Why Is Mental Health Still Misunderstood?

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You trip and fall, your arm is bleeding, and there’s a bone sticking through the skin leaving you in excruciating pain. You don’t need to be a doctor to tell you that your arm is broken. Physical diseases and pains generally have obvious symptoms. There’s a broken bone, a bump, a specific action or symptom that is immediately obvious to a trained professional. There’s no debate “if” the bone is broken because it’s clear physically and at times, on an x-ray. If only mental health diagnosis were so easy, just like that.

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The problem with diagnosing brain troubles is that much of it is subjective. While you may feel broken, you can’t illustrate or communicate that to fit with the exact list of known symptoms. Apart from suicide and suicidal thoughts, it’s often difficult to diagnose mental issues because they’re more abstract. 

Unlike the broken arm, simply feeling “off” as a symptom could mean many things. While you personally know that something isn’t right, it’s much harder for your practitioner to know what that means. With so many cases of malpractice and misdiagnosis, it’s no wonder that the health professionals can be tentative in making their diagnoses, rather than certain when faced with facts that are subjective and often unique to the patient’s own situation.

Public Need

One of the biggest reasons that mental health issues are only now being pushed, is that we have reached a level of healthcare where disease and physical health are primarily cared for. Back in the 19th Century, the priority of medicine was simply keeping people alive and “feeling off” wasn’t as likely to kill you as cholera, typhoid, or a simple infection. Even now, there are diseases we can’t cure. But, on an everyday level, the Western population can survive to a reasonable age thanks to modern medicine allowing researchers to tackle problems that until now have been less pressing. 

Public interest has also increased. Television shows and a culture that reveres stories of overcoming their personal struggle, has led to many people being much more vocal about their experiences. Shows like 13 Reasons have exploded the interest in mental health issues and the Project Semicolon have brought the need for treatments into the limelight. Where before, mental health was considered an embarrassment to be left in a dark corner, people are now being celebrated for their struggle. 


Science is still working to understand the brain and the body. The brain itself is simply a fatty mass, full of neurons. There’s no obvious box for memories, and while we can now tell that certain glands produce chemicals which affect mood, it’s only recently that science has reached this capability. Less than 100 years ago, antibiotics didn’t even exist. We didn’t know about bacteria and understanding how grey matter actually worked seemed science fiction. We are living in an era where it’s not fiction anymore and research is something that is not just trial and error, but simply takes time. Simply put, science is still working on it.

What Does this Mean?

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Whether you’ve had an official diagnosis or you’re still struggling to figure out if it’s “just you”, no one has the right to tell you that you feel a certain way. It’s very hard to self-diagnose, and simply using the internet can give you paranoia. Risking your life (untreated mental health kills) because of outdated stigma, or a worry that there is no treatment, yet perfect for your unique need is hubris. Instead, choosing a certified therapist who can correctly diagnose your needs may set your mind at ease and enable you to a normal life.

The Propaganda of Hate

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Nature has done almost nothing to prepare men and women to be either slaves or slaveholders. Nothing but rigid training, long persisted in, can perfect the character of the one or the other. One cannot easily forget to love freedom; and it is as hard to cease to respect that natural love in our fellow creatures. –Frederick Douglass from My Bondage and My Freedom


Hatred for another human being is not something that we are born with, it is something we are born into. We are conditioned by our families and society to feel anything other than the need of belonging when it comes to other human beings. Young children who have never been exposed to racist ideologies do not look at the skin of another child and decide this child should be hated based upon a darker or lighter tone of the skin. Young children do not hear a different dialect or accent in the voice of another and automatically assume this a person to be hated, to be mistrusted, to be destroyed.


Human beings who hate based upon skin color, national origin, or religion are no higher evolved than animals. Animals rely upon their primal instincts to protect them from predators based upon instincts. However, animals recognize those who belong to their species and do not hate or attack simply because, only to protect. Animals live in greater harmony with those who are “different” than humans do. The reason for this is that animals cannot be taught to hate based upon visual differences. They learn to react to actions. 


Spreading Hatred Through Fear

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Military personnel both in the U.S. and abroad belonging to infantry units are provided images, videos, and literal war games to teach them to “recognize” the enemy. A healthy human mind can only accept the act of killing if it is convinced that the subject is less than human. This is how every incident of genocide and slavery has occurred since the dawn of civilization. A close read of religious texts, and historical documents can identify the language used to distinguish the “less thans” in our society. 


The hate speeches of leaders of countries speak to the “less thans” as those who present a threat to not only lives but a way of life. Patriotism, nationalism, and religious allegiance become pardons for hatred, as long as it is done in the name of god and country. It is not difficult to whip a group of people into a frenzy of hatred when a tragedy has occurred on domestic or even International soil that involves the citizens of one’s own country. Heavy rhetoric is used to stir emotions and facts are often distorted to further incite rage. With social media, it is even easier for misinformation or premature information to reach the eyes and ears of citizens generating fear. Fear is the basis of every act of hatred. 



