Let’s talk about It
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This observance was established in 1949 by Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all Americans.
The Awareness Month provides us an opportunity to reflect on the topic with compassion, reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and promote open dialogue about mental health concerns.
My Own Story with Mental Health
Mental health is very dear to my heart. I grew up with a bipolar mom. For those who don’t know the disease, it is a tough one. If today’s physicians are not well prepared to treat brain disorders, imagine having a bipolar diagnosis 50 years ago. Mom was treated with all kinds of crazy things available at that time, including electrical shock. The lack of knowledge was not only in the medical field but also in the families and communities. She didn’t have support from any side.
Every mental disorder has a devastating effect on families. My mom had a very difficult marriage and got divorced when I was 9 years old. During my first 9 years, there were some separations and attempts to get back together. My Dad had no idea how to handle her health situation and neither had my mom’s family. With no capabilities of taking care of 3 kids, mom lost custody of us. My two sisters and I went living with our paternal grandmother for a while until dad was able to put his life back together.
Living with Mental Disorder
During the time we lived with Mom, we were always in an alert state. Then, we lived without Mom for almost 10 years, which was difficult in other ways. Until today the mania episodes are the ones that come to mind from my childhood memories. It took me a long time in my adulthood to realize it was not her fault, she was sick. For the past 20 years, she has been stable, thanks to a combination of 5 different prescribed medications. Sadly, I cannot change my mom’s story however, I’m sure I can help lots of people who might be going through the same thing right now.
The Modern Way to Treat Mental Health
Fortunately, the lack of knowledge time is long gone. A huge body of research in mental health has evolved in the past decade with some amazing breakthroughs. Although there are old-school psychiatrists and family doctors still contributing to an over-prescribed and misprescribed society, there is a big movement toward a holistic approach to treating mental disorders. People dueling with their brains for sure deserve more options. With the potential for so many negative side effects like weight gain, nausea, fatigue, and trouble sleeping, I hope people will drift from taking medications if they have access to other resources.
Make an Informed Decision
I’m not saying we can move away from medication, don’t get me wrong. I’m only saying medication should be the last thing to be considered in mild depression and anxiety cases. It’s widely known that lifestyle changes have a huge impact on mental state. Water intake, sleep hygiene, physical exercise, social support, connection with nature, all those things should be prescribed before medication. The thing is those prescriptions don’t help pharmaceutical companies make money. Besides, it would take doctors longer than a 10-minute consultation to figure out better ways to help their patients.
I just want people to know they have other options, better, no side-effect options they can try first. It might take more effort than taking one pill a day though. What matters is that you make an informed decision, instead of thinking there is no way around taking drugs.
Food is Brain Medicine
Nutritional Psychiatry is an evidence-based strategy that will radically change the mental health trajectory of the modern world. Its basic principle is Food is medicine for the brain. The good news is food is medicine for the whole body. There is enough science-based evidence that mental health disorders are related to persistent, chronic inflammation in the body that ends up causing neuroinflammation. The nutritional psychiatry approach is to reduce inflammation in the body as a whole and then nourish the brain. Prescribing food is one of the most impactful things health practitioners can do for clients and patients. With a few thoughtful, evidence-based tweaks to peoples’ diets, they can start seeing incredible results in a matter of weeks.
Help the Brain Thrive
Dr. Drew Ramsey in his book Eat to beat Depression and Anxiety makes a list of the 12 essential nutrients for brain health. Those are vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats that not only support brain health but also its ability to grow and adapt to our environment. Yes, there is an emerging field that proves the brain is neuroplastic, which means it can repair and heal itself and also make new connections between cells. So, the brain continues to change and grow well into our golden years. That’s such good news!
Key Nutrients for Mental Health
Folate (aka Vitamin B9), Iron, Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, Magnesium, Potassium, Selenium, Thiamine (aka Vitamin B1), Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, vitamin B12, Vitamin C, and Zinc are the key nutrients for brain health. Have you noticed that almost all of them are also key for your immune system? Vitamins A, C, Iron, Zinc, and Selenium are key players in immunity as well. So, what is good for your brain is also good for your immune system, bingo! Where can you find all those nutrients? Food, real whole foods. Leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, seafood, meat, eggs, and dairy. Eating a healthy diet goes a long way. There are no side effects with food whatsoever! Healthy mind, healthy body.
For more information on the immune system and autoimmune diseases check out my blog Mighty Body.
Because it is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to make sure you’re aware of some of the resources available if seeking support and guidance to improve mental well-being:
For those that are skeptical about the power of nutrition, check Darin Olien’s podcast where he interviews Christopher M. Palmer, M.D. Dr. Palmer is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and also the Director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital. He just released an enlightening book called Brain Energy: A Revolutionary Breakthrough in Understanding Mental Health and Improving Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More. A patient of his has found a surprising schizophrenia remission through his approach of exploring diet and nutrition.
Dr. Daniel Amen is another big advocate of nutrition and lifestyle changes to treat mental health issues. He is a physician, adult and child psychiatrist, and founder of Amen Clinics which has the world’s largest database of brain scans for psychiatry – 200,000+ SPECT scans on patients from 155 countries. Dr. Amen is a 12-time New York Times bestselling author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, The End of Mental Illness, Healing ADD, Change Your Brain Every Day, and many more.
Jim Kwik is a world-leading expert in speed reading, memory improvement, brain performance, and accelerated learning. He is the founder of Kwik Brain Universe, author, and host of the #1 brain performance podcast, Kwik Brain. There is a chapter dedicated to nutrition on his best-selling book Limitless. He says: “Food matters, especially for your gray matter”.
Dr. Drew Ramsey has a YouTube channel with lots of vlogs about mental health. Here’s one video of his from last year’s Mental Health Awareness Month about actions and mindsets that are important to improving mental health. Check other related videos of his here.
Hope this helps!
To your health!