Implementing a Mood Walks group is bound to present some obstacles. Read on to gain ideas about how to manage challenges.
I am worried about liability if a participant is injured during a walk.
Good planning can help you decrease the likelihood of an unforeseen event during a walk. Before starting a walking group, be sure to check the “Planning Your Mood Walks Group” and “Leading an Inclusive Group” sections of this manual, which contain information about safety preparedness, choosing a route, and what to look out for during a walk. Having extra hands to help is also a good idea: students and volunteers can help monitor any worrisome changes in participants.
Be sure participants sign a waiver assuming associated risks before starting your walking group; check out the “Physical Liability Waiver” in the online Appendices.
Have a plan for how your group facilitators will respond in case of emergency, and be sure to always carry a cell phone. Although there is some degree of risk involved in a Mood Walks group, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks!
I have a group of people who are interested in a walking group, but they do not have appropriate attire. How can I support them?
Hurray that you have an enthusiastic bunch! Obtaining appropriate clothing and footwear is a real challenge for many people who experience mental health issues, and can be a barrier to joining a walking group. Some ideas for obtaining gear:
- Your Mood Walks budget—Is there a way to provide gear for participants in a fair manner?
- Try second-hand stores. Reasonably priced outdoor attire can often be found. A group outing could be arranged if several potential participants are in the same boat and require guidance about what types of clothing and footwear are appropriate.
- Might your partners have any resources? For example, if you have partnered with a local hiking group, perhaps they have gently used athletic gear they could donate.
- Is there a local athletic clothing store that may want to sponsor your group? If your group is publicized in the community, their sponsorship could bring in business.
- Is there a grant you could apply for to support your group? Some of the funding may be used to equip group members. See “Next Steps—Finding Funding” for some potential sources.
I am not sure what walking trails exist in my community or where to find this information.
Partners from Hike Ontario and/or Conservation Ontario are likely to be great sources of information about trails!
In addition, some municipalities offer a map of local parks and trails. Try contacting your local Parks and Recreation department.
To find information about conservation areas in your area, visit Conservation Ontario’s “Guide to Conservation Areas in Ontario” website (ontarioconservationareas.ca). Clicking on “Search by Activity” will allow you to find conservation areas that are free, or accessible to people with disabilities. You can also search for coming events at conservation areas.
Hike Ontario’s website (hikeontario.com) provides suggestions for walks at conservation areas, rail trails, and provincial and national parks; look in their “Resources” section.
I am having difficulty attracting participants for my Mood Walks group.
Reflect on how you are marketing the group to potential participants. Be sure you have an idea of what their goals and values are, and highlight how the group fills the bill. Revisit some of the tips and tools contained in the “Attracting Participants” section of this guide. Involving potential participants in planning is important, as well.
Get to know what is stopping participants from joining the group, and help them create a step-by-step plan to overcome challenges. For example, if participants are worried they will not be able to keep up, encourage them to start some walking on their own, and check in as to how they are progressing.
Tailor your group to meet participants’ needs, and highlight the excitement of trying something new! Encourage potential participants to take a healthy risk by joining your group.
You may need to market your group outside of your agency, perhaps to local health clinics, seniors’ centres, or fitness facilities, for example. Check out the “External Mood Walks Referral Form” in the online Appendices.
I have a group of participants who have greatly varying fitness levels. How will I manage to run a cohesive group?
This is where additional support people are crucial. Students, volunteers, and peer leaders help to ensure no one walks alone. It can be challenging to ensure all participants are getting a reasonable workout when participants’ physical fitness levels differ greatly. For participants who experience the group as less strenuous, encourage them to reflect on other benefits they may be deriving from the group: the social aspect, the sensory experience, visiting new places in the community. Participants who are in better physical condition can be inspiring role models for those who are more challenged by the demands of walking.
For participants who struggle with the demands of the walk, be sure to recognize their efforts in coming out and walking, and provide them with feedback for progress they make: “I noticed you walked for 20 minutes today without needing a break! You are making gains.” Reassure them that walks will get easier with practice, and remind them of the health benefits they are receiving through their hard work.
Try to foster a sense of community among participants. Remind group members that everyone is in it together, and that all benefit from the enthusiasm and support of the group.