All posts by Mark Wilhelm

New Indiana State Museum Exhibit Aims to Help “FIX” the Opioid Crisis in Our State

Since at least 1999, when opioids began to be prescribed at a high rate, the United States has been gripped by the major public health crisis that is opioid use and overdose. This epidemic of prescription and illegal opioids has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and had an impact on countless more. According to statistics from the CDC, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and of the 70,200 recorded drug overdose deaths in 2017, around 68% involved an opioid.

The opioid crisis has hit many Midwestern states particularly hard, and Indiana is no exception. The State Department of Health reports that in 2017, Indiana had a drug overdose rate of 29.4 deaths per 100,000 people, it’s highest rate ever. This put our state in 14th place in the nation for most drug overdose deaths, with a greater year-to-year increase in overdose rates than any other state except New Jersey and Nebraska.

In response, Indiana governor Eric J. Holcomb has stressed the importance of helping individuals who suffer from substance use disorder as well as understanding the nature of their disease:

“Substance use impacts our family, friends and neighbors. That’s why continuing to help more people enter recovery will always remain a top priority. The more we know about the ways it affects people, the better equipped we’ll be to avoid dependence or support someone you love.”

Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb
Governor Eric J. Holcomb

To this end, the Indiana State Museum is opening a new exhibit called “FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis.” A collaboration between the State Museum and more than 50 community partners across Indiana, the exhibit will explore the many faces of this crisis that affects all Hoosiers, ultimately aiming to build empathy and reduce stigma surrounding opioid use disorder.

Cummins’ Carman Allen, a Certified Recovery Specialist with a Substance Abuse Endorsement, is contributing her personal story of addiction and recovery to one portion of the upcoming exhibit. We spoke with Carman to learn more about her contribution and what to expect from FIX when it opens on February 1st.

Viewing the Opioid Crisis through a Personal Lens

Carman Allen, CRS-SA
"I like to encourage and inspire hope with everything that I do, not because of my job, but because of who I am," says Carman Allan, CPS-SA, a peer recovery specialist at Cummins Behavioral Health.

For Carman Allen, the opioid epidemic is a crisis with very personal stakes. “Part of my history includes opiates and other drugs,” she says. Today, she leverages her own experiences to help others who struggle with substance use, co-facilitating Intensive Outpatient Therapy groups at Cummins and serving on the Board of Directors for the Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition. As such, she is able to speak about substance use disorder from the perspective of both a behavioral health provider and a person who is in recovery.

This made her a perfect choice for a part of the Indiana State Museum’s exhibit that focuses on the stories of individuals in recovery from substance use. “I was at an event for Cummins, and I ended up meeting someone from the State Museum,” Carman explains. “She talked about this exhibit and how the museum wanted to take a bold voice to the community about the opioid epidemic, and I was invited to do an interview. The whole idea is to give an up-close-and-personal view of people that are recovering and what that looks like in the community.”

Carman’s interview will be shown alongside others in the exhibit at special video kiosks, providing a glimpse into the recovery stories of real people who have survived opioid dependence. She believes her contribution, and the contributions of others like her, will help the public see individuals with substance use disorder as real people and inspire the hope of recovery for those who are still suffering. Carman says,

“I was so grateful that it gave me liberty not only to share about my addiction and recovery, but also to focus on how, for me, that was a co-occurring disorder. It allowed me to not just say, ‘I started using drugs and this is what happened.’ It allowed me to create a picture, so to speak.

I really do believe that recovery is real, and I believe that it is possible for everybody. And it’s no longer connected with just one type of person or a couple types of people. This is something that is affecting our whole community, our whole state, our whole country. And I think that the more we can put a face on it and bring awareness to it, the better, even for people that still might be suffering. They might see it, and that could spark hope.”

What to Expect from the Full State Museum Exhibit

FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis

In addition to stories of recovery like Carman’s, the FIX exhibit will include many ways for attendees to learn about the history and scope of the opioid crisis. “The exhibit is about building awareness, decreasing stigma, empowering the community with education, and showing what it looks like to be in the process of recovery,” Carman says.

In the exhibit, visitors will also be able to:

  • Explore the science behind opioid use disorder and cravings, and walk inside a giant fabric brain.
  • Hear true stories of recovery in video kiosks.
  • Experience art created in response to the crisis, including photography of what recovery can and does look like by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bill Foley.
  • Get up-close with artifacts from similar health crises in the past, and find out how what we learned then could help us today.
  • Engage in stress-reducing exercises such as a worry shredder, calming table or “recovery yoga” which can help everyone—not just those in recovery.
  • Find ways to affect positive change in this crisis and explore resources provided by community partners.

Along with the exhibit in Indianapolis, programs addressing the crisis will take place at the museum in Indianapolis as well as the 11 historic sites around the state, utilizing the help of community partners. The programming will extend beyond the run of the exhibit, for as long as the communities see a need for it.

These programs will include:

  • Courageous Conversations: A forum featuring different community members from around the state who will speak about their ties to the crisis and open a discussion for all to participate.
  • “Love Over Dose”: A play from Young Actors Theatre written by teens, for teens about a teenager who overdoses—and leaves close friends and family to decide whether to follow in her footsteps or make positive changes.
  • “One Choice Changes Everything”: A program featuring a CVS pharmacist who speaks to teens and their families about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and answers questions.
  • Daily engagement throughout the run of the exhibit, including music therapy, art therapy, community conversations, hands-on activities and more.

“FIX” opens at the Indiana State Museum in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, February 1st and will remain open until February 7th, 2021. We encourage anyone who cares about the health of our community and our state to find some time to explore the exhibit.

For Carman Allen, initiatives like the FIX exhibit show that the tide is changing in our country’s decades-long battle with opioid use and overdose: “The doors have been opened to walk through and to keep reminding people that recovery and healing is real. But it is a journey, because we don’t arrive. Recovery is not a destination; it is absolutely a journey.”

If you’d like to learn more about substance use disorder and how Cummins can help those who suffer with it, we suggest reading our blog post with Tracy Waible, our Director of Recovery Services!

Dual diagnosis SUD
Managing Dual Diagnosis: Cummins' Tracy Waible on How to Identify and Treat Substance Use with Co-Occurring Disorders

Exercise and Mental Health: How Physical Activity Improves Mood, Cognition, and Overall Wellness

“Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant.” — Bill Phillips, nutrition and fitness author

There are many proven benefits of regular physical activity. It’s well known that exercise can help people control their weight and decrease their risk of health conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure, but it has also been shown to increase energy levels, improve sleep quality, and boost self-confidence. Unfortunately, only 23% of American adults get enough exercise, according to statistics from the CDC.

