Schools join forces to assess pioneering mental health project

University to evaluate SAMH Active Living scheme

Date posted

26 April 2016


EXPERTS from Edinburgh Napier University will assess the impact of a £1million programme to help people with mental health problems become more physically active.

Research will be carried out at the University in a bid to maximise the benefits of the collaboration between the Scottish Government and SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health). 

The Active Living Becomes Achievable (ALBA) scheme, which builds on proven links between exercise and improved mental wellbeing, will initially operate in Lothian, Fife and Ayrshire and Arran health board areas.

SAMH will use £992,000 in Government funding over the next three years to build and run the programme with the help of local leisure trusts, with participants referred through GPs or other existing pathways.

They will initially be offered interventions to build up their resilience and self-esteem, followed by a tailored 12 week programme of physical activity, designed around the person’s interests, abilities and level of fitness.

Edinburgh Napier University has been awarded £83,000 of the money to evaluate the project.

Experienced staff from the School of Life, Sport and Social Sciences and the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Care will oversee the research, which will monitor participants from the recruitment stage until after the end of the intervention, examining changes in behaviour, attitude and lifestyle.

Professor Austyn Snowden, Chair in Mental Health in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Care said: “This is a very timely, innovative and important programme, and I’m absolutely delighted SAMH have chosen to work with us to evaluate its impact. 

“The potential for better understanding the relationship between mental and physical health, behaviour change and the role of technology is clear. Too many interventions of this ilk stop short of investigating how and why they work, but this one embeds sophisticated evaluation from the start.”

Dr Susan Brown, Head of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Edinburgh Napier, said: “The innovative nature of this project lies in understanding how behaviour change principles and the use of technology and focused interventions by the SAMH team, can be used effectively over time to change physical activity behaviours positively and in the long term.

“We are absolutely delighted to be a part of this project aimed at helping people in Scotland improve their mental and physical health and subsequently the quality of everyday life. It's a great example of applying the research we undertake in our team at Edinburgh Napier University into practice, to positively impact on society.”

Nearly 80 per cent of people referred to physical activity programmes as part of their treatment either fail to complete the programme or to incorporate exercise into their lifestyle after the programme finishes.

The new SAMH project will see participants backed by a support network of trained people who have had similar mental health problems, and at the end of the course they will be encouraged to make active lifestyle choices for the future.

The programme – which will include sessions on the importance of self-management, resilience and positive self-esteem - recognises that for behavioural change to be effective and lasting, physical activity must be embedded as a conscious choice that individuals make.

Billy Watson, Chief Executive of SAMH, said: “Monitoring and evaluating our innovative physical activity programme will be vital to its long-term success. I am very pleased to be working with the two schools at Edinburgh Napier, who each bring a unique and valuable contribution."