Mental Health: The changes that need to be made!
Updated: Mar 11
Mental health is a huge concern in New Zealand. It is highly unlikely that you haven't been impacted in some way by either your own struggles or the struggles of a loved one with a mental health issue.
Mental Health Awareness week is a good reminder that a healthy body is not one that just looks physically able and free of illness but a being who also feels fulfilled emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
When we talk about wellness in the context of mental health, it should not be just about treating or medicating a specific symptom or problem; it needs to be about treating the whole person – inside and out.
In a period of time where “cutting edge medicines” have been developed and trialled on our population, the rates of mental health disorders continue to increase.
Our brain is the platform for our mind and therefore the platform for our mental health.
Compared to other organs in our bodies, the understanding of how the brain functions is less advanced but even much of the practical knowledge we have of the brain has yet to be put to good use.
One of the major examples is the role of nutrition and how it impacts our mental health.
A large part of the brain is made up of essential fatty acids, water and other nutrients.
We know that the food we eat affects how we feel, think and behave.
And with recent research and studies being released, we also know that dietary interventions may hold the key to many of the mental health challenges our society is facing. The potential of dietary interventions in treating illness like Depression and Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder, are being increasingly recognised. We would be foolish to underestimate their importance. Minor deficiencies of certain nutrients are sufficient enough to change mood and brain chemistry, especially in sensitive individuals.
An integrated approach, recognising the interplay of biological, psychological, social and environmental factors is key to challenging the growing concern of mental ill-health in western nations.
The time is now for nutrition to become a mainstream, everyday component of mental health care, and a regular factor in mental health promotion. But this won’t happen without accountability of the individual and self care practices that have to be implemented and maintained by the individual within a supportive community.
In case you weren't aware the Statistics tell us....
Around 1-in-6 people globally (15-20 percent) have one or more mental or substance use disorders. Globally, this means more than one billion people are affected by a mental health disorders. The largest number of people had an anxiety disorder. Given the known under-reporting and poor data coverage of mental health across most countries (but especially within lower-income nations), we may even consider this a minimum estimate (WHO's International Classification of Diseases)
One out of ten New Zealanders are on anti-depressants (Statistics New Zealand). There has been a four-fold increase in claimed disability financial support due to psychiatric disorders in NZ from 1991 to 2016 (Statistics New Zealand). The long term results from the National Institute of Mental Health’s MTA study found that children taking medication for ADHD for longer than 24 months showed “significant markers not of beneficial outcome, but of deterioration… medicated children were also slightly smaller, and higher delinquency scores.”
I found this really interesting, because when you look at the global statistics of Mental Health Disorders its the countries that are more "westernized', that also have typically higher incomes, and medical facilities available; that are also the countries with the highest rates of Mental Health Disorders.
JUST WHERE ARE WE GOING WRONG?!
Our state of mental health is something that affects every single interaction we have!
Dr Julia Rucklidge at the University of Canterbury who uses micro-nutrient therapies to treat mental health conditions. She believes that “there is a very real danger of mental health care bankrupting our society in terms of cost and social implications.”
I also have seen firsthand throughout my career how wholefood nutrition, stress reduction practices, sometimes targeted nutritional support for treating nutrient deficiencies and creating a Why bigger than yourself can help heal mental health illness.
NOW LETS FIND THE SOLUTIONS AND EMBRACE THE CHANGES THAT NEED TO BE MADE!
Looking at the graphs of what else correlates with the rise of mental health conditions it was interesting to note, that since first introduced in the 1980’s, the use of the mobile phone has risen is correlation with mental health illness. From the first-generation mobile phone (or “brick”) to the mobile phones we have today which are used to talk, text, play games, take photos, watch television, play music, shop, exchange emails, do banking, monitor fitness levels, wake you up in the mornings, connect you to social media, Skype someone on the other side of the world, give you GPS instructions; making them well and truly cemented into everyone's life. The downside is we as a community are more disconnected than ever!
The other graph which stood out to have the same exponential rise as the mental health conditions is obesity and type two diabetes correlating since the 1970s. After 14 years in the health and wellness industry I 100% believe what we eat has a major impact on all aspects of our health.
