By Annie Shalvardjian
With the support of CameronHelps, a new Team Unbreakable running therapy group for youth was launched Oct 2, 2012 at the Brampton Civic Hospital, William Osler Health Centre in Ontario.
Its goal is to give youth struggling with depression, anxiety and other affective disorders, tools to overcome personal challenges.
CameronHelps’ Team Unbreakable youth run-therapy programs are modeled after a pilot program started in 2006 by Social Worker Dan McGann.
The pilot program began at Mississauga’s Credit Valley Hospital for youth 13-to-18 years old diagnosed with one or more affective disorders. Now called Team Unbreakable, the successful program offers motivation, encouragement, and demonstrates a positive attitude to team members. It is being offered by several Ontario hospitals and healthcare organizations.
Team Unbreakable participants have to be referred to the program by Brampton Civic Hospital’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit. The eight young people participating in Brampton Civic Hospital’s first session of the program received running shoes donated by hospital staff (if needed), Team Unbreakable running shirts and motivational wristbands. A second session for 10 to 15 youth is scheduled for the spring.
Training takes place twice weekly for 12 weeks, in all kinds of weather, with the goal to run a 5k or 10k race. For the new Brampton group, it’s the Santa Shuffle Fun Run & Elf Walk, a Salvation Army fundraiser to be held Dec. 1, 2012. Organizers from Running Room are giving Team Unbreakable a generous group discount, and hospital staff has offered to split the registration fee.
In preparation for the Santa Shuffle, teens run together from the hospital to nearby Professor’s Lake, a 32-hectare park with scenic trails. “No one runs alone, and no one gets left behind,” said CameronHelps’ Program Manager John Knox of the structured training program. “Group running gives us an opportunity to connect with each other.”
Led by Recreation Therapist Kerry Dearborn, Psychologist Dr. Andrea Miller, and four staff volunteers, the youth learn to set a goal and achieve it through small steps; to be supportive and look out for anyone showing signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion or frostbite; about the influence of diet on energy; structure and routine; how to pace themselves; and that mistakes are actually lessons and opportunities for new learning. Inspiring weekly guest speakers share their personal experiences with affective disorders.
“Physical activity helps reduce depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, while building self-esteem and developing coping skills,” says Kerry. “In therapeutic groups we teach patients the benefits of healthy recreational activities, so it makes sense to put our advice into practice.”
By keeping a runner’s log of their mood before and after a run, route conditions, distance achieved, and run time, young people increase their self-awareness. They develop mental toughness—to keep going and stay positive and focused when faced with challenges like long runs and hills.