Category Archives: Barriers to Leisure

#BellLetsTalk – Community Recreation as a Context for Mental Health Recovery

bell-lets-talkIn previous years, on #BellLetsTalk day, I have highlighted leisure’s role in mental health, explored how the digital age may be affecting our mental health, and have focused specifically on the interaction between depression and leisure. This year I wanted to focus attention on a recent article published by a collection of Canadian scholars about the important role that community recreation plays in mental health recovery (Fenton, White, Gallant, Hutchinson, & Hamilton-Hinch, 2016).

Fenton et al. (2016) indicate that participation in community recreation activities and contexts is often an overlooked and undervalued means to support mental health recovery. Their focus is on social inclusion or participation in society/community. Individuals with mental health problems often experience social exclusion in a number of ways including being excluded from consumption activities (e.g., lack of income), production activities (e.g., employment), services (e.g., transportation, health services), social relations or social interaction (e.g., isolated networks) and political engagement (e.g., having a voice; Boardman, 2011). Therefore, a identifying ways in which community recreation can support social inclusion offers a valuable contribution to mental health recovery.

Elements of Recovery

Prior to discussing the role of community recreation in social inclusion and mental health recovery, it is important to highlight some of the common elements in recovery from mental illness. Davidson, O’Connell, Tondora, Lawless, and Evans (2005) review of the literature related to recovery offered a number of common elements including:

  • Redefining self in a way that allows individuals to re-conceptualize mental illness as simply one aspect of a multi-dimensional identity
  • Incorporating illness sees an individual accepting the limitations imposed by their illness while also discovering the possibilities for achieving various goals
  • Becoming involved in meaningful activities of one’s choice
  • Being supported by others be they family members, colleagues, or friends in ways that offer encouragement and a celebration of positive experiences, steps, or outcomes
  • Overcoming stigma often requires individuals to be resilient in the face of the social consequences and societal stigma associated with mental illness
  • Managing symptoms involves actively participating in one’s treatment and making choices that help bring symptoms under control including during difficult times or when setbacks occur.

Davidson et al. (2005) summarize the key elements by indicating that recovery as “a redefinition of one’s illness as only one aspect of a multidimensional sense of self capable of identifying, choosing, and pursuing personally meaningful goals and aspirations despite continuing to suffer the effects and side effects of mental illness” (p. 483).

Benefits of Community Recreation

Recreation can be defined as an  “experience that results from freely chosen participation in physical, social, intellectual, creative and spiritual pursuits that enhance individual and community wellbeing” (Interprovincial Sport and Recreation Council and Canadian Parks and Recreation Association, 2015, p. 4). What recreation is and includes can offer much to individuals with mental illnesses as related to some of the elements of recovery. First, recreation involves choice and thus giving individuals the opportunity to exercise control and choose meaningful activities – ones that may help with incorporating illness and with the redefining of self. Recreation activities can provide individuals with a valued identity such as musician or quilter or volunteer (Iwasaki et al., 2014) that allow them to characterize and define themselves beyond their illness. The existing evidence also suggests that community recreation is a chance for social interaction in which individuals with mental illness can develop their social skills, build their social and support networks, and feel a sense of belonging and inclusion (Fenton et al., 2017).

Recreation as a Community Arena that Supports Social Inclusion

Fenton et al. (2016) talk about community recreation as a “community arena” – a space in which individuals feel safe and supported to fully participate without being concerned about being defined by their mental illness or mental health problems. These are private and public leisure and recreation spaces in which individuals are viewed as community members, as participants, and as citizens participating in recreation rather than clients participating in therapy.  It is in these community arenas where leisure interests are explored and the development of leisure roles and identities are fostered.

It is also within the community arenas where individuals may vary their participation while still feeling and being included. This could mean rather than running as a participant on a team in the annual Run for the Cure event, an individual volunteers to help with registration or at the water station along the run. Community arenas are flexible in the opportunity offered for individuals to participate.

