Chances are you or someone you know suffers from anxiety or depression.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that mental illness affects one in six U.S. adults (44.7 million in 2016), and a staggering 20 percent of our youth. Let’s not forget the relationship between chronic pain and mental health; multiple studies, including a recent study of 5,000 people with chronic pain, establish a significant relationship between anxiety, depression and chronic pain. In my practice, I often see patients suffering from drug abuse and addiction resulting from a desire to self-medicate mental health and/or pain-related symptoms.
So, what are the causes of anxiety and depression? Certainly, there are common triggers such as stress, trauma or chronic pain, but did you know that imbalances in the system can also elicit these symptoms? Seemingly unrelated causes include imbalances in blood sugar, neurotransmitter imbalances, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies and food allergies. Excess sugar has been shown to affect opioid receptors in the brain and can have a profound effect on mood. Food allergies cause inflammation and changes in the lining of the gut, which can affect our body’s production of the important neurotransmitter serotonin. Still, more studies over the years have shown a direct link between nutritional deficiencies and mental illness.
Standard treatment for anxiety and depression includes prescription medications and counseling. But are the millions of drugs prescribed annually for depression safe to use? CDC statistics show one-fourth of people taking antidepressants have done so for 10 years or more. While necessary for some people, these medications can have significant interactions with other commonly used prescriptions, including pain medications, muscle relaxants and even statins. In addition, they carry the risk for a multitude of side effects, including a worsening of the very symptoms they are designed to treat.
Please note: I am NOT advocating that you suddenly stop taking your prescription medications. Many carry significant withdrawal symptoms, and in fact can be dangerous and even life threatening if discontinued abruptly. I find the best approach is to begin correcting imbalances in the system before ever beginning a withdrawal regimen, and I recommend against changing or discontinuing medications without first discussing with your healthcare provider.
Research shows that counseling and behavioral therapy are more effective than just prescription medications alone. Unfortunately, many people never seek out this form of treatment. I highly recommend regular visits to a mental health professional for assistance in dealing with anxiety and depression.
There’s another approach to treating anxiety and depression: Functional Medicine. While standard treatment often includes prescription medications and counseling or therapy, the imbalances that result in anxiety and depression are generally never addressed. This means most patients dealing with these issues are left with no choice but to continue taking prescriptions for symptoms that never seem to go away. As Functional Medicine practitioners, we use a different medical approach: We seek to move beyond just treating symptoms to uncover and treat the cause of those symptoms (visit IFM.org for more information on Functional Medicine). We evaluate all components of health, including the mind, body and spiritual components. Where dysfunction is determined, we work to correct those imbalances. Dietary changes, including a reduction in consumption of sugars and processed foods, can result in dramatic changes in both physical and mental health.
I find the best approach is to begin correcting imbalances in the system and incorporating diet and lifestyle changes before ever beginning a withdrawal regimen, and I do not recommend you do any of these things without being monitored closely by your healthcare provider. I encourage you to view mental illness as a complex disease with many potential triggers, and to go beyond simply using prescription medications to explore other treatment options.
Lynn Kettell-Slifer is a Functional Medicine Practitioner at Health Partners LLC in Ponte Vedra Beach. For more information, visit www.HealthPartnersLLC.net