Wellness program for mental health consumers proves life-changing

June 12th, 2018
Carol Brady reads the handout in a Healthy Solutions class.

Carol Brady has been amazed by the improvement in her mind, mood and body since she started Southwest Solutions’ Healthy Solutions program last October. Amazed and inspired.

“Now I want to live longer than I had expected before,” said Carol, who will turn 55 in July. “I love life and appreciate things more than I ever have. I want to be fit and active for my grandkids and watch them grow up.”

Healthy Solutions encompasses a variety of weekly classes to educate and encourage participants to exercise, cook and eat healthier, manage stress, reduce smoking, and decrease the risk of diabetes. The program is offered to consumers in our Adult Counseling Services on Waterman Street in southwest Detroit.

Carol has become passionate about participating in as many classes as possible during the week, and she continues to experience steady progress. When she began Healthy Solutions, she weighed 228 pounds. She has lost more than 30 pounds in the last eight months. She walks two miles a day, despite a painful back problem. She has given up sugar and fried foods, prepares regular meals that are good for her, and keeps a “food and mood log.” She makes sure she drinks enough water. And she adheres to a disciplined sleep cycle.

“I’ve made so many changes in my lifestyle because of the classes and it’s made a tremendous difference,” Carol said. “I have a lot more energy. I am much more social and confident. My mind and memory are sharper, and I am more aware of my surroundings. I strive to learn something new every day.”

Carol has also cut her cigarette use considerably. She started smoking when she was 13 and has smoked as many as 30 cigarettes a day as recently as the beginning of last year. She is now limiting her cigarette consumption to six a day and hopes that she will eventually quit entirely.

Cigarette addiction among individuals with mental illness is epidemic. Research shows that individuals with serious mental illness consume almost half of all the cigarettes used in the United States. Cigarette use significantly contributes to the fact that people with serious mental illness have an average life expectancy that is 25 years shorter than others.

This staggering fact is a major reason that Southwest Solutions began its Healthy Solutions program in 2012.

“The program can have a real and positive impact on every aspect of a person’s life,” said Barbara Gray, who oversees Healthy Solutions. “It enhances the sense of self-efficacy and empowers individuals to feel more in control of their health and decision-making.”

Carol has been receiving mental health treatment since her early 20s. She suffers from serious depression and anxiety, which she said stems from deep childhood trauma.

“The psychiatrists, counselors and staff at the Waterman Clinic have been incredibly helpful and supportive in helping me deal with my illness and the issues in my life,” Carol said. “They tell me that I am an inspiration to them.”

With the changes in her health and wellbeing, Carol is redefining her goals for the future. She wants to continue to lose weight, without putting undue pressure on herself, and wants to reduce the amount of psychiatric and other medications that she takes. She has not worked in the past because of health issues, but now she aspires to become a peer support specialist and help others with mental illness improve their lives. She has already become a strong advocate for the program.

“When I see other clients in the waiting room and elsewhere at the clinic, I talk to them about joining the program so they’ll feel better and live longer,” Carol said. “I share some of my story so they can understand the good things that can happen if you try.”

Healthy Solutions is funded through Medicaid billing and a grant from the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Studies show that every $1 invested in a program like Healthy Solutions results in a nearly $4 savings in healthcare and other costs.

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