Working to Reduce the Barriers to Recreation

While recreation participation in community arenas can promote social inclusion of individuals with mental health problems and offer additional benefits that support recovery, Fenton et al. (2016) explain that many individuals are not able to access recreation. The symptoms of the mental health problems (e.g., depression) may interfere with participation (e.g., motivation). Individuals may not have someone to participate with (e.g., lack of social network). They may also face a number of structural barriers – lack of transportation, lack of finances, and even social barriers such as stigma or discrimination.

Stigma, in particular, has been identified as a barrier that can have more impact than the illness itself (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2012). The portrayal and perception of individuals with mental health problems as dangerous or unpredictable undermines opportunities for participation in recreation and increases the risk that these individuals will experience social exclusion (Fenton et al., 2016). With this being the case, one can hope that initiatives like “Bell Let’s Talk Day,” which strives to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, support, both indirectly and directly, the development and expansion of community arenas in which individuals with mental illness are accepted as participants and valued as community members.

Ultimately, Fenton et al. (2016) recommend and discuss a variety of intersectoral collaboration initiatives that could work to reduce barriers to recreation and to support social inclusion of participants with mental health problems. Their key message is that recreation services must be informed by mental health sector to understand the experiences of those who live with mental illness and what a recovery-oriented model of support involves. At the same time, the mental health sector and individuals with mental illness must value the role of recreation in the recovery of individuals with mental illness. This knowledge exchange is critical to optimizing the engagement of individuals with mental illness in recreation and ensuring that they are participating in community arenas that support them as participants.


Boardman, J. (2011). Social exclusion and mental health – how people with mental health problems are disadvantaged: An overview. Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 15(3), 112-121.

Davidson, L., O’Connell, M. J., Tondora, J., Lawless, M., & Evans, A. C. (2005). Recovery in serious mental illness: A new wine or just a new bottle?. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36(5), 480-487.

Fenton, L., White, C., Gallant, K. A., Gilbert, R., Hutchinson, S., Hamilton-Hinch, B., & Lauckner, H. (2017). The benefits of recreation for the recovery and social inclusion of individuals with mental illness: an integrative review. Leisure Sciences, 39(1), 1-19.

Fenton, L., White, C., Gallant, K., Hutchinson, S., & Hamilton-Hinch, B. (2016). Recreation for mental health recovery. Leisure/Loisir, 40(3), 345-365.

Iwasaki, Y., Coyle, C., Shank, J. W., Messina, E., Porter, H., Salzer, M., … Koons, G. (2014). Role of leisure in recovery from mental illness. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 17(2), 147–165.

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2012). Changing directions, changing lives. Mental
health strategy of Canada. Calgary, AB. Retrieved from





Can the “Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” Process Enhance Your Leisure?

Last January, I got the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I had joined a closed Facebook group called KonMari Adventures after one of my own Facebook friends had shared several posts of her experience of tidying and recommended the group. After a week of reading the stories that the women were posting – stories of the results they were experiencing from doing the author’s discarding and organizing process, I had to get the book and read more.

I consider myself a fairly organized person and if you came to my house, you would likely not say that it was cluttered. But one of the key goals of the KonMari process (named after the author Marie Kondo) is that create a lifestyle that sparks joy.

life changing magic of tidying up and leisure

I followed the KonMari process by doing my clothes first. I appreciated that the book empowered me to rid myself of clothes that didn’t fit well; those that I had enjoyed at one point, but did not any longer; and those which I had been drawn to and bought, but which actually never suited me. I appreciated these items for what they had given me (part of the process) whether it was joy in the moment when I found and purchased them or the lesson they taught me about my style and clothing preferences.

Realizing the Connection between the KonMari Method and Leisure

After completing the clothing categories, I moved on to books. I re-read what Marie Kondo had written about how to approach the discarding of books. I love books and was dreading the category. She explains that half finished books should be let go – that the time to read them has likely passed. I found this to be a particularly freeing idea. Many times, I have purchased a book or have been given a book that I was excited about, but after getting down to reading it, I have discovered it was not as interesting or engaging as I hoped or expected it to be. When this happened, I ended up denying myself permission to purchase or start a new book until I “finished” the one that I was not interested in. I now realize that while I denied myself the enjoyment of others books, I likely let the critical moment of interest in those other books pass as well. I began to see my half-read books as missed opportunities to experience joy – barriers to more enjoyable reads and maybe the best read of my life. It was during the process of going through my books and reflecting on Marie Kondo’s advice that I began considering how this process could create space for new or enhanced leisure.