The good news is, there is so much we can do with both of these factors that can give incredible improvements. There is so much scope within the fields of nutrition, lifestyle strategies and stress reduction techniques to help improve our energy and mood.
Different situations, life experiences, relationships, lifestyle choices affect everyone totally differently so with regards to mental health one treatment option is never going to fix everyone. But if we look at our basic make up as humans and start from there it is my opinion that positive changes can only happen.
The below topics should really be a blog in their own right, I'm really just covering the basics so if you have questions about anything in particularly please leave a comment or contact me directly.
LOVE and CONNECTION
We all need it, just as much as food and air!
The connection factor is seriously lacking in many western societies with our 'busyness', our lack of a 'village', maybe its the 'having to' of both parents working, the overtake of technology, social media and everyone connected through their phones but not in reality.
Our children and teenagers are having more mental health concerns to the point New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. That's totally devastating to read!
WE NEED TO REASSESS OUR PRIORITIES!!! Just what are your priorities? Focus on a maximum of FIVE. Is the life you are living adding to or taking away from them?
Tomorrow is never guaranteed, but today is; so are you choosing happiness today or saving it up for tomorrow when you've hit your desired weight? Found yourself a boyfriend? Got the promotion your hanging in there for? Just questions, but I hope you get my gist.
Social Media like it or loathe it, its here to stay. Unfortunately to many people are addicted to it!
Just to put that into perspective: A recent survey conducted by Surecall found that Millenials are so engrossed by their phones that 17 percent of them check their devices during sex. WHAT!!! The survey also found 85 percent of Millennials check their phone while using the toilet, and 43 percent in the shower. Toilet, I can understand, but shower????
Social media is not real connection, in many cases its not real life! Edited, staged, filtered, cropped, airbrushed pictures that were one click of a persons 24 hours does not mean they have a better life than you.
We are all on a journey and life throws up and downs and curve balls at all of us. Nobody (no matter how wonderful that Instagram feed looks) has 100% amazing days EVERYDAY!!!
COMPARISON is the Thief of Joy. We need to KNOCK that on the head, instead focusing on what WE have right in front of us, what YOU can offer - cause everyone has something and how YOU can help people around you. It is my opinion that giving yourself a bigger mission than JUST YOURSELF will lead to greater happiness and contentment of life in general.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu
The above quote is something I highly resonate with but I realize past events are not always easy to forget or forgive but reliving moments of disappointment, tragedy, regret over and over again will not change your past and it will rob you of your happiness today.
Spending all your time worrying about what could be in the future will never create coping strategies for the present. Force yourself to connect to this moment! Sometimes that is really hard but with practice it becomes easier.
My last point here centres around nourishing your spirit. Do you spend time nourishing your spiritual side? What do you believe in and why? Big questions, but questions we should all contemplate seriously.
We need nutrients in the right amount in our bodies to function! This is well and truly proven and the best and most cost effective way you can get these nutrients is focusing on a wholefood diet that is ideally spray free or organic. Better yet grow your own! Time spent in the outdoors is well known to benefit mental health.
Research conducted by Dr Rucklidge, shows we need to ensure we are getting essential nutrients in our diets and can use therapeutic doses of micro-nutrients to support mental health conditions.
Micro-nutrients are needed in small amounts but are vital for health. Micro-nutrients that are often low in New Zealanders are Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin D, Omega 3 and many more have been used in open label trials for sleep issues, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD.
ALL have shown significant reductions in psychiatric and psychological symptoms. Response rates range from 50-80% improvements. Those are some very good odds that you will see improvement!
For many people industrial seed oils, gluten, sugar and refined grains cause problems that can vary from digestion and eczema, to weight gain, joint pain, migraines, mental health disorders and behavioural issues such as ADHD. Industrial seed oils, gluten, sugar and refined grains can contribute to leaky gut which can affect mental health conditions because serotonin (our happy hormone which is mainly produced in the gut) - is not kept within the digestive tract, it cannot engage in chemical reactions within your brain to increase your mood.