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Are we as nations too far gone to return to a place within ourselves where we do not hate based upon differences, and do not act based upon unverified actions? We have the technology and the resources to communicate, to work together, to support, to feed, and to teach one another. All of these are instruments of peace. Silencing the propaganda of hatred is our only hope of survival. We are above a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality, are we not? 

For those who struggle with feelings of hatred for others based upon differences, there is hope – because there is a struggle. Research studies show that depression and other mental illnesses can be directly related to cognitive dissonance associated with the act of hatred toward other human beings.

The Facts in Narratives: How Journals, Stories, and Art Emphasize Significant Meanings

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You may have noticed this as a child, but reading history books is not always very interesting. As informative and necessary as they are in the learning process, a simple statement of facts and dates is not enough for a person to understand just how significant a moment of time really is, especially in reflection of those who were living it. 


A successful method of showing what life was like back then is by reading journal entries, stories, and other artistic pieces written in or about that era. For example, to best understand what it was like for farmers during the Great Depression, it may be wise to read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck in addition to reading a historical text about the event. 


The combination of these learning materials does more than just teach you about the past, they can also help readers develop fuller understandings about certain concepts. 


Mental Health in Narratives

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One such concept that can be better understood through narratives and poems is that of mental health or illnesses. These conditions are common in society, but can be hard and traumatizing to manage. As a way to express themselves and spread the awareness of their conditions, writers often create stories depicting what it is like living with a mental disorder. 


Some examples include “Child’s Play”, an excerpt of an interview with Eshed Marcus written by Laurie Scarborough on her Becoming Laurie blog. In the excerpt, she not only narrated what Eshed had said during the interview, but also the researched facts of what is known of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 


As she was explaining the disorder with the direction of her dialogue, she was also describing  her behavior, and utilizing that imagery to emphasize how someone with ADHD can act and why they would act in that manner. 


At the beginning of the excerpt, for example, when she meets Eshed, he admits that he had just drank coffee to which he should not have because caffeine can excite them more than they already are. She then proceeds to say that “The caffeine buzz from a single cup has made his handshake”, and that “as [they] talk, Eshed often turns around in his seat to look at what’s happening behind him, which makes [Laurie] think he’s either distracted or bored”. 


Not only does this method thoroughly explain the symptoms of ADHD, but it also shows them as well, providing a larger representation of the mental condition. 


Mental Health in Poetry

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Differing from narratives, poetry can cram a million sensational emotions in a seemingly simple yet elaborate form. This approach is ideal when portraying bipolar disorder, as Monica J. Abrica displays in her poem “Feeling”


In Abrica’s work, she shows just how inconsistent the mind of someone with bipolar disorder can be, particularly with feelings and acting on them. 


Failure now consumes my heart, hate and love tear me apart!

The feat and pain control my mind, the hate inside me leaves me blind.

The bit of love I feel, I fear, it’s for my boys, it’s why I’m here.

It’s for their love that I remain, although I fear I am insane!


As can be seen throughout most of the poem, she feels very strongly about hurting herself in the attempts to illogically ward off pain, the source of which is unknown. However, near the end, she triumphs over her raging emotions by acknowledging what is truly real and good about her life: her children. 




While writing and sharing written works about mental health issues is proven to be therapeutic and informational, it will also be beneficial for those with mental conditions to speak with a professional such as those at BetterHelp.  


Suicide: PTSD and Those Left Behind

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Imprinting on the Nervous System:


While many associate PTSD with extreme trauma, often thought to be ensued during combat, it is a complex trauma that can stem from any kind or size of traumatic event. As you experience the world around you, your cells absorb memories about the sensory elements within range. When you experience something traumatic, whether it be physical, verbal, or abuse of some sort, your brain incorporates it into a memory. It is when something reactivates these brain areas that individuals re-experience elements of their trauma, causing personal impairment and distress. This activation essentially sets in motion a host of defense mechanisms in the form of anxiety and fear, leading to over-evaluation of perceived threats. 


Let’s Look at the Numbers:

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As reported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, around 44,000 Americans die by suicide every year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the nation. For each of these cases, left behind is a ripple effect of deeply affected survivors, many of which experience their own form of PTSD as a result. As with any other trauma, it may result in lasting changes in the brain and interfere with normal functioning, certainly taking time to heal.While you can never replace those that are gone, working towards acceptance and physical healing is necessary to get back to your life. The AFSP is just one organization working to bring more awareness to suicide as well as to break the stigma associated. 


Brain Science Behind PTSD:


Researchers have modeled the brain as having three parts, each responsible for a different aspect off experience. When experiencing a trauma, the innermost part of the brain, tasked with managing the body’s autonomic processes, takes over. This puts the body into survival mode, activating the fight-flight-freeze response, characterized by higher levels of stress hormones and an over-reactive nervous system. Under normal circumstances, once the immediate threat has dissipated, the body begins to get back to normal. For those that developpost-traumatic stress disorder, this transition back to normal is interrupted, keeping the reptilian brain in a constant reactive state. 


