BSLM advocates for the application of proven lifestyle medicine knowledge and techniques to improve mental health and reduce the harm caused by stress, anxiety and depression.
We support the use of non-pharmaceutical “lifestyle first” interventions in the prevention, treatment and management of many common mental health conditions. However, we acknowledge that in the case of severe mental illness, medications do have a vital role to play in effective management and treatment.
In many respects, there is no health without mental health (Department of Health, 2011). Health is defined by the World Health Organisation as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.”
BSLM believes that we all have mental health – and that anyone can suffer from mental ill health during the course of their lives.
Our lifestyle, as well as genetic, socio-economic and environmental factors, all have an impact on our mental health.
None of the six pillars of lifestyle medicine exists in isolation, and mental health is no exception. Indeed, there is a proven and clear link between all of the other five pillars and mental health – what we eat, how active we are, harmful substance reduction, sleep and healthy relationships.
Lifestyle Medicine also recognises that the social determinants of our health also have the potential to contribute to mental distress. Feelings of hopelessness, loss of culture, experiences of racism and other forms of prejudice and discrimination, poverty, inequality, poor quality housing and environment, chronic stress, and social injustice more generally, all contribute significantly to mental health problems in society. And action is needed to address these at every level if we are to reduce the mental health harm that they cause.
The causes of many modern-day mental health issues are complex and varied. Mental ill health is now a significant element of the global chronic disease burden. An estimated 264 million people around the world suffer from depression alone, which is the leading cause of disability globally (WHO).
Covid-19 has increased pressure on people’s mental health, with loneliness, isolation, grief and loss, all having a negative impact on our psychological wellbeing. In the early months of the pandemic, the Royal College of Psychiatrists predicted a ‘tsunami of mental illness’.
Lifestyle Medicine offers people prevention and treatment options to improve mental health.
It can help any one of us to maintain good mental health – whilste also supporting people who are suffering from mental illness – and improving the physical health of those with severe mental illness, who have an excess of cardiometabolic risk factors and a reduced life expectancy of 10-20 years as a result.
There is now a growing body of evidence to support the case for lifestyle interventions to improve mental health. For example, studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of a plant-based Mediterranean-style Diet (SMILES Trial, HELFIMED) and avoidance of processed foods for the treatment of depression. Others have demonstrated the extraordinary benefits of physical activity for our minds and our bodies.
Lifestyle Medicine’s approach also starts from the principle that the human body and mind are not separate. We believe what is good for the body, is good for the mind. BSLM believes that concepts such as the idea of mind – body dualism are outdated. The brain and the mind are not separate, but part of a whole mind – body system. Everything which that affects the body affects the mind and vice-versa.
Finally, BSLM welcomes the recent UK Government commitment to a No Health Without Mental Health strategy which is based on six objectives to improve mental health and wellbeing and improve outcomes for people with mental health problems, and the new draft NICE guidelines for depression emphasising an individualised approach with a range of psychosocial interventions, including group exercise.
Lifestyle Medicine approaches to mental health advocated by BSLM include …
Supporting people to find purpose and meaning in life
Encouraging people to access nature and the outdoors
The use of proven, non-pharmaceutical, ‘positive psychology’ interventions such as gratitude practices, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Top tips for improving mental health
Disconnect to Connect- reduce screen time and limit social media use, increase meaningful social connection
Practice Mindfulness, meditation, yoga or Tai Chi and spend time in nature to relax and reduce stress and anxiety
Avoid unhealthy habits – we often mistakenly think smoking and drinking alcohol will reduce stress but in the long-term these toxic substances harm our mental and physical health
Sleep well – getting good quality sleep for seven to nine hours each night can help to improve mental health
Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline while releasing positive “feel good” hormones such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Regular physical activity also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which has generative effects in the brain, improving cognition and memory and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease.
Keep a gratitude journal to nurture positive psychology and focus on the good things in life, and maintain meaningful social connections and be kind to others to improve health, happiness and well-being.