Exercise is so beneficial for health that the government recommends adults get as much physical activity as they can throughout the day. Kaitie Delgado, a Registered Clinical Dietitian and ACSM-Certified Personal Trainer at Hendricks Regional Health, explains:

“The new 2020 guideline is that you should be moving as much as possible. It used to be, and it will still be encouraged, that you get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. You may have heard the suggestion that you do a 10-minute walk in the morning, a 10-minute walk at lunch and a 10-minute walk at dinner. Now they’re saying that you should be doing that all day long, and that the more activity you have, the better.”

Kaitie Delgado, Clinical Sports Dietitian at Hendricks Regional Health
Kaitie Delgado, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, ACSM-CPT

In addition to the numerous physical health benefits that exercise provides, it can also improve many aspects of mental health. For example, research has shown that exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression after only a single session of physical activity. Exercise is also highly effective for alleviating feelings of distress, and it has been shown to increase cognitive functioning and mental acuity, especially among older adults.

For these reasons and more, physical exercise is a simple and effective method you can use to improve your mental health, regardless of whether or not you have a diagnosed mental health condition. We spoke with Cummins’ own Letitia Haywood, Director of Operations for Boone County and an advocate of the benefits of exercise, to learn more.

Exercise and the Mind-Body Connection

Letitia Haywood, Director of Operations for Boone County at Cummins Behavioral Health Systems
"I recognize the benefits of exercise for mental health because I know how it makes me feel better," says Letita Haywood, LCSW, LCAC, C-IAYT, and Director of Operations for Boone County at Cummins BHS. In addition to her 25+ years working in the field of mental health, Letitia is also a yoga facilitator and International Certified Yoga Therapist.

You may be wondering how exercise, an activity that uses our physical body, can have an effect on our mental state. In an earlier blog post about laughter, we explained that our physiological state can actually change our emotions and mood, an interaction commonly referred to as the mind-body connection. In the same way that laughing can make us feel happy, exercise can affect our minds by altering activity in areas of the brain that control motivation, mood and memory.

“Research has proven exercise to be a good source of medicine for many mental health issues,” Letitia says. “We know that those who exercise feel energetic throughout the day, sleep more deeply at night, experience greater clarity of mind, tend to have a greater outlook on life, are more optimistic and feel a greater sense of happiness, self-confidence and overall well-being. Research has also proven that exercise relieves stress and boosts overall mood.”

On top of its impact on energy and mood, physical activity tends to improve memory, cognition, and neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s natural ability to change the way it operates. This can be especially beneficial for people who suffer from trauma-related stress and anxiety, as Letitia explains. “When I was participating with the team at Heartland Yoga Community, we worked with stroke victims, veterans with chronic pain and veterans with PTSD to demonstrate the long-term effects of yoga on their brains, their mood, their anxiety, and on any residual trauma effects that they had from their service time. We saw some phenomenal results. The veterans continued to come back, and we knew their minds were being rejuvenated just by way of their self-report,” she says.

According to Letitia, the restorative effects of exercise make it an ideal way to manage the symptoms of a variety of cognitive and mood disorders:

“Exercise can positively impact anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD, and even bipolar disorder. Back when I did my first practice with Larue Carter Hospital, they incorporated daily exercise for the adults who had schizophrenia, just to keep them mobile and not sitting in the corner of a room. It can really change the perspective of any individual that has a mental health disorder. It’s an opportunity to breathe deeply, to relax, to socialize, to strengthen their muscles and to strengthen their brain output, just by changing the environment and doing something that lifts the heart rate and helps calm the nervous system.”

How to Begin Reaping the Rewards of Exercise

Exercise for mental health

If you’d like to begin exercising for your physical and mental health, then you’re in luck, because it’s not difficult to get started. Some people hear the word “exercise” and think they need to join a gym or start doing long-distance running, but your physical activity doesn’t need to be high in intensity to provide health benefits. “It’s been noted through research that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference, which is fabulous news for those who may not have tons of time to commit to the gym,” Letitia says. “No matter one’s age or fitness ability, exercise can be modified to be a powerful tool to help anyone feel better mentally and physically.”

Before beginning any exercise regimen, it’s a good idea to talk to your physician about what kind of physical activity would be most appropriate for you. This is especially important if you have certain medical complications like high blood pressure, a heart condition or weak joints. Once you know what kind of exercise will suit you best, it’s important to choose an activity that is both challenging and enjoyable for you. “What feels good to you? What makes you smile but also makes you want to scream a little bit when you have to do it?” Letitia says.

When you begin exercising, be sure to take things slowly at first and ease into your routine. Exercising too strenuously, too soon increases your risk of sustaining an injury, so you should start with lower-intensity exercises and gradually increase their difficulty when they are no longer challenging for you. Letitia offers a few suggestions that you can consider:

“If you’re a runner, then maybe you can start with a walk-run program, where you walk for one minute and then run for one minute. If you’re older and you have some joint issues, then you can start with walking, and maybe that program would be walking for 15 minutes one day and then taking a day off to do some strength training exercises. I also think you should try to find an accountability buddy who can say, ‘Hey, Letitia, we didn’t do our five minutes yesterday. Let’s make sure to get in ten minutes today.’ It’s always nice to have that support and accountability when you’re doing something that you know is good for you, that you can try to get out of by making excuses, but that you feel really good about when it’s all done.”

Getting regular exercise is an easy, inexpensive and surprisingly effective way we can manage and improve our mental health. However, the physical component of exercise isn’t the only thing that makes it good for us. When done correctly, exercise also has a mental and a spiritual component, as Letitia explains:

“It isn’t just physical exercise that leads to better mental health. We want to make sure that we’re going a little bit deeper and focusing on body, mind and spirit as a collective, whole-person exercise experience. We might do that through deep breathing exercises, positive affirmations, or participating in an exercise group or an organized sport—things that feed our mental body as well as our social, more spiritual body. The three have to go together to provide the greatest benefit to our mental health.”

Looking for more ways to improve your mental health through basic wellness interventions? We recommend our posts on nutrition and sleep below!

Fruits and vegetables
How Nutrition Affects Mental Health with Cummins' Jamie Selby and Hendricks Regional Health's Kaitie Delgado
Dr. Ashleigh Woods Explains How—And Why—to Get a Good Night's Sleep

Managing Dual Diagnosis: Cummins’ Tracy Waible on How to Identify and Treat Substance Use with Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance use disorder, otherwise known as substance addiction, afflicts millions of people across the United States every year. According to statistics from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, the exact number is around 20.3 million people aged 12 or older. Substance use disorder, or SUD, can be a devastating disease for the person who has it as well as their loved ones, affecting everything from their physical and mental health to their economic stability.