Signs and Symptoms:

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Hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, mood swings and extreme avoidance ofrelated sensory experiences are some of the ways PTSD sufferers can be impacted. These symptoms can be upsetting enough on their own, manifesting themselves in many ways, and can lead those afflicted frustrated by their perceived lack of control. It’s important to know the symptoms and signs of suffering both in others and in yourself. Risk factors for suicide can include history or family history of mental illness, substance use, history of abuse or trauma, keeping a gun in the house, along with others. Males and those of advanced ages have been documented as being more likely to take their own lives than females or younger cohorts. 

Getting Help:


PTSD is a complex brain malfunction, with several underlying biological and chemical mechanisms lying at its root. As technology improves and expands into the health sector, online interfaces begin to arise as a valuable option for providing convenient and remote access to personalized professional counseling,BetterHelp, a website the helps connect mental health professionals to those in need, can help you not only to know what methods are most appropriate to restore your brain’s natural processes, but how to successfully implement this treatment strategy to best treat the individual. 


My Bio:


Marie Miguel is an avid internet researcher. She is fueled by her determination to answer the many questions she hasn’t been able to find the answer to anywhere else. When she finds these answers she likes to spread the knowledge to others seeking help. She is always looking for outlets to share her information, therefore she occasionally has her content published on different websites and blogs. Even though she doesn’t run one for herself she loves contributing to others.

Poor Mental Health Issues: A Under Attended Epidemic In The Modern World

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Being mentally healthy isn’t something that is talked about a lot by people, especially not when you compare it to the number of conversations out there discussing physical health. Mental health however, is just as — if not more — important than physical health. Why? Because it determines whether you are able to experience joy, be successful in your endeavors and yes, even maintain a physically healthy body. 


You see, your mind controls everything you do, everything you are, how motivated you are to do the things you love or need to do, etc. Because of this, if your mind is not in a good state of health — no matter what the reason — the rest of your life tends to head in a negative direction as well.


Unfortunately however, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 43.8 million adults in the U.S alone experience some form of poor mental health each year, and nearly 1 in 5 children (between the ages of 13-18), experience some sort of severe mental disorder.

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Clearly something here is wrong. So why isn’t mental health taken more seriously? 


Well, mainly it comes down to years of mental health issues being stigmatized, both by individuals and the health profession as a whole. 


When it comes to individual people for example, having issues with your mental health tends to be seen as being weak minded, crazy or simply attention seeking. Rarely does someone suffering from a mental illness or disorder receive sympathy. In fact, they are more often told to simply “try to change their attitude” or “stop bringing the other people around them down”.


This in turn leads to self-doubt hate and denial, which then often leads to self medicating (i.e. substance abuse, physical harm, or even suicide), in order to cope with the feelings and/or issues not being addressed. It can also lead to a build up of emotion which can be released in ways that are harmful to others, via violence and/or mental abuse.


Then, there’s the fact that mental health isn’t taken very seriously in the world of health professionals either. 


For example, recent studies have shown that, while mental afflictions such as depression are diagnosed on a regular basis, they are not taken nearly as seriously when it comes to their treatment as physical ailments (such as diabetes or asthma) are. In fact, according to said study, while doctors regularly fallow up with patients diagnosed with physical ailments, they have been found to be significantly less likely to both follow up with patients diagnosed with a mental affliction, as well as less like to “engage in strategies of care” with said patient. This in turn translates into poor care for the individuals in question.


That said, in order to see all of this change, seeking mental health help will need to be normalized. The stigma needs to be dropped and taking care of one’s mind needs to become a priority. If society as a whole can’t find a way to do this, people will continue to suffer, harming both themselves and those around them, never reaching their full potential to contribute to the world.

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In order to institute change though, each person must play their part.  Whether that be by simply listening when a friend says they are suffering, by working to bring attention to the issues via policy change and the spreading of information, or simply by being brave enough to get help if you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to handle what is going on inside your mind.

How Drama Therapy can be Beneficial in Treating Anxiety

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From taking up hobbies to meditating, there is more than one way to relieve stress, a build-up of which can cause serious psychological distress. 


In some cases, it may be necessary for one to seek help in a sort of talk therapy, which allows those who suffer from such ailments to confide and receive advice from a professional psychiatrist. An example of this service is BetterHelp, which can provide assistance to anyone with any issue at a time most convenient to them. 


However, for those who are not comfortable speaking with another about their personal dilemmas, but could use the help regardless, another option is available: drama therapy.


What is Drama Therapy?


