Mental health and its impacts on our world are becoming more of a concern every day. We also see a lot more of how it impacts our friends, community and country as social media shines a spotlight on those concerns every day. Sometimes the world’s mental health concerns being in our face all the time can even give us our own mental health concerns. It’s everywhere.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 44,193 Americans take their own lives every year. That’s approximately 121 individuals every day who don’t see another way out. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. 494,169 people visit the hospital every year for injuries due to self-harm. (1)
While we see the effects of mental health concerns everywhere, we aren’t talking about them. If we do, we aren’t treating it like physical illness but often the conversation goes to you need to “just shake yourself out of it” or “think better.” Not real actionable steps.
We need to start talking about mental health and treating it like an illness. We do not connect the physical health with mental health which can make it hidden and lonely if our mental health is not functioning. By talking about mental health as a physical illness it will keep us from dismissing real concerns. According to the CDC, “Only 25% of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.” (2)
Starting the Conversation on Mental Health Factors
Where do we start the conversation? One of the place we can start talking about helping ourselves and those around us is to recognize how our body’s health can impact our mental health. It will not be an immediate fix when someone is in crisis but it can offer actionable steps of what a body needs for stable mental health. This can help get people to the next step and prevent them from getting worse.
Our body responds to stress in the body with reflexes that are meant to help the body recover including fatigue, depression, and more, to get you to stay home to get better. If you don’t remove those stresses from the body the reflexes continue to impact you. There are a few areas we can take a quick look at that impact our brain’s function and mental health. Those areas are the gut, toxins, physical trauma and thoughts.
By and large mental health concerns frequently begin in our gut. There is a strong connection between the brain and the gut. It goes back to the gestational period when the organs were made from the same tissue. It doesn’t end there.
What you are eating and the health of your gut will impact your brain which impacts your mental health. If what you are eating causes inflammation it can lead to leaky gut and what you ingest will impact your gut health and immunity.
Not every doctor will connect the gut and the brain, even though the Vagus nerve is an information superhighway between the two while traffic goes both ways, the majority of the information is being sent from the gut to the brain. The gut is telling the brain how to respond to inflammation, and it’s affecting the neurotransmitter levels. Therefore, a breakdown in the gut can lead to a breakdown in the brain.
Flora and Bacteria
We all have flora and bacteria in our stomach that aids the digestion and absorption processes. This flora and bacteria can get out of balance from foods we eat or medicines we take. Because of the intricate connection with the central nervous system, when there is a problem in the gut, the whole body is affected including the brain. (3)
Leaky gut syndrome impacts many adults and is often undetected. It’s also called intestinal hyper permeability, which means the barrier of your gut has been compromised by inflammation.
Another way to picture intestinal hyper permeability is to imagine pouring a bag of rice into your hands. In a healthy gut, your fingers would be closed keeping the rice from getting through. That keeps what is in your gut from getting into the bloodstream. In an unhealthy gut, your immune system is trying to flush out what is causing the inflammation. So, imagine trying to catch the rice when your fingers are open. When this happens with food in your body, undigested food passes into the bloodstream creating an immune system response. (3)
This immune system response can range from aches and pains to rashes and one surprising response is depression. One study found approximately 35% of depressed participants tested positive for leaky gut syndrome based on blood tests. (4)
What we ingest (or don’t ingest) can impact our brains. Nutrients can make a big difference in how our neurotransmitter levels impact our bodies:
- Low Taurine will cause anxiousness, sleep difficulties and cardiovascular stress. (5)
- Low Serotonin will lead to panic, anxiety, anger and depression. (6)
- Low Glutamate may be an indication of low immune activation, causing focus issues. (7)
- Elevated Dopamine causes focus issues and sleeping difficulties. (8)
- Elevated Norepinephrine causes anxiousness, focus issues, sleep difficulties, weight issues, vascular issues and immune stress. (9)
It is important to get tested and take steps to fix chronic leaky gut to protect your mental health.
Metals are neurotoxins, which means they cause damage to the brain when present in the body, a condition known as heavy metal toxicity. (10) Some people handle metal exposure with little to no side effects, but others are less able to detoxify these metals from their system and experience chronic health issues as a result.
When these substances enter the body, they are taken and stored inside of fat cells to protect us from the toxin. Fat cells are all over the body, including the brain. The blood-brain barrier is designed to protect us from these metals leaching into the brain, but a condition called leaky brain, breaks down this barrier and allows the toxic metals to enter and wreak havoc.
This leads to a condition called heavy metal toxicity and one of the symptoms is depression. You encounter heavy metals many ways- antiperspirant, make-up, dental fillings, food, vaccines and more. It is important to find replacements for products you use that contain metals and remove metals from your everyday life.
Hormones are your body’s messenger system so they will be the first to react to any changes. Endocrine disruptors muck up that system by mimicking hormones or interfering with the messages. When the hormones start to change they are telling your body that there is a problem going on. Your body will respond to some of these changes or stresses by telling the body to get you to stay in bed.
Exposure to disruptors on a regular basis is more common than you would think. Cleaning products, office products, store bought produce, kitchen products, personal care products, drinking water, and even thermal receipts. (11) Basically, every retail receipt you touch can expose you to disruptors! We’re surrounded!
When disruption occurs, it will affect most of the pathways and organs in your body. How do you know if your hormone levels are disrupted? Get them tested! Then get those disruptors out of your environment.
Physical trauma comes in a variety of forms and is not always a major accident that is easily recognized. Believe it or not, you can cause your body trauma with small daily actions like bad posture, crossing your legs, sleeping in a bad bed with coils, carrying a purse or baby, sitting on your wallet or working at your computer. It can also be the more noticeable traumas like a car accident, fall, or sports injury. Trauma, big or small, can damage our bodies. Trauma is a source of inflammation which is a stress to the body.
Subluxation is defined as a slight misalignment of the vertebrae. That doesn’t sound like much but when your spine is out of alignment it can have many effects. Spinal subluxation alters/changes the function of spinal nerve roots, which causes symptoms in the organs served by those roots. It can cause problems for neurotransmitters, which will affect …. You got it! Your moods and emotions.
Telling someone to walk it off or just change their thoughts isn’t going to be helpful. Thoughts are crucial to a healthy mental state. They aren’t just something you shake into place though, you need to train your brain to be happy.
Self-directed neuroplasticity is our power to change the wiring of our brains and build up those happy synapses. Practice gratitude and bring your attention to the good things in your life. The more your practice- the more you will notice those good things. Also spend time savoring those good times.
Some ways to help you relax and take control of your thoughts while you are working on improving your physical health:
- CBD oils help calm you down
- Studies of Kava have shown that it reduces anxiety (13)
- California poppy is a relaxing herb that will help you unwind and diminish anxiety
- Breathing exercises help take us out of fight or flight mode. Take 9 long breaths in and out slowly.
- Improve your posture. Straighten your posture, bring your head above your heart and bring your shoulders down from your ears
- Using daily, positive affirmations can change your thinking
Next Steps For Mental Health
Let’s keep talking about mental health. Our physical body impacts our brain and mental health in numerous ways. By learning more about how our physical health impacts our mental health we can take steps to keep our whole-body functioning.
We also can take steps to improve our health as a community while finding ways to talk about how our physical health impacts our mental health. Mental health concerns are on the rise and aren’t going to just disappear. Finding productive ways to talk about mental health while improving the overall health of our community is helpful.
Once you start making people feel better because you are removing their toxic and traumatic stress they start to feel better. Once those physical problems come down we can start to make real progress.
We will keep moving the conversation forward on how physical health impacts mental health. As individuals and as community. We are all in this together.