Teenage Mental Health Problems

It may be safe to say that Canada hasn’t gained full understanding of the depth of mental health in its population. It’s comforting to know there is more awareness through initiatives like Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” campaign or the “Elephant in the Room” campaign started by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. Has this been enough?

During the week of June 6, we learned about a teen-organized walkout in the town of Woodstock, Ontario. The students were raising awareness about the local school board’s failure to take proactive steps after five students committed suicide in the first 5 months of 2016 (there were 36 reports of attempted suicide or suicidal ideation). We had heard in April about suicides in Attawapiskat, in northern Ontario. On a recent trip to Chicago, similar reports of teen suicide were becoming known.

I think we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg. Childhood including our teenage years, have long been thought of as a very happy period of one’s life and generally when a teenager should be living in a fairly care-free manner. There will always be stressors that cause us to be nervous or anxious, such as school or driving exams, and dating. The stories we’ve read about in the news lately suggest that life for teenagers are more challenging than most of us would expect.

Teenagers are facing many challenges today, that might not be considered by parents/older adults:

  • Stresses related to incidents involving social media, including bullying
  • Marital breakups of parents and families
  • Loss of family members
  • Uncertainty for future jobs/occupations
  • School/studying problems
  • High cost of post-secondary education
  • Eating disorders
  • Sexual identity or sexual activity concerns
  • International immigrants, or teens whose families have moved to new locations

The types of mental health issues are varied, and include:

  • Anxiety (and Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
  • Depression (and Major Depressive Disorder)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities, etc.
  • Schizophrenia

How can Naturopathic Medicine help you and your family when dealing with mental health issues?

Naturopathic medicine can be part of an integrated strategy to treat a mental health concern, helping the person move toward recovery. Other parts of the integrated treatment approach would include therapy (eg. cognitive behavioural therapy, group therapy), prescription medicines (if necessary) plus school or community supports.

Consider the following factors that can play a key role in mental health:

  • Nutritional deficiencies – Many of us, especially teenagers, do not eat well. Nutrient deficiencies, even minor deficiencies, can affect the biochemical processes responsible for making neurotransmitters that affect our mental state such as serotonin and dopamine.
  • Stress – Many people will consider stress to be a “part of life”. There are many sources of stress, some mental/psychological, and many that are physical (chemicals in the environment, lack of sleep). As health care providers Naturopathic Doctors are more familiar with the effects of stress on human health, including how stress hormones affect mood-related neurotransmitters.
  • Lifestyle habits – Eating, sleeping and exercise. Modern life allows us to bend the rules around good health. Convenience often translates into less-healthy living rather than giving us enhanced quality of life. Overuse of technology (eg. Smartphones, computers) cause many people to stay up too late, later suffering from effects of sleep deprivation. Microwaving healthy food can reduce the nutrient levels up to 80% of what the food originally contained. And many children are less active than would have been the case 40-50 years ago (eg. student driven to school on buses lose out on the exercise I got from walking 20 minutes to school every day).

Examples of Naturopathic Treatments used at Oakville Naturopathic Wellness Centre for mental health problems:

  • L-Theanine: reduces anxiety
  • Inositol: reduces obsessive behaviour
  • Vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid: are necessary for neurotransmitter production
  • Herbal medicines:
    • Lemon Balm, Skullcap, Passionflower, St. John’s Wort, Valerian – are known to improve mood and promote a more relaxed state
    • Bacopa, Rhodiola, Ginseng – increase concentration and memory
  • Homeopathy – formulas or single remedies can reduce or eliminate the symptoms and behaviours that a person is struggling with. These medicines are great for people who have difficulty swallowing supplements, or in very complex cases.
  • Craniosacral Therapy – gentle touch therapy that releases tension, improves sleep and focus
  • Acupuncture – Dr. Clack uses NEEDLE-FREE techniques (eg. laser, microcurrent, ETPS) to activate the energy pathways known as meridians, to rebalance the energy of the body

Testing to aid in your assessment:

  • Great Plains Laboratory – Organic Acid Test. Assesses neurotransmitter levels as well as nutrient deficiencies.

References supporting Naturopathic treatment(s) of mental health conditions:

  • Association between food and nutrition insecurity with cardiometabolic risk factors in childhood and adolescence: a systematic review.
    Rev Paul Pediatr. 2016 Jun;34(2):225-33. doi: 10.1016/j.rpped.2015.08.007. Epub 2015 Oct 20.
  • Nutrients and botanicals for treatment of stress: adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalance, anxiety, and restless sleep.
    Altern Med Rev. 2009 Jun;14(2):114-40.
    Although the determinants of mental health are complex, the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology. Evidence is steadily growing for the relation between dietary quality (and potential nutritionaldeficiencies) and mental health, and for the select use of nutrient-based supplements to address deficiencies, or as monotherapies or augmentation therapies.
  • Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry.
    Lancet Psychiatry. 2015 Mar;2(3):271-4. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00051-0. Epub 2015 Feb 25.
  • People with schizophrenia and depression have a low omega-3 index.
    Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2016 Jul;110:42-7. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2016.05.007. Epub 2016 May 13.
  • Complementary medicine for psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents.
    Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2008 Jul;21(4):350-5. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e328303672f.
    Very few quality studies into the use of omega-3 fatty acids, St John’s wort, dietary manipulations, kava, gingko and lemonbalm in managing psychiatric disorders have been conducted in children and adolescents. SUMMARY: A number of herbal treatments show promise, but much more empirical research is required to establish their efficacy in the paediatric population.
  • L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state.
    Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-8.
  • American Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled crossover study of its effects on mood in healthy volunteers.
    Phytother Res. 2014 May;28(5):692-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5044. Epub 2013 Jul 22.