How Mental Health Isolated Itself
Updated: May 20, 2019
Last week I delivered "It's not your fault" as the keynote for Morden's Mental Health Week. It was an honour to be so well received by the general community and also by the healthcare community here in Morden. I have had many people asking for my notes or more info. The photo above will take you to the Morden Time's story on my keynote, but since so many are asking for more, I decided what might be best is to send a few key points out for everyone and have included a few of the slides from "It's not your fault." I also received some heartfelt responses and gratitude for my last blog "The Cupboard." So I have expanded a little further on some of those thoughts and integrated them here, into the breadth of the context that I believe is still missing from #letstalk. If you agree with some or all of what is here, then please share this post with others.
As per usual, this is the first draft. I do all my writing and some social media on the weekend, while my toddler naps. It's how I keep up. To protect my own mental health I do not put any pressure on myself to make it perfect before it goes out. That's not realistic in my life as a single momprenuer. I wouldn't be good at what I do for a living if I demanded something so unreasonable of myself. I can hardly coach people into self-care if I don't attend to my own. And... she just woke up, so it is what it is now - I'll edit it next week :)
Here we go...
We have made a pretty good attempt to try to kill the stigma around mental illness, but it hasn’t worked very well. I believe the reason it hasn’t worked is because we have kept it separate, alone on an island, and sent rafts of supplies over to it instead of bringing it back to the mainland of all illness.
THE PAST. If you haven’t dealt with something traumatic that left you vulnerable and wounded 20 years ago, then your fight or flight system is always in overdrive, exhausting your stress response - you can easily get anxious or depressed, or both, and even paranoid. You can Watch this Video (From the Workshop "The Struggle is Real" that I taught with Kelly Vipond during Mental Health Week) to understand a little more about this massive subject. Should you be interested in diving into your own story and understand how your own past may be contributing to your physical and mental struggles, I would strongly encourage you to pick up "When the Body says No" by Gabor Mate... especially if you resonate with the quote below, 'cause that's where I got it from. It's one of the books that helped shape my practice and how I help my clients find their way.
FOOD. If your refined western diet lacks the nutrients needed as building blocks for the hormones and neurotransmitters that are required to create a balanced emotional state, then you will feel things that are not real. The role of essential fatty acids in mood regulation and brain function is understood fairly well by now. The lack of those essential nutrients in the average North American Diet is also fairly well documented by now. Amino Acid deficiencies are often found to go along with depression. Tryptophan comes to mind on that one - you need it to build the neurotransmitter serotonin. I always marvel when the short answer to that is that "Tryptophan is plentiful in our diets so a depression isn't possibly related to a deficiency." It makes me crazy when that statement is made. Why? Because in a world full of GERD, Indigestion, Heartburn, IBS, Chrons, Colitis, SIBO, a bazillion other inflammatory conditions, etc, what on earth makes anyone think that we are actually properly breaking down and absorbing the foods we eat? I mean, really. Digestive issues frequently go hand in hand with mental health issues. IBS and Anxiety pair up all the time... though I will say that they tend to break up in my office, but no one is ever sad about that break up. Haha. A few snaps from the keynote here... warning: sarcasm ahead.
YOUR PHONE. If you’re on your phone all the time then you’re saturating yourself in dopamine and cortisol all day. (just google that stuff, the info is everywhere. And this article is a whole other perspective for you if you have kids.) You can develop a chronic state of hormonal imbalance, exhausting your endocrine system which can make it hard to feel happy in the morning, difficult to engage in any kind of proactive solution to problems, experience sleep disruption and feelings of dullness and dissatisfaction, among other things. And that's just your phone!
Here are a couple slides from my presentation that made some people laugh...
Haha. You get what mean.
MICROBIOME. If you’ve had a lot of antibiotics in your life then your Microbiome may be damaged. If your microbiome is damaged then there is a good chance that there are messages going up from your 'gut' to your brain tell you to feel things that you shouldn't necessarily be feeling. Read more about that here. If you'd like to know even more about that, check out the amazing work being done by The Cummings School of Medicine's Microbiome Research Centre, right here in Canada.
