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Pilot project tackles mental illness with lifestyle change and diabetes prevention
The mind-body link
Dawn, who had a family history of diabetes, wanted to lose weight for an upcoming family wedding.
Through the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), she learned about portion control and emotional eating, a pattern she often fell into when facing symptoms of her mental illness. The program motivated her to get active and stay accountable with her coach and classmates.
“I lost 14 pounds in the first 6 months,” Dawn said.
It's also helping her anxiety.
For Dawn, and many others, physical wellbeing and mental health are connected. Studies show lifestyle choices, especially eating healthy foods or exercising, can help manage stress and mental health triggers. People with serious mental illness are also at an increased risk of chronic disease, particularly heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Adapting an innovative model
Recognizing the need to address mental health and chronic disease, MDH partnered with the Department of Human Services (DHS) to pilot the DPP for people with serious mental illness.
The project paired the DPP, which has been proven to help people lose weight and reduce risk for developing diabetes, with the DHS program, adult rehabilitative mental health services (ARMHS). ARMHS helps people with a range of independent living and community skills to enhance wellness.
“Mental health symptoms can stand in the way of an individual making progress towards their goals. By addressing mental health symptoms, ARMHS can help individuals achieve the outcomes they desire,” said Wade Keller, DHS ARMHS Program Consultant.
The DPP pilot encouraged people with mental illness to enroll in a customized National DPP class to help manage mental health symptoms and reduce risk of developing diabetes or other chronic diseases.
“People with mental illness often fear change or lose interest in activities,” said DPP coach Chelsie Riggert with Southwestern Mental Health. “They may have self-loathing and low self-esteem which make it overwhelming to even get started making lifestyle changes. The DPP showed our class that keeping healthy habits is possible and makes them feel better day after day.”
The DPP was a safe space for participants to work towards health goals with others who faced the same challenges. They saw a difference in their mental health and became more confident in their ability to manage their overall health and wellbeing.
Building a healthier future
The pilot project ended in 2018. Results from five classes with 24 participants:
- 63% lost weight (15 participants)
- All participants reported eating healthier and exercising more
- DPP coaches were ARMHS workers, which helped them deliver the DPP in a more meaningful and appropriate way.
The project had its limitations. Participants did not reach 5-7% weight loss required to meet CDC goals for the National DPP, but many reported better health and showed progress. One of the greatest outcomes was that the participants became part of a group, which, in the mental health arena, is a very big win. DHS is exploring the opportunity to bill the DPP through ARMHS for others with mental illness.
Since Dawn completed the National DPP, she has lost weight and kept it off. She discovered she loves walking and the experience helped her bond with her mother, who has diabetes. Now, they’ve set aside time to take an exercise class together.
The power of the National DPP did not stop when they class ended. It’s still at work today and will continue to empower Dawn tomorrow, and the next day, and many days to come.