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How the YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties is helping those battling mental health issues in the local community through the Healthy Horizons program. 

Mental health has been the center of discussion the past two years as one in every five people report the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

One way the YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties is helping aid this crisis is through its Healthy Horizons program.

Healthy Horizons is a 12-week program designed to promote physical health and well-being and encourage community connection for those in the mental health recovery process. Participants focus on goal setting and tracking while learning about exercise, nutrition, meditation and mindfulness, and a variety of movement types. Classes meet once per week via Zoom and once per week in-person for physical workouts under the supervision of personal trainers. Each participant will graduate with supportive relationships, and the education and tools necessary to continue their health and wellness journey.

According to Carrene Walker, a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and Pathway Coordinator for the YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties, the main objective of the program is to break down barriers that may be preventing community members from using the Y, and to help them improve their overall health and wellness.

“I’m not a therapist, I’m a personal trainer,” said Walker. “I’m there to encourage and support, but a lot of times people just want to connect and talk through what they’re feeling. And I found this has been a really great opportunity for people who are feeling isolated and feeling like they don’t have a support system — maybe other than their therapists — with a group of people who have a similar shared experience, and who are just willing to listen, encourage and support.”

Participants and their support system — family, friends, sponsors, etc. — both receive a complimentary 12-week YMCA membership during the program as well as a three-month adult membership for program participants after successful completion of the 12-week program.

“It’s crucial for Ys to feel welcoming and for people to walk in and know this is a place for them,” said Walker. “It’s part of their community and a way to feel connected, not just to the Y, but also to their community. This is a really unique opportunity for us to serve the community that way and help. I think because mental health has such a stigma associated with it too, unfortunately, that the more we talk about it, the more we are publicly supportive of individuals experiencing mental health. I think it becomes something we slowly chip away at — that stigma — and that’s important, too.” 

Qualifications of Participation:

Healthy Horizons welcomes YMCA members and nonmembers who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and are in the recovery process.

  • Health care provider form required.
  • For those in recovery from substance use disorder, a Y-provided referral form must be filled out by a health care provider and submitted prior to participation. Participants must be in the “maintenance stage” of recovery and 60 days from last use.
  • For all other mental health diagnoses, a letter from a health care provider is required to confirm diagnosis and status of “in the recovery process.”
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Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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