Mental health disorders account for nearly 25 per cent of diseases in the Cayman Islands, the health minister told an large audience attending a mental health seminar last week.
Minister Mark Scotland said Cayman had its “fair share” of mental health issues and that while people tend to spend more time concentrating on physical wellbeing, they do so to the detriment of their mental wellbeing, ignoring that mental health has an impact on their physical health.
“Too often, we forget that conventional wisdom recommends developing a sound mind in a sound body. Sadly, whether out of ignorance, apathy or for some other reason, mentally impaired persons often fall through the proverbial cracks and suffer the consequences,” said the minister.
“Many times their behavioural issues alienate them even from their loved ones. We still have some ways to go in the management and treatment of mentally unwell here in the Cayman Islands.”
He added that society had to erase the social stigma of seeking help for mental disorders.
A mental health task force has helped draw up amended legislation for the Mental Health Law, which was first enacted in 1979, the health minister said. The legislation is slated to be tabled in the Legislative Assembly in its next session in March.
Mr. Scotland was speaking at a seminar titled “Taking control of mental health”, which featured research psychologist Dr. Bonnie Kaplan, who has carried out extensive research over several years on the impact of nutrition on health, including medical health. The seminar was hosted by Cayman’s Making a Difference Foundation.
Dr. Kaplan is a professor at the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Calgary and a clinical scientist in the Behavioural Research Unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Centre in Canada.
As part of her presentation, she blew holes through a number of myths relating to diet, including “If you eat normally, you’ll get enough nutrients,” by pointing out that the phrases “normally” and “enough” mean entirely different things to different people.
And while many may think that getting the RDA, or recommended daily allowance, of a vitamin or mineral is “enough” each day, that recommended amount is just enough to ensure that a person does not become so deficient of that nutrient to fall ill. For example, the RDA for vitamin C is only enough to ensure that a person does not get scurvy, but it is not the optimum amount of vitamin C a person should be getting each day, she said. “Is the absence of scurvy your goal?,” she asked the audience. “I think not.”
She gave the example of a lack of copper in a person’s diet, citing lab results that show that rats that are deprived of copper are “aggressive and nasty”.
Studies have shown that those who eat processed, Western diets are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, compared to those who eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods.
Don’t forget the minerals
Dr. Kaplan spoke of a study she and a colleague carried out of 97 people with mild mental health issues and looked at seven minerals that were in their diet.
“If anything, it’s the dietary minerals that are almost more important in terms of ensuring the intake for mental health than vitamins. We always talk about getting your vitamins, but don’t forget the minerals. If you’re looking at buying a multivitamin off the shelf, look at the minerals,” she said.
She also argued that the perception that psychiatric health symptoms are caused by a chemical imbalance is not necessarily true and there has been ancient and more recent historical indications that diet impacts mood and brain function. Even Hipprocates, the father of medicine, made it quite clear when he said: “Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food,” she quoted.
“Our brains are only about 2 per cent of our body weight... but they account for at least 20, if not higher, percentage of our metabolic demands. That means that when you’re eating a metabolising food, your brain is needing a disproportionate amount of the nutrients,” she said.
Using supplements to treat people with certain mental disorders is vastly cheaper than institutional care, the doctor said. Dr. Kaplan cited a study on a young patient called Andrew whose six-month treatment in a mood and disorder facility cost $158,829, but whose broad spectrum supplement treatment - which alleviated many of his more extreme symptoms of hallucinations, disrupted sleep and anxiety - cost $3,000 over six months.
Dr. Kaplan delivered within her presentation the results of research on broad spectrum nutrient supplements, pointing out that the companies that produce the supplements - Daily Essential Nutrients do not pay for the research and that she has no commercial interest in the products.
For more information about Making a Difference Foundation, contact Darrell Dacres at 928-1503.