Below is the second instalment of the series of questions from a book club meeting at which Dr Chris was the guest author. Click here for part 1, and here for part 3. What would you like to ask? Contact Dr Chris and bring her to your next group meeting or book club!
1. Do hormones have anything to do with mental health episodes or flares?
Hormones absolutely can affect bipolar disorder and other mood fluctuations. The clearest evidence of this is the increased prevalence of many mental health conditions during the premenstrual phase of a menstruating woman’s cycle. There tends to be more hypomania, depression, anxiety, and panic in the weeks leading up to one’s menstrual cycle than in the weeks before that.
Why is this the case? Some hormones like progesterone have a stabilizing effect on mental health, and when they are low, this can contribute to destabilization. It can then lead to a hypomanic episode, or simply a harder time controlling mood and anxiety.
On the other hand, some hormones like testosterone can cause destabilization when they’re too high, contributing to irritability, anger, depression, and anxiety.
Finally, some hormones like estrogen have varying effects on mental health. Too much estrogen can lead to depression and sadness, whereas too little estrogen can trigger hot flashes, mood swings, and for some people who are susceptible to increased risk of psychosis.
The best way to know is by tracking your pattern of mood changes. If it tracks with your cycle, it might be helpful to test your hormones (when you’re not feeling great, usually in the premenstrual phase), and check for levels that are too high or too low. If you’re nearing or going through menopause, your hormones are likely fluctuating more widely than any other time in your cycle, and you may benefit from hormone-balancing protocols.
If you know your mood changes with your hormones, the birth control pill is not your only option. Integrative and naturopathic doctors can test your hormones and treat with effective natural interventions to help stabilize your mood.
2. How do we motivate young people who feel like they can’t cope? How do we help children who are depressed and anxious?
GREAT QUESTION. I see this far too often, and it’s heart-breaking- young people with so much life ahead of them, struggling to get through the day, under the weight of stress, pressure, anxiety, comparison, depression, disordered eating/eating disorders and serious mental and physical health conditions.
Multi-faceted problems like depression in youth can’t have a single answer. There have to be several supports to help young people resolve depression and overwhelm. First, if a person is depressed from a young age, or as long as they can remember, you can investigate for an inborn error in metabolism or biochemistry that gives them a predisposition to mental health issues. A young person might feel overwhelmed if they have inherited specific genetic polymorphisms that decrease their ability to methylate, create vitamin D, clear catecholamines, or process cortisol. These are just a few genetic causes of long-term depression, starting at a young age. Once these are discovered, the fix is relatively simple and can make a world of difference if detected early.
Along a similar route is food intolerances. These can affect children from a young age, and can manifest in behavioural and mood problems, as well as sleep issues. If your child is struggling with bed wetting, attention, focus and calming down at night, it may be worth addressing diet and investigating IgG food reactions to help them resolve inflammation and reactivity that contributes to mental health issues.
Another piece is of course working with the psychology of the person. Working with biochemistry only goes so far if there are negative thoughts that drive self-destructive behaviours. This is very prominent in young people because there is so much pressure to fit in and belong. Various types of counselling offer helpful exercises that can make a big difference in how a person handles social pressure, conflicting desires, “comparison-mind”, and the various stages of the developing mind. One of my favourites is the 7 Rs of working with difficult emotions, as detailed in Chapter 18 of “Beyond the Label: 10 Steps to Improve your Mental Health with Naturopathic Medicine.”
Other ways to help a young person who is struggling with feeling overwhelm is supporting them with the basics of mental wellness: healthy diet, proper high-quality sleep, regular exercise, stress management, and access to nature. Encourage a decrease in social media use by taking a trip into nature or helping them join a sports team, arts program or social club. Find a meetup group that fits their interest, not something that they feel pressured to like. And finally, let them express themselves how they know best.
Click here for part 3 of the Q&A series
Contact Dr Chris for inquiries on speaking and book club events.
Photos from Unsplash.com