In 2018, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Health Index determined the health conditions that have the greatest impact on Americans’ quality of life. Of the top 10, four were mental health conditions: major depression, substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder, and psychotic disorder. It makes you wonder why we don’t pay more attention to mental health, doesn't it?
Mental Health Awareness
May is national Mental Health Awareness Month. So if you have mental health issues, and you are open about them, you can probably expect to be approached by friends and neighbors who want to raise their awareness. You might find yourself in a conversation like this:
“What’s it like to be bipolar?”
“I can have severe mood changes that can send me way too high or way too low. I have learned I am better off preventing myself from going too far one way or the other so I have to work diligently to keep balanced. I have to be self-aware to study myself and my behavior in order to recognize the signs of an episode and be very in tune with the things that might trigger it.”
“Have you tried probiotics for it?”
Ok, I know, this sounds ridiculous, right? Well, there are two reasons not to jump to the conclusion that this question is trying to trivialize your struggles. One is that when you have a mental health condition, you become an ambassador for that condition. It’s not fair, I know. But neither is having the condition to begin with. So you need to act like an ambassador. Assume the person wants to help. Treat the question seriously.
Probiotics for Bipolar Disorder
The second reason is that the question might actually be useful. I actually looked into it, and it turns out there is emerging evidence that probiotics help with bipolar disorder! Researchers from Johns Hopkins followed a group of patients who were discharged from the hospital after bipolar manic episodes, giving half of them placebos and half of them probiotics. The placebo population were about twice as likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 24 weeks as the probiotics population. A doctor writing for the Harvard Health Blog speculated that bipolar disorder could be related to the health of your intestinal bacteria.
That’s the kind of mental health awareness we need a lot more of. I mean, if it can work for even just one of us, why not look into it? I know from my own personal experience that my physical being directly affects my mental being; meaning what and how I eat, sleep and exercise dictates my health internally as well as externally. So, maybe probiotics isn't such a outlandish idea. It's tough at times, but the more we educate folks on what it is we experience, the more understanding. The more understanding, the more compassion, the more compassion, the more connection. Speaking of connection....
The Importance of Connectedness
Mental Health America offers a lot of tools you can use to assess and maintain your mental health. Check them out.
In recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has decided to promote the theme “you are not alone.” I think NAMI has nailed it here. Among all the resources you may have for dealing with your mental health (including probiotics), your connections and your community are the most important. Let’s face it. We are social animals. We need to connect with each other. Our mental health depends on it.
Did you know for 2021 every sale at doublesolid benefits NAMI? Yep! We know the importance of these amazing organizations and we need them around, thriving, to help us continue to learn, share, and find the support we need. Each year we'll pick another organization that is instrumental in supporting and mainstream the mental health conversation.
According to The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (at Stanford Medicine), “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” You don’t even need to have a lot of friends to get the benefits of connection, according to the Center. You just need to feel connected. Check out the Center’s infographic by following the link above. It’s both informative and practical.
Image: A Call to Action Button from the Mental Health America 2021 Mental Health Month Toolkit. Check this page to download the toolkit and get ideas for observing Mental Health Month.