It is absolutely possible that you can experience mental illness symptoms and not be stuck with them forever. Mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder, are experienced by millions of people globally, and approximately 20% of adults in the United States will experience mental illness this year alone. Standard treatment has relied on a combination of psychotherapy and pharmaceutical products for several decades, but the numbers of people suffering continues to climb. It is time to think about mental illness differently and to expand options for treatment, and it starts with understanding the problems of why so many people are suffering.
There are so many reasons why people develop mental illness, some psychological (arising in the mind, i.e. stress, perceptions, thought patterns) and some physiological (relating to the function of the body, i.e. hormones, nutrition, metabolism). When a comprehensive and holistic approach is utilized, and all areas of someone's psychological and physiological health are assessed and supported, healing is possible.
Physiological causes of mental illness:
Not everyone develops mental illness for the exact same reasons. Besides the psychological causes to symptoms, we are beginning to find more and more evidence that a number of physical stresses are associated and contributing to mental illness, including:
- Gut dysbiosis
- Nutritional deficiencies (i.e. magnesium, zinc, B vitamins)
- thyroid disorder
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Food allergies
- Artificial dyes, sugars, and food additives
- Chemical toxicant exposure
The body needs a variety of nutrients to function correctly, and deficiencies in certain nutrients have been linked to mental health disorders. For example, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with depression and seasonal affective disorder. Deficiencies in B vitamins, particularly folate and vitamin B12, have also been linked to depression and anxiety. Additionally, insufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, nuts, and seeds, has been associated with depression and other mental health disorders.
"Growing evidence suggests that nutrients, diet, and other lifestyle factors may play a role in the pathophysiology and management of mental disorders, including ADHD."
The gut-brain axis is the communication system between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. Recent studies have found that the health of the gut can have a significant impact on mental health. An unhealthy gut can lead to inflammation, which has been linked to depression and anxiety. Additionally, the gut microbiome, the collection of microorganisms that live in the gut, can also impact mental health. An imbalance of gut bacteria has been associated with several mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
"Dysbiosis and inflammation of the gut have been linked to causing several mental illnesses including anxiety and depression"
Hormones are chemicals that regulate various bodily functions, including mood and behavior. Imbalances in hormones, such as thyroid hormones, estrogen, and testosterone, can have a significant impact on mental health. For example, hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone, has been associated with depression.
…"both insufficient and excess thyroid hormones can be accompanied by a variety of neuropsychiatric manifestations including depression."
"Emotional and behavioral problems, particularly symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD, are common among adolescents with food allergy in the general population and, in the case of elevated levels of depressive symptoms, persist into young adulthood."
"Recent meta-analyses have confirmed that severe mental illnesses (SMI), including major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, are associated with increased levels of both peripheral inflammatory markers (1) and systemic inflammation"
Thanks to easy access and publishing of many peer-reviewed studies, it is quite easy to find research that links worsening mental health symptoms to a variety of physical stresses.
While medication can help with the management of symptoms, it shouldn't be the only tool we are using to support and treat mental illness. It's important to talk to your psychiatric professional about what factors might be impacting your mental health. If the above concerns are not being properly assessed and supported, it may be time to find a new provider.
Psychological causes of mental illness:
Different experiences and circumstances that a person is exposed to throughout their lifetime can cause or contribute to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and even some symptoms of ADHD. If a person experienced adverse life events, trauma, strained attachments, or many various social factors such as poverty and discrimination, they are at much higher risk for mental illness. Our brain is shaped by the people in our lives, our experiences, and the things we think about every day. This part of the equation is complex and unique to each individual, but the mind body connection should not be discounted in the understanding and treatment of mental illness (more to follow on this topic!)
Is mental illness permanent?
Mental illness doesn't have to be permanent when individuals receive appropriate support and prioritize self-care practices. While mental illness can feel overwhelming and debilitating, addressing the root problems and developing healthy coping strategies can lead to significant improvements in mental health. If we support the digestive system, get the right nutrients and vitamins in our diet, ensure good self-care practices, support our emotional health and psychological stressors, we absolutely can improve the symptoms of mental disorders.
As we navigate the complexities of mental health, it is crucial to remember that every individual's experience is unique. Each person's journey with mental illness is shaped by a distinctive interplay of factors.
Let us strive to break down the barriers that perpetuate stigma and discrimination, advocate for evidence-based interventions, and support individuals on their path to recovery. By addressing the diverse factors contributing to mental illness and fostering a culture of mental well-being, we can build a brighter future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.