It would be simple to say that drama therapy is much like a drama course or rehearsal, but it goes further than that. The point of drama therapy is to get a person involvedand in control of the source of their stress or anxiety. Rather than discussing issues in a session, those with anxiety can create the scenes that cause them the most stress and act out how to best react in those situations. 


This gives them the opportunity to learn how to better handle pressuring events and circumstances. It also allows them to express themselves in a healthy environment and in a manner that can greatly improve their attitude, behavior, and confidence during trying events. 


What does Drama Therapy Consist of?

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Drama therapy sessions can play out in a variety of scenarios, all of which are inspired by drama practices. As listed by GoodTherapy.org, these practices can include storytelling, role-playing, puppetry, rituals, games, improvisation, and scripts. 


Through these practices, one can rehearse his or her preferred reactions and behavior, practice being in a relationship through scripts, explore other sides of their selves by acting out different roles, and perform the change they wish to see in themselves and others. 


These techniques, in themselves, are satisfying emotion relievers, but they can also provide as a way to improve one’s character. 


Rules and Regulations for Drama Therapy and Registered Drama Therapist (RDT)


Drama therapy sessions are flexible with locations of set-up. They can be held in schools, mental health clinics, prisons, hospitals, and community centers. The informality of some of the establishments may also encourage improvement as it places an individual in an environment he or she is more comfortable in. 


However, regardless of informality of the chosen set-up, the therapist responsible for these drama sessions must follow certain rules and regulations enforced by the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA).


These regulations ensure that therapists are specifically trained and certified to be a Registered Drama Therapist (RDT). To be a RDT, you must attend an accredited master’s program that provides education and training in psychology, therapy, and drama therapy. 


The Benefits of Drama Therapy

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As mentioned earlier, in some cases, it may not be enough to talk about a certain issue especially if it has caused you psychological trauma in the past. It can be more effective to address these issues indirectly. This way, the person in question will be able to conquer his or her fears without facing them head-on, which may cause more trauma. 


It was said by GoodTherapy.org that the beauty of drama therapy was that it uses metaphor as an act of expression, it keeps the study of their issues at a safe distance, and it utilizes both physical and verbal expression, rather than just verbal. 


In this fashion, drama therapy canencourage recovery from anxiety trauma and promote positive and healthy growth. 


How Religion can calm Anxiety

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While anxiety is commonly a result of stress, it has been claimed that it can also be a result of fear, especially if the fear is contributing to that stress. Fear is an ambiguous term as it attributes something different to each person. However, as mentioned by CalmClinic.com, there are three main fears that dominate every person at some point in their life: the fear of the Unknown, the fear of Death, and personal fears or phobias (fear of spiders, needles, people, etc.). These types of fears can truly take over a person’s life during traumatic and stressful times, and because of their significance and mystery, they are harder to maintain, but there is a way. Often times, when troubled with dark periods in which you can think of nothing else but these fears, it is best to immerse yourself in religion. 

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Religion helps restore your faith in the world, in a higher being, in others, and in yourself. This is due to its meditative approach—meditation being a leading cure to anxiety overall. There are many aspects of it that eases the mind and brings balance to the body as well as reconnect you with the world around you. According to CalmClinic.com, the following are such aspects: 

  • Praying. This restores your faith in yourself because praying is not asking God to make life easier, but connecting or conversing with Him. It gives you piece of mind and can allow you to express yourself, both of which relive stress.
  • Attending church more regularly. This reminds you of your growing relationship with God as well as your ability to persevere and to believe in yourself as you continue the routine. Attending church can also be relaxing as it presents a calming environment and allows you to interact with others. 
  • Respecting your body. A moderate amount of exercise is not only encouraged by clinical professionals, but by the Bible as well. It is also recommended to eat right and to love your body and yourself. God loves and accept you for who you are, you should do the same for yourself.
  • Volunteering. Not only does this restore your faith in humanity, this can also act as a hobby or an expression of self, both of which are highly recommended in treating severe anxiety. It is especially effective if you volunteer for projects or organizations that you are interested in or that support messages that you care about. 
  • Focusing on your beliefs. This allows you to devote to something positive as you set specific goals for yourself such as going to church every week or volunteering for multiple helpful organizations. It also helps you build a continuous and serene relationship with God.

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As always, during trying times, it is helpful to be social. Many of these benefits give you the opportunity to interact with others who most likely know what you’re going through and are more than willing to help. If you are interested in evangelism, specifically, and wish to know more about it or get involved in the organizations they support, see EvangelicalsForSocialAction.org. If you’re still struggling or your depression worsens, it may be wise to speak with a professional. You can find the right consultant for you at BetterHelp.com, where you can receive help at anytime, anywhere. 


Forgiving Yourself After An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

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“You’re not as smart as you think you are.” “You’re so stupid.” “You can’t wear that. Other men can’t look at you.” “You can’t talk to that person.” 