Nourish your gut: Healthy gut function has been linked to normal central nervous system function. Hormones, neurotransmitters and immunological factors released from the gut are known to send signals to the brain either directly or via autonomic neurons. Recently, studies have emerged focusing on variations in the microbiome and the effect on various nervous system disorders, including, but not limited to anxiety, depressive disorders, schizophrenia, and autism. Therapeutic interventions to treat dysbiosis, or disturbance in the gut, and mitigate its effects on the Gut-Brain-Axis are only recently coming to the forefront as more is known about this unique relationship. As a result, research has been done on the use of probiotics in treatment of anxiety and depression both as standalone therapy and as adjunct to commonly prescribed medications with positive results. The take home: Incorporate fermented foods daily, take a quality probiotic, eat wholefoods that our good bacteria thrive on!
Its not you, its your hormones!
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is activated by everything from worry to rapid breathing to caffeine intake and even excessive exercise. This constant flood of cortisol prevents our “rest and digest” nervous system from operating. This hormone stops the production of growth hormone and serotonin and also disrupts sleep and digestion.
Sex Hormone imbalances such as progesterone deficiency, estrogen deficiency or dominance, and testosterone deficiency — can cause a variety of symptoms at any point in life. In men, too much estrogen can cause depression or mood swings, and too little testosterone can cause depression, fatigue, mental fogginess, weight gain, and low sex drive. In women, sex hormone imbalances can cause the whole gamut of physical and mental health symptoms.
Thyroid issues are an often overlooked, hormonally-triggered cause of symptoms. When the thyroid becomes overactive – hyperthyroidism — symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, moodiness, panic attacks, and depression. Some women have even been mistakenly misdiagnosed as having panic disorder or anorexia, before properly diagnosed with an overactive thyroid. An underactive thyroid — hypothyroidism — can cause depression, moodiness, fatigue, and in some cases, anxiety as well.
I would strongly suggest get your Hormone levels checked if you have noticed any mental health issues have come on during puberty, that occur on a monthly bases typically around ovulation or menstruation, post birth or menopause. A DUTCH test that can be ordered through Revitalize Me for anywhere in the NZ provides a detailed report on all your major hormones levels and pathways and is excellent for pinpointing any deficiencies or excesses. For more info on this test you can check here.
To help our parasympathetic nervous system to 'rest and digest and heal and recover' we need to actively practice strategies to reduce stress.
There are many amazing practitioners and studios around that can help you learn and enjoy these strategies.
Diaphragmatic or deep belly breathing with yoga or without yoga is extremely calming to the nervous system (Try it lying on your back with your legs up the wall. Inhale into the belly for a count of 4, Hold for 2 and Exhale for 6, Repeat.)
Journal your thoughts - get them out rather than letting them cycle round and round in your head. Observe them from a third person perspective. If your friend came to you with these thoughts what would you tell them.
There is a quote that says:
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny''. - It all starts with your thoughts. You have to actively harness them.
Prioritise regular exercise that you love! Do it because you love it!!! and the rewards will be great. Walk, swim, surf, hike, yoga, zumba find something and it will also bring another community into your life.
Our bodies were designed to be moved and outdoors, not sitting in front of computers in high rise buildings. If your job entails a lot of indoor time you HAVE to make it a priority to get outside before, during (lunch break) or after work. I personally know that I hugely benefit from outdoor time. It makes a world of difference in my demeanor, ability to cope with stress and zest for life.
Essential oils are hugely beneficial for stress and a variety of mental health illnesses. Many studies report positive results when essential oils are used as a complementary therapy in reducing stress, anxious feelings and naturally lifting low mood. It's so easy to put on a diffuser at home or at your work with an oil of choice that calms the nervous system. If you are interested in reading more about this you can check out this study
Limit the need for coffee and energy drinks, as caffeine triggers the stress response in the body. Caffeine is one of the most popular drugs in the world and is consumed by up to 90% of the population in one form or another – mostly as coffee. If you are prone to anxiety you should be avoiding caffeine.
Our current medical model uses first medication before looking diet, stress, sleep and nutrient deficiencies.
I would personally love to see this flipped. But the accountability is on each of us! If we can take responsibility and address dietary and lifestyle factors first, along with nutrient support, while using medication sparingly on a case-by-case basis, we can greatly improve the mental health of our nation and our future generations!
Disclaimer: This blog post is for educational purposes only. It is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure. We are all unique, for your individual health concerns it is important to discuss personalised treatment with a Holistic Health Consultant or relevant health professional.