Functional, Integrative Whole Health Approach to Mental Illness

by Kay Jennings, BSN, MHSA, MSN, PHMNP-BC, DPSc

photo-1474314881477-04c4aac40a0e UNSPLASHRecently, I was treating a young man with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.  He had been in the Mental Health and Medicaid system since a teenager.  He was a new patient to me so I had ordered extensive blood work to assist me with identifying other underlying conditions that could be affecting his mood.  We reviewed the lab results together and several issues came up that could potentially shorten the quality and length of his life.  We discussed the interventions together and the life style changes that he could make.  At the end of the appointment he stated:  “Don’t forget that I have a mental illness”.  In his many years of treatment, he had never had a Mental Health practitioner actually look at his physical health.

According to The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, many individuals seeking behavioral health care also have physical conditions that require medical attention.

A 2006 report from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors cited research showing that adults with serious mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population.  The diseases that are killing this group as well as Americans in general are preventable conditions:  Cardiovascular Diseases, Obesity and Diabetes.  These are conditions that I see daily in my practice and they are easily reversed by utilizing life style interventions consisting of diet, exercise, reducing toxins, reducing stressors, managing hormones and cleaning up the gut.

In an effort to help reverse these outcomes I have been trained in Functional Integrative Medicine and Psychiatry.  Both of these specialties utilize the concept of root cause of diseases and look to the interconnectedness of the brain and the body.

A typical approach, in Functional Psychiatry, is to establish a partnership with the client. This is critical to recovery and maximal whole health.  Then the appropriate diagnostic labs are ordered.

Common findings and related symptoms identified by proper lab tests, that I have seen in my practice, are lipid problems, poor blood sugar regulation, adrenal stressors, hormonal imbalances, poor oxygenation of brain, poor utilization of nutrients, nutritional deficiencies, gluten sensitivity and inflammation in the body and brain.  Once this screening is complete, the lifestyle interventions that are needed for recovery are discussed.

In my practice, a prescription for Whole Health consists of eating a mainly whole foods diet, enrollment in the nutritional education, shopping and cooking classes, exercise evaluations and trainers to supervise exercise, all of which are offered by our Mental Health Center, Winds of Change.

Typically, a patient in my practice will present with Vitamin D deficiency, thyroid problems (often times undiagnosed Hashimoto’s), overweight or obesity issues, lipid problems and blood sugar regulation problems.  Their diet will consist of processed refined foods, they get little proper interval or resistance exercise, and they have modifiable risks factors such as smoking or drinking soda excessively.  Once they receive a written Rx for Wellness, they quickly enroll in the program and the results have been amazing.  Many, if not all of their symptoms improve, weight is lost and they have a better quality of life.

By improving the health of this population, the cost burden, to us as a society, is reduced.  More importantly, the quality of life for people suffering from Severe Disabling Mental Illness is greatly improved.

Through this functional, integrative whole health approach, I have seen lives dramatically changed daily. I am so inspired by the power of simple lifestyle interventions that I have committed my professional life to sharing this message of hope.