When I was in my early- to mid-20s, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I heard all of these things and more. I was encouraged to not wear makeup, although I am a beauty product aficionado. I had to deal with envy toward male co-workers, and he was trying to pull me away from my family. I was in a dark place in my life, where anxiety and depression plagued me, and I was unsure if I would make it through to see the light at the end of the tunnel, much less reach it. 


But, I made it. And I’m stronger now after this experience, as much as I hate looking back on this time in my life. Now, as I prepare to marry the man of my dreams (who is NOT the individual from my earlier life), I know what constitutes your own Happily Ever After versus a fairytale wannabe. 

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Millions of men and women across the world experience at least one emotionally abusive relationship. While each relationship has its differences, the signs of emotional abuse tend to be the same. If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, you could be in the midst of an emotionally abusive relationship:


      • Is your partner ignoring you and revoking affection intentionally?
      • Does he or she constantly embarrass you in social situations? 
      • Has your partner had a history of cheating on you or previous partners?
      • Is he or she unreasonably envious of your communications with others, including family?
      • Does he or she use threats to main control and dominance over you?
      • Do you have to deal with his or her constant guilt trips, extreme mood swings, refusal to communicate and more?
      • Does your partner use money to trap or control you?
      • Does he or she present everything as your fault?
      • Do you have incessant text messages or phone calls when you’re not with him or her?


If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you could be in an emotionally abusive relationship. See more warning signs here.


One thing you could struggle with after the fact is forgiving yourself for being in this relationship in the first place. This is where writing in a journal, talking with a loved one, engaging in positive activities and more can aid you as you begin your healing journey. You may not the extremity of your situation until you’re out of it. 


Here are some ways you can learn to forgive yourself and move on from your previous relationship:


Realize that the process doesn’t happen overnight. 

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You could still deal with the ramifications of this relationship years down the road. Be patient with yourself and focus on the positive steps you have taken in your journey. 


Assess your current morals and values. 

You may feel guilty because your previous relationship or behaviors don’t coincide with your current morals and values — or even the ones at the time. Begin living your life in tandem with these morals and values, reconstructing your self-esteem and decreasing negative thoughts. 


Do something therapeutic. 

Talk with a mental health professional in person or online at a site like betterhelp.com. Write down your feelings, regrets and things you would have done differently in the past. Realize that the past is the past and focus on what makes you the person you are.


Find what works for you. If you need help, seek it. Don’t wait. While it’s easier said than done, emotional abuse can escalate to financial, physical and other forms of abuse. You could very well feel depressed when thinking about your current situation, but there is a way out. Talk with a mental health professional near you or online at betterhelp.com. He or she could give you the tools you need to get out of your emotionally abusive relationship and learn how to forgive yourself. 

Counselling, Exercise and Nutrition: A Complete Strategy for Improving Mental Health Outcomes

A balanced, nutritious diet and regular exercise can do wonders for our physical health, but did you know that these things can have a positive impact on our mental health too? 

When most people think of treatments for mental illnesses, drugs and therapy are some of the first things that come to mind. There is good reason for this, seeing as these treatments have been proven effective for most patients. But, are simpler and more sustainable options being overlooked?

Science is clearly starting to show that what we eat and how much (or how little) we exercise can have a huge impact on our mental health. If used properly, these findings could have huge implications when it comes to the high rates of mental illness in society today. 

Effective dissemination of this information to the public and cooperation from both mental health and fitness industry professionals could lead to better outcomes for patients suffering from mental illness. Ideally, future generations could use this knowledge to greatly increase prevention of problems like anxiety and depression, rather than taking a reactive approach as we tend to do currently. 

As more people become aware of the benefits of nutrition and exercise on mental health, professionals in the fitness industry, including IDEA members, can play an important role in encouraging healthier overall living. While you might not be mental health professionals yourselves, chances are you or someone you know has turned to exercise and nutrition to help with issues like stress, anxiety, and depression. 

By learning more about this, you can be prepared to help others who might cross paths with you during a difficult time in their lives. 

Isn’t This a Job for Healthcare Professionals? 

In a perfect world, people suffering from mental illnesses could present themselves to hospitals or their primary care physicians with their symptoms, receiving diagnosis and effective treatment easily and without delay. Unfortunately, things rarely work out that way. 

According to the World Health Organization, “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.” They go on to say that almost 2/3 of people suffering from mental illness never seek help.

There are several reasons why people don’t seek help for known mental illnesses. This may include stigmatization and lack of adequate resources for dealing with mental illness. The sad part is that many mental illnesses can be prevented or effectively treated, but many patients who could benefit from available treatments can’t or aren’t taking advantage of them. 


Mental Health and Exercise

It is common knowledge that regular exercise can have a positive impact on mental health, even in small bursts. This has been noted anecdotally through the testaments of many who have experienced the effects of exercise on mental wellbeing for themselves. It has also been supported through scientific research that has shown physical activity to influence the brain and physiological reactions to stress.  

