The Prospering Soul – Just what is mental health?

When Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica a couple of thousands years ago, he said, “May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 -The Message)

The modern western church has two out of three. As modern Christians, we have the fitness of the Spirit pretty well down, and we’re not too shabby on our physical fitness either. Unfortunately, we still have a way to go on the Soul thing.

In 2013, Rick Warren stood in front of his church after the suicide of his son, and promised he would work to reduce the stigma of mental illness in the Christian church (http://swampland.time.com/2013/07/28/rick-warren-preaches-first-sermon-since-his-sons-suicide/). Rick Warren experienced the stigma and destruction of poor mental health first hand. So have many others in the church, as have I.

It’s my passion to help the Christian church prosper, our bodies, our spirits, AND our souls.   Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a series of blogs on mental health, to encourage and help those in the church battling mental illness, and everyone else in the church to know how to assist them in their battle.

Together, we can help to eliminate the stigma and destruction that mental health can bring into the lives of Christians, and that we may prosper in all things and be in health, just as our soul prospers (3 John 1:2).

To start with, it would help if we knew what it meant to be in good mental health, and what separates mental health from mental illness. The distinction isn’t always so obvious. There are a few ways to define or conceptualise mental health and illness, but to cut through the thousands of words of medical and scientific jargon, the difference between good mental health and bad mental health is often to do with changes to our thinking, mood, or behaviour, combined with distress and/or impaired functioning. [1] Our mental health is intimately linked with our physical health, and often physical illness will lead to changes to our thinking, mood, or behaviour, combined with distress and/or impaired functioning too, although strictly speaking, that’s not a pure mental health disorder.

What IS important for the average church goer to understand is that we all experience some changes to our mental health at different times in our lives. For example, we all experience grief and loss at some time in our lives, and at that time, it’s normal to experience extreme sadness, sleeplessness, anger, or guilt. What differentiates grief from depression is the trigger, and the time the symptoms take to resolve. In general, how we perceive our thoughts and behaviours, and how much any signs and symptoms affect our daily activities can help determine what’s normal for us.

There are some common signs that can help in knowing if professional help may be needed. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you or a loved one experiences:

  • Marked change in personality, eating or sleeping patterns
  • Inability to cope with problems or daily activities
  • Strange or grandiose ideas
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Prolonged depression or apathy
  • Thinking or talking about suicide
  • Drinking alcohol to excess or taking illicit drugs
  • Extreme mood swings or excessive anger, hostility or violent behaviour

then consult your family doctor or psychologist, or encourage your loved one to seek help. With appropriate support, you can identify mental health conditions and explore treatment options, such as medications or counselling.

Many people who have mental health conditions consider their signs and symptoms a normal part of life or avoid treatment out of shame or fear. If you’re concerned about your mental health or a loved one’s mental health, don’t hesitate to seek advice.

If you or a loved one have, or still struggle with, mental illness, I welcome your comments.

I can’t give specific counselling or advice in this forum, but if you are suffering from mental health problems and need help, see your GP or a psychologist, or if you’re in Australia, 24 hour telephone counselling is available through:

Lifeline = 13 11 14 – or – Beyond Blue = 1300 22 4636

References

  1. National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Editor 1999, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services: Rockville, MD.
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Sweet Poison, Another Fad

According to the esteemed medical journal “The Daily Telegraph”, sugar has been exposed as a poison which is slowly killing us[1].

“FORGET fat, salt and carbohydrates – sugar has been branded more addictive than heroin. It is slowly killing us. // While foods high in fat were once accused of increasing our waistlines, experts said it was foods high in sugar, such as cereals and yoghurts, that are making us fatter and more prone to long-term illness.”

The article is right.  Fat was once touted as foods hidden assassin.  Then it became carbs when the Atkins craze hit.  Now its sugar.

Then pretty soon, people will get bored with this fad, and some other “expert” will publish some book that find a new health demon to exorcise.

The problem is that these fads are narrow minded and overly sensationalist.  Everything is bad for us in some degree.  Change the article slightly and you see how ridiculous this fad reporting becomes.

Oxygen is exposed as a deadly addiction that turns us to rust. // Forget fat, salt and carbohydrates – oxygen has been branded more addictive than sugar. It is slowly killing us.

While foods high in fat were once accused of increasing our waistlines, experts said it was breathing oxygen in the air that is causing free radicals to form in our cells.  Free radicals cause oxidative damage, just like rust on iron.

Oxidative damage leads to increased rates of aging of our cells, experts say.  The faster we age, the sooner we die.  Experts say that reducing oxygen intake can add years to our lives, if we can just break our oxygen addiction.

Ahbig Stoog said breaking the oxygen addiction wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.  “I’ve never felt healthier”, said Mr Stoog.

