BACKGROUND: Interventions to reduce significant health disparities experienced by people living with mental illness are vital. Health disparities lead to social isolation and a lack of physical activity which can contribute to an already significantly reduced life expectancy. Therapeutic recreation (TR), as an intervention is regarded as a means not only to increase physical activity but to enhance social engagement and holistic health. This study explored how a TR initiative influenced social isolation and physical activity for people with lived experience of mental illness. AIM: To examine the experience of participating in therapeutic recreation for people with lived experience of mental illness. METHOD: Using hermeneutic phenomenology for this BN honours project, a purposive sample of consenting participants (n = 5) were individually interviewed using semi-structured questions. Data collected were analysed using van Kaam’s Psychophemenological method of reflection for themes which best captured the participants’ descriptions of their therapeutic recreation experience. FINDINGS: From the participants’ experience of the therapeutic recreation initiative two prominent themes emerged. First, participants described that forming relationships had the biggest impact of increasing selfconfidence and trust which empowered them to extend
themselves physically, socially and psychologically. Second, participants described increased physical activity levels as a result of their determination to participate in new activities and overcome physical limitations and fears. CONCLUSION: Therapeutic recreation has positive
benefits for people with mental illness. Participants described feeling empowered as a result of forming supportive relationships, which increased their selfconfidence, trust and self-belief. Increased social connection was described as having the biggest impact on positive mental health and reduced their sense of social isolation. Increased self-confidence and trust was described as being strongly associated with being determined to participate in new activities which also significantly increased their physical activity. Significantly, participants expressed TR contributed to
their resolve to remain socially connected and physically active in their everyday lives. SIGNIFICANCE FOR MENTAL HEALTH: Therapeutic recreation is a positive intervention to contribute to mental health recovery. Therapeutic recreation can be used to provide opportunities to increase meaningful social engagement and enhance physical activity in a positive and enjoyable manner.