Physical health is especially important for people living with a mental illness, as research shows they are at greater risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Positive health behaviour change is associated with improvements in health, quality of life and reductions in psychiatric symptoms.
Peer Health Coaching is a one-on-one program where peer support workers trained in Peer Health Coaching provide six health focused coaching sessions to support people living with mental illness to achieve their identified physical health goals.
The program utilises some significantly innovative alternatives to what could be styled traditional fix, treat, and manage approaches. Firstly, in line with Neami’s recovery oriented practice framework (the Collaborative Recovery Model), engagement is individualised, collaborative, and designed to maximise a person’s ability to self-manage and self-direct positive health behaviours (Oades, Crowe & Nguyen, 2009).
The mode of engagement is ‘coaching’ and the sessions are facilitated by ‘peer coaches’. Coaching emphasizes collaboration in order to guide the person toward successful and lasting behavioural change through individualized support and reinforcement (Ives, 2008 & Swarbrick, 2011). Peer coaches selectively use self-disclosure to inspire hope, self-determination and reduce stigma. A peer coach’s personal experience of illness and recovery can create a therapeutic relationship with a sense of mutuality in terms of experience and responsibility (Oades, Deane & Anderson, 2012 & Mead 2003).
An initial pilot project conducted in partnership with SANE Australia has demonstrated benefits for consumers in relation to improved health literacy, improved rates of exercise and reduction in health risk behaviours and improvements beyond physical health e.g. confidence, general wellbeing and feeling part of local community.
This study aims to build the evidence base for the effectiveness of Peer Health Coaching in supporting people living with mental health difficulties to make and sustain health behavior changes. We are partnering with University of Wollongong researcher Dr Pete Kelly to undertake this project. Dr Kelly has a particular interest in the development of behavioural interventions that reduce the risk of socially disadvantaged groups developing cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The outcomes from this study will be used to inform potential users (consumers), the peer work force, health service providers, the wider mental health field and policy makers about the effectiveness and acceptability of the approach.