October 10th is World Mental Health Day. We’ve come a long way in the last few years in raising awareness and understanding of this area of health, but we still have a long way to go. I want to try to tackle a few ongoing misconceptions today.
- Myth: Struggling with mental health means you are weak.
Truth: A mental health condition is no different from any other health condition. We all have different susceptibilities to illness, from genetic to lifestyle. A big contributor to anxiety and depression is stress, and we all handle stress differently. Just like that one 100-year-old who’s “secret to longevity” was smoking for 60 years and drinking whiskey – their body reacted differently to that toxic burden. Similarly, your body may react differently from another to the toxic burden that stress puts on you. Developing a mental illness is often due to a person trying to be strong for too long. Don’t ignore the warning signs of illness, whether it be physical or mental. The sooner you address it, the easier it is to resolve.
- Myth: Depression is due to a neurotransmitter imbalance.
Truth: Depression is more accurately described as a set of symptoms with many possible causes. One cause is almost certainly neurotransmitter imbalance, and patients who fit this picture will likely benefit from supplement or pharmaceuticals that target those biochemical pathways. But other things can cause symptoms of depression – hormone imbalances, medication side effects, nutrient deficiencies, and even stress. So don’t just accept that you need an anti-depressant medication before ruling out all the other possible underlying causes.
- Myth: If you’re diagnosed with a mental health issue, it’s with you for life.
Truth: Only if you choose not to access help. Getting treatment for a mood disorder leaves you with valuable tools to recognize and manage any future issues that may come up, leaving you in a much better position than before. Getting to the root cause of any illness means that you can choose to avoid the situation that might have brought about your illness in the first place.
Too many people choose to push through when they’re under life stresses that threaten their mental health. I want to relate a story of a friend of mine. We were meeting to go for a walk, and when he arrived, I noticed he was limping pretty badly. I asked what was going on, and did a quick exam of his foot and ankle, and suggested he get an x-ray and avoid putting strain on it as much as possible until he felt better. He took one day off, then returned to Crossfit, where he ended up breaking his leg doing a box jump. He almost certainly had an undiagnosed hairline fracture that gave out with the impact. Now, most people would have the sense not to push themselves when they are showing clear signs of injury. It should be the same when it comes to our mental health. We all need to become better at recognizing when we need a break, and giving ourselves the space to heal.
In health – both physical and mental.
Dr. Reuben Dinsmore, ND