Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thoughts on "Mental Hygiene"

Steven Fry and I do not share thoughts on faith or on God, however I think he is a brilliant man and a fine actor particularly in the comedic sense. Steven Fry has suffered bipolar disorder for possibly all of his life.

      Maybe it's because I am a nurse, or perhaps it's because I don't stand in judgement of people, but a lot of people confide in me when they are having difficulties. Many human beings approach mental illness or mental difficulties incorrectly.  Many people see the bulk of humanity as mentally healthy and people who struggle with a mental health issue as rarities or as people who have done something wrong. Some people think that people who struggle with a mental illness challenge have displeased God and are being punished for it in the form of a mental health challenge.    In reality, statistically every family has someone who is struggling with a mental health issue.  Privately, I believe that if you include depression, anxiety, eating disorders,  situational crisis, and bereavement then every human being is at risk at some time in his or her life for a potential mental health issue, even if it is simply a situational adjustment disorder.   If you have worked as a police officer, fireman, nurse, first responder, or as a soldier then you have witnessed some things that may well surface later as sources of sorrow or even could ultimately be described as part of the spectrum of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who have experienced a concussion of any cause are much more likely to experience mental health issues later, particularly as they apply to mood.    I think it's important to acknowledge this because judgement of others  simply isn't constructive.  Some of the things we see as human beings are so egregious that I would wonder more about the mental health of a person if they were not disturbed or a little tortured over the experience. We need to have empathy for other human beings to function effectively in almost any role.  I don't want police who don't have compassion for a man in a difficult situation.  We all don't want nurses who think someone is "carrying on" when we complain of severe pain.  Humanity can be a double-edged sword, and this is true, but not to have humanity or empathy would be far worse.

                In all honesty, I know more people who are struggling with a mental health issue now than I ever have. The reasons for this are multi-causal.   First of all,in the past,  many people would hide their issues due to the stigma of mental illness until they became a suicide.  Sometimes suicides were recognized as suicides, and other times in the past, they weren't.  I have a close friend whose father committed suicide when he and his siblings were children, and this had a ripple effect throughout family and friends for many years. No one was sure why he did it, and everyone blamed themselves.  Suicide does great damage, not only to a family in present day but to children and to grandchildren who are yet to be born.   Secondly, in the era of social media and the accompanying social shifts, many people are enduring more background stress perhaps  than they noticed in the past.  They will tell you that they are bombarded with sad news on all sides.  Television, social media and the internet shouldn't be sanitized, but they are a source of stress for many.  On one channel there are twelve coptic Christians being beheaded by ISIS on social media.  On another, there is the trial of a foster mother who murdered her foster child.  On another there is a report of a widespread layoffs coming from a large worldwide company with corporate headquarters in the United States. This particular blog is meant to be informational and I make great efforts to be positive, yet women in particular have said they find it "depressing sometimes."  The You-Tube video showing a number of  young Ukrainian soldiers holding a house in a war zone, and then the following day showing them all dead is quite disturbing, even if the intent of actually completing the second part of the video may be Russian propaganda.   In the nineteen fifties and even in the sixties, most of us lived in relatively insular worlds without bombardment of media.  We watched the news at night, and particularly in the US, it was a fairly provincial process.  The networks didn't tell us much that didn't directly impact Americans, and frankly most Americans knew so little about other lands that many of us wouldn't have cared about issues in Senegal, Brazil, Vanuatu, or Sakhalin Island.  I saw this less in criticism and more in contrast as background for the present day.  Even during World War II, most families had psychological safety zones at home or at school or work, despite the fact that Europe, the UK and the US all were enduring a longstanding existential threat.

               The other reason I think we are seeing more mental illness is diet.  As magical as our bodies may seem, we are chemistry sets.   Much of our mood, our outlook and our behavior is modified by our blood sugars.  When we eat high glucose foods and trigger higher than normal amounts of endogenous insulin, we teach our bodies to live on a glucose roller coaster..  For an hour or so after eating too much we may be thirsty, impatient, and temporarily energetic or even hyperactive. Then a couple of hours pass as our bodies liberate lots of insulin, and our blood sugars drop. Even non-diabetics become anxious, more prone to annoyance, and less likely to complete the task well.  Since the amount of insulin we produce tends to be the same the following day, we have just set ourselves up to crave high sugar the following day at about the same time.   The same may be true with regard to various deficiencies in trace elements and vitamins.   So much prepared food and erratic eating habits may result in deficiencies of which we are unaware.  Some families require more of some vitamins than others. Certain disorders cause us to require larger amounts of B-vitamins for example, to ensure proper food utilization.  Deficiencies of chromium, for example, can lead to disorders of glucose regulation and potentially a mood disorder.

             Sometimes though,a person who is otherwise healthy and is eating more or less properly experiences something in life, and the neurotransmitters which modify our moods just can't adjust or properly regulate and a mental health disturbance occurs.  When this happens we need to see it for what it is, and encourage the person to get some help. The faster such a problem is detected and addressed then the better the chances are for a full and lasting recovery.

               There is one other thing I would like you to do, whether you are preparedness minded or not.  In maintaining your own mental hygiene, use common sense about the inputs to which you expose yourself.  "Terms of Endearment" makes me sad, and I absolutely can't watch "Steel Magnolias" because the Julia Roberts character dies of complications of juvenile diabetes, and because I have a daughter with Type I.   I know I need to read about viruses and smallpox, and biological warfare, and I do so with a certain amount of clinical perspective. I do not have to watch things which I know will upset me.  My mother once confided that the "Diary of Anne Frank" made her cry intermittently for weeks.   Enjoy social media for the things you wish to do and things which enrich your life.  Withdraw from the parts of it which are a draw or an annoyance.  Balance your life whenever you can.

               I hope this has been some positive food for thought.