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Integrating both physical and mental health has received special emphasis in recent years to help people with severe and persistent mental illness live longer and healthier lives.

Kevin Edwards, Crow Wing Energized

Integrating both physical and mental health has received special emphasis in recent years to help people with severe and persistent mental illness live longer and healthier lives.

National data reports people with severe and persistent mental illness are dying 25 years younger than other populations. This early death rate is not due to mental illness alone, but difficulties people have with eating well, taking care of chronic medical conditions, not exercising consistently and the high use of tobacco-related products.

Through partnership with Crow Wing County Community Services and Essentia Health, Crow Wing Energized was developed, and they performed a community health survey that pointed out that for those who deal with any mental health condition, obesity rates were almost two times higher than for those who do not deal with a mental health condition. This survey also found the smoking rate for those who have any mental health condition is 16 percent, while for those who do not have a mental health condition the smoking rate is 10.2 percent.

The Assertive Community Treatment team of Northern Pines Mental Health Center specifically serves people who have difficulties with persistent mental illness. A partnership was formed with the Crow Wing Energized mental fitness goal group to improve the lives of people being served by ACT and in our community. This partnership addressed healthy eating choices, physical activity, and reducing the use of cigarette smoking with a select number of consumers on the ACT team, including staff.

Funding by the Crow Wing Energized mental fitness goal group assisted in a variety of ways to provide nutritional classes facilitated by the ACT team. Students in this class were taught about economical and healthy ways to prepare well-balanced meals. In addition to the nutrition class offerings, ACT team members taught consumers about growing fruits and vegetables as they participated in all stages of gardening through further partnerships with University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners and VISTA/AmeriCorps member Betsy Huston.


Along with healthy eating, Crow Wing Energized enabled the ACT team to promote and educate on bicycle safety, promote the use of bicycles and the local trail systems. Throughout the summer, a peer specialist rode with consumers on bicycle rides throughout the city of Brainerd and beyond. Local wayfinding signage was pointed out and consumers then were able to see how far they had ridden and in the future planned for walking to and from certain areas as well. The peer specialist continued to build up endurance of those she rode with by increasing the length of their rides throughout the summer.

Through the collaborative efforts of Crow Wing Energized, several ACT team staff members attended training regarding smoking cessation and healthy living promotion called, "Healthy Living: Tobacco and You" by national expert Dr. Jill Williams. She has developed a workbook on reducing smoking that is utilized in the healthy living class provided by ACT team staff since being trained.

A breath carbon monoxide detector was purchased to provide feedback to people in the class on the levels of the toxins in their bodies from smoking cigarettes. Many people were surprised at the high levels of toxins in their bodies. Through these efforts of implementing Williams' curriculum and providing peer specialists for our consumers, many people worked hard to reduce the levels of toxins in their body monitored by the use of the carbon monoxide detector. They reduced the amount of cigarettes smoked each day with the intention to possibly quit someday.

Anecdotally, the participants within this project reported satisfaction with all phases, including: learning about nutritional foods, practicing gardening skills, how to prepare healthy meals, increasing their exercise levels and learning about ways to reduce or stop their cigarette intake.

To learn more about this project and ways to implement something similar, please contact Kevin Edwards, ACT team leader, at .

Kevin Edwards, Ph.D., L.P., is a Crow Wing Energized mental fitness goal group member and the ACT team leader at Northern Pines Mental Health.


Any mental health condition (depression, anxiety or panic attack, other)


No Yes

Current smoker 10.2 percent 16.0 percent

Obese 22.6 percent 42 percent

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