Stress is a normal part of life; it keeps us challenged, moving forward and focused on our goals. However, we all have heard of or know someone who is on stress/sick leave. Maybe it’s you. Overstress seems to be the ‘disease’ of our fast-paced, frazzled times and many live as though they are careening through their days on a high-speed, runaway roller coaster. Many are under the illusion that ‘busyness’ is being productive. In our work-oriented society, it was always considered a crime to be idle, to daydream, to (heaven forbid) look out the window.
Being busy has long been equated with achievement. There is no respect for the unsuccessful life. And so we race ourselves into fatigue. Being worn out and rushed isn’t living; it’s merely surviving. Overstress appears as exhaustion, an inability to cope. Even going out with friends can seem like a chore.
According to the International Schizophrenia Foundation, www.isfmentalhealth.org, chronic brain chemical secretion triggered by stress can lead to other mood disorders including depression, anxiety, and anger.
The economic cost of mental illnesses in Canada for the health care system was estimated to be at least $7.9 billion in 1998 – $4.7 billion in care, and $3.2 billion in disability and early death.
What Part does Stress Play in Mental Illness?
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, for people experiencing mental illness in the workplace, a good work/life balance is critical. The relationship between stress and mental illness is complex, but certainly stress can exacerbate mental illness for some people. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, employees who considered most of their days to be quite a bit or extremely stressful were over 3 times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode, compared with those who reported low levels of general stress.
That of course does not mean that avoiding stress will prevent mental illness, but certainly recovery from mental illness is more difficult if levels of stress are high. Stress can drastically raise blood pressure, increase breathing rate and affect brain chemistry
Where Does Stress Originate?
Stress can come from many sources besides the workplace – children, family relationships, money, scarcity of friends, traffic jams, poor attitudes, lack of self-esteem, poor nutrition and absence of meaning and purpose in one’s life. While it is well- documented as to the best ways to help stress, often those people in the midst of stressful events don’t look to remedies such as deep breathing, exercise, meeting with friends, psychological counseling, or improved nutrition that can help them.
Many even ‘self-medicate’, which can make matters worse. According to CAMH’s Mental Illness and Addictions statistics, about 20% of people with a mental disorder have a co-occurring substance use problem. And 65% of people with mental illnesses are searching for options in addition to or besides medication.
Fresh, New Treatment Options to a Runaway Problem
In 1990, I was in search for other treatment options after a year of turmoil, feverishly attempting to help my son with the trials and stigma of mental illness. A year earlier, he had left on a Middle East youth tour with his buddies, his guitar firmly tucked under his arm. He blew kisses to my husband and me as he waved goodbye. Three weeks later, we received a shocking phone call – our son had fainted on the top of a mountain and had gone paranoid. My husband left on the next plane and returned with a young man who not only looked physically ill and emaciated by also was psychotic.
Our outgoing, friendly, affection boy and talented musician now spent hours in his room asleep. Awakened, he suffered Parkinson-like tremors and tardive dyskinesia, a side- effect of his medication. His progress was negligible and a year later was hospitalized again for schizophrenia. Frantically, I searched for answers. Traditional texts left me hopeless. By destiny, or sheer luck, I came across one of the books by Abram Hoffer, M.D., PhD, researcher and psychiatrist and scholar of bio-chemistry.
The book, (now renamed, Healing Schizophrenia), discussed healthy diets, free of allergens that could help his condition. Also emphasized were specific supplements such as Vitamins B3 (niacin) and Vitamin C – both natural and essential to the human body for restoring health. After calling Dr. Hoffer for help, I learned that a charitable foundation, now called the ISF – International Schizophrenia Foundation, www.isfmentalhealth.org, had been chartered in Canada in 1968 to promote orthomolecular medicine. The term, orthomolecular psychiatry was coined by Nobel prize winner, Linus Pauling and plays the role of an adjunctive therapy, taking into account individual bio-chemistry.
Orthomolecular medicine optimizes health and treats disease by providing correct amounts of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other substances that are natural to the body’s environment. In other words, find out what’s missing in the body and give it what it needs and wants.