This was further reinforced when I got to the paper category. Among the collection of papers that covered my home office floor, were programs and ticket stubs I had kept from various performances I had attended over the years. I realized it was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the types of performances I had most enjoyed and to clarify, for myself, what I wanted to see more of in the future. In this way, the KonMari process was an opportunity for leisure self-awareness.

Clarifying How “Stuff” May Be a Barrier to or Opportunity for Leisure

The next category, the Komono category (miscellaneous things), is a rather large one, but contains subcategories that are arguably related to our leisure like crafts, games, puzzles, CDs/DVDs, and sports equipment. For me, these categories were a bit of a trip back in time to the various points when I enjoyed and engaged in cross stitching, tole painting, scrapbooking, wreath making, card making, and candle making.  None of these hobbies were things I was actually doing in the present nor had a desire to do. Similar to books, I had been telling myself that I should not take up anything new until I used up all the things I had already collected for these various hobbies. I decided this thinking, although perhaps logical in some ways, was a barrier to new leisure pursuits that I would enjoy more in the present. I got rid of all of the supplies for things I knew I was never going to do again. I made room – both physically and psychologically – for new things I wanted to pursue in my available time (like knitting – which I had just learned to do and was excited about working on).


Craft Supplies – Focusing on what hobbies I want to continue to pursue and making room for new ones

I also donated the collection of jigsaw puzzles I had accumulated over the years as gifts. As I stared at the pile of them, I concluded that I am not someone who does a puzzle more than once. Therefore, once it is done, it has served its purpose for me and it time to let someone else enjoy it. By donating the ones I had, I gave myself permission to be able to select a new puzzle to do if and when one captures my attention (and one may never capture my attention again, which is okay).

Another notable discard was my roller blades. I had acquired these when I lived in a community with lots of paved, flat trails near my apartment and when I had a couple of friends who loved to go often. I had not roller bladed in 15 years. I did not miss it, but often felt guilty that I had the equipment for something that I was not doing. I did not want to keep feeling guilty for the leisure I was not doing or did not have a desire to do. So, bye, bye roller blades. I now had space for my new snowshoes.

In sorting through my games, I rediscovered ones that I knew one of my nieces would enjoy. Sometimes when tidying up and decluttering, you can find things that will facilitate leisure, create memories, and will spark joy – things that had become buried with the stuff that does not.

Concluding Thoughts

Freedom is one of the common, essential characteristics of leisure. Generally, freedom as a characteristic of leisure has been conceptualized as being free from obligation (i.e., work) or constraint as well as being free to choose what to pursue. The KonMari process gave me the chance to reflect on the potential for the “stuff” I had collected and the attitudes I had developed about my stuff (e.g., you cannot be wasteful, you do not get a new book until you finish the one you have) to limit my sense of freedom to choose leisure that would bring the most joy at particular points in my life. I do recognize that you need to be privileged with stuff to have this problem and I also recognize that some individuals have no problem purchasing new things even if they have unfinished projects or books. However, there are many individuals for whom stuff carries a weight and may preclude them from regularly evaluating their leisure interests or what needs they could be meeting through particular leisure pursuits. When there is an opportunity to shed these materials that to not bring enjoyment or weigh us down for whatever reason (e.g., guilt), it may lead to a clearer understanding of may spark joy and what satisfying leisure one might want to pursue as a result.









Hopscotch on the Sidewalk in your Neighborhood: An Endangered Species?

Hopscotch – one of the games I played with kids in the neighborhood, my sister, or even on my own on the sidewalk in front of my house. I went through phases with it when I loved it and would spend a lot of my time on that sidewalk and then the interest would wane. Sometimes the phase lasted as long as the days before it rained and the chalked game washed away.

