Patricia Deldin’s enterprise Mood Lifters developed from a desire to increase the accessibility and efficacy of mental health care, but the spark came from Weight Watchers.
Like many, Deldin, who is the associate director of the Depression Center, had great concerns about the state of mental health care in the U.S: the shortage of providers, the relatively small percentage of people who seek mental health care, the limitations of medication and therapy, and increases in suicide, depression, and substance abuse. “Whatever we’re doing is not working well enough,” she asserts.
Enter Weight Watchers. When Deldin began attending meetings a few years ago, she was impressed with their model, which she found psychologically sound, data driven, and effective in helping people lose weight. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had this for mental health,” she wondered. “$50 a month, evidence-based care that’s highly effective.”
Deldin examined what made Weight Watcher work: Peer-led meetings available everywhere, everyday that educate participants on healthy eating and lifestyles, a clear point system to follow, accountability with weekly weigh-ins, and positive reinforcement.
To develop Mood Lifters, as Deldin calls this endeavor, she took a comprehensive approach, addressing biology, emotions, behaviors, and relationships. Instead of weighing in each week, clients check in with a questionnaire assessing factors such as joy, their physical health, and the health of their relationships. She developed a point system similar to that in Weight Watchers and based on existing research, in which clients earn points in six domains: biological, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, sleep, and social. She chose activities that have been shown in the literature to work in addressing mental health concerns, such as exercise and regulating emotions. Group discussions focus on such topics as how to build better relationships and how to improve sleep hygiene, and include directions on how participants earn points.
Working with graduate students, Deldin developed 15 modules and trained peer leaders. They advertised on Facebook for the first sessions and the response was overwhelming. Deldin was thrilled to see that participants not only returned after the first session, but came to every meeting, with only a few absences. The meetings felt very different from therapy, more like a class, and participants had fun, joking and supporting each other. And most importantly, saw improvements across the board in their well-being.
Deldin and her team have run the program with several groups and for each they’ve seen a robust improvement in mood. They administered batteries before and after each group, looking at anxiety, depression, personality, and work function, and participants saw improvement on almost every measure. Not everyone sticks with the program and there is a drop out rate of about 30%, as Deldin expected. But those who do complete the program get significantly better. Deldin is currently undertaking a randomized controlled trial, and so far has seen the same results. Participants’ feedback is also extremely positive. “I’m now hopeful for a better future and have some tools to help me along the way,” one participant wrote. “My marriage is better, my job is more rewarding, I’m taking pleasure in more of my day-to-day activities, my drinking has been curbed, and I’m truly happy to be here now.”
While Deldin recognizes that Mood Lifters won’t take the place of treatment for people with severe mental illness, it is ideal for people who have anxiety, depression, and/or some substance abuse. It is also is, inexpensive, evidence based, and highly effective. “At every point I’ve been skeptical,” Deldin says. But in every case the data has supported the model. Developing Mood Lifters as a commercial business modeled on Weight Watchers will allow Deldin to expand quickly, as it’s highly scalable, and to incorporate new research findings as soon as they are available.
Deldin is currently working on expanding Mood Lifters and building its basic infrastructure. She is planning to test an online version, using a platform that allows live virtual meetings. If it is successful online, it will be a significant boon to regions of the country where there is a shortage of mental health providers. She also hopes to develop a model for people with more serious mental health problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.