By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Around 703,000 people die each year due to suicide, according to the World Health Organization.
Moreover, more women than men seem to suffer from depression and anxiety, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Over 1 in 5 women in the United States experienced a mental health condition in the past year.
To empower women to take care of their mental health, Her Nexx Chapter, a community organization that encourages women to connect, explore and transform their lives, hosted an online seminar. The first segment of its 2023 Women’s Wellness Program was “It’s OKAY! Pause, Breathe, Proceed.”
Held May 25, its goal was to empower women with knowledge, resources and a sense of community in overcoming mental health challenges. The speakers discussed a variety of mental health plans and treatments because the cause, symptoms and response of mental health disorders is different for each person.
Speakers included Tracy Chapital, founder and chief vision officer of Her Nexx Chapter; Dr. Aruna Tummala, holistic psychiatrist; Constance Scharff, Ph.D., addiction trauma treatment and recovery specialist; Mia Kurtti, psychotherapist and psychiatric nurse practitioner; Dr. Shahla Ali, interventional psychiatrist; January Donovan, self-worth strategist; Piia Tuominen, solution-focused brief therapist; and Zara Jones, podcast host, blogger and author.
Tuominen began by discussing her struggles with mental health and was told she would be on medication for the rest of her life to handle her symptoms.
“I had low self-esteem and low self-worth, and I was in a relationship with a man who didn’t share my values,” Tuominen reflected. “Looking back at that time in my life, fortunately, I realized the disease model of mental health issues isn’t the only way to understand and look at these problems. They were signs that I wasn’t living in alignment with my values and there was something that needed to be healed.”
After years of struggling with medications and therapy, Tuominen sought alternatives to treatment given to her by psychologists. Instead, she weened herself off her psychiatric prescriptions and put her energy into a process of healing through self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-love.
Tuominen later studied to become a solution focused therapist helping others facing a similar path to hers.
“I found my creativity and playfulness and joyfulness and I’m grateful for having heard about other ways to look at mental health issues,” she expressed. “And for having the courage to follow this different path, even though I was told that my situation was so bad that even going through therapy wouldn’t help.”
In one of the pop-up videos interspersing the speakers, a spokesperson broke down the importance of recognizing depression.
“Depression isn’t always obvious. As a matter of fact, in a lot of cases, it isn’t obvious at all. I think that we’re starting to finally accept and understand that mental health and physical health are equally important. What’s next is that we understand that just the way that we would seek care for physical illness, or injury, we should seek support and care for our mental health as well,” according to the video.
Some signs of depression family, caregivers and other loved ones should be aware are as follows:
• Sadness, such as someone crying all day.
• Diminished energy.
• Feeling fatigued.
• Being self-critical all the time.
• Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
Jones recalled her experience being bullied in school as a child. She later wrote a book with the message that bullying is not okay.
“I grew up with low hearing, so I was made fun of all the time,” Jones said.
Jones said it was hard for her as a teen and now is a motivational speaker and author regarding anti-bullying.
There are several steps to overcome mental health challenges, one is changing one’s nutrition habits to a healthy eating habit to support brain health.
Brain chemistry plays a vital role in emotional health, according to a Brain Food representative.
Every moment of every day our brain releases neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that allow the brain to communicate to the rest of the body. Some of these neurotransmitters influence emotions. For example, dopamine, a is neurotransmitter and a hormone that’s connected with feelings of happiness, bliss, motivation and pleasurable reward.
A familiar example would be how intimacy, shopping and smelling baked cookies in the oven trigger a sense of pleasure called a dopamine rush.
Dopamine and serotonin are made from amino acids – tyrosine and tryptophan respectively.
The human body can extract amino acids. But those not consuming them may not have optimal levels of tyrosine and tryptophan. The body might not be able to produce sufficient amounts of serotonin and dopamine and such to make sure that the brain has the tools that it requires to make the mood boosting chemicals that it needs.
If that is the case, the person should try to prioritize foods that are rich in protein, things like tofu and tempeh, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Vitamins – such as vitamin D6, D12 and D9 – are also involved in the formation of serotonin and dopamine, but these go one step further, helping to manage our mood and stress.
Tummala gave another approach on overcoming mental health challenges.
“Our systems are always trying to fix the imbalance,” Tummala said. “They’re always striving for what is known as homeostasis or a state of balance and it’s not just physical balance. It’s about mental, emotional, spiritual and physical balance. And that in treatment and holistic medicine all we needed to do was figure out what our body needed to attain the state of balance and what needed to be removed.”
According to Tummala, the answer is not that complicated.
“The answer to this was very, very simple,” she stated. “What is it that our system wants is good food, nutrition, movement or exercise, clean air, clean water, clean in mind, connection and loving relationships and friendships and then connect our meaning and purpose in life. Literally, it’s a handful of things that our body needs.”
Tummala said some of the root causes that she repeatedly sees in her patients is trauma, especially early life trauma or even the everyday stress that we are exposed to and toxins. She was confident that others could find healing as well.
While some brain chemicals can be helpful, other can be harmful. There’s an amino acid in the body called homocysteine. An excess amount in the body can actually cause damage to the inside of the arteries. High homocysteine levels have been linked with depression, dementia, heart disease and stroke.
When the body has adequate levels of vitamin B6, B12 and folate, it is better able to break down this excess of homocysteine.
Another approach to help with depression is TMS treatment.
TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation. It delivers magnetic pulses into that prefrontal cortex that is one’s mood center. This option is used for treatment resistant depression – when medicine and other means of talk therapy or counseling do not work.
In summary, women should get help with depression by speaking to a doctor or counselor, having good nutrition habits, reducing stress and taking medications as prescribed by their psychiatrists.