In addition, it’s not uncommon for someone with substance use disorder to also struggle with other mental health issues. When this is the case, the person is said to have a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. According to the same survey mentioned above, 9.2 million adults had both a mental illness and SUD in 2018. However, about half of adults with co-occurring disorders did not receive treatment for either ailment.

As these statistics show, co-occurring disorders are a very significant issue in modern mental health. If a person who is suffering from co-occurring disorders does not receive proper treatment for both conditions, then there’s a high probability that their problems will only continue. Therefore, it’s important that mental health professionals and their patients know how to identify and treat co-occurring disorders.

As part of its mission to inspire the hope of recovery for everyone, Cummins Behavioral Health is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals who suffer from substance use disorder. We spoke with Tracy Waible, our Director of Recovery Services, to learn more about SUD with co-occurring disorders and the best way to treat this difficult condition.

The Problem with Co-Occurring Disorders

Tracy Waible, LCSW, LCAC
"There's a high correlation between substance use disorder and an array of other mental health disorders," says Tracy Waible (LCSW, LCAC), Director of Recovery Services at Cummins Behavioral Health.

In general, substance use is more common among people who have a mental health issue than it is among people who do not. In cases of co-occurring disorders, it’s possible for either disorder to develop first. An individual who has a mental health disorder may turn to substance use as a way of managing their symptoms, but research has shown that alcohol and drugs worsen the symptoms of many mental disorders, proving that substance use is not an effective coping strategy for mental illness.

People who suffer from mood disorders or who have experienced traumatic situations can be at especially high risk of developing co-occurring SUD. “There’s a very high correlation between PTSD and substance use disorder,” Tracy says. “A lot of people that come through our programming might have experienced trauma as a child, which could lead to them developing substance use disorder over time.”

In fact, trauma and mental illness are two key risk factors for developing SUD, especially when they occur during a person’s childhood. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, risk factors are qualities of an individual or their environment that put them at risk for developing behavioral problems. Risk factors are offset by protective factors, which are qualities that promote successful coping and adaptation to life situations. Understanding risk factors and protective factors is an important part of preventing and treating substance use disorder, as Tracy explains:

“When someone comes to Cummins seeking treatment for substance use, we use the Surgeon General’s Report on Drugs, Alcohol and Health to go through the risk factors and protective factors for developing SUD. We even train our elementary providers to do this, because some of the risk factors have to do with behavioral health issues that emerge as early as kindergarten. For adults, we use this activity to decrease stigma and shame. They can see what risk factors they had as a child, what protective factors they lacked, and how they got to where they are now. Overall, we see what we can do for prevention or wrap-around services to bolster some of those protective factors for people.”

Providing Dual Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis

We know that SUD can often come with a co-occurring disorder, and we know that treating both disorders is essential for a person’s recovery. The question that remains is how to manage treatment of a dual diagnosis.

As with any person coming into treatment, the first thing a therapist should do is assess the appropriate level of care for the client. “We use an evidence-based tool called the ASAM Criteria at intake to decide how many hours of service someone needs,” Tracy explains. At Cummins, a therapist can identify any disorders an individual may have on top of SUD and refer them to a variety of additional outpatient services, including individual therapy, family therapy, peer services, skills training and employment services. Medication-assisted treatment for substance use and medications that can help manage mental health symptoms are also available.

If a person requires a high level of care for their substance use disorder, then they might be a good fit for Intensive Outpatient Treatment, also known as IOT. This level of treatment lasts longer and goes more in-depth than standard outpatient SUD care. “IOT is nine hours a week, and it’s done in a group setting. We currently have two IOT groups in Hendricks County and one group each in Marion, Boone, Montgomery and Putnam counties,” Tracy says.

In addition, all substance use treatments provided at Cummins leverage peer recovery services to increase consumer comfort and improve treatment outcomes. Tracy explains,

“Peer recovery specialists take part in our IOT groups and are embedded in all of our SUD programming. They offer lived experience and help consumers find hope that recovery is possible. If a person isn’t sure that they want to engage in IOT, the peer recovery specialist can talk them through our services and why they’re important. They can also help people feel more comfortable when they get to their first group session, because they’re someone the person has already met and is comfortable with. Finally, peer specialists will also see some of the group members individually to help them find community resources like 12-step meetings.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, we encourage you to look into treatment with Cummins BHS. Our therapists and counselors can provide treatment for substance use as well as any co-occurring mental health issues you may have.

In the words of Tracy Waible, at Cummins, “Our philosophy is to treat the whole person. We want to look at every area of their life to see how we can help them move forward in those areas and be happy, healthy, productive human beings.”

For more information about the different types of services Cummins provides, we recommend reading our blog posts on school-based services and employment services, which you can find below!

How Avon Community School Corporation and Cummins BHS Are Supporting Students' Mental Health
Employment Services: Helping People with Mental Disabilities Find Rewarding Work

The Power of Being Thankful: Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire & Mindy Frazee Explain the Benefits of Gratitude

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gratitude isn’t a concept that we tend to give much thought on a regular basis. Most of the time, we’re too preoccupied with work, family matters and the little concerns of daily life to stop and feel grateful. However, making the time to think about gratitude can be very beneficial for our mental health and wellness.

The benefits of gratitude have been well established through psychological research. For starters, a large body of evidence suggests that gratitude is associated with an overall sense of well-being in life. Gratitude is also a protective factor against many types of psychopathology, as gratitude interventions have been proven useful in reducing symptoms of depression and distress. Practicing gratitude is also beneficial for interpersonal relationships, as studies have shown that expressing gratitude toward another person improves our view of that relationship.

This research has established that there is indeed a power to being thankful, but as with all wellness behaviors, knowing what to do is only part of the solution. The key is in putting that knowledge into practice, especially when the behavior, like gratitude, goes against our natural mode of thinking and acting.

To better understand the importance of gratitude, we spoke with Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire, and Mindy Frazee. Together, they explained why gratitude can be so difficult for us to practice sometimes—and how we can gradually “rewire” our brains to be more grateful in life.

Why Gratitude Doesn’t Come Naturally

Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire and Mindy Frazee
Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, MA, CSAYC, LMHC (left), Jeremy Haire, LMHC (middle), and Mindy Frazee, LMHCA (right)

For better or worse, human beings are very good at detecting problems. This probably has to do with the way our brains are “wired,” which may have helped our ancient ancestors avoid danger and survive. Today, it means that we’re simply more inclined to see the bad in life than the good. “All too often, our minds are focused on solving the issues of the day (i.e. what’s for dinner, do I have to go to the store again, who is going to pick up Billy from practice) and not so often do we set aside time to focus on what’s going well in our lives,” Mindy explains.