What a great physical activity this was. It got me outside. I had the chance to practice balance (hopping on one foot wasn’t my forte in the beginning) and learned to throw a rock with the precise arm power behind it for the distance it needed to travel. It didn’t require my parents to drive me anywhere at a particular time. I didn’t need others to be able to play or practice, but when others were available it was a great social game. And, it was cheap!

Outdoor play and games like hopscotch could be endangered species.

Fear that Neighborhoods are Unsafe

Documentaries have been produced describing the changes in children’s play and how children are as free to play outside in the way I did in my neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s (for examples, see, Where do the Children Play?; Lost Adventures of Childhood). One key theme tends to be related to parents’ anxiety about and fear for their children’s safety. This anxiety/fear influences their decisions to allow their children to play freely outside in their backyard, on the sidewalks in front of their house, or in neighborhood parks or playgrounds.

In addition to documentaries that have explored this issue, there is also considerable research on parents’ concern for children’s safety. Most of the research captures the perspectives of mothers. Perhaps this is not surprising given research also shows mothers tend to be the key agent responsible for organizing family life including creating opportunities for their children to participate in physical activity and other leisure pursuits. Canadian researchers found that mothers’ perceptions of the quality of neighborhood parks influenced their decisions to allow or restrict their children’s use (Tucker, Gilliland, & Irwin, 2007; Tucker et al., 2009). Some mothers were willing to and did drive outside their neighborhood to go to a park they perceived as being safer or having better quality equipment than the one nearest home. Concerns about the safety of the environment around the family home (e.g., traffic, stranger danger) caused mothers to limit children’s independent play outdoors or how far from home they could go when, for example, riding their bikes (Bevan & Reilly, 2011; Jago et al., 2009). In a study focused on girls, mothers identified lack of sidewalks in the neighborhood as a barrier to their daughters’ physical activity (Gordon-Larsen et al., 2004).

One of the challenges is that parents’ fear and anxiety can produce a vicious cycle of fear. When there is a perception that a neighborhood is unsafe, it is less likely that children will be out and about. There is less social interaction among members of the neighborhood among both children and adults. With less interaction, fears of stranger danger can increase. Parents may then be more likely to transport their children around the neighborhood (e.g., to school, to the park or playground, to a friend’s house). This creates more traffic in the neighborhood which increases road safety fears (Mullen, 2003).

Unfortunately, some children live in neighborhoods where there is physical disorder (e.g., graffiti, beer bottles on the street) and social disorder (e.g., people drinking in public, people selling drugs) can influence both parents’ and children’ perception of a neighborhood’s safety.

Outcomes of Children’s Decreased Neighborhood Outdoor Play

There are some unfortunate outcomes of children not being free to play outdoors or move around their neighborhood. First, many researchers argue and have produced evidence that outdoor play is a strong determinant of physical activity. If simple outdoor activities become extinct, the levels of children’s physical activity could continue to decrease because outdoor play is a strong determinant of physical activity. Second, without activities like road hockey, bicycling, kick the can, capture the flag, and even hopscotch, there could be lost opportunities, as Paul Barter suggests, for developing self-confidence and problem solving skills. Third, with adult rules and strict boundaries, opportunities for exploration, creativity, and innovation may be lost.

Preserving Outdoor Play

Can anything be done to preserve the hopscotch experience or increase the independent mobility of children during their leisure time within their neighborhoods? One study suggests that mothers who interacted with neighbors and felt part of the community were more likely to support the independent mobility of their children. So perhaps knowing one’s neighbors and having one’s neighbors know your children could help parents feel more comfortable with providing their children with more freedom.

Many communities and neighborhoods have installed “traffic calming” measures (e.g., speed humps; speed radars; narrowing streets) to reduce speed and/or volume of traffic where appropriate. I live on a long, straight street with lots of children in my neighborhood. After several reports and complaints to police about driver speed by members of the neighborhood, speed humps were installed at three points on my long street. This has forced drivers to slow down and, from a practical perspective, encourages a relatively slow speed driving the entire street because of the strategically placed humps. Advocating for traffic calming devices may be an action parents (and even neighbors without children) can take to reduce the risk to children playing in the neighborhood.


