them rely on pills and expensive treatments,” he said.
“Today is all about building connections – it’s not until people meet each other and talk to each other face to face that it starts to work.”
Delegates at the event heard talks from Kitrina Douglas, a former professional golfer who was now a senior research fellow at Leeds Beckett University, as well as “break-out” sessions on the mental health charter for sport and recreation; young people and mental wellbeing; and men’s mental health.
Suffolk Mind and Fitness in Mind Essex, also led workshops on the link between physical activity and mental health.
Physical activity could help young people develop greater resilience
Young people in Suffolk have called for greater support in their emotional wellbeing, a children’s services leader said.
Sharon Jarrett, head of health improvement for children and young people at Suffolk County Council, told delegates at the conference that youngsters were feeling increasingly pressured.
“We’ve consulted widely with children, families and carers,” she said.
“Young people are telling us they wish people could see how they feel pressure on their shoulders.
“They say that it would be good to have more help promoting their emotional wellbeing.”
Ms Jarrett said physical activity could help young people develop greater emotional resilience, by improving self confidence, and social skills. However she said 79% of boys and 84% of girls were not meeting activity guidelines nationally.
Chief medical officer’s guidelines on physical activity:
- carry out 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity, such as walking, each week in bouts of 10 minutes or more
- or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week
- or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity
- undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength at least two days a week
- minimise time spent sitting for extended periods
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