The problem with this mode of thinking is that it takes for granted the good things in our lives. These could be anything from relationships with friends and family to a roof over our heads, a filling meal, a pleasant day outside, or even our favorite song playing on the radio. Even when we are struggling in life, we usually have something positive to be thankful for, and focusing on these things can make a significant difference in our outlook. According to Jessica, “When we stop focusing on the negative and instead focus on the positive, it can really change our attitude, our mentality, our mood—it can just change everything.”

Of course, looking for silver linings can be difficult when we feel surrounded by problems. The good news is that gratitude becomes easier and more natural with practice, and it’s a behavior that we can choose even when other parts of our lives seem out of control. Jeremy says,

“With depression especially, consumers may feel like their mood is out of their control, like it’s something that is controlling them and so much of their day. Gratitude is helpful in the sense that it’s something people can do on purpose. It can help them feel like, ‘Oh, this is something I can choose. It’s something I can do regardless of what I’m feeling in a moment. It’s something that, once I get into the practice of it, I see the benefit of.’ And once they practice it, it gets easier and easier, and the things that they notice are things they would’ve never paid attention to at the beginning.”

Simple Exercises for Practicing Gratitude


Fortunately, practicing gratitude is relatively easy to do in our day-to-day lives. One of the simplest and most popular ways is to keep a gratitude journal. Journaling is a great way to increase mindfulness and manage mental health problems, and regularly writing down things that you’re grateful for is a sure way to build a mindset of gratitude. “It’s a way to focus and reflect on the events or moments that you appreciate and want to remember,” Jeremy says.

If you choose to try your hand at gratitude journaling, there are a few different ways you can approach it. “There are different kinds of gratitude journals you can get,” Jessica says. “You can do free-form, where you might write down three things that you’re grateful for today. You can also get journals with prompts, because some people really can’t think of anything positive right now. They might think, ‘Nothing is positive today,’ but the prompt can get them thinking outside the box.”

If journaling isn’t for you, you could try meditation instead. “One of the gratitude exercises I recommend is a guided meditation focused on compassion and kindness,” Mindy explains. “You can find some great free apps for this. I usually recommend Stop, Breathe & Think. Affirmations are another way one can cultivate a mindset of gratitude towards self and others. An example of an affirmation might be, ‘I am grateful for my body and all of the wonderful things it does for me.’ “

Finally, you can experiment with different ways of reminding yourself to be grateful. You could leave post-it notes with positive affirmations around your home or in your car, or you could set daily reminders on your phone to do your gratitude exercise. Another strategy is to have a gratitude partner whom you express your gratefulness toward, which is particularly useful for romantic couples. Finally, you can create a gratitude jar filled with pre-selected exercises that you pick at random and complete each day.

However you choose to practice gratitude in your daily life, remember that gratitude is just that—a choice! If we choose to be grateful for the good things around us, it won’t solve all of our problems, but it can help us lead happier, more fulfilled lives.

For more wellness strategies and coping skills you can use to improve your mental health, check out these other posts from our blog!

Laughter: Do It Just for the Health of It!
What Do Food Critics Know About Savoring Life?

How to Set New Year’s Goals You Can Actually Accomplish, According to Behavioral Health Professionals

Many people think of a new year as a fresh beginning. With the old year gone, we may envision the coming one as a clean slate for redirecting and refocusing our lives. We may set goals for ourselves that we’d like to accomplish in the new year, with the tradition of making “resolutions” being particularly popular.

But as common as New Year’s resolutions are, they’re also notorious for being abandoned. In fact, one study conducted by the University of Scranton found that only 19% of people still kept their resolutions two years after making them. The question is, why do so many people fail in their resolutions? And perhaps more importantly, what are the secrets of the 19% of people who succeed in them?

A big part of the answer revolves around goal setting. Specifically, the way we set goals for ourselves can have a large impact on whether or not we achieve those goals. For example, a well-set goal is achievable as long as we can maintain our willpower and stay motivated to complete it. By contrast, a poorly-set goal is nearly impossible to accomplish even with the utmost determination and an iron will.

With this in mind, we spoke with several therapists here at Cummins Behavioral Health to learn how they guide clients through goal setting in their day-to-day work. Here’s how behavioral health professionals suggest setting goals that you can actually accomplish in the new year.

Four Steps to Setting Better Goals

Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire and Mindy Frazee
Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, MA, CSAYC, LMHC (left), Jeremy Haire, LMHC (middle), and Mindy Frazee, LMHCA (right)

The process of setting achievable goals can be simplified down to four main steps:

1. Define your objectives

The first step of setting any goal is defining it. This may seem obvious, but it can be surprising how often we may want something without having a clear picture of exactly what it is. Jeremy Haire, a therapist at Cummins’ Crawfordsville office, gives an example:

“When we set goals with consumers, we’re trying to summarize what the problem is. First, the person has to identify the thing they want to improve. We start with the intake assessment, and at that stage, they’re usually just describing symptoms. For some people, or maybe even most people, they haven’t really put that into a goal. It’s more like, ‘These are my problems.’ For their goal, I like them to answer the question, ‘What is that important thing that I’m willing to do something about?’ “

When choosing a goal to work toward, spend some time cataloguing any problems in your life and thinking about their root causes. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to set objectives to effectively address those causes.

2. Make your goal simple, realistic, and measurable

When setting your goal, it’s important to think small and practical. The goals that are easiest to accomplish are simple instead of complicated, realistic instead of exaggerated, and easily measurable instead of vague and intangible.

An important part of this step is determining the specific actions you can take to reach your goal. In psychological terms, this is known as operationalization. In other words, you must plan out the operations you can perform that will lead to accomplishment. Jessica Hynson, a therapist and team lead at our Avon office, elaborates:

“When I’m working on goal setting with consumers, people might say things like, ‘My goal is to lose weight.’ I’ll ask, ‘How are you going to do that?’, and they’ll respond, ‘Well, I’m going to lose weight.’ The problem is that doesn’t mean anything, because if they could just magically lose the weight, they would. So I have to change that up and ask, ‘How do you lose weight?’, and they might say, ‘Oh, well, maybe if I stop going out to eat so much.’ Then they can make a goal to only eat out two times a week, for example.”

