As we continue to suffer from a growing epidemic of mental illness in this country, and creating awareness is trending, we must take time to re-evaluate the way we handle this mental health conversation. As renowned psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen often says, mental health outcomes haven’t changed since the 1950s. Treatment options appear to be limited, because while we have plenty of medications, cases are skyrocketing.
However, there are new discussions happening, and a growing number of practitioners are seeking to support mental health with tools that were previously brushed aside. In order to move forward in our thinking about mental health, we need to dispel the myths that are often perpetuated by antiquated mentality on the topic.
Warning: some of these will be tough pills to swallow (pun intended), but they are all backed by the latest research. Please drop me a line if anything is questionable to you or you need further clarification. I’d love to have a longer discussion on the topic.
Myth Number One: You must be diagnosed with a mental illness to struggle with your mental health.
You don’t need an official diagnosis to struggle with your mental health. We will all struggle at one point or another. Mental health issues are often symptoms of an imbalance in the internal or external environment.
Many commonly prescribed medications can cause mood changes, from birth control to statins. Food sensitivities, toxicity, poor gut health, thyroid imbalances, viruses or infections, and other underlying issues can also cause our mental health to go wonky.
Just because you’re not diagnosed with anything doesn’t mean you won’t struggle. Instead of getting mad at your brain for struggling, ask your body what it’s trying to tell you. There’s usually a lot more going on than anxiety or depression. We are quick to pathologize the symptoms instead of digging to look around for the root cause. Which leads to number two…
Myth Number Two: Medication is the only option to support mental health.
Medication is a helpful tool for some people, but many will experience worsening symptoms, especially when we’re talking about younger, developing brains.
The SMILES trial was a revolutionary nutrition study that showed that the Mediterranean diet may be useful at causing remission in moderate to severe depression, and there are countless studies that show exercise can work just as well as, if not better than medication in some people.
Other helpful tools include neurofeedback, red light therapy, talk therapy, and certain trauma therapies like EMDR or tapping/EFT.
I would never encourage anyone to stop taking meds (because that can often make symptoms worse), but we must look at the other safe, evidence-based treatments before choosing treatments that put people at greater risk of increasing negative symptoms. We also need to account for the placebo effect in medication as well, which accounts for around 30-45% of the response to antidepressants.
Myth Number Three: It’s just a chemical imbalance.
The chemical imbalance theory is interesting and holds some valid thoughts on the function of neurotransmitters, but it is still just a theory. In fact, The American Psychological Association stated this theory was incorrect in 2007, though this is still perpetuated by many practitioners.
Another study in the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that patients who believe a chemical imbalance is what causes their depression have WORSE treatment outcomes. These days, many researchers are taking a closer look at the other factors that impact mental health, like the gut/brain connection and how that affects neurotransmitters, toxicity and neuroinflammation, circadian rhythm disruption, and other underlying issues that wreak havoc on our mental health. In my experience, the worst side effect of believing the chemical imbalance theory is that it led me to believe that I was stuck with a broken brain, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Myth Number Four: Your genes determine if you will suffer from a mental illness or not.
Genes do load the gun, but our environment is what pulls the trigger when it comes to mental health. A genetic predisposition to mental illness, low vitamin D levels and low B vitamins definitely made me more at risk at struggling, but it was lifestyle factors and trauma that caused my issues to surface. Restoring balance to my whole body health was key for starting the healing process.
Saying it’s just in the genes keeps us chained up and unmoving, as if there is no hope for ever feeling better. Saying it’s just in the genes can keep us from looking deeper and finding what’s really going on, when often it isn’t about the actual brain at all (as I’ve shared in earlier posts). Saying it’s just in the genes also perpetuates the myth that we will always struggle, which can’t be further from the truth. (More on that tomorrow)
Myth Number Five: I will always struggle with my mental health.
There are so many people who suffered from mental health concerns in the past, yet are now thriving and living free from depression, anxiety, racing thoughts, mood disturbances, and panic. Unfortunately, many of us, myself included, were told upon diagnosis that we will always struggle. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and flies in the face of what we know about how the brain and body can heal.
Neuroplasticity teaches us that we aren’t stuck with a broken brain, and when root issues are addressed in the body, whether that root issue is trauma or underlying physical imbalances, it changes the way we think and process. When we believe the old model of mental illness only being a biochemical process, it is easy to stay stuck in a toxic relationship with our brain, always working against it instead of with it.
We must normalize mental health symptoms as a part of the human experience. And when symptoms increase in severity or frequency, we need to be willing to ask why and dig deeper. There is always so much more going on than chemicals in the brain or genetics. With tools such as nutrition, supplements, targeted labwork, movement, mindfulness, meditation, neurofeedback, mind/body trauma therapies, talk therapy, and yes – maybe even certain medications for certain people in certain situations, we have more than a fighting chance to stand up against this epidemic that is taking down so many people in our world today.
I am not an expert on mental health. I am a survivor, I am a researcher, and I am a continual learner. I only share what I hope can be eye-opening and bring someone to a new level of healing on the mental wealth journey. The old way is clearly not working. Let’s find some new tools together!