Exercise and the Brain 

How does exercise help improve symptoms of mental illness? For one, it increases the levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain

Dopamine is related to the reward and pleasure centers in the brain, making us feel good and helping us regulate emotions. People who have low levels of dopamine can suffer from symptoms ranging from depression, increased stress, fatigue, mood swings, and lack of sleep, to name a few. 

Similarly, norepinephrine levels are also closely linked to mental wellness. High levels of norepinephrine caused by high levels of stress can lead to issues like insomnia, anxiety, depression, and mood problems, while prolonged stress can lead to low levels of this neurotransmitter. Low norepinephrine can cause things like fatigue and apathy. 

Finally, serotonin and mental health are connected because serotonin helps maintain balance in the brain. Low levels of serotonin can lead to problems like depression, irritability, and lack of sleep. 

As you can see, while balanced levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin can help support healthy brain functioning, low levels of one or all of these can be detrimental to brain health. Exercise can help patients regulate these brain chemicals and neurotransmitters to improve their mood, energy, and overall functioning.  

Studies on Exercise and Mental Health

The relationship between mental health and exercise has been studied for years, although results and recommendations from these studies haven’t always been clear. An early study by C.B. Taylor, J.F. Sallis, and R. Needle (1985) found that: 

“The strongest evidence suggests that physical activity and exercise probably alleviate some symptoms associated with mild to moderate depression. The evidence also suggests that physical activity and exercise might provide a beneficial adjunct for alcoholism and substance abuse programs; improve self-image, social skills, and cognitive functioning; reduce the symptoms of anxiety; and alter aspects of coronary-prone (Type A) behavior and physiological response to stressors.” At that time, this information was promising, but studies lacked rigor and practical applications for treating mental illness with exercise. 

Recent studies have had similar findings and limitations. Even though exercise has been used to promote health and well-being worldwide, it appears exercise is a viable treatment option that is often overlooked by healthcare professionals. According to a literature review by P. Callaghan (2004)

“There is evidence that exercise is beneficial for mental health; it reduces anxiety, depression, and negative mood, and improves self-esteem and cognitive functioning. Exercise is also associated with improvements in the quality of life or those living with Schizophrenia.” 

So why isn’t exercise prescribed to individuals with mental illness as a treatment option? 

There are several reasons why exercise might not be the first option for physicians who are diagnosing and prescribing treatments for mental illness. It could be that patients don’t believe that exercise will help, that it is hard to track patient’s progress or see if they are following through with the treatment, or that there simply isn’t enough information on what types of exercise work best. 

One study conducted by J. Barton and J. Pretty (2010) found that exercising in the presence of nature lead to positive health outcomes in both the short and long-term. Short engagement in exercise that took place in green environments (especially in the presence of water) lead to improved mood and self-esteem in participants with and without mental illness. 

Conversely, several of the studies mentioned noted that in some patients the opposite of the desired effect occurred. Excessive exercise, running addiction, and overtraining syndrome are a few issues that can negatively impact both physical and mental health. These are important issues that should be looked out for, but occur in a small percentage of the general population.

A promising study by A. Sharma, V. Madaan, and F.D. Petty (2006) suggests that 30 minutes of moderate exercise three days a week is enough to see improved mental wellbeing, and that the exercise can even be broken up into smaller intervals and still be effective. They go on to conclude that, 

“Health benefits from regular exercise that should be emphasized and reinforced by every mental health professional to their patients include the following:

  1. Improved sleep
  2. Increased interest in sex
  3. Better endurance
  4. Stress relief
  5. Improvement in mood
  6. Increased energy and stamina
  7. Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  8. Weight reduction
  9. Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness

Mental health service providers can provide effective, evidence-based physical activity interventions for individuals suffering from serious mental illness.”

Just because doctors aren’t prescribing exercise as a first line of defense against mental illness, that does not mean that it isn’t effective. In fact, many doctors are beginning to recommend lifestyle changes in exercise and nutrition to complement other treatments that are being used for mental illness, including medication or therapy. 

For patients who are undiagnosed or cannot afford traditional treatments, exercise may be an accessible alternative.  

Mental Health and Nutrition 

Just like exercise, proper diet and nutrition is essential not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. Have you ever noticed that people who eat a lot of sugar-laden and processed foods tend to have less energy and feel down a lot of the time? A healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables can leave us feeling happier, healthier, and more alert, with energy to spend doing the things that we love. 

Studies on Mental Health and Nutrition 

Many studies have been conducted on the role of nutrition on brain development and health. A study by L.M. Bodnar and K.L. Wisner (2005) that aimed to improve the mental health of childbearing-aged women stated that: 

“Adequate nutrition is needed for countless aspects of brain functioning. Poor diet quality, ubiquitous in the United States, may be a modifiable risk factor for depression … Poor omega-3 fatty acid status increases the risk of depression. Fish oil and folic acid supplements each have been used to treat depression successfully. Folate deficiency reduces the response to antidepressants. Deficiencies of folate, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and selenium tend to be more common among depressed than non-depressed persons.”

