Health and wellbeing

How I started this thing: Mood Active

Mood Active General Manager Tania Curley shares how a simple idea born in a share-house has gone on to help Sydneysiders manage mental health with exercise.

Tania Curley, Mood Active

How I started this thing is a series of stories from people who’ve received City of Sydney grants. They share their journey in their own words, along with handy tips on navigating the grant process.

Where Mood Active began

The concept behind Mood Active is simple, but incredibly effective. We run targeted exercise programs for people with depression or anxiety.

My old flatmate Cameron Wilson is a tennis coach who’s battled bi-polar most his life. When he met psychology researcher Isabelle Granville-Smith in 2012 at Sydney’s Black Dog Institute, the idea was born.

Cameron and I were sharing a place, while he and Isabelle were trying to get Mood Active off the ground. Both of them were passionate about the link between exercise and mental health.

Cameron was busy writing letters asking for funding and I suggested he set up a pilot program so they could demonstrate how it worked.

A personal connection

Mood Active made so much sense to me, because I know firsthand the positive effects of exercise on mental health, both through my own experience, and those close to me.

My family has a strong genetic history of mental illness - particularly depression and bi-polar. My cousin suicided and my nana has been in and out of Sydney clinics for years, so I’ve seen first-hand how they’ve struggled with the system. I use a lot of resilience strategies for dealing with this, and exercise is a critical part of that.

I’ve always loved sport. I come from a triathlon background and I made it to the World Championships.

I became a founding committee member of Mood Active quite organically and the 3 of us worked to bring the idea into being.

In 2013, Cam ran the first cardio tennis class in Kingsford, and Isabelle the first group fitness circuit in Centennial Park.

The positive impact of exercise

Exercise can help people when they’re starting to spiral. Mood Active might be the one thing that helps them get back on their feet.

It’s not just about the endorphins – there are so many factors. It’s a basic psychological need to achieve or master something, plus there’s a connection to other people in the program.

These kinds of projects are rarely funded by the public health system. We’ve done research with the Black Dog Institute to figure out the most effective ‘dosage’ of exercise for targeting mild to moderate depression or anxiety.

Exercising 3 times per week for 8 weeks shows significant lifts. Our results prove this.

It takes 6 weeks to build neural pathways and form habits, we added an extra 2 weeks just in case.

We’ve helped 80 per cent of people who complete the program with ongoing strategies for the rest of their lives.

Gaining momentum with a grant

We first applied for a City of Sydney grant in 2016.

Our model was already successful, but this funding would help us reach more people and create extra opportunities for people to participate.

When you’re a pilot organisation, you make mistakes and need support because you’re still learning – getting help is crucial. We’re a small not-for-profit and support from the City allowed us to continue up-scaling, gain momentum, and refine our process.

We’re gradually expanding to more locations across Sydney.

My advice to others wanting to apply would be to get some grant writing skills. Clovelly Community Bank runs a great course which can help you with the vital first step: how to actually write a grant application. If you haven’t written one before, this is invaluable.

Do your homework, cover all bases and be prepared for variables. It’s important to mention due diligence is key. Take the time to really know every possible detail.

Mood Active is here to bridge a gap. It’s been incredible to see people transform through exercise. It’s so rewarding to find out from the participants directly how much of a positive change we’ve helped them make to their mental health and overall outlook on life.

If you're experiencing mental health concerns or suicidal thoughts, help is available.

- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
- beyondblue 1300 22 4636

Find out more about Mood Active.

We offer free grant submission training workshops to not-for-profits through our Connect Sydney program.

If you have a great idea that would benefit the local community, the City of Sydney’s grants and sponsorships program may be able to help.

Published 16 November 2018