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For many, peer supports key to making healthy lifestyle changes

Patients and staff have come together to create the Wellness Initiative Network, a peer-support group focused on making sustainaPatients and staff have come together to create the Wellness Initiative Network, a peer-support group focused on making sustainable, healthy lifestyle changes.


Making lifestyle changes can be difficult, but as a group of OSH patients is discovering, it’s not quite as challenging with the support and encouragement of your peers.
The Wellness Initiative Network, or WIN, is a growing group of patients and staff who are building a peer support network focused on making healthy change in their lifestyle – something many people struggle with on their own.

“[Trying to accomplish something] by yourself works for some people, but for most of us it’s just so much more effective to have somebody to work with,” patient Luke Walters said describing the premise of the group.

The idea of offering patients an opportunity to participate in a peer-driven wellness program came out of the hospital’s Wellness Committee. The goal was that by working with peers, patients interested in participating in the group would be motivated develop and practice health habits and activities.

“Our physical fitness and nutrition are areas that impact our quality of life, happiness and mental functioning,” said Kris Wright, an occupational therapist and co-leader of the group.

Toward the end of September, the group began meeting informally once a week immediately following the afternoon treatment sessions. Group members were asked to identify their personal goals, the steps they would need to take to achieve their goals, supports available to them, potential barriers and their confidence in their ability to achieve their goals.

According to Wright, the goals were wide-ranging, which reinforced the idea that nearly any positive lifestyle change correlates to improved overall health. Examples of goals included: improving mind-body wellness, working toward recovery, decreasing cholesterol, losing weight, getting back into shape, learning to cooperate with peers, setting goals and overcoming depression through friendships and engaging in activities.

While both staff and patients participate in the group, WIN is primarily patient led. Wright noted that this is important because it provides patients with the opportunity to plan, organize and initiate their own ideas — skills that they’ll need as they work toward returning to life in a community setting.

Dana Sword, a patient in the Bridges’ cottage program, said that while he appreciates that much of the planning is left to the patients, he is just as thankful for the additional time, resources and support he is receiving from staff with knowledge directly related to his goals.

“I’m working on lowering my cholesterol, and being able to work with a dietitian outside of treatment mall has been nice,” Sword said.

For Bruce Russell, WIN has given him an additional resource he said was missing to help treat his physical health issues.

“The clinic has its role, and they do a great job, but in my particular case, a bunch of clinic visits is not what I really need,” Russell, a patient on Bridge 2, explained. “This group offers mentoring and wellness support that wasn’t really offered before, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Beginning with winter term in January, the Bridges treatment mall will offer WIN on Mondays, from 2 to 2:50 p.m. Walters said he believes that having the group during desginated treatment times will lead to the involvement of even more patients, creating what he called “ripples of wellness.”

“Hopefully this movement will continue to grow and be a really good peer support tool to help people find buddies that share an interest,” Walters said. “Health, wellness, empowerment, recovery...it all seems so connected.”