When a person visits a psychiatrist for assistance with some mental complaint or psychiatric symptoms, is there a specific set of tests that will clarify the group of symptoms? No. Psychiatry offers EEGs and brain imagining for some conditions. However, for 99% of all of the psychiatric assessments, the interview comes down to a subjective opinion by the treating psychiatrist. In interview after interview, the psychiatrist tries to find a group of symptoms, attempts to fit those psychiatric symptoms into one section of a massive diagnostic manual, and then offers a diagnosis and a treatment plan, with the treatment plan heavily influenced by our pharmaceutical companies.
Let’s be honest. We live in a medication-intensive world. In medical school, internship, and residency training, your psychiatrist spends hour after hour learning about the psychiatric medications: their use, their dose range, their effectiveness, and their (often long) list of possible side effects, plus the possible adverse reactions (far less frequent, but far more dangerous). At the end of this training process, the psychiatrist, like so many other medical disciplines, is programmed to write a prescription to treat the diagnosis. But is that always the best approach? No. And we have all heard, over and over again, how little training psychiatrists (and the other doctors) receive in nutrition, life style, and other outside factors.
Research, more and more, is showing that drugs are not the only solution or even (for some patients) the best solution. Let’s take a broader view. Let’s look at what may be causing those symptoms and how those symptoms might be alleviated without any medication intervention. Take, for example, the patient’s consumption of sugar. Americans once ate 15 pounds of sugar a year; we now eat 150 pounds of sugar per year. Sugar, at those dose levels, is toxic. Most psychiatrists can tell you that psychiatric symptoms are worse at low levels of blood glucose and high levels of blood glucose, but most psychiatrists cannot tell you how an overload of sugar in your diet leads to a higher risk of depression.
Most psychiatrists cannot also tell you that birth control pills can lead to depression. I know this blog (and this web site) is dedicated to baby boomers, but we need to share this information with our loved ones. We need to be the protectors for our families’ good health. So, at times, I am going to expand my focus to all demographic groups. Birth control pills can lead to elevated thyroglobulin levels. For a young lady, those changing hormone levels can lead to feeling fuzzy and foggy; those changing hormone levels can lead to a libido that drops to subzero; and those changing hormone levels can lead to subsequent sadness, lack of energy, and a diagnosis of depression – with the start of an unnecessary (and often further complicating) antidepressant. This woman through no fault of her own, goes from bad to worse.
On a broader scale, most psychiatrists have limited understanding of how our eating style impacts our mood, even causing our depression. The standard American diet with its high quality of meat and dairy products, plus declining quality of its food supply with chemical and toxins, leads to inflammation in the intestinal tract, which leads to inflammation throughout the body, which leads to inflammation in the brain. There is research that shows the link between this food-caused inflammation and the disrupted balance of the neurochemical in the brain. We are what we eat. Our mood reflects what we eat. So, the solution should be an examination of the diet with a change in the eating style. Instead, most patients just receive a psychiatric medication, which further disrupts the inflammation in the intestinal tract. For some, the medication can overcome the side effects of the increased inflammation with some improvement. For others, the medication cannot overcome the negative impact – and the patient gets worse, not better.
I have two suggestions. First, our psychiatrists need to be retrained on these outside influences and other treatment options. That will take time – with the odds against any prompt outcome. Therefore, I support a second suggestion. We, the patients, who may be subject to feeling bad or mentally feeling fuzzy, need to rely on ourselves, not just another visit to the psychiatrist office or our own physician’s office. We need to take control of our eating style and our use of all medical medications. You need to realize the tremendous influence, and possible positive change, that can come to our mental state from a change in our eating style, our exercise, and even such activities such as daily meditation.
I know that it is much easier to just swallow a pill or see your psychiatrist. But we cannot overlook the dynamic and complex systems within our body. The body – mind – spirit (mood) complex is more linked than anyone seems to appreciate. Don’t we want less inflammation, a healthier brain, and better mental health? Trust me. I have seen patients achieve all three of those components without any physician intervention – without any new psychiatric medication. To get us started, especially if some of you are feeling alone and overwhelmed – look for sites on the Internet. Look for groups of similar people on the Internet. Join a community. Learn together. If nothing else, keep reading these blogs. I will educate you on some options for improved mental health and a new freedom from office visits, even if I have to extend the information beyond just baby boomers. Doesn’t that sound worth it?