Balance, Not Band-Aids
We recently presented to NAMI Four County, and this article was written by Lou Levy, Secretary of NAMI Four County for their Spring 2019 newsletter, based on that presentation. It was so good, we just had to share it here. For more information about NAMI Four County, and their free community mental health classes and events, please visit their Facebook page.
By the way, if you'd like to listen to this presentation online, click here!
A Holistic approach to mental health…
Symptom management is frequently the goal when treating chronic diseases such as diabetes and major depression. In most cases, the illnesses’ symptoms can be controlled and the patient can resume a normal lifestyle as long as the treatment is followed, but the chronic illness cannot be cured.
During a recent NAMI meeting, Rose and Matt Hollo explained why a holistic approach to treatment that looks at the whole person (mind, body and spirit) might provide an even better outcome when used as a complementary option to the conventional treatment of mental health issues.
“A holistic approach looks for the root causes of a health problem, not just the symptoms,” Rose explained. While recognizing symptoms will lead to a diagnosis of what’s wrong, holistic medicine’s search for other factors that may be contributing to the problem is what makes it different.
A holistic health detective, she explained, looks for mind-body-spirit factors that may contribute to or go beyond the symptoms. Once these factors are identified and the patient is counseled on ways to change these factors, they may be able to achieve even better outcomes than conventional approaches, including medications, alone can provide.
For example, could a better diet, more physical activity, techniques to reduce stress or fatigue, or even developing better social contacts help?
Rose explained that a holistic approach to mental health issues should complement conventional mental health treatment, not be a substitute for it. However, not all mental health professionals are committed to working with patients holistically.
“Part of getting better is getting motivated to do so,” she said. Persons who are interested in holistic health will need to seek professionals who are trained in it and they will need to spend time reading food labels and learning about the impact of nutrition on health.
Lifestyle changes are not easy.
The Hollos devoted a lot of their presentation to nutrition, noting that there is a huge movement in the study of holistic health concerning diet and mental wellness.
For example, diets that result in low blood sugar levels can affect the production of brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin that regulate mood.
However, too much sugar intake can cause inflammation, which has been linked to depression and anxiety disorders.
Likewise, diet can have an effect on thyroid health. A thyroid that isn’t functioning properly can mimic symptoms that are typical of mood disorders, which is why complete thyroid testing is usually done before certain mood disorder diagnoses are made.
People with thyroid disorders need to be sure to eat plenty of orange foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, apricots and cantaloupe each day as well as foods such as spinach and kale that are high in Vitamin A.
Additionally, those who follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet can have symptoms that look like depression or anxiety if they are not getting enough Vitamins A, D and B12 as well as zinc and iron.
Foods that help mental wellness include: liver, cod liver oil, butter from pasture fed cows, eggs with the yolk, wild caught fish, uncured pork, soaked organic nuts, whole grains, fruits and beans, meat from pastured fed animals that are raised outside and bone broth from the same animals, leafy vegetables, live active cultures in yogurt, real fermented sauerkraut.
Avoiding processed foods is also important.
“If you can’t pronounce it (ingredients listed on food labels), chances are it isn’t good for you,” Matt said.
More holistic considerations include: practicing mindfulness (learning to calm oneself), mind-body exercises such as yoga and tai chi, complementary or alternative modalities such as massage therapy, acupuncture and aromatherapy, spirituality such as attending church, meditation or spending time in nature.
Also: having a social or cultural connection such as attending an event, volunteering or learning a foreign language, physical activity or movement such as walking, house or yard work, or playing with children or a pet, avoiding toxins such as smoking, by opening windows at least once a month or using glass containers to store food.
And, finally: getting quality sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene such as no blue light from electronic screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime, reducing caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening, going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day, and not eating before bedtime.
By: Lou Levy, Secretary, NAMI Four County