Destigmatizing Mental Health
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By Ariel Suazo-Maler
The conversation surrounding mental health maintenance is a loaded one. While society is moving in a less stigmatized direction when it comes to sharing feelings, diagnoses, and modes of taking care, we still have not achieved complete de-stigmatization.
“A silver lining of the prolonged lockdown”
With the announcement of a lockdown coming up on its first anniversary, one of the silver linings over the last year has been an uptick in reporting and discussing the need to take care of our mental health. Having more people with access to vast audiences acknowledging the importance of normalizing this discussion, and speaking out about their personal experiences in the hopes that it inspires others to follow suit, has made a positive impact. But we still need to make greater strides towards treating mental health like physical health.
“Caring about food and wellness can facilitate talking about mental health”
One way to turn the conversation from an emotionally loaded one to one that more closely resembles sharing an effective workout routine between friends, is by capitalizing on the gut-brain connection. With younger generations benefiting from a media-driven surge in caring about food and wellness, what we eat, how we eat, and the effects of different foods on our body, establish easy points of entry to talk about mental health that move us towards a destigmatized conversation.
“Bringing awareness to the feedback loop between our guts and brain”
Discussing the benefits of ‘mood boosting foods’ and neuro-beneficial nutrients, creates a safe space for speaking about emotional wellness and self-care that does not have to be pointed or vulnerable. Bringing awareness of the feedback loop that exists between our guts and our brains to the table, literally, helps people understand what can create fluctuations in mood and cognitive ability, while simultaneously providing a self-guided solution towards mind-body health.
With most people remaining unaware that there are millions of neurons in the gut or that 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced by cells lining the digestive tract, the intersection between nutrition and neuroscience needs greater attention. With implications for Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, Autism, ADHD, and other disorders, nutrition’s link to optimal brain health cannot be overlooked.
“Building greater trust and connection with oneself by focusing on food”
Highlighting these facts can also lead to a greater sense of empowerment as well as the possibility of creating meaningful connections with others. Supporting people in recognizing that they can take their mental health into their hands every time they walk into a grocery store, is a powerful feeling. This leads to greater trust and connection with oneself. By focusing on food, we also create a ripple effect where talking about mental health can be just like sharing and enjoying a treasured family recipe.
This does not imply that food is the only answer, or that there are not cases of disorder and disease where cooking, or even eating, is easy. The point is that everyone needs to eat, and by using a common experience as a way to educate, empower, and empathize, we are moving the needle in the right direction.
Ariel Suazo-Maler holds a master’s in nutrition from Columbia University and has spent years studying the genetic and neuroanatomical underpinnings of schizophrenia, the neurophysiology of taste perception, and the role of nutrition in depression and anxiety.