This statement is just one example of how nutrition has been found to have a strong relationship with mental illness, something that should not be ignored. While patients may go to their doctors for diagnosis and treatment of some of these deficiencies, clients of fitness professionals may be suffering from these problems and not be aware of it. 

Foods that Can Help Improve Mental Health

While it is not your place to diagnose your clients, or suggest that they take supplements to help with their mental health, fitness professionals can encourage their clients to eat better as an overall strategy for helping them feel better. An improved diet will automatically help balance some potential deficiencies in patients who currently eat a lot of ‘bad’ foods. 

The Mental Health Foundation supports this idea, stating that people who eat fruits and vegetables daily do not report mental health problems compared to those who eat a lot of processed and ‘junk’ foods. While they do not say that diet can cure mental illness on its own, they do state that, “A balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water.” 

In addition to these broad recommendations, fitness professionals can recommend specific foods that clients can eat to help boost their mood and improve their health in a big way. According to Carolyn C. Ross M.D., M.P.H., some of these foods include: 

  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids: fish including salmon, herring, and mackerel
  • Whole grains containing complex carbohydrates: oats, barley, beans, and soy
  • Lean protein containing tryptophan: turkey, chicken, and eggs
  • Leafy greens high in folic acid: spinach, romaine, and broccoli
  • Fermented foods and foods with active cultures: yogurt, tempeh, and kimchi

Maintaining a diet that is high in these foods, while following doctor prescribed treatments if necessary, can help patients recover from mental illness and prevent it from recurring in the future by maintaining essential vitamins and minerals that are essential for proper body and brain functioning. 

Counselling/Therapy and Mental Health

As a fitness professional trying to lend a helping hand to clients suffering from mental illness, know that you are not responsible for their health outcomes and you can only do so much. Giving clients support and advice involving proper exercise and nutrition can be a big help, but sometimes people’s problems will be more severe and they may need more help than you can give them. 

Effectiveness of Counselling/Therapy on Mental Health Outcomes

Therapy and counselling have proven to be effective in treating a wide variety of mental illnesses, both on its own and in conjunction with other treatments including medication. Psychotherapy, a broad term that covers a variety of short-term, goal oriented therapies, helps millions of people each year deal with problems from temporary life difficulties to specific mental health concerns. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy that aims to help clients change problem thinking and behavior patterns and provide them with long-term coping mechanisms, is one popular and effective option. A review of met analyses conducted by A.C. Butler, J.E. Chapman, E.M. Forman, and A.T. Beck (2006) stated that: 

“Large effect sizes were found for CBT for unipolar depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, social phobia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and childhood depressive and anxiety disorders … CBT was somewhat superior to antidepressants in the treatment of adult depression. CBT was equally effective as behavior therapy in the treatment of adult depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.”  

Other forms of psychotherapy include family therapy, interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and group therapy. 

Online Counselling/Therapy as an Alternative to Traditional Options

For patients who feel stigmatized for their mental illnesses, online counselling can be a great way to get help that is more accessible and anonymous than looking for a therapist in their local area. Services like BetterHelp offer patients convenient and affordable access to counselling and therapy services that can be used from the convenience of their connected devices, including computers, laptops, and cellphones. 

Online therapy may be a good solution to the overburdening of traditional mental health services. A study conducted by J. Proudfoot, C. Ryden, B. Everitt, et al. (2004) found that computerized cognitive behavioral therapy was effective in treating anxiety and depression, even lead to higher satisfaction with treatment compared to non-computerized CBT. 

According to one study by J.R. Alleman (2002), “Conclusions are that therapy can be done online, that it can be done ethically, and that online services might not be a serious threat to face-to-face therapy. Regulatory and professional organizations are strongly advised to cooperate with each other.” 

Services like BetterHelp can have added benefits in comparison to traditional in-person therapy and counselling, including the fact that it is easy to sign up online and patients are matched with a qualified professional who has experience dealing with their particular health issues. If a user does not like their counsellor, it is easy to switch to another that might be a better fit. 

Integration of Exercise, Nutrition, Counselling, and Other Treatment Methods for Improving Mental Health

There is information available to suggest that proper diet and exercise can help people improve their overall well-being and mood, provide them with more energy, and reduce symptoms of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. 

Still, traditional treatment options like counselling and pharmacotherapy are often turned to as the first line of defense for treating patients who go to their doctor for help with mental illness. Depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms, sometimes these kinds of treatments are necessary but they are also more expensive and in the case of medication, can come with some pretty undesirable side effects. 

