The mental health field is full of companies, doctors, and experts all vying for the optimal solution to the world’s leading mental health issues. Most of these collectives are offering plenty of great apps, services and products to best help humans combat various mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia – to name just a few. While I myself have used a wide-ranging list of apps and products to help my own mental health, none of them really solved the underlying issues.
As a public high school teacher and running coach, I have been able to work with young kids and adults alike to help them improve their fitness and well-being. In doing so, I have been able to learn a lot about myself and others, and I’ve come to understand that something as complex as mental health does not have a simple solution. Rather, a holistic, multi-layered approach is needed for most people, and it has to be tailored to their unique biological and psychological make up.
What has always intrigued me is this: what is CAUSING these issues to begin with? Are these mental health problems genetic? Do certain types of people develop them over time? A new theory has emerged from Doctor Christopher M. Palmer in his new book, “Brain Energy.” This theory offers a new model for mental health, and after finishing the book recently, I’ve come away with a deeper understanding of the human body on a cellular level in addition to causes of mental health issues and a wide-ranging list of solutions that kids and adults alike can implement in their own homes, starting today.
What I learned throughout this amazing book was that it’s about more than just brain function when it comes to mental health; it’s about METABOLISM and MITOCHONDRIA. I won’t lie, even though I co-teach Freshman Biology at the high school level, I had to read much of this book very slowly, and pause often to look up certain terms to get a better grasp on how it fit into the whole puzzle. These two things, I learned, impact almost all aspects of human health, aging and longevity. As a teacher and coach, one of my primary goals is to help people with each of those things and help equip them with tools to take autonomy over their own lives.
When I help teach Freshman students about the organelle mitochondria, I’m almost exclusively focused on its role in our body cells; specifically, as the power house of each cell, or the generator of ATP energy. We need energy to live, so this organelle is always one that we spend a lot of time discussing. My knowledge of the mitochondria didn’t really extend too far past that, but as I delved deeper into this book, I came to learn that these beautiful organelles can also isolate certain proteins; regulate the cell’s response to stress; and interact with other parts of the cell to mediate nutrient balance.
The other key word, metabolism, is about much more than just burning fat. It really is about the chemical changes that take place in a cell and the organism as a whole, and it is the process of growth and maintaining stability.
Dr. Palmer explains that mental disorders should no longer be looked at as syndromes but as metabolic disorders of the brain. With that, new solutions start to emerge that can become much more actionable for people suffering from these conditions. While certain conditions absolutely require intense medical supervision and oversight, we can all begin to restore brain energy by normalizing metabolism and the function of mitochondria in our brain cells with exercise, sun exposure, stress management, in addition to many other actionable solutions.
I want to begin to help more people realize that if they can start to normalize their metabolism and the function of the mitochondria in their cells, they can start to take more responsibility for their health. Each person is unique and has individualized biological, psychological and social needs, so there’s not one specialized plan for everyone. However, I want to continue to come up with assessments and plans to help people examine their own needs and work toward balancing out the equation.
For one, I plan to use this knowledge in the classroom. If we can arm kids at a young age with the knowledge that they can take responsibility for their health through exercise, stress management, sleep and nutrition, then we can take a step toward lowering the need for copious amounts of medication and hospital visits.
I acknowledge that there is always going to be a place for medication, and I do think it is necessary for some people. But the kids I work with deserve a chance to begin taking control over their mental health, and there are things they can do on a daily basis that will go a long way in improving their metabolic health. Metabolic and mitochondrial dysfunction exists in a lot of us, but if we can better understand the mechanism behind how our brains develop and interact with out body, we can educate and make changes to become the healthy, thriving organisms we are meant to be.
I’m interested in hosting discussions on this in the future. I hope to lead workouts where we can teach kids and their parents that there is a myriad of ways to help change your brain’s energy and function, and that just because you suffer from a condition, it does not mean it has to be a life-long experience. I have seen so many people suffer from mental health conditions, and while there will never be one-size-fits-all solution, Dr. Palmer’s research and work focusing on metabolism and mitochondria function have helped me view this issue in a new light.
I always knew exercise and nutrition helped many mental health conditions, but I never knew WHY. Now that I have more knowledge on the why, I can do a small part in helping others correct their imbalances and get back to thriving, whether that is in the gym, the field, the classroom, or at home. If as a coach and teacher I can work with doctors and therapists to deliver the same holistic messaging and approach, kids and adults will get more streamlined information that will benefit them; not fractured plans that don’t consider their unique needs.