19 September 2013
The Healthy Active Lives (HeAL) Declaration highlights the physical health challenges faced by young people with psychosis, and offers practical solutions and support. It represents the culmination of years of collaborative work between Australian clinical researchers and psychiatrists, as well as further development of that work by an international working group including clinicians, service users, family members and researchers from over 11 countries.
Earlier this week, HeAL’s principles were adopted by the NSW Government1 (see the Minister's media release) to help guide the treatment of young people with severe mental illness. On 3 October, the HeAL declaration will be launched in Europe at an international conference at the University of Leuven in Belgium.
The process started in 2010 when Professor Katherine Samaras, Clinical Researcher at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research and endocrinologist at St Vincent’s Hospital, along with psychiatrist Dr Jackie Curtis and her colleagues from the Bondi Early Psychosis Program, Prince of Wales Hospital, developed a physical health protection algorithm, which they recommended should run in tandem with mental health treatment.
The ‘positive cardiometabolic health algorithm’ included regular and specified measurement of tangibles – weight, waistline and blood chemistry – as well as counselling for healthy lifestyle and diet. The algorithm was adopted by NSW Health in June 2011.
Dr Curtis and Professor Samaras established an international Working Party on Physical Health in Youth with Psychosis (iphYs) in Sydney in November 2011, in collaboration with Dr David Shiers, a UK-based GP and early psychosis advocate. The need for formal benchmarked standards for physical health was clear. The Working Party has worked since to elaborate the HeAL Declaration.
HeAL aims to reduce or prevent the immediate and significant weight gain often brought about as a direct result of taking anti-psychotic medications. By intervening as soon as a young person is diagnosed with a serious mental illness, psychiatrists and other mental health workers can help the patient and their family in a variety of ways. These include monitoring and maintaining physical health, as well as bolstering psychological and emotional wellbeing.
The ultimate aim of the program is to empower people to lead healthy active lives, and so prevent people with serious mental illnesses dying years, if not decades, earlier than the rest of the community from preventable diseases.
1. Minister for Mental Health Kevin Humphries announced the government’s support for HeAL during the Bi-Annual NSW Early Psychosis Forum at Westmead Hospital on Monday, where he gave the opening speech.