The topic of brain health is both an important and tender topic to me, which is why it has been a focus on my blog for the past several months. I have witnessed many who have had emotional struggles for years and were hesitant to seek help. By providing a safe space for individuals in my naturopathic and functional medicine care, clients have admitted that they were embarrassed to get proper treatment. This has often been due to the associated stigma, and/or shame of a mental illness diagnosis.
Literature supports these barriers to care that my clients have experienced. (source, source) The rippling effect of mental illnesses that are untreated, or ineffectively addressed, can spread throughout all areas of functioning, including relational, financial, and physical. It also negatively touches the lives of loved ones. (source, source, source, source, source, source)
Mental Illness is Not a Personality Defect- Perpetuating Shame with “Self-Help”
Some of my clients have stated that they felt it was a character defect to feel anxious or sad all the time. This may be from the wave of health coaching and “self-help” gurus who promise a life of contentment and calm for “$19.99/month.” Many of these well-intentioned “experts” have translated their techniques to soothe a “stressed-out brain” or promote “positive thinking” into an ability to address a true psychological issue. This is horrifying!
Although various self-help approaches may be assistive as part of a multi-disciplinary approach in some instances, for others with an unrecognized mental health diagnosis, they can make things worse. As a result, a mental health sufferer can feel demoralized.
There is a huge difference between feeling overburdened and overwhelmed and having an anxious mind. Strategies for stress won’t cut through an imbalance in brain functioning. Viewing anxiety, depression, or other psychiatric disorders as a personality problem vs. a cognitive health issue has had devastating consequences to both the individual and society.
What an Anxious Brain Looks Like
The neurotransmitter and neuroendocrine signaling, anatomical and neuroimaging findings, and genetic variants all differ in those with mental health diagnoses. (source, source, source, source, source) For example, below is a table that demonstrates the anatomical variations in the brain between normal and pathological sadness and anxiety.
Source: Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2009 Sep; 32(3): 549–575.
There is also evidence that those with a mental health issue have a predisposition that makes their brain more “reactive,” and, that the consequences of the disorder perpetuate these functional differences in the brain. According to a review article, these correlates between changes in anatomy may be a “two-way street.” The authors state:
“Interestingly, not all people exposed to a traumatic event develop PTSD as a consequence. Hence, this raises the question of whether the structural and functional abnormalities predispose to or follow the development of PTSD, and there seem to be mixed results in the literature.48 However, studies conducted so far point to a two-way relationship. They indicate that some of the observed abnormalities, like reduced hippocampal volume,49 can be a predisposing factor for the development of PTSD on the one hand, but also be a consequence of the disorder and show a further decrease over time.50” (source)
With this abundance of evidence demonstrating that those with psychiatric issues have different brain makeups, the conversation around mental health needs to shift. (source, source, source, source, source)
Breaking the Silence
I believe we are unintentionally causing harm to those with mental illnesses by encouraging “self-help.” Rather, they need multi-disciplinary, comprehensive support from many understanding, educated practitioners who can help to balance their brain and emotions.
Dr. Amen has been a forerunner in reframing psychiatric disorders as brain health issues. I agree wholeheartedly. Viewing mental health as brain health, one may be more likely to get the proper treatment that address all the underlying factors.
I am devoted to keeping this topic at the forefront and have joined the mission to end the stigma around mental health with Dr. Amen.
If you missed it, please watch my video on ending the stigma here.
Essential Oils for Mental Health- Scents for the Fall
Essential oils are not about just rubbing on a massage blend to feel more relaxed. Therapeutic essential oils are real medicine with physiological and psychological impact.
Compounds in essential oils have various biochemical mechanisms that enhance and balance the brain. As I mentioned in my video, the oils of rosemary, orange, and jasmine can literally alter brain patterns in a variety of ways.
Essential oils can be used as part of a plan to assist with more severe forms of mental health issues. (source). They are often what I suggest as a first, gentle step to mental health support.
Recently, I did a two-part series on essential oils for the month of October. I am going to aim to provide consistent posts that highlight essential oils and how they impact the mind and body, including help for psychological issues.
With a combination of education on brain health, essential oils, and proper wholistic brain treatment, many who are suffering in silence can break free from their pain and shame and live life more fully. We have a long way to go. I have faith we can get there.
Please join me and help educate others on what mental illness is and what it is not.
Thank you for your time.
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For additional safety and medical information, visit my essential oils database. It includes a full category on how to use essential oils safely and potential drug interactions that can occur.
Please be extra cautious and be sure to check with your doctor if you have a seizure disorder. The Epilepsy Society of the UK lists certain essential oils implicated for their antiseizure effect as well as those that have stimulating properties.
If you and/or your physician are interested in consulting with me to assist with supporting the integration of essential oils safely into a therapeutic protocol, essential oils consultations are available.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.