In addition, instead of trying to set a large, multi-faceted goal for yourself, you should set a series of small goals that you can work through one at a time. “I would emphasize the importance of setting goals that one can attain in order to build momentum. Once a small goal has been successfully achieved, then you can move on to the next level,” says Mindy Frazee, another therapist at our Crawfordsville office.

3. Track your progress

Once you’ve set the goal you want to work toward, you need to make sure you don’t forget about it. Again, this may seem self-explanatory, but experience shows that this is not the case. “Probably the biggest downfall to people’s New Year’s resolutions is saying them on January 1st and then never looking back on them again. By June, they wonder what their resolutions even were that year,” Jessica says.

The best way to remember your goal is to keep track of your progress toward it, and the easiest way to do that is to build it into your routine. For example, if you use a calendar or daily planner, you could schedule a progress check-in at the beginning or end of each week. Alternatively, you could set daily reminders for yourself on your cell phone or another electronic device.

Tracking your progress toward your goal is essential for staying motivated and assessing your performance. It’s also a great way to identify problems and obstacles, as Jeremy explains:

“With consumers, we set objectives for a time period, so that way we can come back and review. We can talk about progress, what’s been helpful, what’s been working, where they are, and what that looks like as far as where they’d like to be. We see if there’s anything getting in the way of their progress. It gives us a chance to review, evaluate and reassess. Are we on the right track, or do we need to make some other changes?”

4. If you slip up, don’t give up

The last thing to remember when working toward a goal is that one misstep doesn’t constitute failure. Rather, it simply means that you need to refocus your efforts and try again. “People can get discouraged and think, ‘Well, I didn’t go to the gym this week, so I failed. Where’s the chips?’ And I’ll say, ‘No, just make a better choice tomorrow,’ “ Jessica says.

In fact, the same study on New Year’s resolutions cited above found that even the people who kept their resolutions for two years suffered slip-ups along the way, with an average of 14 slips per person. This shows that it doesn’t matter how many times you suffer a lapse in your target behavior as long as you keep trying and practicing.

Above all, try not to expect perfection from yourself, as this will only lead to disappointment and frustration. “Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves at once. Then, when we struggle, we might give up and feel negative about ourselves, which impacts our mental health in negative ways,” Mindy says.

New Year's resolution

If you put these simple steps into practice when creating goals for yourself, you’ll have a much greater chance of successfully completing them. We encourage you to use these steps for any New Year’s resolutions you’re working toward, or for any and all goals you set for yourself throughout the year!

Goal setting

Looking for suggestions for improving your mental health in 2020? Consider making a New Year’s resolution to improve your wellness in one of the categories below!

Dr. Ashleigh Woods Explains How—And Why—to Get a Good Night's Sleep
Fruits and vegetables
How Nutrition Affects Mental Health with Cummins’ Jaime Selby and Hendricks Regional Health’s Kaitie Delgado

Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues from Cummins’ Chief Clinical Officer Robb Enlow

Traditionally speaking, the end-of-the-year holidays are often associated with concepts like love, happiness, warmth, family, friendship and togetherness. But despite conventional wisdom, there are many realities of the holiday season that can make it decidedly less than “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Although the holidays are intended to be a time for relaxation, they typically come with a host of unique stressors. These may include increased busyness, stressful family interactions, social functions or lack thereof, pressures related to gift giving, and even the expectation to be happy. These stressors can sometimes trigger feelings of anxiety, sadness and loneliness referred to as the “holiday blues.”

People who have pre-existing mental health conditions like depression can be especially vulnerable to these effects. For example, in one survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people with a diagnosed mental illness reported that the holidays make their condition worse. In addition, 75% of respondents said the holidays contribute to feelings of sadness or dissatisfaction.

If we hope to make it through the holiday season with our mental health intact, we need to know how to deal with negative thoughts and avoid common triggers. We spoke with Robb Enlow, Chief Clinical Officer at Cummins Behavioral Health, to learn some of the best strategies for beating the holiday blues.

Robb Enlow on Beating the Holiday Blues

Robb Enlow, LMHC, Chief Clinical Officer at Cummins BHS

As a trained mental health therapist, Robb Enlow has helped many individuals work through behavioral health problems and crises, and the holiday blues are no exception. “Not everyone perceives the holidays as a happy, joyful time. For some people, they can cause an increase in depression,” he says.

According to Robb, there are some simple interventions that anyone can use to help fend off or alleviate holiday-related depression. Here are his four most valuable strategies, along with some suggestions for putting them into practice:

Seek social support, avoid isolation

If you find yourself feeling sad or lonely during the holidays, the best thing to do is seek emotional support from friends and family instead of remaining alone. “Depression is a disorder in which people do isolate,” Robb says. “Through their sadness or grief, they tend to stick by themselves, so this advice is going to the contrary of what people would normally do when they’re feeling down. You don’t necessarily need to seek out lots of people, just someone who can provide good support for you.”

A good example would be close friends, family members, or a significant other who understands your emotional struggles. Don’t worry about inconveniencing the other person or people—if they are true friends, they won’t mind supporting you in your time of need.

Continue regular wellness behaviors

One way to put negative emotions in check is to maintain your physical and mental health. This means not letting your normal wellness behaviors lapse on account of the holidays. “Number two on the list is to continue wellness behaviors such as getting enough sleep, eating the right food, not over-indulging in food, and avoiding alcohol,” Robb says.

Do your best to adhere to your regular sleep and exercise regimens during the holidays, even if this means skipping some events or gatherings. In addition, be mindful about the amount of sugary treats you consume. Don’t stray too far from your nutritional guidelines, and reach for healthy snacks whenever possible.

Re-frame negative thoughts

If negative thoughts start running through your head, it’s important not to dwell on them, as this will only worsen your mood and lead to more negative thinking. Instead, you should practice changing your thought patterns to prevent your mood from spiraling in a negative direction.

When re-framing your thoughts, the key is to divert your attention away from the idea that bothers you and toward something more comforting or constructive. Robb gives the following example: “If you’re thinking, ‘I should be happy. I should be jolly like everyone else,’ recognize that’s not necessary and re-frame the thought to something like, ‘This only comes once a year. I’m going to be able to make it through the holidays. This, too, will pass.’ “

Avoid social media triggers

Social media can be a source of anxiety and depression for many people, and this is especially true during the holiday season. “Around the holidays, people like to post all these fabulous Norman Rockwell, Currier and Ives-like photos. That’s what you see on social media, and if that’s not your experience, then that can get you thinking, ‘I should be doing that. I shouldn’t be like this,’ “ Robb says.

If you’re susceptible to these kinds of triggers, you might consider taking a break from social media during the holidays. Instead of comparing your life to the videos and images you see online, turn off your screens for a while and pay attention to your own experiences—especially those that are pleasant or rewarding.

