About the Project

The goal of Minding Our Bodies is to increase capacity within the community mental health system in Ontario to promote physical activity and healthy eating for people with serious mental illness to support recovery.

Our provincial mental health promotion program serves as an “incubator” to help mental health service providers in Ontario, together with community partners, develop and deliver evidence-based physical activity and healthy eating programs, improve access to local resources, and promote social inclusion.

Why is this project important?

People with serious mental illness are at high risk for chronic physical conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are associated with sedentary behaviour, poor nutrition, and reduced access to primary health care.

At the same time, mental illness can influence a person’s health behaviour. Studies indicate that depression, for example, negatively impacts a person’s nutritional choices, their commitment to exercise, and adherence to medical therapies. Choices around diet, exercise, smoking and treatment adherence can all have a serious impact on the state of one’s physical health.

To compound the issue, psychiatric medications can cause significant weight gain, and a high percentage of people with serious mental illness are smokers, often as a means of combatting the side-effects of medication.

Research evidence shows that increased physical activity and improved diet can have significant positive effects in preventing chronic disease, improving chronic disease outcomes and supporting recovery from mental illness. Exercise can alleviate primary symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as secondary symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Yet despite the known benefits, physical activity and healthy eating interventions are not commonplace or well integrated with other services delivered by community mental health care providers in Ontario.

Who is guiding the project?

Minding Our Bodies is an initiative of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario, in partnership with Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, Nutrition Resource Centre, YMCA Ontario and York University. An advisory committee has been established to guide the project and includes representatives from a broad array of stakeholders.

For more information, see Our Partners.

What are the project deliverables?

The project deliverables include training for mental health workers, consumer leaders, and volunteers; a toolkit and online resource to support program development; and pilot projects in community settings across the province.

The training and toolkit can support a variety of implementation scenarios, rather than a single, fixed program. Community mental health providers are expected to work in partnership with local stakeholders and to customize their physical activity and healthy eating programs to make use of local resources.

The training and toolkit were piloted in 12 communities. Training workshops were delivered to all pilot staff and volunteers, to prepare them for the pilots. See Pilot Projects for more information. In phase three, 20 new programs were funded, training for peer facilitators was developed and delivered in three locations around the province, and a series of knowledge exchange forums were organized to share lessons learned. 

The project website serves as a vehicle for knowledge exchange, to share best practices and provide tools to support program planning, as well as facilitate networking among community mental health providers.

A communications strategy was developed to raise awareness of the project and engage the broader community. Communications activities included the creation of program branding and production of a project newsletter.

How will the project be evaluated?

An evaluation consultant was engaged to develop a detailed evaluation plan, create the necessary evaluation tools, train pilot coordinators and staff, assess the development and implementation of the project and look at project outcomes to identify whether the project has made a difference. Learnings from the evaluation process have been applied to improve the provincial mental health promotion program and inform the strategy for future implementation. The pilot evaluation reports are available online.