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Creating Opportunities for Better Mental Health

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Philadelphia’s Drexel University recently installed a mental health kiosk in the lobby of its recreation center. Part of a pilot program initiated by the nonprofit organization Screening for Mental Health, Inc. and the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disability Services, the kiosk enables users to conduct quick, anonymous self-assessments to gauge their risk for mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders, and provides information about the next step to take if treatment seems warranted.

Gyms, health clubs, exercise boutiques, and sports centers could take a cue from Drexel. After all, creating opportunities for fitness is about more than just encouraging people to keep their bodies in great shape. And retaining members requires efforts above and beyond simply providing the equipment to help them meet their weight-loss or fitness goals. It’s also necessary to promote overall wellness, so that your members leave your facility recognizing the degree to which it enriches their lives. If the physical part of the wellness equation is taken care of but the mental part is ignored, then they won’t feel they’ve achieved true fitness.

So maybe it’s time to consider how your facility could help members and clients work on their mental health alongside their physical health. Installing a kiosk like Drexel’s is one way to go. When your members come in for a workout, they could stop by the kiosk and take a self-assessment to determine whether their mental wellbeing is at risk. If so, depending on their results, they could get specific guidance regarding helpful steps to take for prevention or healing. Another option might be hiring a full- or part-time psychotherapist or licensed social worker. It might sound strange, but if you conceive of your facility as one with a mission to provide a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, it makes good sense. After or before a workout, or after performing a self-assessment at the mental health kiosk, members could sit down with the onsite therapist to discuss what’s troubling them.

Can your facility accommodate a pet room? If so, consider taking on board a therapy dog; this, in fact, is another approach that Drexel has undertaken. Drawing on studies that have shown that playing with a therapy dog can reduce blood pressure and lower anxiety and depression, the university’s recreation center hosts its own therapy dog (Jersey), who is available for sessions to help students cope with stress.

Other possibilities: Invite speakers knowledgeable on mental-health topics to address an audience made up of your members (and prospectives) and answer questions they might have. Hold a mental health fair, inviting local agencies, mental health providers, and meditation experts to come set up booths where your clientele can explore options for mental health upkeep. Increase your yoga, meditation, and other mind-body offerings, explicitly pitching them to members as initiatives designed to help them identify and/or address mental health issues.

For several years now, as gyms, sports centers, and other fitness facilities have expanded their offerings and redefined the concept of the health club, colleges and universities have been similarly expanding the role of their campus recreation centers. The campus rec center model, with its focus on providing educational programming and activities that aim to introduce lifelong habits for a healthy lifestyle, might be a good one for the fitness industry to adapt. The better our members and clients feel, and the more attention we pay to their overall health, the more likely they are to retain their memberships. And that’s ultimately what we want: for them to feel good enough that they keep coming back and keep coming back.

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