A Multi-faceted Approach to Mental Health

A Multi-faceted Approach to Mental Health

You may have heard the tale of the blind men and the elephant.  In this story, each blind man felt a different part of the elephant and drew a different conclusion about the nature of the elephant.  Brain illnesses, such as depression, can be compared to this elephant.

Different disciplines approach understanding and treating these illnesses in many ways: psychologists tend to recommend therapy, psychiatrists tend to prescribe medications, nutritionists recommend dietary changes, trainers recommend exercise regimens, spiritual advisors recommend a spiritual or religious approach, and so on.  But often, like the blind men, they don’t see the wisdom in the approaches of other disciplines.  Here at the Nashville Center for Hope and Healing, we don’t claim to see the elephant from every conceivable angle, but we strive for a broader view. We believe in the importance of using a multifaceted approach in understanding and treating mental health conditions.

The Medical View

Depression is brain illness-- they couldn't prove this decade ago, which was why (100 years ago) psychiatry and neurology were separated into 2 different disciplines- one that was thought to be physiologically based and the other psychologically.  But science has come a long way since then.  We now know that depression is a real brain illness, with identifiable genetic risk factors and real observable changes in the brain.  I like to compare it to diabetes because the two illnesses share a lot in common, but depression primarily impacts the brain and diabetes primarily impacts the pancreas.  Both depression and diabetes are more likely to occur if you (through no fault of your own) inherit risk factor genes from your parents.  Both are more likely to occur if you experience major life stressors, especially early in life.  Both are more likely to occur if you neglect care for your body (not exercising much, and eating poorly) or have an inflammatory condition.  I don’t know many people who would try to use willpower alone to treat diabetes, but I have met many people who have tried to use just their willpower to treat a mood disorder.  At the Nashville Center for Hope and Healing, we believe in the importance of examining pertinent medical factors and prescribing evidence-based medicine and/or neuromodulation to treat mental disorders.   We also offer genetic testing which is helping to shed light on what medications or vitamin supplements might be helpful and what types of symptoms and patterns to look for in an individual patient.

The Psychological View

Understanding and treating brain illnesses from a psychological perspective is also vitally important.  At the Nashville Center for Hope and Healing, we believe that a combination approach of medication and therapy has the best evidence for helping our patients get better and stay better.  Therapy is targeted towards unhelpful thought patterns, negative beliefs, and behaviors that keep people “stuck.”   There seems to be an emerging body of evidence suggesting that a successful course of therapy is better at preventing a recurrence of mood symptoms than medication treatment alone. 

The Diet and Exercise View

Regular cardiovascular exercise deserves a seat at the table when it comes to the treatment of mental health disorders.   Often overlooked or understudied, exercise promotes brain health by improving blood flow to the brain, helping medications work better, and flushing out the waste products that build up over time and under stress.  Similarly, what we eat also impacts brain function.  Attempts to reduce unhealthy foods and increase healthy ones (especially foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants) will promote healthy function of brain neurons.  Diet and exercise alone are usually not enough to reverse the process of a major brain illness (such as depression) but in combination with treatments such as medication, neuromodulation, and or therapy, they can be a crucial part of both recovery and relapse prevention.

The Spiritual View

At the Nashville Center for Hope and Healing, we aren’t afraid to ask questions of the heart.  We believe it is important to understand what our patients believe and to work to understand how this intersects with their current mental state.   Understanding the spiritual perspective can help us better understand how our patients make sense of the world, and where they find their purpose.  Prayer, meditation, and involvement in faith communities are an invaluable piece of the treatment puzzle for many people.