While it can be normal to feel a little down during the holiday season, persistent sadness or anxiety could be symptoms of a deeper behavioral health issue. If your “holiday blues” don’t pass or get worse over time, we encourage you to seek help from a mental health professional. Our therapists and counselors at Cummins BHS are equipped to help with a wide variety of behavioral health problems.

We wish you and your loved ones a very happy, relaxing, and fulfilling holiday season!


For more wellness tips and strategies you can use during the holidays and throughout the new year, we recommend the articles below!

Laughter: Do It Just for the Health of It!
What Do Food Critics Know About Savoring Life?

How Nutrition Affects Mental Health with Cummins’ Jaime Selby and Hendricks Regional Health’s Kaitie Delgado

When we’re feeling hungry and need something to eat, we might not always stop to think about what we’re putting into our bodies. In reality, though, the food we consume can have a significant impact on our health. Food is the fuel our bodies use to power their many processes, so it only makes sense that higher-quality fuel helps them run more efficiently.

Most people know that diet and nutrition play a role in physical health. It has long been known that poor eating and exercise habits can lead to chronic health disorders like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and poor bone health. However, as nutritionists and health professionals gain a deeper understanding of the brain, they’re discovering that what we eat can also affect our mental health.

On the one hand, if a person develops physical health problems due to poor nutrition, they may experience feelings of distress and anxiety about the state of their health. On the other hand, scientific research suggests that certain diets are associated with fewer mental health problems. Specifically, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains and seafood have been associated with reduced risk for depression and cognitive impairment.

The question is: what should (and shouldn’t) we eat to get the best nutrition, and how can we change our eating behaviors to meet these needs? We spoke with Cummins therapist Jamie Selby and sports dietitian Kaitie Delgado of Hendricks Regional Health to find out.

What to Eat and What to Avoid

Jamie Selby and Kaitie Delgado
Jamie Selby (left), therapist at Cummins Behavioral Health, and Kaitie Delgado (right), Clinical Sports Dietitian at Hendricks Regional Health

Proper nutrition is all about eating enough of the things that are good for you and less of the things that aren’t so good for you. In general, this means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, enough whole grains and protein for your individual needs, and limiting consumption of fats and sugars. The USDA’s MyPlate program provides useful nutritional guidelines on the types and amounts of food you should be eating at each meal.

To ensure that they’re getting all of their essential nutrients, dietitian Kaitie Delgado often instructs patients to eat foods of many different colors. “I say, ‘Eat the rainbow.’ Make sure you’re getting in lots of bold colors. The biggest thing I try to encourage is that at least twice a month, maybe every other week, you try something that you’ve never had before. I want you to go to that fresh produce section and pick out something that’s bold and bright. I want people to say, ‘You know, I haven’t had a dark purple vegetable in a long time. Have you ever had an eggplant?’ And then I can help them with that,” Delgado says.

Many nutritional problems can be traced to excessive consumption of processed foods. These are foods that are prepared and packaged for consumers, such as frozen meals, canned goods and snack foods. As compared to “whole” or unprocessed foods, processed foods typically contain fewer nutrients and more additives like fat, sugar, salt and preservatives, and they should therefore be avoided as much as possible.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to affordable whole foods, which makes it much harder to maintain a healthy diet. This is especially true for people who have low income or live in rural areas, as Cummins therapist Jamie Selby explains:

“In rural Indiana, we’re having an influx of discount stores that are taking out the ‘mom and pop’ grocery stores in some of the towns. They’re quick, they’re convenient, you can walk over to them, but the food you’re getting there is mostly processed. I work with some people who don’t have jobs, who are running to the gas station and getting a pack of cigarettes, a Red Bull, and a bag of chips or a pizza with processed and cured meats. And they have high blood pressure because of their diet, which plays into their anxiety. It’s all connected.”

The Importance of Cooking

One of the easiest ways to improve our nutritional intake is to cook more. Cooking helps us consume more whole and unprocessed foods, and it also allows us to control the amount of fat, sugar and salt that ends up in our meals.

However, some people don’t like to cook or feel that they don’t have enough time for it. According to Delgado, this isn’t as big an issue as it might seem. “That population fits best with me, because I don’t enjoy cooking. But it’s something I have to do because I know how important it is,” she says. “My cooking is like, ‘I know where these ingredients are in the grocery store, it’s going to take less than 15 minutes to get them, and it will only take 10 minutes to cook.’ I like to roast things. You can just pop it in the oven and make it really easy.”

If you still have trouble creating a cooking routine, you can always start small. Try cooking dinner two or three nights a week instead of ordering out or eating a prepared meal. As you grow more accustomed to cooking, you can then work on increasing the number of home-cooked meals you eat. You can even make cooking an opportunity for family bonding by having everyone in your home assist with meal preparation. Selby is a strong supporter of this method because of the additional benefits it can provide for children, as she explains:

“The lack of family dinners that we have today is a huge problem for emotional wellness and development in children. Studies show we need to sit down and have that meal as a family. My grandmother is American Indian, and when I was a child, we would make tamales with her at Christmas. I was not only getting quality time with my grandmother and learning to cook, but I was also getting a course on how her generation thought about food and how it was important to them. Those are the other life lessons you learn in the kitchen.”

When it comes to cooking and healthy eating, Cummins BHS is leading by example! Our Wellness Committee has been accepting healthy recipes from our staff since October, which will culminate this week with a recipe contest and the release of a company cookbook. We encourage you to get into the spirit of healthy eating by running friendly competitions of your own with friends, family or coworkers!

And if you’re looking for some professional help taking charge of your health, diet and physical fitness, consider registering for a Spring 2020 Lifesteps® class with Hendricks Regional Health! Kaitie Delgado will be one of two registered dietitians teaching this 16-week class on weight management. Day, evening, and virtual classes are available. You can learn more about HRH’s Lifesteps® classes here or register for a class on HRH’s events page!

Fruits and vegetables

Giving Domestic Violence Survivors a Chance at Independence: Cummins BHS, Sheltering Wings and RealAmerica Announce Haven Homes

Domestic violence levies an enormous toll on women, men and children across the United States. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, more than 12 million people are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner each year. On average, that’s 24 people every minute. In Indiana, 40% of women and 27% of men experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime, and on a single day in 2014, Indiana domestic violence programs served 1,807 victims, as reported by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The harmful effects of domestic violence continue long after an incident occurs. In addition to psychological issues that can arise, survivors may find themselves lacking the basic resources they need to rebuild their lives after an abusive relationship. Cassie Mecklenburg, Executive Director of Sheltering Wings in Danville, IN, explains:

Cassie Mecklenburg, Executive Director of Sheltering Wings
Cassie Mecklenburg, Executive Director of Sheltering Wings

“There was a community assessment completed a few years ago, and it identified four primary barriers preventing families from having self-sufficiency, establishing their well-being, and moving forward independently after domestic violence. The barriers are affordable housing, reliable transportation, access to mental health services, and affordable childcare.”

