A lot of people believe that mental illness is all in people’s heads. That it’s a straightforward chemical imbalance that a course of anti-depressants can fix straight away. Others believe that it’s just something that can be pushed through with a bit of effort.
Some mental health issues do stem from psychological causes such as a reaction to abuse or trauma. However, there are dozens of causes of mental illness outside of the nervous system. All of these have their own treatments and management strategies. Today I’m going to outline just a few common causes of mental conditions.
Thyroid issues were almost unheard of back when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer 6 years ago. Nowadays, they are everywhere. They are also a huge driver behind mental health problems.
Depression is a common symptom of low thyroid function. It can present along with sensitivity to cold weather, lowered metabolism and steady weight gain despite no diet or lifestyle changes, brain fog and constipation. A common physical sign is the loss of the outer third of your eyebrows. It’s pain for us girls who like our eyebrows to look fabulous!
Anxiety can be a symptom of a high functioning thyroid. Other symptoms might include rapid weight loss or inability to maintain a healthy weight, mood changes such as anger, sensitivity to warm weather, diarrhoea, and racing heartbeat. You may notice that your hair begins to thin out and become brittle. Your skin might seem thinner and more fragile.
People who have autoimmune thyroid conditions can actually experience both depression and anxiety. It all depends on if their thyroid hormones are spiking or dropping.
Both high and low thyroid disorders can present with goiter. This is which is when the thyroid and surrounding tissue swell and become visible on your neck.
Some GPs are fantastic when testing for thyroid issues, especially if you are presenting with other symptoms. However, some will only test your Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. If that is deemed normal, they will dismiss it altogether.
Luckily, your nutritionist can actually order these blood tests for you. However, the cost will be out of your pocket instead of Medicare’s pocket.
Female Reproductive Issues
Some people have mental health issues that get worse prior to menstruation. This can be a case of PMS, or it can be full blown PMDD, the disorder of severe and crippling PMS. Either way, there is definitely a hormonal component to the issue. Women are also at a higher risk of having a mental health issue, such as depression, than men.
An imbalance in female sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone can throw out the balance of adrenal hormones and neurotransmitter levels. This could leave you feeling edgy, depressed, or both. This could also cause both local and body-wide inflammation, which is also linked to depression and other mental illness.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
If you have a mental health issue, along with reproductive issues, your best option is to consult your GP for further testing. Your nutritionist can also order further testing, such as salivary hormones, to shed more light on the situation and help you to heal your body.
Adrenal Gland Dysfunction
We live in a stress-packed world, despite having more than ever. All of this stress is making our adrenal glands work harder, and produce more stress hormones such as cortisol. All of this can contribute to mental illness.
Cortisol can cause anxious feelings, racing heart and palpitations, and can even trigger a panic attack. The timing of cortisol is also important. We want a nice big boost of it in the morning to help us get up, but we don’t want that spike at night disrupting our sleep pattern.
If your body stops producing optimal amounts of cortisol, however, it can lead to depression and chronic fatigue. We require cortisol to feel awake and alert. Not having enough puts a dampener on all of our body systems. It’s just like you feel if you miss your morning coffee – which is actually how many people boost their cortisol levels.
Adrenal dysfunction can also affect your thyroid and sex hormones through the HPO, HPA and HPT axes link. This can exacerbate the symptoms you already experience. Your body is linked up – when one system becomes imbalanced, several of them will often follow suit.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Adrenal issues can often fly under the radar symptom-wise to begin with. However, you might feel like you’re under chronic stress, and start to catch every cold that passes by. You might experience low blood pressure and a racing heartbeat with no history of either. Your sleep pattern might have been messed up with a sudden burst of energy late at night. All of these are signs it might be worth evaluating your adrenal function.
Unless your GP is a holistic practitioner, or you are showing signs of Addison’s or Cushing’s Disease, they are unlike to test your adrenal hormones.
However, your nutritionist can order salivary tests. This allows them to see the pattern of stress hormones – whether or not your levels are too high, too low or just spiking and dropping at the wrong time.
Digestive System Disorders
The digestive system is the focus of research at the moment. The more we study it, the more that we learn it is often the source of disease and of health. So how does your tummy link up to mental illness?
Firstly, there’s the link to serotonin production in your gut. As discussed in previous articles, your body produces the majority of this feel-good neurotransmitter in your gut. So if there’s inflammation going on, you’re not going to be getting the right levels in your system.
In fact, IBS, one of the most common digestive disorders, is now considered to be a nervous system disorder rather than a digestive disorder. This because of its link to serotonin.
There’s also the hot topic of the moment – the gut flora present. More and more research is coming through daily to support the role of flora in immune function, weight management, stress, and mental health status.
There’s a pretty simple explanation for this. Good gut bugs help us get the most out of our food, and produce feel-good chemicals. Bad gut bugs don’t help us break down our food, kick the good guys out of the way, and excrete toxins that find their way into our bloodstream. The bad guys can also affect the permeability of your gut. This leaves it open for other particles to enter your bloodstream, increasing your chance of developing allergies and autoimmune issues.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
So what is a digestive disorder and what are just a dodgy kebab’s effects? If you regularly experience diarrhoea, can go days without a bowel movement, feel bloated all the time, have excessive gas no matter what you eat, or if you see undigested food or mucus in your stools, it’s time to get it checked.
Your GP will help you to determine the diagnosis and offer the best medical options for you. However, your nutritionist can also work with these options and optimize your natural health, whether it be through an elimination diet or through a gut repairing program.
Remember to always seek help when dealing with a mental illness of any kind. You don’t have to do it alone!