UM professor-created program adopts Weight Watchers model for mental health support
By participating in Weight Watchers Years ago, Dr. Patricia Deldin admired the program’s model of building healthy habits through supportive peer groups. And she wondered, “Why don’t we have something like this for mental health?”
âI decided to make the most of everything I saw and create a great, comprehensive program,â says Deldin, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Michigan School of Medicine.
The result is Mood Lifters, a program that brings together adults facing stress, difficult life situations, depression or anxiety in peer-led classes where they learn science-based strategies to improve their mental health. Deldin, founder and CEO of Mood Lifters, officially began pursuing the idea in 2014 with a scholarship to the Center for International Women’s Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first Mood Lifters pilot took place in 2016. After leading five groups (and 600 participants) through the program, collecting feedback, making improvements, and performing a random check, Deldin had the data she needed to launch Mood Lifters as an effective modality to support mental health.
Dr Patricia Deldin.âWe didn’t invent anything. This tool is the best there is and we put it in an innovative science-based format, âsays Deldin. âWe know it works. On average, people with moderate to severe depression or anxiety will experience significant improvement. “
Participants take part in 15 weekly, hour-long group meetings facilitated by trained leaders and assistants. To help participants create habits that support their mental health, leaders assign them home chores during the week. A points system and weekly recording promote accountability and encourage participants to adopt behaviors such as eating healthier foods, getting enough sleep, or exercising regularly.
“[Mental illness] has biological, psychological and social causes and consequences, âsays Deldin. âWe know that some people have a more biological predisposition to not sleep well and that this can lead to mood or anxiety disorders. On the other hand, once you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or stress, it can be difficult to sleep. Relationships can help prevent stress and [help you] cure but can also cause problems. In Mood Lifters, people learn strategies thatâ¦ lay the foundation for a healthy mind. “
The power of peer support
Responsibility to group leaders, helpers, and other group members gives people the extra boost they need to exercise more, eat better, and complete other assigned tasks that help improve their well-being. -be mental.
âMood Lifters helps them get used to it. In Weight Watchers, someone was watching over me and looking at the scales. It was powerful, âsays Deldin. âSomeone has to be there. It can never be just an app. The relationship with the other band members was so important to how I made changes in my life.
Unlike talk therapy, Mood Lifters doesn’t ask group members to share their deepest, darkest secrets. The program shares strategies and group members discuss how these strategies work for them.
âPeople have nothing to share. Members talk about Mood Lifters as a class as opposed to therapy, âsays Deldin. âIt doesn’t look like therapy at all. People are happy, talking and engaged. It’s a very different approach.
While developing Mood Lifters, Deldin tested peer-led meetings versus meetings led by behavioral health professionals, but found no statistically significant differences. All leaders and assistants have taken the Mood Lifters courses as participants. They follow the same standardized, evidence-based program and have the option to consult with professional staff at Mood Lifters if there is a problem. Some work groups and organizations sponsor Mood Lifters groups. However, the cost of participating as an individual is $ 50 per month – and scholarships are available.
âMood Lifters is affordable because we don’t have people like me charging $ 200 an hour,â Deldin says. âPeople can take the whole program, 15 weeks, for $ 200. It is less than the co-payment for therapy and there is no waiting list. Here in Ann Arbor at [University of Michigan] Depression center where I am, it takes weeks and weeks of waiting for people to get dates. “
Teresa Kruse runs five Mood Lifters groups: two for adults affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, a new group of adults sponsored by the Ann Arbor YMCAand two groups for parents of children in palliative care. She attended Mood Lifters three years ago and says she âlovedâ the program. Her positive experience and background in social work prompted her to take what she describes as âextensiveâ training to become a Mood Lifters leader.
âThis is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, working with other people who have mental health issues or who just need mental health support,â says Kruse. . âParticipants told me, ‘You and this program have changed my life. It is incredibly rewarding. “
Kruse first learned of Mood Lifters when her young son was hospitalized for open heart surgery. She saw a flyer on a bulletin board looking for research topics to participate in the program and signed up.
âParenting a critically ill child is incredibly stressful and comes with its own challenges: the emotional pressure and worries of a sick child, lack of sleep, and the stress of dealing with health systems,â says Kruse. âAnd the company I worked for was closing, so it was a particularly stressful time. Mood Lifters was exactly what I needed. Each of the 15 meetings has been invaluable. “
Now that Mood Lifters’ adult groups have proven effective, the program is expanding to target specific demographic groups. Groups of athletes are already in place. Soon, additional groups will support children, adolescents, older adults, graduate students and young professionals.
“I am delighted with the groups we are helping [and] with the specific groups that we will have for parents, seniors, teens and athletes, âsays Kruse. âI also like the company and the people who work there. Everyone has a “How can we help?” How can we make it better? ‘ It is very rewarding. “
Sarah Work leads Mood Lifters groups at Corner Health Center at Ypsilanti, where she is also responsible for program evaluation. She also completed Mood Lifters as a participant.
âFor me, the most impactful thing was learning the thinking traps, which are learned from cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea is, it’s not because you think something is true, âsays Work. âOur brains jump to the worst case scenario or thoughts like, ‘Oh, I’m so fucked up. I am a mistake. ‘ These negative thoughts are becoming habitual. When you think about this negative thing about yourself so often, you believe it to be true. ”
For COVID-19 and beyond
Even if COVID-19 has strained our collective mental health and prevented face-to-face meetings, Mood Lifters continued to show positive results throughout the pandemic. In fact, when COVID-19 interrupted the group Work was leading in March 2020, moving it from person-in-person to virtual, she and Deldin didn’t expect to see any improvements among the attendees.
âWe measure things like perceived stress, negative emotions, and social functioning. We weren’t expecting results. But we have actually seen improvements, even for the frontline health worker. [who was participating]Says Work. âI strongly believe in the program. It saw people go through a very difficult time [and] has given people coping strategies, social connections and support to develop healthier habits for themselves and maintain their mental well-being through it all.
Mood Lifters is not a stand-alone response for people who are actively suicidal, manic, psychotic, or have severe personality disorders – and Deldin stresses that the program does not replace traditional therapy and treatment. However, he helped many of the group live lives with deeper meaning, less anxiety and depression, more joy, and better relationships.
âSome people will not go for treatment. Others can’t or don’t need it. They don’t have serious difficulties, âsays Deldin. “The most important thing about Mood Lifters is that we provide high quality care to people who otherwise wouldn’t get it.”
A freelance writer and editor Estelle Slootmaker is the happiest writings on social justice, wellness and the arts. She is editor-in-chief of development news Fast growing media and chairs The Tree Amigos, Wyoming City Tree Commission. His greatest achievement is his five extraordinary adult children. You can contact Estelle at [email protected] or www.constellations.biz.
Photos of Doug Coombe except the photos of Dr Patricia Deldin, courtesy of Dr Patricia Deldin.