While medication can play an important role in controlling and treating mental illness, some of the potential side effects of these types of medications include: 

  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Headache 
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision 
  • Fatigue 

Another issue with using medication to treat mental illness is that patients could need to be on these medications for the rest of their lives. These medications unfortunately do not help people learn to cope with the symptoms of their mental illness, and problems can arise if a patient decides to come off their medication or if they can’t afford to purchase their meds. 

An integrated strategy can help patients by reducing the need for medications with negative side effects and help give them a holistic method for improving their health, both mental and physical. While some sources show that general practitioners are beginning to ask patients about their lifestyle habits and offer lifestyle counselling, more work needs to be done to convince physicians of the usefulness of encouraging lifestyle changes promoting better health in patients.

A literature by A.J. Daley (2002) also looked at whether exercise therapy is a useful intervention for mental illness. This study found that while exercise has proven to have large positive effects in psychiatric patients, it is still rarely adopted as a treatment option. However, the review also cited a study by Martinsen & Medhus (1989) which found that patients ranked physical fitness training as more helpful than other forms of therapy. 

Considering the size of the fitness industry, which brings in a whopping $80 billion USD per year, more research should be conducted into ways that fitness and mental health professionals can come together to offer patients integrated services that rely on exercise and nutrition as a way to prevent and ease the symptoms of mental illness, as well as help relieve the burden on traditional healthcare services being overwhelmed by the need for better options for the large numbers of individuals suffering from mental illness.  


Since mental illness is becoming such a common feature in today’s society it is important for fitness professionals to be aware of the problem so they can help their clients in the best way possible. Not all fitness industry clients are going to present themselves with mental illness, and most will not share that information with you, but in the case that they do fitness professionals should know that they are equipped with expertise that can help ease people’s symptoms. 

Regular exercise and a nutritious diet can have a positive impact on mental health outcomes, according to many studies conducted over the last 40 or 50 years. Both exercise and diet can be used in the future to help prevent mental illness in the first place, but in cases where illnesses have already presented themselves individuals may need other treatment such as therapy or medication in addition to lifestyle changes to return to optimal health. 

Since primary care physicians and mental health professionals so far seem reluctant to prescribe exercise and diet as ways to curb mental illness, fitness professionals are in a good position to promote the benefits of these lifestyle changes. 

In the future, it would be nice to see partnerships form between key players in the fitness and mental health industries to provide proven programs that focus on improving patient’s overall health. These interventions should aim at providing patients with the knowledge, support, and tools they need to recover from mental illness and help prevent relapse in the long term.

Emotional Healing After Cancer: It’s All In Your Mind

When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer it can be the worst time in your entire life. You don’t know what the next year or even the next few months is going to bring. You’re lost, scared, confused, angry, sad and so many other emotions all at the same time that it feels like you’re on a roller coaster, but getting that clear bill of health isn’t quite what you’ve expected either.

Why That Bill of Health Isn’t the Bliss You Imagined

When you first look at that piece of paper that says you’re cancer-free, or the doctor tells you that the cancer is gone, it can feel like a huge weight has been lifted off you. It can feel more than amazing. You feel like everything is going to be all right, and for a few moments, everything seems perfect again.

But that moment passes, and you may start to feel scared again, confused again, and even angry again. The simple truth is, being cancer-free isn’t going to immediately make you feel happy, blissful and perfect in your life again. Because the physical cure is only the first step in truly curing you.


Healing Your Mind

Cancer doesn’t just affect your physical body when it strikes. It attacks your mind, showing you that you’re not completely invincible and that you have very little control over your own life. It makes you feel entirely out of control and uncertain about what is going to happen next, and when you get that clear bill of health, you still have those emotions.

The next step, is working through the struggles that you’re facing in your own mind. You may still feel all those same emotions that you felt when you were first diagnosed, angry that this happened to you, confused about why it happened, scared about what might happen next and much more. Even worse, you might now feel guilty because you don’t feel as happy as you think you should. 

Getting help can be the best option for you, but figuring out just where to go might be its own struggle. One important way to help yourself overcome the struggle is to connect with others who are going through something similar to you. Speaking with or at least hearing from people who are also struggling with cancer or with the aftermath of cancer can help you, and these radio shows are definitely one way to get started. 

Another important aspect is getting professional help. Sitting down and talking with a professional can help you feel better about what you’re going through and it can help you come to terms with everything that you’ve experienced, whether good or bad. 

Speaking with your family after you’ve been declared cancer-free can be difficult, because they don’t understand the myriad emotions that you feel that aren’t just happy. Speaking with a professional, however, can help you to express all of those feelings and work your way through them so that you can be happy again.

Getting Help For You

Keep in mind that everything about this is all about you. It’s not about making anyone else feel better, but about helping you to overcome and feel better. You don’t need to pretend to be fine for them. It’s important that you actually be fine, instead. Talk to people about how you’re feeling. You may be surprised to find out that some of your family are going through those negative emotions too, after all, they almost lost you and that’s enough for them to feel scared, angry and a whole lot more.