The Blog

Mental Health - Our Priorities Are the Wrong Way Around

The recent announcement from NHS England to increase mental health funding and help more than a million extra sufferers should be lauded. But grandiose plans and false promises have epitomised our public health system of late, with the utopian triangle of increased efficiency, improved patient outcomes and systematic cost reductions failing to deliver in reality. With junior doctors now announcing yet further strikes, it remains to be seen whether such aspirations match up with the pipeline, or are yet a further move of political maneuvering designed to appease the voracious campaigners of physical and mental health equality.

My guess is that by 2020, when such extra help is ostensibly to be delivered, the desired results will be missed. Demand will outstrip supply if current mental health trajectory impressions are anything to go. Standard therapeutic intervention models, so reliant upon a myopic medication approach and/or labour-intensive talking therapies, are simply not up to scratch given the demand-pull mechanism at play. Yes, they work in theory, but the reality of the situation is such that we must look at alternative forms of healing, and indeed, prevention, in order that a societal crisis does not become a societal catastrophe.

Rarely do doctors or psychologists assign nutrition or exercise plans for patients suffering from depression. The mind/body duality is engrained within professional culture. One treatment for the head. One treatment for the body. The conventional approach to the majority of psychological disorders lies in medication, then therapy, then other. This chronology of interventions should be reversed.

Let's take nutrition. Dr Julia Rucklidge and colleagues have shown that increasing the amount of micronutrient intake in patients can reduce bipolar symptoms, ADHD, autism, cognitive decline and even prison violence, with an average response rate amongst groups between 60-80%. Not only are such simple interventions effective from an outcome perspective, they are also extremely cost effective. Moreover, supplementing before mental illness can drastically reduce the risk of more severe psychological disorders, such as psychosis. Rucklidge showed that fish oils (yes, simple omega 3s) drastically reduces the risk of psychosis amongst high-risk teenagers. Indeed, 11 epidemiological studies over the last decade have shown that the more you eat an unprocessed diet, the lower your risk of depression.

Simple shifts, significant outcomes. We must prioritise lifestyle factors when it comes to the field of mental health, both to prevent disorders and to cure them. The evidence is building. This approach is necessary not only to improve patient outcomes but also take the terrific burden off the shoulders of the NHS, whose current path is ultimately unfeasible and utterly unattainable.