If we can bring mental illness back to the mainland and observe cause and effect in it the way we observe cause and effect elsewhere, then we change the context. Context matters more in this day and age than it ever has. If you broke your ankle when you were a kid and it was bothering you when you were a teenager, there would likely be a medical investigation to see if it didn't heal properly or if there was some scar tissue interfering with function. If you have had a couple of concussions the recommendation would be that you stop doing the thing that puts you at risk for a concussion. It's a littler greyer when it comes to digestive issues and a comparison to how we view and treat those can be drawn to the fundamental issue thatI am trying to get across about how we view and treat our mental health here. If you have heartburn there basically are two ways to go about it. You can blame your stomach: according to the old precedent set in our current medical establishment - you can assume that the indigestion is "an erroneous reaction on the body's part, to normal stimuli." ("Food and Healing" by Anne Marie Colburn) That assumption allows you to place blame outside of your own choices and their consequences. It allows you to medicate it to shut it up and push the day of reckoning down the road. Or. You could accept the reality, that your body has no motive to lie to you and is trying to tell you that something is not working and it's really hoping you will make changes accordingly. In this case, usually diet, eating habits, caffeine and/or alcohol, stress management and general self-care need to be addressed. My colleagues and I help clients get off of antacids and proton pump inhibitors all the time - if that's what they want. It's not rocket science. I will ask them talk to their doctor to let them know what they want for themselves regarding their medication and make sure there are no safety concerns. If the doctor is cool, and then we proceed. It's not hard, it just requires some work on the client's part. The long term effects of these kinds of medications, which actually inhibit digestion and prevent absorption of essential nutrients rather than solve the actual dysfunction, are no secret either. For a short term solution, these medications are good to have available to us. However, over the long term these medications create other health problems. If you do nothing to change an unsupportive environment then the conditions in that environment do not change, in fact they usually get worse. There is no rocket science there either, it is logical cause and effect. Somehow we have forgotten to apply logical cause and effect principles to our health, and 'mental health' now suffering the worst of our logic deficit. If your 'mental health' is constantly out of sorts, there is a reason. If that reason is largely environmental, timeline/story related and related to other physical dysfunction in the body, then you can do something about it. If that reason is truly and purely a chemical imbalance that cannot be helped by improvements in lifestyle, environment, addressing relationships that cause us pain and uncertainty, and/or being willing to consider what is not working (negative thinking) then intervention makes a whole lot of sense. Intervention also makes sense as a way to create a short term solution to help us get through the day while other factors are addressed. Unfortunately, as I have noted in the past, medicating an ongoing dysfunction and accepting that's just how it has to be, takes away any power you could have to go out and discover if and how you might be able to adjust, fix, balance, mitigate or manage it in a way that puts you back in the driver's seat of your own wellbeing. Sadly, not many people don't even want that: it is this collective MO that has kept this conversation from moving in the right direction. More on that point, and something that I have not touched on yet (and probably deserves its own post,) is the difference between someone that wants to be free of pain and someone that wants to heal. These are two very different MOs. The first one perpetuates the current control that pharmaceutical companies have over our healthcare system protocols and spending, and second one takes all that control away from them and back into our own hands. It's a heavy topic and a difficult dive into looking at humanity's own folly that has brought us here, but it has to be put on the table for this conversation because it influences everything that happens in our healthcare system and it is a massive crack in the foundation of the way we think about our own health and wellbeing.
If you identify with one, two, three or all four of the influencers of mental health listed above, (there are more, btw, this was just getting long,) then you may be primed for “mental illness,” because “mental illness” often means multiple facets of one’s life are out of balance and the mind simply can’t keep it together anymore. If you are of the conventional attitude that any symptom, be it a headache, indigestion, sore joints, feeling down for 'no reason' or feeling anxiety when you know you 'shouldn't,' is just a mistake by your 'stupid body' or 'stupid brain,' that needs to be shut up by a pill or intervention, then you are primed to accept a solution that could lock you into these issues longterm, setting them up to get worse and create other problems. That last sentence is way too long, I know. If you are scared to take responsibility for the mess you're in (as much as you reasonably can anyway,) take the reins back, and be in charge of your own destiny, then you may fall into any or all of these traps too.
I just really don't see much difference between the conventional view and treatment acid reflux and how we view and treat mental health today. Same attitude, same results. The conversation that well-intentioned, brave and passionate mental health advocates are trying to make happen, is a good conversation - but to truly end the stigma, it needs a much bigger context.