Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

February 2016

Fitness Fosters Better Mental Health

By David Mumpower

Mental illness is no longer the taboo subject it once was in our society. Thanks to social media, people have a deeper awareness of the difficulties such patients face in their daily lives. Historically, businesses have ignored the ripple effects of failing to treat such maladies. In recent years, health insurers discovered and addressed this issue. Their forward thinking provides a financial and ethical opportunity for fitness facilities.

Dartmouth psychiatry professor Sarah Pratt explained this development: "Excess health care costs associated with schizophrenia were estimated in 2002 at $22.7 billion." She also pointed out that "[schizophrenia] is the most expensive mental illness and is one of the most costly of all chronic illnesses."

Health insurance companies took note of the multi-billion dollar annual loss and implemented new coverage plans to ameliorate a growing concern.

Their changes can benefit your organization in particular and society in general. As an exercise facilitator, you're well aware of the advantages of a healthy, active lifestyle. For some reason, businesses once failed to appreciate that people who suffer from mental illness are no different in this regard. "Improving the health and fitness of people with serious mental illness has tremendous public health significance given the savings that could be accrued," Pratt explained.

Insurers now have a better understanding of the benefits of healthy living as well as the hidden costs of leaving mental illness untreated. Thanks to this epiphany, they have loosened their purse strings to cover fitness programs for individuals with such conditions as schizophrenia, depression, and substance use disorders. These coverage options empower fitness centers with the rare opportunity to increase business simply by working in conjunction with local mental illness facilities and healthcare providers.

By reaching out to them, you may discover that these providers already have processes in place to transport patients to and from fitness centers. Pratt noted that exercise facilities can help patients with serious mental health challenges by allowing them to attend their training sessions with a support person. She suggests using "a trainer hired by [the] mental health center to help people with their fitness."

Another approach would be to work with mental health centers to allow them to offer flexible memberships at a reduced price. Alternately, you could provide "memberships that can be easily transferred if a person with mental illness has an extended relapse and can no longer attend," according to Pratt. Simply by loosening your contract terms for these clients with specific needs, you can improve their quality of life and your bottom line.

Your organization may not have special programs available for patients suffering from mental illness. If not, now is the perfect time to investigate viable packages for these individuals. You'll gain new customers while having a positive impact on the lives of a previously stigmatized segment of society.

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