Our Mental Health Support – Client Case Study
Olivia (anonymised real name) is a 32 year old woman living with her partner. She has a diagnosis of schizophrenia and has been known to services for approximately 10 years, during which time she has had a number of formal and informal hospital admissions. During periods of illness Olivia has self-harmed extensively by burning and cutting her arms in addition to taking a number of overdoses. On occasions Olivia has expressed that she is unsure whether she wishes to be alive or dead. Olivia was referred to Active for Life by her Community Psychiatric Nurse who felt some regular activity would have a beneficial effect on her physical and mental health.
Directly before her referral to Active for Life the only physical activity Olivia was engaged in was walking her dog, spending much of her remaining time in bed. 12 months prior to this however Olivia had been quite active, swimming up to 3 times a week something which she reported as being enjoyable and having a positive impact on her mental well-being. She recognised that when she was active her mood improved which in turn made her less likely to self-harm. Additionally Olivia felt that regular activity would also help her manage her weight which would also have a positive effect on her self-esteem.
Consequently then Olivia’s goal was to re-establish a regular exercise routine similar to that which she had enjoyed previously. From a starting point of taking her dog for short walks she gradually extended her levels of activity with the support of the Active for Life Officer during her period of participation of the scheme. From a single exercise class Olivia gradually increased her levels of activity throughout the 45 week duration of the scheme to include a variety of other activities.
Following completion of the Active for Life programme Olivia has been able to transfer onto the KAL Active Movers scheme to continue her activity. A major outcome has been the role activity has played in reducing the incidences of Oliva’s self-harm. Her desire to go swimming acted as a motivator to stop the self-harming behaviour as she was unable to swim when she had dressings or fresh wounds on her arms. Initially this meant finding activities such as exercise classes in which Olivia could take part without exposing her arms. However as Olivia’s fitness and enthusiasm grew she found that physical activity began to replace self-harming behaviour which enabled her to swim regularly. This represented significant progress for Olivia and one she felt proud of, as illustrated in her own words.
“Roughly half-way through the scheme my desire to start swimming again overtook my desire to self-harm, and with a few hiccups I managed to stop self-harming. I am in my thirties now and have been self-harming on and off since I was 16, so I am sure you can see what an achievement that is.
Now I exercise 6 days a week most weeks. I swim 70 lengths on a Monday, walk (my dog) for an hour and a quarter on a Tuesday, do aquafit and some more lengths on a Wednesday. Thursday is aerobics and I walk again on a Friday and Saturday. In addition to this I run three times a week. I now believe I am the fittest I have been since my early teens.”
Olivia also speaks of the way increasing her activity levels has boosted her self-confidence, something which has had an effect on her quality of life more widely.