Each mental health organisation will have it’s own culture, the same way each university has it’s own culture.
The mental health services of Australia have undergone drastic cultural change over decades of service(1). Currently, there is a cultural shift for mental health services to expand their focus to be more holistic, i.e. to assess, monitor and treat both a patient’s mental and physical health (2). This shift is one of the driving forces for increased demand for exercise physiology students to contribute to consumer care.
Part of the reason for expanding the focus to encompass physical health treatment includes the growing body of evidence that the physical health of people with mental illness is poor (2, 3, 4, 5), and that for those with serious mental illness this has contributed to reduced life expectancy (6).
A high incidence of risk factors such as smoking, alcohol misuse and other drug use, poor diet, lack of exercise, regular use of psychotropic medication and high risk behaviours all contribute to a range of physical illnesses and conditions among this group, including: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, infections, obesity and respiratory disease (2). A number of these diseases or risk factors can be negated or improved through the prescription of regular physical activity, and hence exercise physiology students can provide a valuable contribution to consumer care.
Exercise physiologists in mental health
However, it is worth noting that the importance of exercise in the recovery journey, and the employment of exercise physiologists in mental health organisations, is still a fairly novel concept (7), and as such, you may find that staff and consumers might be unfamiliar with exercise physiologists and their scope of practice. After reading about how other health care professionals view the role of the exercise physiologist in the previous activity, you may have come to the conclusion that there are some who have or currently are working with an exercise physiologist and clearly know what they do, but also some who perhaps have never worked with an exercise physiologist or who don’t have a good understanding of their role. However, when on placement in the mental health sector, students will work with many, if not all of these health care professions. How does that make you feel? How might you go about educating those who don’t have a good understanding of the role of the exercise physiologist to improve their knowledge?
It will be helpful for you to be prepared to discuss your role and the services you can provide. Remember that you can always seek support from your supervisor. You can also refer to this consensus statement on the role of exercise physiologists within the treatment of mental disorders, which was endorsed by ESSA in 2015 (8).
In the next activity, you will hear from some exercise physiologists on what their day to day role is.
Happell B (2007). Appreciating the importance of history: A brief historical overview of mental health, mental health nursing and education in Australia, Int J Psychiat Nurs Res, 12:1439-1445.
NSW Health Physical Health Care of Mental Health Consumers – Guidelines (2009) Available from: (accessed on 24/11/2015).
Scott D, Happell B (2011). The high prevalence of poor physical health and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours in individuals with severe mental illness. Iss Ment Health Nurs, 32: 589- 597.
Lawrence DM, Holman CD, Jablensky AV (2003). Death rate from ischaemic heart disease in Western Australian psychiatric patients 1980-1998. Br J Psychiat, 82: 31–36.
De Hert M, Schreurs V, Vancampfort D (2009). Metabolic syndrome in people with schizophrenia: a review.World Psychiat, 8:15–22.
Lawrence D, Kisely S, Pais J (2010). The epidemiology of excess mortality in people with mental illness. Can J Psychiat, 55: 752-60.
Stanton R (2013). Accredited exercise physiologists and the treatment of people with mental illnesses. Clin Pract, 2: 5-9.
Lederman O, Grainger K, Stanton R, et al (2015). A consensus statement on the role of accredited exercise physiologists within the treatment of mental disorders. Available from: (accessed on 24/11/2015)