Looking at leisure to promote mental illness recovery

July 08, 2009

It's well known that those who suffer from mental illness can benefit greatly from an active lifestyle. But most of the existing research focuses almost solely on physical activity, and while exercise is certainly important for mind and body, Temple researcher Yoshitaka Iwasaki says it's not the only aspect of an active lifestyle.

"Living actively encompasses social, emotional, spiritual and cultural features of life as well," he said. "Active living is also defined within the ways people express themselves, interact with others, and find meanings of life through actively pursuing leisure that is valued by and important for them."

That's why Iwasaki and co-principal investigators Kathy Coyle and John Shank, all professors of therapeutic recreation at the College of Health Professions, will study how members of diverse, urban communities who are recovering from mental illness can benefit from this aspect of an active lifestyle, called actively engaged leisure, thanks to a two-year grant of more than $412,000 from the National Institutes of Health.

Iwasaki says examples of actively engaged leisure can range from practicing Tai-Chi, to doing things with friends, to playing music or dancing, and the research team will focus particularly on this as a context for promoting recovery, health and life quality.

He distinguishes actively engaged leisure as a key part of active living, and one that focuses more on a person's enjoyment, meaningfulness and enrichment than their level of physical activity.

"For example, when a person regularly walks only for a health reason without experiencing enjoyment and good feelings, and without gaining meaningful and enriching experiences, she/he is not experiencing leisure," he said.

The team will work directly within the community to learn about the experiences of African-, Hispanic-, Asian-, and Caucasian-Americans living with mental illness and, based on those wants and needs, develop a program to promote actively engaged leisure, grounded in social, cultural, and environmental systems, as a way to support mental health and well-being.

"Unfortunately, the existing mental health system does not appropriately meet the unique needs of culturally diverse groups of Americans - such as those residing in urban areas - living with mental illness, especially their needs to pursue actively engaged and meaningful living in their community," said Iwasaki.

The community-centric method that Iwasaki and his team use, called Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), is unique in that it is conducted as a partnership between academics and members of a community, who share and participate equally in all aspects of the research process - from resources to results to credit.

"Our team will integrate the expertise of our partners that represent mental health advocacy, psychiatric care, community-based mental health care and academic domains in working with individuals with mental illness to produce meaningful and valuable outcomes that are grounded in the realities of the lives of those individuals," said Iwasaki.
Other researchers on this study are David Baron from Temple University; Mark Salzer of the University of Pennsylvania; Glenn Koons of the National Alliance on Mental Illness; Lynda Mitchell of RecCare: Recreational Therapy Support Services; and Andrea Ryan, the Philadelphia community representative for persons with mental illness.

Temple University

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