In an effort to address the unmet needs of domestic violence survivors, Cummins Behavioral Health and Sheltering Wings have partnered with RealAmerica Development LLC to build an affordable housing community in Plainfield, IN. The development, known as Haven Homes Apartments, will provide a stable living environment as well as education and advocacy for individuals and families escaping domestic violence. The goal? To help survivors return to independent living and grow their personal role from “victim of domestic violence” to “empowered, thriving member of the community.”

Haven Homes: Affordable Housing Meets Accessible Support

Haven Homes is designed to provide the support services of a domestic violence shelter within a more independent living environment. “As families are transitioning out of Sheltering Wings, they will be able to move into this area and have support services directly available to them,” Mecklenburg says.

The apartment complex will be built near 2601 Stout Heritage Parkway in Plainfield using Rental Housing Tax Credits (RHTC) from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA). It will consist of one two-story and one three-story apartment building, including a total of 52 apartments ranging in size from one-bedroom to three-bedroom. While all of the apartments will be catered toward individuals and families who are escaping domestic violence, a portion of the units will be fully furnished for those who are also struggling with chronic homelessness.

In addition to affordable housing, the complex will include a community center where residents can speak with social workers or healthcare professionals in person or via teleconference. Mecklenburg says, “I kind of explain it as a ‘clubhouse on steroids.’ It’s not only your typical clubhouse, but residents will also have access to case management, support groups, life skills classes, and other services. We know that when we feel like we’re on an island, when we feel like we’re isolated, it’s much more difficult to be engaged in the community and surround ourselves with the resources we need. By having this partnership with Cummins and having these services available to families, we can put those resources right at their fingertips.”

Convenient access the life skills classes is of particular importance, as people who have been in abusive relationships for an extended period of time may not know how to perform some of the basic tasks necessary for day-to-day living. Jessica Hynson, a Clinical Team Lead at Cummins Behavioral Health, explains:

“Depending on what was going on in the home, if someone needs to get out of that situation, they might not know how to pay a bill, how to buy a home, how to rent an apartment, or many other things that we might take for granted because we were taught. But that opportunity was taken away from them. We’ll be able to provide that kind of skills training, as well as trauma therapy for children and adults.”

Jessica Hynson, Clinical Team Lead at Cummins Behavioral Health Systems
Jessica Hynson (MA, LMHC, CSAYC), Clinical Team Lead at Cummins BHS

Construction on Haven Homes is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2020 and should be completed by the summer of 2021. Once the complex is open, it can begin helping individuals and families recover and grow from domestic violence.

As Mecklenburg says, “We’re excited for these families, because what it will do is help take them from the identity of a victim or survivor and move them into the identity of a Quaker, which is the mascot of Plainfield. We want to help them move beyond their past experiences and create a new life for themselves.”

We look forward to sharing more news and updates on Haven Homes as the development moves closer to completion! For now, we recommend watching this video about Domestic Violence Awareness Month with Cassie Mecklenburg and Jessica Hynson!

Using Art to Practice Mindfulness with Holly Combs and MHA’s Karen Martoglio

“Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” — Bill Moyers, American journalist and political commentator

Over the last decade, mindfulness has become something of a buzzword in popular culture. However, the practice of focusing one’s attention entirely on the present has been around for thousands of years, likely originating with the ancient Buddhists of India. What’s more, mindfulness-based interventions have been used by psychologists since at least the 1970s and 1980s.

Since then, much evidence has shown that practicing mindfulness can have positive outcomes for mental health and wellness. For example, research has shown that people who are predisposed toward mindfulness are more likely to be psychologically healthy. When it comes to interventions for behavioral health, studies have shown that mindfulness exercises can help people cope with stress and the symptoms of anxiety and depression. And some research even suggests that mindfulness could be a protective factor against the development of certain mental health conditions.

One of the most common ways to practice mindfulness is through meditation, but this is an activity that can feel intimidating for some people. Many of us picture meditation as something mystical and mysterious that we wouldn’t even know how to begin, let alone perform successfully. But what if there was something we could do to practice mindfulness that came a little more naturally—something as simple as drawing shapes on a sheet of paper?

Fortunately, simple artistic activities like doodling can actually be an effective tool for practicing mindfulness. We spoke with Holly Combs, an Indianapolis-based artist and public speaker, and Karen Martoglio, Executive Director of Mental Health America of Putnam County, to learn more about the mindfulness benefits of artistic activities.

Art as an Expression of Mindfulness

"I started practicing mindfulness ten years ago by drawing patterns, and what I was doing was transporting myself to the present by directing what I was seeing, hearing, touching and feeling," says Holly Combs, an Indianapolis-based artist and public speaker.

According to Holly Combs, art isn’t something a person does to create a beautiful work or object. Rather, art is a way to get in touch with our inner selves. Art is what I consider a ‘red carpet’ for difficult topics—things people don’t know how to talk about,” she says. “There are literal things you can talk about. For example, ‘That building is a brick building. They used mortar to put it up.’ But emotions are harder to talk about because they’re more abstract and personal.”

Combs has built a career out of helping people cope with difficult emotions through art. Since 2014, she has conducted workshops with everyone from elementary school students to government officials and corporate executives, training them in the use of art to express their deepest emotions and live in the present. Some of her most impactful work has been with juvenile offenders in the criminal justice system, with whom she has used artistic expression as a tool for rehabilitation (and which she spoke about in her well-received TEDx Talk). She explains:

“When I worked in detention centers, I realized that the juvenile offenders didn’t feel like they could talk to me. So I said, ‘We’re just going to draw. I’ll put out pencils, and here are some geometric patterns on a page that you can color-in if you’d like.’ Letting them do something with their hands and their minds helped them to open up.

One day I went to a maximum-security juvenile detention center, and I was working with all the kids, and the weirdest thing happened: a guard sat down and joined in the activity. And then the counselors sat down. And then the therapists sat down. And I realized, ‘Oh, this is for everybody.’ “

For Combs, this experience demonstrated art’s power to instill mindfulness in the artist. She says, “If I were to tell kids that the action of putting pen on paper is bringing them to the present, to this moment, they would think it’s BS. But I don’t have to over-explain it, and I don’t have to teach them mindfulness. The moment they’re with me, and focused, and sharing—that’s mindfulness.”

