Mental illness effects almost more people than it doesn’t. In fact, while an estimated 18.9% of the U.S. population struggles with mental health problems at any given time, over half will experience difficulties with mental health during their lifetime. That means 1 in 5 U.S. adults has a problem with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or another mental health related problem at any given time. Nutritional deficiencies, ranging from vitamin A to vitamin D deficiencies and SAD contribute to and exacerbate those mental illnesses – often with symptoms overlapping and worsening existing mental health problems. Unfortunately, depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders make it significantly more difficult to get proper nutrition. And, nutritional disorders make it more likely that experience the worst possible symptoms of a nutritional deficiency.

Understanding that interplay between nutrition and mental health can help you to make better choices for yourself or for a loved one. Getting help with mental health can help to you learn coping mechanisms, to resolve behaviors that might contribute to poor mental health, and to get in control of downward spirals and emotions. But, without good habits like nutrition and exercise to contribute to being able to feel well enough physically to feel good mentally, that often won’t help as much as you’d like. That’s why most mental health treatment now includes attention to nutrition alongside cognitive behavioral therapy and other more traditional mental health interventions.

How Does Nutrition Affect Mental Health?

Nutritional deficiencies cause symptoms that can be indistinguishable from mental health disorders. Nutrition provides your brain with the building blocks to create the hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate and contribute to emotions. For example, amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, and even B-vitamins are building blocks for serotonin, dopamine, and GABBA. If you’re not eating enough of these nutrients, your body doesn’t have the building blocks to create some of the most important neurotransmitters to your emotional regulation, happiness, and reward system.

That also works in other ways. For example, Vitamin D deficiencies directly result in fatigue, joint pain, and depression. While an estimated 42% of the U.S. population doesn’t get enough vitamin D, failing to do so can greatly reduce your quality of life. While most dairy products are enriched with vitamin D, not everyone drinks milk. So, you might want to look for vitamin D supplements.

Similarly, vitamin A deficiency can cause symptoms greatly resembling anxiety and depression. Amino acid deficiency can cause a similar problem. And, Vitamin B deficiency can cause lethargy and even emotional blunting, which can be difficult to track to a nutritional deficiency on symptoms alone.

A Negative Cycle

Persons with mental health disorders are more likely to have a nutritional disorder. That’s a two-part negative cycle, that relates to both physical health and to mental energy levels. Both negatively impact nutrition in completely different ways.

Gut Health – Mental health disorders often impact physical health in completely unexpected ways. For example, persons with mental health disorders are more likely to experience chronic inflammation of the intestines, nausea, and even ulcers. These side effects can actually prevent the intestines from absorbing nutrition – despite the fact that you need that nutrition more than ever. So, people with mental health problems often have to pay even more attention to their nutrition and eating habits than a mentally healthy person.

Energy Levels – Most people are aware that having a mental health disorder makes it significantly harder to engage in normal habits of self-care and day-to-day health. That can mean you make poorer choices about food. Often, that can be a matter of either not eating or making unhealthy food choices like takeout or simple sandwiches in lieu of not eating at all. That’s understandable for those struggling to make do at all – mental illness often doesn’t allow room for preparing and eating healthy food. But, it does contribute dramatically to poor nutrition, as you make fewer healthy food choices and instead get more calories from high fat/salt and high sugar foods that are either convenience foods or chosen to make you feel better.

What do Nutritional Deficiencies Look Like in Mental Illness?

photo of a woman eating a watermelon sitting on a benchA nutritional deficiency can cause dramatic shifts in mental health, mostly by worsening your mental health problems. For example, it can cause existing symptoms to worsen. It can also cause new symptoms, which might, for example, result in a misdiagnosis or a wrong diagnosis. If you have anxiety and you’re showing significant symptoms of depression and lethargy, you might get a diagnosis for depression instead if the doctor doesn’t think to check nutrition. It can also cause brain fog, meaning it’s difficult or more difficult to concentrate on treatment, coping mechanisms, or therapy.

What Can You Do About It?

In most cases, it’s difficult to diagnose or treat nutritional disorders without getting a blood test to see nutritional levels. Therefore, you should always take a suspected nutritional deficiency to your doctor or to a mental health facility with the resources to do proper blood testing. You can’t have a good recovery program without knowing what’s wrong. After a blood test showing a nutritional deficiency, you can seek out a solution that suits your needs, your mental and physical health, and the treatment you want.

Often, the answer is nutritional therapy in combination with mental health treatment. However, you may require significant nutritional intervention, such as high-dosage supplements or injections to restore vitamin or nutrient levels –rather than simply changing eating habits and waiting for that resolve the issue. In either case, it’s crucial to get medical advice before proceeding. In fact, you should never take most supplements without medical advice, because too much of most nutrients can cause even worse problems.

Mental health treatment normally takes a whole-person approach of treating your body and your mind together. That’s extremely important in cases where nutritional deficiencies, intestinal inflammation, and other physical problems contribute to mental health disorders. You, as a person, are impacted by your entire body. And, unfortunately that means your body’s health impacts your mental health. Nutrition plays a large role in your ability to live a happy life.

If you need help, you can seek out blood tests, look into mental health services offering nutritional therapy, and work to improve your whole body. For example, most modern mental health treatment includes a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy or other behavioral therapy, exercise, nutrition, and building good habits that contribute to reducing or mitigating mental health symptoms. Eventually, every part of you contributes to how you feel so it’s important to take care of your physical as well as mental health, when in recovery and when in maintenance.

If you or a loved one is struggling, help is there. And, it can help you to get back to normal. If you need help with mental health treatment, drug rehab, or alcohol rehab Compassion Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us to ask about our mental health programs and how we can support your specific requirements as you move into treatment.