Ontario’s largest Family Health Team in Hamilton celebrates the first anniversary of Team Unbreakable

The Hamilton Family Health Team located in Central Hamilton, launched Team Unbreakable in March 2013, with 10 teens ranging in age from 13 to 18 years old. To date, three running groups have been started and the program continues to grow.

“There was much excitement within the Hamilton Family Health Team about the launch of our own Team Unbreakable running group,” recalled Mental Health Services Manager Catherine McPherson-Doe.  “Not only was this our first young adolescent mental health group, it was our first group that focused on exercise as treatment for depression and anxiety. Given the mounting evidence regarding the therapeutic value of exercise, it is great that we were able to extend our range of treatment offerings.”

Throughout Hamilton, the Family Health Team serves approximately 280,000 patients with 150 family physicians, 135 nurses and nurse practitioners, 21 registered dietitians, 73 mental health counsellors, 22 psychiatrists and 10 pharmacists.

Team Unbreakable first got started with the organization when Mental Health Counsellor Kelly Ironside heard about a Team Unbreakable  running group from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton.  This planted the seed for Kelly, a passionate runner herself, to launch Team Unbreakable for the Family Health Team. The program would never have started without the tremendous support from the Family Health Team and administration, plus several community partners.

“We are in primary care, and hence we have a great opportunity to intervene at an early stage to change outcomes for depression and anxiety,” reported Kelly.  “For instance, we know exercise is beneficial to mental health, and if we can get kids active, we know that this can make a difference at an early age in their physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.” The first group was up and running on March 18, 2013.

“Concerns about stigma prevent many youth and young adults from seeking mental health support.  They are, however, more willing and likely to talk to their family physician and have their mental health concerns identified when receiving their routine primary health care,” said Catherine McPherson-Doe.  “We believe that Team Unbreakable will allow even more youth and adolescents to become engaged in successfully managing their own mental health and well-being.”

During the eight week progressively challenging program, the running group runs together twice a week, and members are encouraged to run on their own once a week. The running group meetings include light stretching before and after runs and time listening to motivational and educational guest speakers from the community, on topics chosen by the teens. The program culminates with a five-kilometre race. In addition to the running component of the program, the participants engage in weekly therapy (i.e. relationships building, goal setting, self regulation  and mindfulness).

– By Annie Shalvarjian