Some cities are also putting bike lanes on busier streets to provide a space for bikers on the road and to provide a very physical indicator to drivers that they need to share the road with cyclists. Bike lanes can, at the very least, reduce the perception of road hazards and some communities that have made bike lanes part of the road infrastructure notice less vehicle/bicycle conflict (Chen et al., 2012). Changing the infrastructure proves more effective than educating drivers and children about how to behave safely and harmoniously on the road together. Something else to advocate for.

bike lane

The more complicated issues to deal with related to perceived neighborhood safety and children’s outdoor play are those falling under physical and social disorder. Police action in such neighborhoods would be important as would working to make the neighborhood as aesthetically pleasing as possible (e.g., removing graffiti when it appears). However, this takes considerable commitment from members of the neighborhood and the municipal government. A first step may be recognizing that physical and social disorder does affect children’s outdoor play and working to advocate for children’s opportunity to be and feel safe engaging in outdoor play.


Bevan, A. L., & Reilly, S. M. (2011). Mothers’ efforts to promote healthy nutrition and physical activity for their preschool children. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 26, 395–403.

Chen, L., Chen, C., Ewing, R., McKnight, C. E., Srinivasan, R., & Roe, M. (2012). Safetycountermeasures and crash reduction in New York City—Experience and lessons learned. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 50, 312-322.

Gordon-Larsen, P., Griffiths, P., Bentley, M. E., Ward, D. S., Kelsey, K., Shields, K., et al. (2004). Barriers to physical activity: qualitative data on caregiver-daughter perceptions and practices. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 27, 218–223.

Jago, R., Thompson, J. L., Page, A. S., Brockman, R., Cartwright, K., & Fox, K. R. (2009). Licence to be active: Parental concerns and 10–11-year-old children’s ability to be independently physically active. Journal of Public Health, 31, 472-477.

Molnar, B. E., Gortmaker, S. L., Bull, F. C, & Buka, S. L. (2004). Unsafe to play? Neighborhood disorder and lack of safety predict reduced physical activity among urban children and adolescents. American Journal of Health Promotion, 18(5), 378-386.

Tucker, P., Gilliland, J., & Irwin, J. D. (2007). Splashpads, swings, and shade: Parents’ preferences for neighbourhood parks. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 98(3), 198-202.

Tucker, T., Irwin, J. D., Gilliland, J., He, M., Larsen, K., Hess, P. (2009). Environmental influences on physical activity levels in youth. Health & Place, 15, 357–363

Rape Culture: Fear as a Barrier to Leisure Participation


For the last 24 hours, I’ve been bothered by a story I saw on the news last night. At Saint Mary’s University this week (in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada), Frosh Leaders led students in a chant that glorified rape (read more here). A video was released of students reciting the chant. It was shocking to watch. Apparently, similar chants have been created in the past and there is some discussion in the news that similar messages are communicated on other campuses. Disturbing.

Since hearing the story, I have been thinking about the norms, values, and attitudes that were being communicated to new students and reinforced for returning students with that chant. I’ve been thinking about female students on that campus who may have been sexually assaulted at some point in their life or who already had anxiety or fear about being assaulted prior to arriving on campus (women are constantly warned about behaviors they should not do in order to stay safe or precautions they should take to stay safe). I wonder what it feels like for them to walk the campus and be among their peers.

Those who advocate for the prevention of sexual assault and violence against women have indicated that this chant reinforces the rape culture in our society. The “rape culture” has been defined as a culture that normalizes sexual assault and desensitizes both men and women to the issue of sexualized violence. It is a culture wherein the dominant attitudes are ones that tolerate or excuse rapists and puts the onus on victims (or potential victims) to prevent rape from occurring to them.

