How can we get to the root causes of mental health symptoms?

Root causes of mental health symptoms

In my experience, the way most psychiatrists and mainstream doctors diagnose and treat mental health is not helpful for sustainable healing. It certainly wasn’t for me, when I had post-partum depression after the birth of both my boys, which took the form of anxiety and panic disorder.

I was offered many different antidepressants, and ended up taking Mirtazapine and Zoplicone. I had a terrible time on them, with many debilitating side effects (such as lethargy and exhaustion, brittle hair and nails, stomach issues, etc…), and then an even worse time getting off them, as it took me months of slow, agonising withdrawal with double the original symptoms. You can read more about my story here.

I wondered how a well educated, well connected person with access to world class health care could end up in such a desperate place, with nothing to rely on but my own research and guesswork. Ten years later, I feel that I have some answers, and want to share these with as many people as possible.

The problem with conventional psychiatry

Currently, treatment in mainstream psychiatry for depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor memory, poor attention, and other mental health issues focuses on addressing the symptoms rather than the root causes, and therefore acts like a bandaid rather than a long-term fix.

Too often, mental health symptoms are treated with lifelong prescriptions for anti-depressants, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and other pharmaceutical drugs, which often don’t workPenn, E., & Tracy, D. K. (2012). The drugs don’t work? antidepressants and the current and future pharmacological management of depression. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology2(5), 179–188. [accessed 17 June 2020, and can have many debilitating side effects[ accessed 17 June 2020], Cascade, E., Kalali, A. H., & Kennedy, S. H. (2009). Real-World Data on SSRI Antidepressant Side Effects. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township))6(2), 16–18 [accessed 17 June 2020]. If you are lucky, you may be offered some talk therapy. 

But very rarely will you be offered a blood test, a stool test, a urine test or a saliva test, to try to get to the biochemical root causes of what is ailing you, because mainstream medicine has not yet agreed on a “biomarker for depression”.Hacimusalar, Y., & Eşel, E. (2018). Suggested Biomarkers for Major Depressive Disorder. Noro psikiyatri arsivi55(3), 280–290. [accessed 17 June 2020] 

In addition to trying to identify a biomarker for depression, mainstream medicine is also exploring “growth factors, cytokines and other inflammatory markers, oxidative stress markers, endocrine markers, energy balance hormones, genetic and epigenetic features, and neuroimaging”Hacimusalar, Y., & Eşel, E. (2018). Suggested Biomarkers for Major Depressive Disorder. Noro psikiyatri arsivi55(3), 280–290. [accessed 17 June 2020] all of which could be good indicators of biochemical imbalances in our physiology.

While this approach is along the right lines, it will take years for them to agree on which biomarkers can be used in practice, let alone agree on treatment. And in the meantime, millions are suffering with unresolved mental health issues.

The solution? Integrative and functional mental health will get to the root causes of your mental health symptoms

However, if you are lucky enough to work with an integrative mental health practitioner or functional medicine psychiatrist, you will find that they do test for biomarkers using stool, urine, and blood tests, which, taken in conjunction with your symptoms, and your psychological and life circumstances, can really uncover the root causes of your mental health symptoms. 

Then, they can use that same biochemical knowledge to help you heal sustainably. 

Integrative mental health and functional medicine psychiatry practitioners will look at your symptoms, in conjunction with biochemical markers for hormone, neurotransmitter, nutritional and gut imbalances; will test for certain genetic variations, and for levels of toxins, infections and inflammation. They will also look at your life circumstances, stress levels, psychological trauma, as well as your lifestyle habits such as your sleep, exercise levels, breathing habits, etc.  

Then, they will piece together the puzzle of why, exactly, you or your loved ones may be suffering from mental health issues. And they will suggest a personalised programme for you to heal which may include biochemical support (such as a nutrition plan, supplements for gut repair, for hormone balance, or for infections, detoxification therapies, etc.), psycho-spiritual support (such as talk therapies, somatic therapies, etc.) and lifestyle-behavioural support (such as an exercise programme, sleep hygiene, etc.). 

If you are interested in finding out more about possible root causes to mental health symptoms, please see the list of possible contributors here.

The 4 main characteristics of integrative mental health and functional medicine psychiatry:

  • Looks for the root cause of your mental health symptoms
  • Assembles a personalised programme for you to heal which is unique to you
  • Takes into account all aspects that are impacting your mental health, and therefore all aspects which can help you heal, from the biochemical, to the psycho-spiritual, to the lifestyle-behavioural
  • Offers sustainable solutions that will help you over the long-term 

I believe that in 10 years, mental health diagnoses and treatments will mostly involve integrative mental health and functional medicine psychiatry. But we are not there yet. 

If you want to be part of the revolution that brings this type of mental health diagnosis and treatment into mainstream medicine to help yourself, your loved ones, or your clients, you can start by looking at this list of possible contributors to mental health symptoms on this website; listen to the interviews on The MindHealth360 Show, or find a qualified integrative mental health practitioner to work with from our database of integrative mental health practitioners