"We need seamless links between mental & physical health care"


Mel Islin is our Physical Activity Programme Manager at Rethink Mental Illness and has been working here since July 2018. Her background is in physical activity and community development, supporting people of all backgrounds to be more physically active to improve their wellbeing, connect with their community, reduce social isolation and create volunteering opportunities. In this blog, Mel talks about the connection between mental and physical health and what needs to change to better support people severely affected by mental illness.

It is widely known and accepted that physical activity is good for us – for our physical, mental, social, and emotional wellbeing. But often people are isolated from activities or cannot find the right one for them.

That is my passion – helping people be active in an environment and structure that works for them and their life.

  • Being active and leading a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the development of further illnesses and reduce the mortality gap. Which is why what we do is so important.

Everyone diagnosed with a mental illness is entitled to an annual physical health check with their GP. The health check covers:

  • Blood cholesterol levels
  • Blood glucose levels
  • Blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Height and weight

Physical activity is proven to support weight management, reduce blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels so is a great way to improve physical health markers.

But currently, only around 30% of people are attending their check which means the mortality gap is remaining consistent and people are not accessing relevant physical health support which they would be able to access during their physical health check.

Rethink Mental Illness has developed a Physical Health Check tool to help people to manage their physical health. Additionally, in collaboration with Public Health England in the North West, NHS England and Improvement and colleagues in Primary Care, Equally Well UK, of which we are a joint partner with Centre for Mental Health, has published a resource to help Integrated Care Systems (ICS), GPs and other primary care staff, and Local Authorities to help adults living with severe mental illness to improve their physical health. These tools will ensure people with severe mental illness are aware of – and have support to access – physical health checks, and those carrying out the checks are appropriately supported to provide accurate information and follow-up advice and support.

We have co-produced the Rethink Activity toolkit; a toolkit to support people severely affected by mental illness to be more active and improve their health and wellbeing through physical activity. We have also produced a Physical Activity Pack to support people to move more at home.

  • What we need to do is create seamless links between mental and physical health care and support and utilise existing community infrastructure.

We are now embarking on a new intervention in partnership with people with severe mental illness to embed physical activity into the community mental health pathway and support people’s physical health and increase physical activity levels, linked with our Building Communities that Care programme.

Further investment is required to ensure 100% of people entitled to an annual physical health check attend theirs and the content of the checks are consistent, informative and effective. Where there are opportunities to discuss physical activity, these conversations should be had with clear exit routes that are fit-for-purpose for the individual.

Working for Rethink Mental Illness is so rewarding. Having worked for other charities in the past, I have never worked alongside colleagues who care as much as they do here. It’s also so inspiring and motivating working with people with lived experience and seeing the impact of my work on the ground. It keeps the spark alive in my work.

For further information on our physical activity programmes, contact Mel at Mel.Islin@rethink.org.