Importance of Mental Health

Mental Health plays an integral role in living a healthy and balanced life because it impacts your thoughts, actions, and emotions. Having a healthy mental state promotes positive thoughts of self worth, influences how you interact with others, and how well you adapt to adversities that come your way. It’s time we recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health.

Mental health disorders are the single most common health issue in young people with 70% of episodes occurring prior to the age of 25. This makes adolescent years a critical window of mental health to be addressed and normalized. This critical age is when we need to teach and talk to our children about a healthy and “normal” state of mind versus when to seek help when thoughts and  feelings of depression, anger, sadness, or anxiety take over. It’s important to remind each other that having these thoughts and feelings is a normal part of life but it’s even more important to know when to reach out for help when these feelings extend for a period of time that last longer than the triggered event.

Having feelings of sadness, loss, frustration etc is what makes us human. You will be hard pressed to find someone who is unfamiliar with these emotions. Even our beloved Prophets experienced great pain and affliction during their lifetime. Prophet Yusuf (AS) was thrown in a deep dark well for three days, forsaken by his brothers, and later thrown in prison for years unjustly. His father Yukub (AS) was so sad upon thinking he lost one of his sons that he went blind from weeping so much. Prophet Abraham (AS) did not have children until much later in life despite his desire to have them earlier. Our last beloved Prophet (SAW) experienced great sorrow and sadness from the start of his life by losing his parents, his first wife, and his sons. As you can see there is no soul who is immune from experiencing sadness during their life and this does not have anything to do with having weak faith or Imaan as some may suggest.

Having faith however will equip you with ways to combat negative feelings and guide you on a path of healing and seeking professional help if need be. Having faith allows you to acknowledge that sadness and loneliness is a part of life and because of your faith you will have the strength to find the light at what seems like a dark grim tunnel. For those who seek our the Lord in times of hardship, here are a few truths he promised us when we are facing calamity to help us get through these difficult times.

With hardship comes ease

Allah [swt] proclaims “For indeed with hardship comes ease” [Quran 94:5]. This is a promise God gives all believers. When we question our fate or kismat know that God has said nothing lasts forever. Ease only comes after hardship so be patient and seek guidance and counsel through your faith and your physician. This is not to mean suffer in silence and eventually this will pass, this means to bear the calamity with guidance and support and with time you will be at peace.

You are not in control

Just like you are not in control if you develop lupus or celiac disease you are not in control or responsible if you develop a mental illness. You would not tell someone with cancer to just “get over it” so you need to offer yourself the same courtesy as you would to someone else. A common plague of mental health stigma is that disorders are all in their head but studies have shown that there may be a variance in their brains which predisposes them to developing mental health conditions. Understanding this should give you solace that NOTHING is in our control without his will. Fighting an internal battle will do nothing except give you more anxiety so embrace your lack of control over your circumstances but equip yourself with the tools to fight this battle. No soul shall bear a burden with more than it can handle.

This does not define you

You are not defined by what you have but you are defined by who you are. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself but your circumstances do not have to take control of your life. The stigma associated with mental illness should not prevent you from recognizing all the blessings you have in your life. It’s important to remember to always cultivate a positive mindset so you can have a positive outlook on life.


Aside from having the mental strength to understand how to cope with mental illness there are some holistic things you can do to further enhance your path of heading.

Diet

There is a popular saying that goes “Diet is the foundation of medicine and gluttony is the foundation of illness” and Allah [swt] says in the Quran “O you who believe, eat from the wholesome things which we have provided you…” [2:172]. Studies have shown that a poor diet can lead to reduced mental function. Diets high in refined sugar and simple carbohydrates do not only worsen your body’s regulation of insulin but they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugar and impaired brain function and even worsening of mood disorders like depression.

Gut Health

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate your sleep, appetite, and mood. About 95% of your serotonin is produced in your GI tract and our GI tract is lined with millions of nerve cells or neurons so it makes sense that our inner workings of our GI tract not only regulate our digestion but affect our mood as well.  The production of serotonin is highly dependent on the “good” bacteria that make up our gut microbiome. The “good” bacteria are important in properly digesting food, help protect the integrity of your gut lining, prevent the “bad” bacteria from colonizing and causing inflammation, and they activate the pathway that go between the gut and brain, referred to as the gut brain axis. Researchers are concluding that infections that occurred early in life , and disrupted the balance of the normal mucosal membrane of the GI tract, may have disrupted the gut brain axis and thus interfered with normal brain function which can lead to mental disorders.

Probiotics

To maintain or restore the balance or integrity of your GI tract it is important to maintain a strong balance of healthy good bacteria compared to bad bacteria. The first step is to eat a well balanced diet full of probiotic rich foods which will repopulate the good bacteria in your GI tract. These foods are fermented things like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kombucha tea. If you can not eat these type of foods it will be imperative for you to start taking a probiotic. Before you begin a probiotic you will need to speak with your health care provider about which one will be best for you or if you are a candidate to take a probiotic. While many studies do show promising results that the gut brain axis is improved when taking a probiotic, and thus leads to better mental health, these studies are preliminary and more need to be studied to show a concrete correlation and dose as discussed here.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a vital role in multiple areas of the body such as absorption of calcium, contraction of smooth muscles, and now research has shown it may play a role in mental health. Vitamin D receptors are located throughout the body and now have been discovered on the brain. These receptors are responsible for attaching themselves to Vitamin D so Vitamin D can send a chemical signal to the brain to act a certain way (we don’t know exactly how this works). This study compared vitamin D levels among people who were treated for a mental health issue and those who were not. Researchers found a significant association between low levels of vitamin D and “higher levels of negative symptoms and of depression” among people with psychosis. They also found a significant link to reduced verbal fluency and cognitive impairments. While more studies need to be done to further strengthen this correlation there is enough evidence to justify the use of Vitamin D to help with mental disorders. While there is no recommended dosage to start, a good maintenance dose is 2,000 IU which you can find here.

Remember issues related to mental health can impact people in different ways. If you start to see prolonged changes in your overall happiness or attitude please seek the help of a medical care professional. You do not and should not feel embarrassed of seeking help and you are not alone. Mental illness is very common and can be treated if you get help. If you have thoughts of suicide please call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK [8255].