Mental health: what can health clubs do to support members' needs?
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It's crucial to consider the images and language used in your marketing and communication, especially on social media
– Chris O'Sullivan

Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on people's mental health, but is the health club sector doing the most it can, both to support its members' mental health needs, and to maximise what is both a responsibility and an opportunity?

Chris O'Sullivan, head of engagement at the Mental Health Foundation, outlined a number of steps that health clubs could take to tackle this issue in the Talking Point article in the May 2019 issue of HCM.

He said that targeted sessions such as women-only or body confidence programmes can help to attract those who have negative feelings about their bodies. The social space that health clubs can offer might also help to address mental health challenges, although some will also feel inhibited from taking part by their mental health.

O'Sullivan suggested three key areas where health clubs could help to overcome the nervousness that people with mental health conditions might feel about joining a gym.

"It's crucial to consider the images and language used in your marketing and communication, especially on social media," he said. "Ensure you reflect a range of backgrounds and body shapes, for instance. Also avoid communication relating to weight loss, especially implying guilt or shame around weight gain or lack of exercise, particularly after Christmas.

"It's important for staff to have a level of mental health awareness, so they can spot signs of distress and provide immediate support. This could extend to helping people with mental health problems incorporate exercise into self-management strategies."

He concluded: "Operators can signal a commitment by supporting anti-stigma programmes and fundraising for mental health charities or featuring stories of members and staff who have been through tough times."

In respect of staff preparedness, Active IQ already offers a Level 2 award in Mental Health Awareness, in which employees can learn to identify and understand common signs and symptoms, as well as the treatments and interventions for a range of mental health issues. This is available from more than 25 approved training providers.

Active IQ's chief medical advisor Dr Dane Vishnubala also recommends that health clubs appoint mental health champions who will organise events and bring employees together to talk freely on such issues.

At Westfield Health, a "robust" approach to mental health is already being taken, according to its director of wellbeing, Richard Holmes. It has appointed a head of coaching and wellbeing whose role it is to develop content for a monthly campaign that discusses topics relating to health. Mental health issues feature regularly, he said. The company also has an online portal for members where mental health is frequently discussed, and runs workshops on the subject, which are open to non-members.

To read the full article see the May 2019 issue of Health Club Management here

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Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on people's mental health, but is the health club sector doing the most it can, both to support its members' mental health needs, and to maximise what is both a responsibility and an opportunity?
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