The Gut-Brain Connection
I soon uncovered that many people with mental illness have digestive issues (including my son). While thinking is done by neurons in the brain, the digestive system contains 100 million neurons and produces as many neurotransmitters as the brain. For example, the gut produces two-thirds of the body’s serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitter. Feeding your body the right foods can make you happy and the wrong foods (processed foods, high sugar foods) can make you feel anxious or depressed. Getting tested for food allergies or embarking on a trial or elimination diet is often recommended.
Nutrients Reduce Stress
Achieving optimal chemical levels in the brain and body through diet is critical to ensure the body’s correct oxidative stress levels. The reduction of oxidative chemical reactions in the body decreases the likelihood of stress related diseases such as anxiety, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. Protocols of nutrients also exist to improve symptoms of depression, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dementia and eating disorders. (Check www.mindfulcharity.ca – a better future for children’s mental health, for resources for parents and professionals.)
Among the simplest and most reassuring criteria for recovery of mental illnesses, Dr. Hoffer cites freedom of symptoms, which enables normal operative adult behaviors such as getting along well with family and community, paying taxes or at least contributing in some positive way to society. Orthomolecular treatments can help patients achieve those encouraging goals.
Yes, drugs can help extreme psychiatric symptoms, but Dr. Hoffer’s research, (cited in Outcomes of Patients with Schizophrenia: A Review, ‘Jobe et al,’ 2005, The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry), concedes that schizophrenia is a “poor-outcome disorder” and warns that more attention must be given to suicide and early death. The cautionary advice in this report has been reported over and over for the past half a century. Clearly, antipsychotic drug treatments are not a fail-safe approach to mental illnesses.
Some fear that vitamins in high dosages are “unsafe” even though Andrew Saul, PhD, author of Doctor Yourself – Natural Healing That Works presented documentation to Parliament attesting to the safety of vitamins. Not one person has died from vitamin therapy. You may view his testimony before the Government of Canada, House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, regarding nutritional supplement product safety (Ottawa, May 12, 2005) at: http://www.doctoryourself.com/testimony.htm
According to a September, 2010 Whitehall-Robins Report, (a pharmaceutical company’s Journal), entitled Micronutrients and Mental Disorders, – “several micronutrient deficiencies adversely affect the brain and hence could aggravate mental disorders like schizophrenia, depression and anorexia nervosa. It is plausible that proper attention to diet, and when indicated, appropriate supplementation with Vitamin C, folic acid niacin, thiamine, iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and vitamin E could lower the dosage requirement for antipsychotic drugs and reduce their adverse side effects and toxicity.”
The Whitehall-Robins Report goes on to state: “the diet of people with serious mental disorders is often inadequate, so there is obvious interest in exploring the possibility that metabolic, brain diseases like schizophrenia and depression are aggravated by concurrent nutritional deficiencies. Indeed, a brain that is disordered by serious mental illness could be especially vulnerable to the pathological effects of micronutrient deficiencies.”
For my son, presently, he’s 43 years old, and on a small dosage of medication. He is in excellent health and he lives independently. A proficient cook, he has no visible symptoms of schizophrenia, tardive dyskinesia or tremors. He also maintains a regimen of supplements that has changed over the years. While biological treatment of mental illness are still scant in Canada and the U.S., with the ongoing training of doctors and other health professionals by the ISF and their public forums, along with a chorus of many like-minded organizations, more people are unearthing this sensible and valuable treatment.
It is worth noting that the 2012 Canadian federal budget included $5.2 million to support depression research and intervention network of mental health professionals. I hope long overdue lifestyle and critical nutritional information will be incorporated into the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s future goals of promoting mental health, preventing mental illness and aiding recovery.
Let’s empower all people who suffer mental illnesses and stress-related problems with lifestyle and nutritional knowledge and tools, so they can improve and thrive. But most of all, let’s give them HOPE rather than leave them in despair. As a professional speaker, Rosalie Moscoe has electrified and inspired audiences for almost 20 years. She is passionately committed to guiding people to reduce stress and achieve maximum physical and mental well-being. A graduate and former college instructor on stress-management and a Registered Nutritional Consultant, Rosalie delivers quality, well-crafted presentations, nutritional consulting and stress-relief coaching.
Look for future articles in The Price of ADHD Business article series.
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