Participants generally spend about nine months in the program, and there is always a waiting list, Jue said. Research published by Bartels in 2010 found a dropout rate of 20 percent, compared to a 25-33 percent dropout rate for healthy adults enrolled in formal exercise programs.
The research also found that participation in the program was associated with a reduction in waist size, blood pressure and symptoms of depression and an increase in physical activity, readiness to eat healthier and overall confidence levels.
Diane Croteau, 49, of Keene said the confidence she's gained through the program has alleviated her depression and improved her health. She's lost 60 pounds in the last year and works out at the YMCA every week day.
"When I first started In SHAPE, I was a little wary about going and exercising in front of people. But once I started, it wasn't bad, and I got to meet a lot of people outside of In SHAPE," she said. "It's been basically life-changing for me."
She and other participants said the health mentors they've worked with know how to strike a balance between being supportive and challenging. If a participant isn't feeling up to going to the gym, mentors will go to their homes and take them out for walks. If someone is dealing with a medical issue, the mentors help contact doctors.
"It's a personal relationship," said Paula Wheeler, 68, of Keene, another longtime participant. "They offer you a lot of respect, and it doesn't matter where you are. You can be a very in-shape person or you can be a person who really has a lot of work to do, but they're accepting of who you are."
While several mental health agencies in other states have used In SHAPE as a model for similar programs, the New Hampshire expansion is the first time such a program will be implemented statewide, Bartels said.
Carey was glad to hear about those plans and said he hopes others will get just as much out of the program as he has.
"You've got to say to yourself, 'Do I want to be here in 10 years where I am now or do I want to do something with my life? Do I want to stay out of the hospital? Do I want to become productive?'" he said.
"That's what it comes down to. My life isn't perfect ... but it's a far cry from what it was 15 years ago, a far cry. And I'm very happy with it."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.