Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Raising Awareness: Non-Pharmocological Treatment

October 7-13 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. What do you think is one thing people need to be more aware of concerning mental illness?

I have so many things I would want people to be aware of. Of course one of the main things I would like people to actually accept is that mental illness is real. But the other thing I think we do not speak about nearly enough are all the non-pharmacological treatments for mental illness. I am eternally frustrated when I see people (adults and children) heavily medicated, on medicines that risk their life due to serious side effects, and no one tells them the other things they could try to do for treatment. Many non-pharmacological things work in treatment to either decrease the amount of drugs you need to take or some people don't even need prescription medications anymore.

Why do we make people go through this? Why do we not inform people of all the options they have? Why don't we give them the best chance at a stable life?

There is too much stigma around non-prescription treatments- assuming that if you can treat an illness through anything other than a pill then the illness is not real. But that is just not true. Heart disease is real and it can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes. Some forms of diabetes can be treated with diet and people can decrease or stop needing insulin injections. Diet is used in the treatment of epilepsy when medications are not working. Celiac disease is treated with a gluten free diet as are all other food allergies. There is no reason to think that because mental illness can be treated with things like diet, exercise, sleep schedule, meditation, supplements, etc... that it is not a real illness.

From NAMI's Facebook Page
Mental illnesses are chemical imbalances or damage in the brain and things like diet and exercise can change the balance of those chemicals or help repair the brain. For instance serotonin is often one of the chemicals that is out of balance, too low in people with depression. Sugar increases serotonin, but then it also produces a crash and creates mood fluctuations and that can create the chemical imbalance of bipolar. Not eating sugar and other simple carbohydrates can help balance serotonin so it does not have extreme highs and lows. Exercise helps in the treatment of ADD, depression, bipolar and more because it effects neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine. Exercise also helps regulate the amygdala which is one of the parts of our brain affected in PTSD. Also, as Sharon Begley describes in her book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, meditation helps change our brain due to neuroplasticity (the ability for our brains to change, rewire itself.) Meditation has been successful in treatment of mental illness as well because it changes the pathways in your brain, this is especially helpful in PTSD and brain injury.

Nothing showed me just how easy it is to change our brain with things like food than an experience with my son.

We noticed my son was having emotional breakdowns. Crying over small things that, while annoying, were not things you would just fall apart for hours over. He is normally a totally happy and smiling kid who listens and is really easy to take care of. We knew something was wrong and we had already been researching diet and it's affect on mental illness for me and my husband has a gluten intolerance. We noticed when we cut out gluten we all felt better, but my son still had these breakdowns so we we started paying more attention to exactly what he was eating. We noticed that when he ate corn, a few hours later, he was a wreck! So, we cut out corn (even corn syrup), and he rarely has these episodes except when we eat out or he is at a friends house. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, corn is snuck into everything especially in the form of corn syrup. Even pre-made hamburger patties have corn in them sometimes so you may think you are just eating meat but you are not. We even noticed during school testing week that on the days our son had a breakfast of protein and carbs he was able to sit and focus longer for the test. On the one day I just gave him fruit and gluten-free pancakes, he had a hard time concentrating and sitting during the test so much so that his teacher asked me if he was feeling ok. I know that if he goes to a party or spends the day at the amusement park and we did not pack food for him, he will be sad, cry easily, and even withdraw to his room for hours. All because of the food he ate.

I recommend that all of this be supervised by your doctor and if you do not have a doctor willing to look at things outside of the medicine cabinet, then find a new one. It can be hard. For at least ten years doctors have been telling me "the research shows these things work" but they don't have enough experience to use it in treatment, telling me to experiment on my own. Not helpful! I finally found doctors this year who have enough experience and education on these treatments that they do use them.

If we as patients insist that we want to know ALL of our treatment options, we can make a difference. So I want to raise awareness to my fellow friends with mental illness and let you know that you have many options in your treatment plan. You have the right to insist that you are informed about them and are treated with them. We can demand more testing so that more doctors recognize these treatments as successful. Our lives are worth this fight.


Rev. Katie

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