For years now, in my Gender, Leisure, and Sport course, I have had class discussions about fear for personal safety as a barrier to women’s participation in recreation and leisure pursuits. Some academic research within the leisure studies field exists on the topic (Coble, Selin, & Erickson, 2003; Wesely & Gaarder, 2004; Whyte & Shaw, 1994) . We discuss the research. Then, many women in my class offer their experiences with fear. They share how their fear for personal safety, mainly the fear of sexual assault, influences where they participate in activities they want to do or enjoy and when they participate. They go for runs before dark. They avoid certain trails in the city or paths on campus – “fear zones” as they have been referred to. They plan to go places in pairs or as a group. If they are out alone at night, they talk on the phone so that if something happens to them, someone will know. Before they leave, they inform people where they are going and when they will be back. Some have taken self-defense classes. They avoid listening to their iPod when walking in specific places or at night so they can “stay alert” to any noises that may indicate danger. Fear has appeared to affect many women’s ability to move around campus and town freely – as freely as they would like. It has influenced the enjoyment of activities they do. For example, rather than enjoying a nice solo hike in the woods – taking in the smells and sounds – one student explained how she was hyper-aware of other hikers and was paying more attention to other hikers she met and whether they seemed threatening than she did to her natural environment. Running without their iPod (to “stay alert”) is not as enjoyable as running with music. Some students wonder if their fear or paranoia is over the top and yet, they explain, they have been constantly warned about the importance of protecting themselves and “being smart”. And so, at some level and by some women, there is an acceptance of the culture as “the way it is” and they make an effort to negotiate it so they can still experience leisure they enjoy. I’m always struck by how much planning goes into some women’s leisure activities in order to reduce their sense of fear and/or increase their sense of safety. And sometimes, some women find it’s just too much effort. Their roommate doesn’t want to go to they gym with them or their partner doesn’t want to go for the hike in the woods. Finding someone else to go with can be too much work. So, they don’t participate.

Their stories prompt me to think of the regular reminders I received when I lived on campus during my first four years of university – “don’t walk home from the library alone at night,” “if you’ve had too much to drink, don’t get separated from your girlfriends,” “don’t leave your drink unattended at the bar,” “call the walk-home service if you don’t have someone you know to walk you home”. Then, when something did happen on campus, there were alerts posted everywhere (doors to academic buildings, the dining hall, residences) reminding us of the precautions we should take. At times, it felt exhausting.

Men in my class have also talked about how they have sensed women’s fear of them. For example, many men have watched women they were walking toward cross the street to avoid meeting them on the sidewalk and having to pass by in close proximity. Despite not having any intent to harm the women on the street, or any women ever for that matter, these men have expressed that they feel guilty… for being male and instilling fear in women simply by being a male figure in the dark. Many men are aware of the fear women have – the fear their sisters, girlfriends, residence mates, or classmates live with. A number of them have described roles they have played in facilitating women’s “safe” arrival to or from leisure activities. They go to the gym with their girlfriends or female friends – not necessarily at the time they would prefer to go, but they go as the “buddy” to travel to and from with. They walk women home after events – concerts, plays, evenings at the bar. One male biked on trails with his sister one summer after someone was sexually assaulted. He was worried about her and since she was an avid cyclist, he ended up become quite an avid cyclist as well. Some men have expressed that this is one of the roles they feel that they are expected to play – to protect women. For these reasons, I can’t ignore the impact that the rape culture has on men as well.

As a woman, there is much that disturbs me about this story. As a leisure scientist, the impact of the rape culture on women’s leisure is something I can’t avoid thinking about. Since freedom is a key aspect of satisfying leisure experiences, the fear of sexual assault surely affects the level of satisfaction that women experience in certain circumstances – regardless of whether a woman has ever experience sexual assault or not.

References/Further Reading:

Coble, T. G., Selin, S. W., & Erickson, B. B. (2003). Hiking alone: Understanding fear, negotiation strategies, and leisure experience. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(1), 1-22.

Wesely, J. K., & Gaarder, E. (2004). The gendered “nature” of the urban outdoors: Women negotiating fear of violence. Gender & Society, 18(5), 645-663.

Whyte, L. B., & Shaw, S. M. (1994). Women’s leisure: An exploratory study of fear of violence as a leisure constraint. Journal of Applied Recreation Research, 19(1), 5-21.


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