Sorry, but sugar is just one of a long line of fads to come and go.  The Sweet Poison book was written by a lawyer, David Gillespie.  I like lawyers, but understanding law doesn’t give you a degree in biochemistry.  I was at a conference where Professor Rosemary Stanton (nutritionist and biochemist) and Mr Gillespie both spoke.  Stanton tore him apart.

But it’s not just my opinion.  This has been tested scientifically by a group in Adelaide, their work published in 2009[2].  They compared the weight loss effects of two diets over a year, an extremely low carbohydrate diet (like that espoused in the Sweet Poison Quit Plan) and a standard low-fat diet.  The extreme low carbs diet contained 4% of the energy intake as carbs compared to 46% as carbs for the low fat diet.  Importantly, both diets were equal in the calories consumed.

If the sweet poison hypothesis is correct, and sugar alone is responsible for weight gain/loss then the extreme low carbs diet would show significant weight loss to the low fat diet.  If, on the other hand, weight loss is moderated by total calories consumed, no matter what the make up of the diet, then the weight loss for the two diets would be about the same.

The result of the study is bad for Mr Gillespie’s credibility, because both groups lost approximately the same amount of weight (Low Carbs: 14.5 +/- 1.7 kg; Low Fat: 11.5 +/-1.2 kg; P = 0.14).**  The results mirror those of an earlier study by the same authors, using slightly different diets, but again showing that diets of a similar calorie intake result in the same amount of weight loss[3].

The point is, fad diets come and go.  The diet that works is one that is calorie controlled.  People on zero-sugar diets lose weight because they consume less calories.  Any diet that works is because people consume less calories.

A balanced, low calorie diet has been pushed by nutritionists and doctors ad nauseum for decades, but consistently neglecting words like “poison”, “toxin” or “death” has meant that the message is nowhere near as stimulating as the current whim.

If you feel compelled to cut every ounce of sugar from your diet then fantastic.  You will lose lots of weight, and I commend that.  But don’t kid yourself.  Sugar isn’t a poison.  It’s just another fad.

References:

  1. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/sugar-is-exposed-as-a-deadly-addiction-that-turns-sweet-life-sour/story-fni0cx12-1226686558161
  2. Brinkworth, G.D., et al., Long-term effects of a very-low-carbohydrate weight loss diet compared with an isocaloric low-fat diet after 12 mo. Am J Clin Nutr, 2009. 90(1): 23-32.
  3. Noakes, M., et al., Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women. Am J Clin Nutr, 2005. 81(6): 1298-306.

** Some people may wonder why I stated that the results of the study showed a similar weight loss, yet the numbers I quoted showed that the low carb diet had a weight loss of 14.5kg compared to 11.5kg for the low fat group.  How can weight loss of 3kg be “the same”?  The answer lies in the P value, a statistical measure of the strength of the evidence.  A p-value of greater than 0.05 shows that the difference in the groups could have been the result of chance.  For more explanation on the P value: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/what-a-pvalue-tells-you-about-statistical-data.html

Dieting. Is it really worth it?

In an opinion column on the Brisbane Times news site, Kasey Edwards wrote about the recent struggles that weight loss company Jenny Craig have had finding celebrities to endorse their product.

Edwards cited Australian actor Magda Szubanski, and Kirstie Alley before her, as typifying the difficulties that dieters have. She also stated that over the last 50 years of research, dieting has a typical success rate of only 5%.

Her source was unstated, but if it’s correct, then it’s somewhat disheartening. She said, “With such damning rates it is extraordinary that we still blame individuals for ”failing” at weight loss programs rather than accusing the diet companies of selling snake oil. Can you imagine buying any other product with a 95 per cent failure rate and then blaming yourself when it didn’t deliver on its promise?”

The question is then, “Do all diets suffer from the same failure rate, or are there one or two really successful diets who’s success is diluted by the failure of others?” The answer, not really. It depends on how long you measure for.

From the eMedicine article on obesity, “The results of most weight-loss programs are dismal. On average, participants in the best programs lose approximately 10% of their body weight, but people generally regain two thirds of the weight lost within a year. When defined as sustained weight loss over a 5-year follow-up period, the success of even the best medical weight-loss programs is next to nil. Most available data indicate that, irrespective of the method of medical intervention, 90-95% of the weight lost is regained in 5 years.” (Reference)

So, you can invest thousands of hours, and hundreds of dollars into a program, and the end result is most likely the same, nothing.

That sounds depressing. So what’s the point? Perhaps we should just quit while we’re ahead.

You could, but I think there is a solution. Dieting is not the answer, but I think making healthy lifestyle choices is.

That’s for another post.