Mental health seems to be becoming a more publicly addressed issue, especially through the use of social media such as Instagram and twitter. It also seems to be something that more people, both my friends and health bloggers appear to be talking about. However, in the last few weeks, two friends of mine opened up about their struggle with mental illness.
One in confidence and another publicly.
It doesn’t matter how they did it, what is important is that they spoke about it. Mental illness can affect so many people in a plethora of ways through a variety of severities. Not only can it manifest in different ways, people who are suffering from mental health problems respond to help in different ways as well. There is no right or wrong in dealing with mental health problems. The first step is encouraging it to be acknowledged.
Now, I’m not talking from the perspective of a mental health professional by any means. But all I can is shed some light on what could help and what studies say may help (exercise biased I’m afraid). No, mental health isn’t a physiotherapists speciality, but what has become more apparent throughout the last three years of working is actually how many people are suffering from a mental health problem. Like people say, you meet someone, and within 7 seconds you have made your first impression of that person. I am not afraid to say that 90% of the time I am surprised when I ask a patient of mine about their medical history, that they turn round and say they are on an anti-depressant or diagnosed with a mental health disorder, an internal look of surprise appears for a split second before I move on to what I ask next. I guess what I am saying is, don’t judge a book by its cover.
I will be focusing more on depression as it affects 3% of the world population at any one time. It is twice as likely to affect women as it is men. It is becoming a more and more popular diagnosis for the average Joe/Jo, so I think it is important to address and explain. But what is important to understand that depression can come hand in hand with anxiety, so maybe to have a better understanding, take depression as an umbrella term.
In layman terms, what is going on in the brain?
Depression is a caused from a change in the chemistry of the brain. People can be predisposed for many reasons. It can be due to genetics (which gives a 40% increased risk of depression), change in hormones, stress, grief or difficult circumstances occurring in someones life.
When someone is suffering from depression, there are three main neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) within the brain that are affected; these are: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are involved in various functions of the body including reactions to stress, regulating emotions as well as the drive for sleep and appetite… (Starting to see why it is not so clear cut now?) Anti-depressants attempt to work on the basis of regulating these hormones to help with symptoms of depression. What is one thing to bare in mind is that 19-34% of people do not respond to anti-depressants and an incredible 50% can have a recurrence after coming off these drugs.
Anti-depressants can work for a lot of people, and sometimes they just need that little help to ensure that they don’t begin to circle down the drain into chronic depression. However, what I want to address is what else you can do. I’m going to talk about the non-pharmaceutical options, not because I don’t think they help, but I want to address what potentially be used as an adjunct.
Although potentially a slightly biased opinion, exercise is one of the most underrated forms of exercise used in a variety of conditions. But if we were to look at the effects of exercise on people suffering from depression and anxiety, it has shown to massively reduce symptoms in people suffering with mild to moderate depression and be used as a support for severe depression. The effect of regular exercise has also been shown to have a longer outcome effect than those of anti-depressants and on top of this they were less likely to relapse. However, the minimum amount of exercise needed to be done was 35 minutes of fast walking, 5 times a week or 60minutes three times a week (15mins with stretching had no effect). But how does exercise improve these symptoms? I am sure most people have heard of the endorphin release when doing exercise (which is one reason for an improvement in mood)… Another is the release of norepinephrine (the neurotransmitter mentioned above) in exercise and this transmitter improves the mood of a human.
Zinc is one of the micronutrients involved in behaviour, learning and mental function. Zinc has been studied for the last 20 years with its effect on people suffering with depression and has been found to have varying effects. Studies have shown that either having a zinc supplement or increasing chicken and red meat intake could help decrease depression symptoms due to the function it has on the body. You can easily get these supplements from any food health store or even on Amazon. Some studies looked into using it alongside an anti-depressant and it was shown to have a large effect, however, it didn’t compare the results to zinc alone.
Mindfulness and meditation are techniques in books that are also becoming increasingly popular in people who suffer with anxiety and depression to not only educate the person but to also help them accept what their body is going through and encourage that it is a normal thing. A couple of good books include the following…
- Fear – by Thich Naht Hanh
- The Anxiety Solution – Chloe Brotheridge
- Dare – Barry McDonagh
I do want to reinforce that there is no one prescription for a mental health problem. There is a spectrum and people need support in a variety of ways. Whether this is medical support or simply someone to talk to. So please, be understanding. Listen and support them. They are telling you because they need you. But as I said before, I am no professional in the area, so seek medical advice from your GP if you do feel you need more help. I promise you, it is more common than you realise and there will always be something that will improve that low point you are at. It’s just having the courage and bravery to take that first small step. ❤