Mental Health Series Post 1: An Epidemic

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I have read and heard a lot lately about how we are entering a mental health epidemic. The incidence of  anxiety and depression is increasing, as are deaths from suicide and drug overdose. I have personally struggled with anxiety and depression, and I know many others who have. Many of us are struggling, and many more are just a stressful life event away from a mental health battle.

I’m trained as a psychologist and neuroscientist, so it leads me to ask - why? What is going wrong, what is changing in our world - in society and in individuals - that is bringing anxiety and depression to so many people?

To start to answer this question, I tried to identify the factors that contribute to mental health. Here’s what I came up with as a first pass:

  1. Physical activity (of the right kind and amount)

  2. Good nutrition

  3. Sleep

  4. Calming brain state (through exposure to nature, meditation, repetitive movement)

  5. Stable support system/connection to people

  6. Controllable environment/manageable stress

  7. Sense of purpose/meaning

As a gym, we focus on the first part of the list, factors 1-3.  But as a psychologist, I am also keenly interested in the second part of the list, factors 4-7. In a series of posts, I will be exploring all of these 7 factors.

I do not have the answers, though I have some insights and plenty of questions. I will start with a high-level treatment of each factor, laying the key issues as I see them now. But this will be a research and discovery process, and I hope to really dig in to the literature and understand this in more detail. My 7 factors will probably themselves change, but I need a starting point, so here it is.

I think a thorough and broad-based analysis of mental health taking into account all of these 7 factors is long overdue and becoming increasingly urgent. I’m excited to reconnect with my psychology roots and really dig into this project.

Amy Santamaria