The Sad State of the World
As 2020 continues to present us with more challenges and stressors, the negative mental health implications and the feared psychological repercussions that experts have warned us about have taken hold.(R) It appears that the youth, healthcare workers, and ethnic minorities have especially been hard hit with increases in suicide and mental health diagnoses. (R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R, R)
One of the most recent studies published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, reported that the prevalence of depression in the United State has increased significantly from 2017-2018 to March 2020, and even more in April 2020. The survey used a short, validated questionnaire, the Patient Health Questionnaire–2 (PHQ-2). Researchers assessed a sample of 5,075 adults from the 2017–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and compared it to levels in March (sample of 6,819) and April 2020 (sample of 5,428). They found that:
“depression increased by over 60% from pre-pandemic levels of under 9% in 2017–2018 to over 14% in April 2020 among US adults, and provide further evidence that young adults may be most vulnerable to the mental health effects of the pandemic.” (R)
What concerns me most is that agreed upon and accessible interventions to alleviate this burden are lacking. This is especially true for young people. (R, R, R, R) In fact, it appears that many people’s “solutions” are contributing to the problem. Many are using and abusing substances as a means of coping. (R)
Naturopathic Doctors as Agents for Change in Holistic Mental Health
In a previous article, I discussed how naturopathic medicine (NM) can fill the gap in addressing society’s emotional wellbeing.* I reported on studies that have shown the efficacy of NM for mood disorders. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) incorporate a holistic and person-centered approach to support mood at the biochemical level. At the same time, NDs also assess one’s physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and emotional health.
At a time when isolation and feeling distant from loved ones is at its peak, the understanding of a trained practitioner who offers an empathetic ear is vital. One of the most revered aspects to naturopathic care is the focus on building a healing, therapeutic relationship. In an interview printed in the Integrative Medicine Journal, Dr. Stargrove discusses the impact that the doctor-patient relationship has on achieving overall health, not just emotional wellbeing:
“In my observation, the single most important influence in therapeutic success is the self-healing, self-organizing processes within every living organism. The second most important thing is the therapeutic relationship. Ultimately, that is the one that the clinician has the most effect on.”(R)
In other words, it’s the honoring of the body’s innate ability to heal and the physician’s role in empowering and educating the patient in the care and treatment of their body, mind, and soul that is most important for achieving wellness goals. The modality chosen is third, as there are many means to get to the same objective.
By forming an empowering partnership with their patient, NDs honor their beliefs and consider their viewpoints on what options would fit best for them. NDs recognize that thoughts and preconceptions on what will work has a powerful ability to influence healing. The placebo effect is an excellent example of this. In any experiment, the impact of a placebo has to be controlled for in order to verify that an intervention works based on its biochemical effects, not based on the participant’s bias. (R, R, R, R)
This is not to say that interventions do not matter. For example, a naturopathic and functional medicine doctor would consider if one’s brain was getting the nourishment it needed to function effectively. This is due to the fact certain nutrients and specific dietary pattens have been associated with supporting vital brain processes and improvements in mood. (R, R, R)
In one systematic review, the authors sought to determine which foods had the best evidence in scientific literature as the most nutrient dense sources of nutrients for the prevention and promotion of recovery from depressive disorders. Using specific evidence-based criteria, thirty-four nutrients known to be essential for humans were incorporated into a list of Antidepressant Nutrients. The results indicated:
Twelve Antidepressant Nutrients relate to the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders: Folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc. (R)
Some practitioners could unintentionally use this information to promote food obsession and orthorexia. A naturopathic doctor who also incorporates Health at Every Size and intuitive eating would help their clients incorporate brain foods that may be missing from their diet, while avoiding creating more stress and unnecessary food and body shame. Physicians who listen, understand the harms of stigma, and who incorporate diversity, can use food as a healing tool; whereas it can be utilized in a harmful way based on how it is presented in diet-culture.
Naturopathic Psychiatry the Next Specialty in Holistic Mental Health
Recently, I joined the Psychological Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Their mission is to:
- – lead in developing naturopathic psychiatry education and practice, including residencies and continuing education consistent with the evolving standards of naturopathic psychiatry.
- – integrate clinical practice and research that comprise the emerging field of naturopathic psychiatry.
- – define the principles of care and advocate for appropriate scope of practice as it relates to naturopathic psychiatry.
- – provide a definitive resource of information regarding naturopathic psychiatry for the collaborative health care community. (22)
I am proud to be affiliated with this organization that is working to define and validate our profession in the mental health field. At the same time, I also recognize that all naturopathic doctors have a unique set of tools to incorporate with every patient that touches the mind-body-soul connection.
Specializing in mood imbalances, hormones, gastrointestinal health, and other chronic issues, I have yet to discover one symptom or diagnose that isn’t perpetuated, or caused, by emotional stressors. Our body responds to every thought, stressful event, and relationship trigger. (R)
I feel naturopathic doctors (NDs) are well-suited to address the holistic gap in regaining society’s emotional wellbeing and alleviating the burden of mental illnesses.* NDs support the brain not only at the biochemical level, but also look for the root cause of the issue on the physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and mental level. NDs are trained to assess and address all brain factors implicated. This approach, combined with a healing, therapeutic relationship, has been to be effective in alleviating symptoms of mood disorders in several studies. (R, R, R)
To get a better idea on how naturopathic doctors are educated, and their in-depth knowledge of holistic and mind-body health, you can now access my article review of the Annual Association for Naturopathic Physician’s conference on NDNR.
*Note: If you are experiencing suicidal ideation or need urgent attention, it’s important to consult with a licensed mental health provider. You can find information at the end of this article.
Mental Health Resources
If you are in need of additional support and professional health, please reach out!
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
- Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
Other Uplifting Resources
Sarah LoBisco, ND, IFCMP, is a graduate of the University of Bridgeport’s College of Naturopathic Medicine (UBCNM). She is licensed in Vermont as a naturopathic doctor and has received her certification in functional medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), which is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). She holds a Bachelor of Psychology from State University of New York at Geneseo and is also certified in Applied Kinesiology. Dr. LoBisco currently incorporates her training in holistic and conventional medicine through writing, researching, and through her independent consulting work with individuals and for companies regarding supplements, nutraceuticals, essential oils, and medical foods. Dr. LoBisco speaks professionally on integrative medical topics and has several journal publications. “Dr. Sarah” also enjoys continuing to educate and empower her readers and clients through her blogs and social media. Her main blog can be found at dr-lobisco.com.