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Lifestyle Medicine for the Treatment of Mental Health


 

DeNean Hardman

Saybrook University

COA5700 Foundations of Lifestyle Medicine

Dr. Betsy Barrett

November 26, 2022


 

Abstract

 

Lifestyle Medicine is a treatment modality for coaches to use when working with their clients and this can be used for a variety of different types of clientele. Research presented in this paper will provide evidence that supports the use of this treatment approach by coaches who are working with clients who suffer from mental health-related ailments. Types of treatment that can be used for these clients will be discussed as well as a proposition being made to encourage the use of this modality.

            Keywords: lifestyle medicine, mental health, treatment approaches, coaching

 


 

Lifestyle Medicine for the Treatment of Mental Health

 

           

Within the United States, approximately fifty million adults suffer from mental health-related disorders, and a great percentage of these individuals do not receive treatment (Abascal et al., 2022). The scope of what is included in the category of mental health-related disorders is vast and includes such diagnoses as anxiety or depression. Even with the diagnoses of anxiety and depression, there is a spectrum of symptoms and behaviors that different individuals may experience. Abascal et al. (2022) broke down mental health into 2 separate categories which were mental illness and behavioral health. Mental illness was defined as psychological dysfunctions that create atypical responses to stimuli, and behavioral health was defined as the treatment for addressing mental health-related needs (Abascal et al., 2022). According to Merlo and Vela (2022), lifestyle medicine is a treatment approach that is equipped to address the needs of individuals suffering from mental health-related issues because it addresses the whole person and lifestyle factors.


What is Lifestyle Medicine?


According to Sagner et al. (2014), Lifestyle Medicine is an evidence-based approach to medicine that encompasses lifestyle changes such as environmental, social, physical, nutritional, and stress management. Lifestyle Medicine is an interdisciplinary type of internal medicine that encompasses the biological, environmental, psychosocial, and neuroscience fields of health (Sagner et al., 2014).  There are many different intervention techniques that are utilized in lifestyle medicine, 2 initial interventions that are key and are often included in this treatment approach are counseling and health screenings (Sagner et al., 2014). Counseling is often used in order to encourage and support behavioral modification changes in an individual’s lifestyle, and health screenings are done to determine where changes may need to be made for the physical and emotional body (Sagner et al., 2014).


Phillips et al. (2020) described Lifestyle Medicine as a growing field with a focus on addressing behavioral needs that affect one’s health which often contribute to chronic disease and premature death. Increased healthcare costs are also a byproduct of not addressing the health needs of individuals (Phillips et al., 2020). Lifestyle medicine consists of coaching patients who wish to address these health-related issues in their life, with a desire to create long-lasting positive changes. Examples of these health-related changes are typically within the areas of forming and sustaining healthy relationships, increased physical activity, ways of healthy eating, improved sleep, and management of stress.


Addressing Mental Health with a Lifestyle Medicine Approach


Chu et al. (2022) identified that there is a correlation between lifestyle factors and mental health-related issues. Unhealthy behaviors such as decreased levels of activity, imbalanced diet, and poor sleep are directly related to symptoms of depression (Chu et al., 2022). Changing these negative behavioral patterns, improve one’s emotional state, or when the emotional state is improved, there will be a decrease in these negative behavioral patterns. Symptoms of depression are directly related to mental health disorders, either being a cause of the mental health issues or a result of having them.


Treatments of Mental Health with Lifestyle Medicine


One of the many mental health disorders is the mental health diagnosis of depression. Leung et al. (2020) described the symptoms of depression to include restlessness, change in appetite, increased feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, anxiety, loss of energy, and/or change in appetite. For some, depression may even manifest as self-harm or suicidal ideation (Leung et al., 2020). By way of the description provided by Leung et al. (2020), it is evident how the use of Lifestyle Medicine may be a beneficial approach to treating depression and other mental health disorders.   

Many individuals who suffer from mental health disorders will receive treatment initially from their primary care physician or through the specialty practice of behavioral health, with behavioral health focusing on prevention, treatment, and maintenance (Merlo & Veka, 2021). Merlo & Veka (2021) stated that Lifestyle Medicine places a focus on not only the treatment of the disease but also its prevention. Clinicians within this practice will utilize evidence-based approaches to assist their patients in making lifestyle changes to either prevent or reduce their health-related ailments (Merlo & Veka, 2021).


There are many Lifestyle Medicine treatment techniques that may be utilized by a Lifestyle Medicine practitioner, 2 treatment modalities selected address the physical body of the client. Kazlausky Esquivel (2022) makes the argument for the use of probiotics when treating mental health from a Lifestyle Medicine perspective. It has been argued that an individual’s gut is actually their brain, and probiotics are designed to work with the human digestive system. Kazlausky Esquivel (2022) stated that it is the digestive system that signals the nervous system, therefore, balance within the digestive system is imperative for proper nervous system functioning. Another Lifestyle Medicine treatment approach is the use of acupuncture.


Wild et al. (2019) defined acupuncture as a traditional Chinese medicine modality that has been around for centuries, being utilized for the treatment of many different disorders including treating mental health or stress-related disorders. The use of acupuncture tends to be sought for mental health due to the belief that it has the ability to alleviate symptoms of depression and help the individual improve their own quality of life (Gao et al., 2019). Gao et al. (2019) stated that acupuncture is an effective treatment for emotional, spiritual, and psychological disorders. Acupuncture is also known to be a safe treatment approach that tends to be well-tolerated by its participants (Muthmainah & Nurwati, 2016).


