Pickard, Luke (2014) An Exploration of the lived experience of sport and exercise for mental health service users - the journey to health. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The aim of the study was to explore the lived experience of sport and exercise for mental health service users. There were three additional objectives; to investigate the effects of sport and exercise on mental health and wellbeing; to investigate the perceptions of mental health service providers regarding service delivery and finally to investigate fundamental issues of session structure. The study looked at the experiences of sport and exercise from both mental health service users and mental health service providers. Participants were recruited for the study from Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust and the lottery funded ‘Let’s Do This’ scheme. The mental health service users had a range of mental health conditions, were from different ethnic backgrounds and aged over 18. Mental health service providers had a range of positions from management to direct service delivery. Semi structured interviews were conducted with five mental health service users and five mental health service providers. The data was analysed using interpretive phenomenology which drew on the work of Van Manen’s methodology; this interpretive approach is utilised as both a research methodology and a method. A number of themes were highlighted including ‘The changing self image through sport and exercise’, ‘Am I valuable’ and ‘Salubriousness of sport and exercise’. Two essential themes ‘The cycle of recovery’ and ‘Intermittent health breaking through heavy clouds of illness’ led to the development of an essential statement that illuminates the essential structure of the lived experience of sport and exercise for mental health service users. Sport and exercise can have an important role to play in the lives of mental health service users. The way in which the service is delivered can impact this role. Structure is important both literally and mentally. The research found a number of strengths of the service currently being delivered. These included the contribution of the staff; both in the management of the scheme and the flexible delivery. Coaches were respected for their sport and exercise expertise and were able to change or modify sessions to best serve the mental health service users. Mental Health service users’ had trust in their coaches, they felt they were understanding of their conditions and cared. In some cases these relationships were potentially considered of greater importance than the content of the session. The way in which the scheme supported mental health service users in ‘bridging the gap’ between a mental health setting and being back in the community was another important finding. This type of finding can prove useful for those designing and delivering sport and exercise schemes for mental health service users. The findings also point to possible areas of future research and implications for practice and policy.

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