swslgtSouth West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust is to begin an innovative new project using exercise to treat depression after receiving £5,000 funding for it.

SWLSTG’s Sutton and Merton Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service fought off six other shortlisted IAPT services to take the top funding prize in a competition run by NHS London as part of its Olympic legacy.

Sutton and Merton IAPT applied for funding to set up a programme of six 90-minute exercise therapy classes, to start in spring 2013. The classes will be aimed at people suffering with depression and will combine structured physical exercise with awareness and discussion sessions.

Alexia Trafford (picture left), psychological wellbeing practitioner at SWLSTG,said: “Exercise has a number of proven benefits for people with depression, such as improved motivation and encouraging regular social interaction. It has been shown to produce antidepressant qualities found to equal antidepressant medication and NICE guidelines even recommend it as an alternative to more traditional treatments, such as cognitive behaviour therapy.

“But while studies show that exercise can alleviate depression and reduce anxiety, it is rarely used by mainstream mental health services as an effective way of treating mental health problems. Winning this is award means that we can offer exercise sessions for people with depression and be the first mental health trust to bring this pioneering new form of therapy to the heart of our IAPT services.”

Zoe Kindynis (picture right), who is also a psychological wellbeing practitioner at SWLSTG, said: "During the physical exercise part of the course, we will offer a jogging group and a walking group, to cater for different abilities. And we will build in other activities, such as aerobics and gym work, as the classes continue. In the awareness and discussion section, we will look at the theory around exercise and mental health, including topics on the benefits of exercise, starting an exercise program and overcoming motivational barriers.”

The team of clinical and academic judges for NHS London “unanimously” awarded the top prize to Sutton and Merton IAPT, which will look to share the benefits of the scheme with other London IAPT services at a future event.