Minding Our Bodies Forum: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Women’s Mental Health

Posted on July 11, 2012

On Friday, May 4, 2012, Minding Our Bodies hosted the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Women’s Mental Health forum at the Stoney Creek Community Centre and YMCA in London, Ontario. It was a sold-out event, with more than 60 participants from community mental health organizations, consumer/survivor initiatives, public health units, community health centres, social service agencies, and housing programs. The forum’s key messages and lively dialogue were captured throughout the day on visual story boards by Liisa Sorsa of ThinkGraphics (view below).

The day began with breakfast and a thanksgiving address by Elder Darren Honyust of the Oneida Nation, with support from two young helpers in training.

Minding Our Bodies program director Scott Mitchell provided a brief introduction to the project and showed the Minding Our Bodies video, followed by co-facilitators Mavis Jones (Echo – Improving Women’s Health in Ontario) and Susan Macphail (My Sisters’ Place) who set the stage for the day. A brief presentation from the YMCA outlined the services and discounted memberships they offer.

Expressions theatre group, from My Sister’s Place, engaged the audience in a participatory theatre piece that illuminated one woman’s experience with mental illness, poverty, food insecurity, and stigma. At pivotal moments in the play, audience members were invited to contribute to the action by stepping into another character’s role and offering suggestions that might change the course of events in the woman’s life, such as connecting with community resources and social supports.

In our last session before lunch, a panel of program leaders described the challenges and successes of their various programs. Christine Sansom and Janene Ford spoke about their physical activity program at WOTCH Community Mental Health Services. Meriel Cromarty discussed food security initiatives at the London Training Centre , including the development of a culinary garden, the London Food Charter, and a Community Food Hub in London. Susan Macphail discussed the philosophical underpinnings of programs at My Sisters’ Place. Pam Reid and Adriana Anborgh spoke about the new gardening program at Can-Voice, a consumer/survivor initiative. The Can-Voice project is one of 20 healthy eating and/or physical activity programs selected last fall for funding through the Minding Our Bodies project. The morning panel was moderated by Simone Kaptein, Knowledge Broker with the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto.

After lunch, Susan Macphail led an interactive workshop on yoga and mindfulness practice to support recovery. Participants were given the opportunity to stretch while being introduced to the concept and benefits of being mindful. Reta Van Every, a First Nations liaison and outreach worker at My Sister’s Place, followed with her presentation on the use of traditional healing methods.

Simone Kaptein presented a summary of recent research about physical activity and women’s mental health. She shared findings around the positive impact of physical activity on mental health, as well as some guidelines around exercise.

Group discussions were facilitated by Susan Macphail, Mavis Jones and Marnie Wedlake (CMHA London -Middlesex Branch) to help participants reflect and report back on what they had learned during the day. Themes emerging from the group discussions included a recognition of women’s unique experience of mental health, the need to take a holistic approach to physical and mental health, and the importance of community and sharing stories.

The day closed with a drumming circle led by Sheila Horrell and the My Sister’s Place drumming group. The audience was invited to sing and clap in participation. The enjoyment of the drummers was easy to see and their presentation demonstrated the positive outlet found in group artistic expression and movement.

Minding Our Bodies would like to thank all our presenters, volunteers, and participants for making the forum a great event. A huge thank you to our forum partners, My Sisters’ Place, WOTCH Community Mental Health Services, CMHA London-Middlesex Branch, and Echo – Improving Women’s Health in Ontario. Catering was prepared by Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), who run social enterprises that give youth in the London and Middlesex County area meaningful, hands-on job experience (for more information visit www.you.on.ca). We would also like to thank the Stoney Creek YMCA for the wonderful venue and for their support throughout the day.

Minding Our Bodies diagram muralProgram Panel muralPhysical activity mural

Group discussion muralPhoto attendees sitting at a tablePhoto of group in front of Minding Our Bodies mural

Photo of group huddlingPhoto of attendees role playingPhoto of attendees role playing

Photo of event displayPhoto of attendees stretching Photo of event participant writing

Photo of attendees collaboratingPhoto of group drumming