I’ve been a psychiatrist for 30 years, and I remain an optimist about the human condition. I see it as our nature to be emotionally balanced and mentally healthy — or what’s often referred to as resilient. Though many things can deplete that resilience, I believe there is an innate capacity for self-healing within each of us. That’s what this column will focus on in the months ahead.
First, though, we have to understand the mental-health problem we are facing — and it’s a big one. Just consider these staggering numbers:
Mental illness is as old as human history. So why has it become a crisis today?
Some experts believe our genes account for up to 50 percent of the causes of mental illness, but our collective DNA changes so slowly that it can’t explain why mental-health issues have risen so quickly.
Science and common sense suggest a host of other causes, including these modifiable lifestyle choices:
To meet this crisis, we need an approach that is more holistic and accessible than what is commonly used today. I practice what I call “natural mental health,” an integrative blend of science, skills, and practices for optimizing well-being.
The paradigm for natural mental health is one of wholeness, building on strengths rather than focusing on pathology. We don’t ignore what is wrong, but we seek to understand the root causes before initiating treatment.
An integrative practice doesn’t mean we throw out the standard toolkit, which includes medication and psychotherapy. We expand upon it by drawing from a variety of other sources, including neuroscience, functional nutrition, plant-based medicine, and the psychology of mindfulness. Anything that works safely is worthy of consideration.
Self-care is central to this approach. We work with lifestyle medicine (addressing the factors above) to determine the underlying causes of illness and promote greater resilience for future prevention.
Imbalance may be found in the neurotransmitters, of course, but it can begin in the body as a whole: mind, heart, or soul. The inner life — creating meaning, purpose, and deep connections — is at least as important as brain chemistry in sustaining genuine mental health.
The goal is not simply to improve symptoms or even to prevent illness. It is to create a flourishing life. And that is possible for everyone.