To build a mental wellness plan, take it one step at a time

Michigan mental health professionals share tips on building a mental wellness plan for 2024.
Kim Hargis, LPN works on a mandala mural at Summit Pointe. Self-expression through mandalas fosters self-reflection, focused attention, and emotional well-being.
As a professor of psychology and deputy director of the University of Michigan’s Eisenberg Family Depression Center, Dr. Patricia Deldin travels a lot for her job. One of things she always does when at a new place is “make myself go to the art museums.”

“And then I’m like, yeah no. I really don’t like art museums,” Deldin says, adding that as a professor it seemed as if she should enjoy visiting museums. “So the thing that I should do that everyone enjoys, actually made me bored and annoyed like an expensive MRI. I just don’t like it.”

Instead, she started visiting grocery stores. When she was little, she had wanted to be a chef. That interest in food carried over to her adult life as she loves seeing and trying new foods.

“I enjoy it so much more,” Deldin says. “I talk to local people, and I ask ‘What do you do with this?’” 

Dr. Patricia Deldin.Deldin’s point is that when it comes to mental health, doing something that is pleasurable is an important component in building a mental wellness plan.

“If it is not enjoyable for you to plan a vacation then that doesn’t count as a pleasurable activity,” Deldin says. “I am talking about what you enjoy when you’re alone, no one knows about it, and it’s really in your heart that you enjoy.”

Deldin emphasizes finding pleasurable activities in Mood Lifters, the mental health program she created. During the 15-week, peer-facilitated program, participants learn science-based strategies for improving their mental health by practicing strategies and doing activities in five areas: body, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relationships. Deldin notes that Mood Lifters works with people where they are at, adding a habit cannot be changed overnight. 

“We know that exercising five times a week, 30 minutes a day aerobically is as effective as antidepressants,” Deldin says. “Now, if I told a depressed person who's not getting out of bed to go run 30 minutes a day, they'd look at me like I have two heads. 

“So what I would say instead is, ‘Try to get up every day and take a shower. Next week, let's walk down to the end of the block. And then after that, maybe go 10 minutes and so on.”

Of course, not every activity that improves mental health is pleasurable, which is why Mood Lifters encourages both pleasurable and meaningful activities. For example, exercising 30 minutes a day might be hard for a person, but they may find walking more enjoyable than running. 

“If you're volunteering at an old folks’ home cleaning up bed pans, it's not a lot of fun, but it gives you that sense of meaning,” Deldin says. “So, we encourage people to do both pleasurable and meaningful activities, activities that are really pleasurable for them. Everyone's different.

“I love to blow glass. My son wouldn't step in there because it scares him, that 2000-degree glass. It wouldn't be fun for most people. But for me, I love it. So, it really is what gives you pleasure.”

Jessica Jones is a resource specialist at Summit Pointe Psychiatric Urgent Care.
Making sure to unplug

During a recent The Richard Piet Show podcast, Summit Pointe Counselor Cherilynn Sims notes that, in this day and age, to feel stressed, all a person has to do is turn on the TV. 

“With all the negativity out there and people being angry, I tell people all the time to unplug,” Sims says. “When a computer doesn’t work, they tell you to turn it off or unplug the router and give it five seconds and then plug it back in … I tell people in my practice, and I practice it myself. I just ‘turn off.’ Pull the plugs, turn off the TV, and just sit and just listen to the quiet or put some music on.”

Many people do not take the time for self care whether that is taking a walk, getting enough sleep, being well hydrated, or eating healthy foods. Too often, when people start to consider such self-care methods, they take on an all-or-nothing mindset. 

“I believe the hardest word in the English language is ‘try,’ and if you just try and give yourself some credit, then we build on that,” she says, adding it takes about 22 days to build a habit. “So, putting on shoes and getting to the door is success.”

When something does happen that throws the balance off, she advises clients to take a deep breath and refocus on how to get that balance back. 

John Boyd is a recovery coach at Summit Pointe Psychiatric Urgent Care.
Gratitude is the word

Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan and founder of be nice., says she, too, feels that when building a mental wellness plan, it is important not to make it too complicated. This is why she loves the be nice. four-step action plan: notice, invite, challenge, empower.

“I think looking at what we're doing for our health overall ends up being the power of physical and mental health,” Buck says, adding that it’s important to make realistic goals.

NPR reported that getting seven to nine hours of sleep can reduce depression by 22%. Buck says it is also important to rest during the day, giving the brain a chance to settle down. This can be as simple as putting the cellphone aside for an hour, leaving it behind when going on a walk, or committing to staying off it for a set time.

A focus on good nutrition can include making sure to eat breakfast or drinking plenty of water. Cultivating and nurturing relationships is also important. This can be as simple as setting a goal to reconnect with a friend.

“I think a big thing that has come to the surface a lot lately is practicing gratitude. That is obviously being grateful but also looking at it more deeply, about daily gratitude,” Buck says. “It has been proven that by being grateful for things, thanking somebody every day, meaning myself being thankful to something per day, reduces anxiety and depression.”

A five-minute gratitude journal can help increase long-term well-being by 10 to 25 percent. Buck notes that the journal can be a piece of paper where a person writes down what they were grateful for each day.

Melissa Mead is a recovery coach at Summit Pointe Psychiatric Urgent Care.
Sims adds that, like many of Michigan's community mental health agencies, Summit Pointe offers a number of programs to help people find that balance in their lives. Summit Pointe's programs include First Step Psychiatric Urgent Care, which offers a 24-hour helpline, 1-800-632-5449, peer supports, recovery coaches, psychiatric services, outpatient therapy, substance use disorder treatment, and a veteran navigator to help veterans and their families connect to resources. 

“If you are feeling ‘crispy around the edges,’ do not wait until you are burned-out to see someone,” Sims concludes. “Come in and talk to someone.” 

Joanne Bailey-Boorsma has 30-plus years of writing experience having served as a reporter and editor for several West Michigan publications, covering a variety of topics from local news to arts and entertainment. 

Photos by John Grap.
Dr. Patricia Deldin photo courtesy of subject.

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganBarry County Community Mental Health Authority, Center for Health and Research TransformationIntegrated Services of Kalamazoo, Mental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorth Country CMHNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointPines Behavioral Health Services, Pivotal, Riverwood Center,  St. Clair County CMH, Sanilac County CMH,  Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health, Summit Pointe, Van Buren Community Mental Health, Washtenaw County CMH, and Woodlands Behavioral Health Network.

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