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Interview: Hamish Fibbins

Photo of Hamish Fibbins
Hamish Fibbins

Hamish Fibbins is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist with South Eastern Sydney Local Health District’s ‘Keeping the Body in Mind’ program, which provides physical health interventions for people living with serious mental illness. He is also completing research as part of a PhD at the University of New South Wales focusing on how exercise can shape culture change within mental health settings.

Hamish is presenting ‘Working out Mental Health’ at the Pathways 14 Conference sharing insight into the role of exercise as medicine for people living with mental illness.

I’m looking forward to a fun and engaging session with lively discussion with the audience. We’ll be talking all things exercise and mental health and I’m hoping attendees will leave with a little more info and practical solutions for their clients.

1. Pathways14 themes are inclusive, innovative and ingenuity, can you tell us about your work and research related to this?

While my work as a clinician involves working with people living with mental illness, I am currently researching the effects of exercise interventions targeting mental health clinicians. Research suggests that staff that are healthy and regularly exercise are more likely to speak to their clients about getting moving more. It’s a fairly new and novel idea in the mental health sector but we believe it might have some really important effects on improving health outcomes for patients of the service.

2. You’re working on Keeping the Body In Mind, what correlations or even causations, are there behind physical and mental health?

Our team delivers physical health interventions, mainly focusing on diet and exercise, to people living with severe mental illness, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, side effects of antipsychotic medication, combined with higher rates of lifestyle risk factors, result in significant weight gain leading to increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and resulting in early risk of death about 10-15 years less than the general population. We also know that people living with mental illness are more likely to exercise less, smoke more and have poor nutrition which can also exacerbate symptoms of mental illness.

The good news is that a lot of great research is emerging showing us that if we can get clients exercising regularly and eating more nutritious foods, we see improvements to mental health symptoms as well as reducing that life expectancy gap.

3. As disability practitioners, we are seeing a much larger increase in students registering with psychological conditions over physical conditions, in your professional opinion, do you think there are more stressors today causing these condition or do you think we are becoming more comfortable with disclosing this information?

Certainly, the rates of people reporting of mental illness are becoming increasingly common. We know that there is reduced stigma nowadays associated with some mental illnesses which means that young people particularly are disclosing their concerns to friends, family, their universities, and health practitioners.

Evidence suggests that young people are facing similar issues that previous generations did which may contribute to poor mental health. There can sometimes be a tendency to blame technology and social media on increased rates of mental illness, and while there are areas of concern, online support platforms are being used more and more for peer-to-peer support.
Students can underestimate how being more physically active can help foster a healthy mind, which can make them more vulnerable when facing new challenges at university, particularly while being more sedentary in study life.

4. What could workplaces in Australia do to promote and practice better inclusion and diversity?

Employers have a responsibility to foster workplaces that promote good mental and physical health. There is now overwhelming evidence that shows that staff who are healthy are better workers and have lower rates of absenteeism. Introducing policies that support mental health “sick” days and allowing for time to exercise during lunch breaks can actually result in savings for companies.

Universities are also in a unique position to better educate students about good physical and mental health utilising the many clubs and societies they have on offer.

5. What issues do you think higher education students in Australia are facing today? How are higher education institutions helping or hindering those issues?

6. What skills do you hope to people who attend your session leave with?

I’m looking forward to a fun and engaging session with lively discussion with the audience. We’ll be talking all things exercise and mental health and I’m hoping attendees will leave with a little more info and practical solutions for their clients.

Hamish is presenting his research at Pathways 14 at the Novotel Manly Pacific in December you can register online here