Several years ago Fountain House, the originator of the Clubhouse model of psychiatric rehabilitation, witnessed the statistical rise in morbidity that affects those living with mental illness within our own consumer ranks. We suffered loses to a degree that we could not overlook. After two years working as a wellness committee, we realized that taking such a small step would not sufficiently address all the issues of concern. To remedy this, we have developed a Wellness Work Unit that will include: a health food bar and healthy cooking program, a gym, and a personal training program. In addition, we are working on building relationships with community clinics, agencies, businesses, and providers to develop articles, information, and workshops on such topics as diabetes, smoking cessation, yoga, and other integrative health modalities.
The oldest and fastest growing part of our program is personal training at our in-house gym. We offer fifteen classes during the week and make our gym available before and after our workday. Our Berry Xcellent Café offers a morning and afternoon Health Bar with homemade beverages, soups, and salads. Research and information collection occurs throughout the day providing us with answers to our own questions and those coming from our community members. To help the program inspire a cultural change toward physical and mental health, we offer healthy alternatives at every chance we get. The Wellness units also contributes to our social program in a healthy way by offering dancing, biking, spa-ing—always with a healthy slant on the foods we offer.
The question remains, is there a correlation between physical and mental health and how do we know if we are seeing the effects of the interrelationship here at Fountain House? We hear it from each other in the elevator and on the staircase. We observe it when a member decides to come in more regularly to exercise on the treadmill and meet for relaxation exercises in order to stay calm enough to pass her driving test. We see it in the transformation of the person who heads for the gym looking quiet, pale and sluggish who after their workout steps into the rest of their day with animated posture and expression, thanking us for the time and asking for help to learn more about a nutritional issue. It’s still a little early for us to call our observations scientific evidence, but the anecdotes abound and interest is increasing beyond our hope in our first year. When we began our work three years ago, very few discussions took place about staying healthy physically and even fewer about the effect it could have on mental health. These days this is a fairly common topic, not only at lunch time but wherever we meet each other. We asked a few people to share their thoughts on the effect of the Wellness unit’s work over the last year. Here are some comments:
“The Wellness unit helps me keep my mind directed toward being healthy.” “I feel better than when I was working in the Snack Bar. We talk about diabetes a lot in the Wellness Unit and I am now more aware of how much sugar I eat.”
“In my old unit, the Snack Bar, we learned about cooking, bussing and working as a cashier. But in the Wellness Unit, we learn how to stay focused about what we eat, how to lose weight and how to make healthy foods and drinks. Since working in the Wellness Unit, I have cut down drastically on the amount of sugar I eat, and I have noticed that I have lost some weight! Sometimes I use the treadmill in the gym, and I do exercises at home, also.”
“The Wellness Unit has changed my mind about eating healthier. This unit educates me about eating well, which has had a strong impact on me. The Snack Bar was good in a way, but they served junk food. In the Wellness Unit we try to convince people that health food is better for you and that exercise is good for you, too. When the Snack Bar ended, many people in the House were upset and said that they could never eat health food. But now the same people who said they wouldn’t try our smoothies, juices, soups, salads and granola bars are regulars at the juice bar, and love all of our healthy food!”
“The Wellness Unit is about eating healthy. I eat healthier now that the Wellness Unit is here. Our unit is a health and nutrition unit, so we want people to be in shape. I’ve been leading the chair exercises for almost a year. It is important for people to do them. The chair exercises make working out accessible to everyone; chair exercises are easier to do than other exercises, and they are less intimidating. I think people should exercise, eat right and watch their bodies.”
“It’s the best unit in the house. I don’t eat cooked or fresh veggies, but I’ll drink the juices! The veggie drinks brought me in. I first thought there wasn’t going to be much of anything but it’s excellent. The prices are very affordable. I checked out the gym and I started today. The unit is the best thing that’s happened in the house since I came in 1974.”
“I joined the Wellness Unit because I thought that I might have the chance to use some of my learning and skills from my job as a physician. I found that working on the unit taught me many things about nutrition, exercise and especially food preparation. I’ve started on a cardio routine for the first time in over a year. I’ve enjoyed watching how the rest of the House has come around to making use of what we have to offer. This is so thrilling because I believe that this could contribute to improving life expectancy among my fellow members.”
“It provides a morning an opportunity to drink a vegetable juice that provides my greens, which I need because I am deficient in iron. I also find the exercise gym vital to my good health. I find especially the cardio-vascular machines to be the most potent and most helpful of my exercise regimen. I get anxiety attacks very often; since I’ve been exercising, I go home free of anxiety attacks. There is definitely a correlation between exercise, the morning juice, and a healthier body. This has definitely helped my mind. I find keeping up physically helps me be more productive and enjoy life to a greater extent. In short, healthy diet, vigorous exercise, meaningful work, and prayer have created, for me, the environment of a healthy person.”