How MHA of Putnam County Is Spreading the Message of Art and Mindfulness

"In our daily lives, we try to fix a lot of problems and address a lot of situations. Mindfulness is stepping back a little bit, being less focused on the minutiae and more aware of the bigger picture," says Karen Martoglio, Executive Director of Mental Health America of Putnam County.

Like its affiliate branch in Hendricks County, Mental Health America of Putnam County is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find and access mental health resources. It primarily achieves this mission by providing mental health education and essential training for local community members.

Karen Martoglio, Executive Director of MHAoPC, shares Combs’ perspective on art and mindfulness. “Art is a mechanism to engage your mind. You need to focus when you create art, so you can tune out some of the noise in your life. It can refocus your attention and help you not get bogged down in the minutiae of any problems you may have,” she says.

For anyone who would like to begin practicing art-based mindfulness, Martoglio recommends giving “Zentangle” a try. Started by a husband and wife duo from Massachusetts, Zentangle is a method of creating artwork from simple, structured patterns. While at its core not very different from the drawing exercises that Combs does with juvenile offenders, Zentangle is specifically designed to be a relaxing exercise that encourages meditation and mindfulness. Martoglio explains:

It’s an opportunity to relax and free your mind of worries by concentrating on a task. It combines meditation and attention refocusing in an activity that’s really quite simple, but which also produces something beautiful. It’s not only a mindfulness practice that clears your mind, but when you get done, you actually have something to show for it, which I think is really rewarding. And if it really clicks with you, it’s something you can do anytime, anywhere. You don’t need any special equipment. If you have a piece of paper and a pen, you can just go for it. So, I think it’s a win-win on many different levels.”

Although art and mindfulness can be helpful tools for coping with difficult life situations, it’s important to note that mindfulness practice is not psychological treatment. If you suffer from a mental health illness, we strongly encourage you to seek professional help.

If you’re interested in learning how to practice mindfulness through art, MHA of Putnam County is holding an “Intro to Zentagle” class at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 23rd. If you live in or near Greencastle, IN, consider stopping by for some guided instruction on art and mindfulness! (Pre-registration is required.)

Additional details and contact information can be found in the flyer below.

Zentangle Poster 11.23.2019

Employment Services: Helping People with Mental Disabilities Find Rewarding Work

Celebrating National Career Development Month!

Work is an important part of every person’s life. For many adults, work makes up a significant portion of how we spend our time each day. It plays a key role in how we view and define ourselves, and it’s a primary factor of occupational wellness, one of the eight dimensions of wellness. Suffice it to say, rewarding work and a fulfilling career can have a large influence on a person’s mental health.

However, not everyone who wants to work can do so. Disabilities and impairments, whether they are physical or psychological, often pose significant barriers to employment for people who live with them. In addition to financial strains caused by unemployment, research has shown that people who are unemployed suffer from more mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and distress, than those who are employed.

For these reasons, people who have disabilities can benefit greatly from services that help them find or return to gainful employment. These services may include vocational guidance and counseling, job placement assistance, or training and education, and they’re typically offered by government agencies in cooperation with local community health organizations.

Cummins Behavioral Health Systems is proud to be one such organization providing employment services in central Indiana. In celebration of National Career Development Month, we spoke with Jennifer Crooks, Cummins’ Director of Employment Services, to learn more.

Employment Services in a Nutshell

"We've had tons and tons of success stories. It's wonderful to see people that have kept their job for a long period of time and are grateful that we assisted them," says Jennifer Crooks, BSW, Director of Employment Services at Cummins BHS.

So, what exactly are employment services, and how can someone go about receiving them? “Employment services here at Cummins include a lot of different things,” Jennifer says. “Life skills specialists, therapists, doctors, or anybody that works at Cummins can refer consumers for services. Some people just have the dream that they want to work one day, or that they want to get a job in a few years. Other people don’t ever want to work, they just want to volunteer. They want to do something meaningful to give back to the community.”

In order to be eligible for Cummins’ employment services, a person must have a mental disability or disorder that makes it difficult for them to work. Some common examples include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder. The type and scope of services provided can vary widely from person to person, as Jennifer explains:

“It’s very consumer-driven. Some people want us there every step of the way and really need a lot of support once they start working. Other people just need us to help them write their résumé, submit applications and practice interviewing skills. It’s 100% their choice, and it’s a little bit different when you’re talking about a mental health disability as opposed to a physical or developmental disability. A lot of people don’t want that known to their employer, so if they work somewhere the public is allowed, we may go to their place of work to observe them, but their employer doesn’t have to know that’s what we’re doing.”

However, Cummins’ employment services aren’t reserved only for existing clients. Through a partnership with Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration, Cummins also assists individuals who are referred from outside the organization.

Cummins BHS and Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services

As mentioned above, many state and local governments have programs for assisting citizens with employment needs. In Indiana, this is done through the FSSA’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services, or VR. This program provides individualized services to help people with disabilities prepare for, obtain or retain employment. As part of the program, individuals seeking services through VR choose an employment provider, which could be Cummins BHS or another community healthcare provider.

“We provide services to consumers that come to us from VR,” Jennifer says. “If they’ve gone through the intake process and picked us as their employment specialist, we work through the VR process and help them figure out their vocational goals. We do a lot of job shadowing and situational assessments to help them get experience, and we support them as much as they want.”

In most cases, Cummins only accepts VR referrals whose primary disabilities are related to mental health. However, in counties where community healthcare resources are limited, Cummins sometimes provides employment services for people with physical or developmental challenges, such as deafness and autism. Jennifer reports that employment specialists receive additional training for assisting consumers in these situations.

Ultimately, the goal of employment services is to help people take their mental and occupational wellness into their own hands and find rewarding, personally fulfilling employment. According to Jennifer:

“Employment and vocation can be a huge piece of recovery for our consumers. It gives them something to do and to look forward to, interaction with other people, and the ability to have extra money and do things on a social basis. Really, we try to empower them. It’s not like we just find a job for them—they have to work at it. They see the hard work and the effort that they put into it, so it’s a lot more meaningful to them.”

If you’d like to learn more about the employment services that Cummins provides, including our free employment workshops, check out this video featuring Jennifer Crooks and Debbie Roman!

And if you enjoyed this post, you might also like our blog about the behavioral health benefits of volunteering. You can check it out below!

How Volunteering Bolsters Mental Health with Cummins’ Jennifer Crooks and Mental Health America’s Tammi Jessup