Systematic review of physical activity interventions assessing physical and mental health outcomes on patients with severe mental illness (SMI) within secure forensic settings

Jessica Hassan, Stephen Shannon, Mark Tully, Claire McCartan, Gavin Davidson, Richard Bunn, Gavin Breslin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Abstract

WHAT IS KNOWN ON THE SUBJECT?: Individuals with a severe mental illness (SMI) are less physically active and have a lower life expectancy than the general population due to increased risks of cardiometabolic diseases (obesity, diabetes and respiratory diseases) and other health risks. Physical activity has been used as an adjunct therapy for individuals with SMI yielding improvements in cognitive functioning, quality of life and a reduction in psychiatric symptoms. Individuals with SMI residing within a secure forensic setting have reduced physical activity opportunities, possibly due to a number of factors including low motivation and restricted access to exercise facilities combined with a lack of knowledge and/or confidence in staff members to assist in physical activity programmes. WHAT THE PAPER ADDS TO EXISTING KNOWLEDGE?: This review demonstrates that little is known around the effects of physical activity for people with SMI who reside in secure forensic settings, with little to no long-term effects reported. Physical activity interventions have shown some positive results through decreasing weight and waist circumference as well as a reduction in negative symptom scores in an exercise group compared with the "no treatment" control group post-intervention. WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE?: Service users' reluctance to engage in physical activity may be overcome by improving staff commitment, creating a motivational atmosphere and promoting service user decision making.

ABSTRACT: INTRODUCTION: Participating in physical activity has many benefits, yet those with severe mental illness (SMI) living in forensic settings are less likely to be active, and more likely to experience ill-health. The aim of this study was to systematically review the effectiveness of physical activity programmes on mental and physical health and specifically on reducing symptoms of SMI in forensic settings.

METHOD: A systematic search of six databases was conducted, in addition to a grey literature search. Studies were included if they had participants with SMI; were based in a forensic setting; involved a physical activity programme and reported physical and mental health outcomes.

RESULTS: A total of 112 participants were included in four studies. One study showed a significant improvement in negative symptom scores in the exercise group compared with a treatment as usual group. Two studies reported improvements in psychiatric symptoms with no significant difference between groups; however, statistically significant changes in weight and waist circumference were evident (p < .001). No adverse effects were reported.

CONCLUSION: Only a small number of studies were included and of limited design and quality, with no follow-up assessments; therefore, more research is needed to determine the true effects of physical activity for improving SMI symptoms in a forensic setting. This review highlights the need for further studies exploring the barriers and facilitators of physical activity in secure forensic settings. Studies are required that include a more thorough research design. Furthermore, interventions if designed with patients and caring staff in mind may lead to lowered psychiatric symptoms and increased physical health benefits for all in forensic settings.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Early online date14 Apr 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Keywords

  • physical activity
  • secure forensic setting
  • severe mental illness

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