Proposal for Lifestyle Medicine to Treat Mental Health

In proposing the utilization of Lifestyle Medicine for the treatment of mental health, it is important to remain client-centered and tailor treatment approaches to the different needs of each individual client. What may work in treatment for one individual suffering from mental health issues, may not be the best approach for another individual. Exploring what has worked for the client, what has not worked, and what the client would like to change. Merlo & Vela (2021) suggest that practitioners take into account the framework of psychology and psychiatry in order to ensure that an evidenced-based approach is being utilized when addressing mental health. This paper also highlights the incorporation of probiotics for the support of digestive health, and the use of acupuncture for spiritual, emotional, and physical health.


Abascal et al. (2022) highlighted key behavioral and nutritional patterns that have a direct impact on an individual’s life and discussed how a few modifications made by a Lifestyle Medicine client may improve their mental health. Examples that were provided were; utilizing the Mediterranean diet to reduce symptoms of depression, decreasing the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs, and increasing physical activity also improves mental health (Abascal et al., 2022). Following the research shared by Abascal et al. (2022), arguments can be made that the Lifestyle Medicine modality has the potential to provide great benefits to its clients with even minimal changes in their behaviors. It is imperative that clients are in agreement with their coaches to make these changes and be ready to incorporate these changes into their life (Abascal et al., 2022).


Professional Application


Sagner et al. (2014) pointed out how the media has the ability to send mixed messages to clients about what Lifestyle Medicine really is. When beginning this treatment approach, it is important for the coach to know that they and their client are on the same page regarding the treatment that they are embarking on. In order to be successful in integrating Lifestyle Medicine techniques into the coaching practice when working with individuals who suffer from mental health-related issues, I believe that a commitment from the client to be a part of this journey is necessary. Depending on the seriousness of the mental health-related issues, a team approach with the client’s psychologist or psychiatrist may be critical to ensure that the work being conducted during coaching will not have a negative impact on the care provided by the licensed mental health provider.


The suggested techniques will differ for each client, remaining client-focused, and meeting the client where they are. When an individual is suffering from a mental illness, like a depressive disorder, it is important to examine their daily routines. Key points in the treatment plan would include: substances the client is regularly consuming (medications, food, alcohol, or drugs), the amount of exercise or physical movement they are engaging in, the type of therapeutic techniques they are already involved in, and most importantly, their desire to change. The commitment and dedication from the client will be the key to their success in treatment and for them to experience long-term positive changes in the overall improvement of their life. Sagner et al. (2014) stated that there are many individuals who engage in unhealthy lifestyles, yet regularly see their primary doctors, and still lack the desire to change their behaviors. The client must be committed to change in order for treatment to be successful, and the coach must remain supportive of the needs of the client.

 


References


Abascal, Vela, A., Sugden, S., Kohlenberg, S., Hirschberg, A., Young, A., Lane, K., & Merlo, G. (2022). Incorporating Mental Health Into Lifestyle Medicine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine16(5), 570–576. https://doi.org/10.1177/15598276221084250


Chu, L. W. P., Lau, R. W. M., & Mak, I. W. F. (2022). Evidence‐based lifestyle medicine interventions to enhance the mental health of law enforcers in Hong Kong: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Behavioral Sciences & the Law.


Cuijpers. (2018). The Challenges of Improving Treatments for Depression. JAMA : the Journal of the American Medical Association320(24), 2529–2530. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.17824


Gao, Zheng, Q., Hou, T., Luo, Y., Shi, Y., & Li, Y. (2019). Acupuncture for depression: An overview of systematic reviews. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 28, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eujim.2019.03.009


Kazlausky Esquivel. (2022). Probiotics for Mental Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Trials. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine16(1), 21–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/15598276211049178


Leung, Cheung, M., Hou, L., Webb, A. E., Chen, X., & Hune, N. (2020). Depression Reduction Among Acupuncture Patients in an Interprofessional Study. Research on Social Work Practice, 30(3), 298–305. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049731519863112


Merlo, & Vela, A. (2021). Applying Psychiatry and Psychology Principles to Lifestyle Approaches for Mental and Behavioral Health. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 155982762110234–. https://doi.org/10.1177/15598276211023415


Muthmainah, & Nurwati, I. (2016). Acupuncture for Depression: The Mechanism Underlying Its Therapeutic Effect. Medical Acupuncture28(6), 31–307. https://doi.org/10.1089/acu.2016.1180


Phillips, E. M., Frates, E. P., & Park, D. J. (2020). Lifestyle medicine. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics31(4), 515-526.


Sagner, M., Katz, D., Egger, G., Lianov, L., Schulz, K.-H., Braman, M., Behbod, B., Phillips, E., Dysinger, W., & Ornish, D. (2014). Lifestyle medicine potential for reversing a world of chronic disease epidemics: from cell to communityInternational Journal of Clinical Practice68(11), 1289–1292. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcp.12509


Wild, Brenner, J., Joos, S., Samstag, Y., Buckert, M., & Valentini, J. (2020). Acupuncture in persons with an increased stress level—Results from a randomized-controlled pilot trial. PloS One, 15(7), e0236004–e0236004. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0236004

 

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