Every family has to face some kind of personal health problem, Rhianna always reasoned. For some, it was cancer; for others, heart disease. In her family, it was mental illness. It went a long way back, too. Her grandfather’s brother had committed suicide after battling mental illness. Her own brother was a diagnosed schizophrenic and her father used to tell her she would eventually be admitted into a mental hospital herself—as he had been.
Needless to say, Rihanna had anxi- ety about mental illness. She read everything she could to learn how to prevent it, while continually worrying that her children might be afflicted the same way her brother or father were. There is more than one factor that infuences the health of the mind. Rihanna learnt this as one member of the family and then another experienced some form of mental illness. At times, she had also experi- enced concerning symptoms.
In spite of some frightening epi- sodes, Rihanna came to realise that just as there are differing degrees of mental illness, there are a variety of protocols that can make a significant difference to one’s mental health.
Good Mental Health
Neurochemicals have been found to play a role in brain health. Defi- ciencies in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and y-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are often linked with depression and associated mental health disorders. Restoring levels of neurotransmitters through nutritional supplementation can positively affect mental health.
Intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with improved outcomes in bipolar disorder, depression, post- partum depression and dementia. Omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in linseeds, chia seeds and walnuts) need to be incorporated into the daily diet. Other nutrients such as vitamins C and folate (B9) are also imperative for optimum brain health.
Sunlight and physical activity have a measurably corrective effect on mood to the degree that they bear comparison to medication. Dehy- dration, an unsuspected cause of mental instability recently proven through studies, along with sleep insufficiency, known also to affect mood, can be easily corrected for improved mental health.
Spirituality and the brain
Not always easily quantified, although equally noteworthy, is the role of personal spirituality to men- tal health. A well-balanced mind is influenced by one’s thought process- es, which are shaped by deeply held foundational beliefs.
According to psychiatrist Dr Tim Jennings, however, not all spiritual experiences are helpful. He defines unhealthy spirituality as “undermin- ing and damaging the ability to rea- son by inciting fear, and promoting emotional experience over evidence and truth. Thinking is shut down and prejudice results. Anything down that unhealthy path can be the cause of some mental health problems.”
He cites unresolved guilt and grudge-holding as leading to inflam- matory cascades and worsening mental health outcomes. Jennings also says that distorted concepts of God can damage the mind. On the other hand, healthy spirituality is based on truth, love and freedom. Healthy spirituality, says Jennings, calms fear circuitry and reduces inflammation.
Jennings tells the story of Sergeant Jones, who prior to going into com- bat, dedicated his tank to God by anointing it with oil! When he was making final preparations for battle, his commanding officer commanded him to give up his radio and he also found the night-vision capability of his tank was not working. Realising he would be going into battle “blind” and “deaf,” Jones declined to participate. His request was denied and he was told that his tank would be useful to draw enemy fire from the other forces.
After the conflict, Jones felt God had abandoned him and he plunged into depression. He wasn’t able to work until, finally, he came to see Jennings. In consultation, Jones revealed that no-one in his tank had suffered either fatality or injury. Jen- nings likened what had occurred on the battlefield to the experience of the biblical Daniel in the lions’ den (the prophet Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den but was protected by God and survived. See Daniel 6).
God designed our minds to work in a certain order and He created us with the capability to reason and draw conclusions. The Bible says, “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:5), but information alone is not enough.
In Jones’ case, he had evaluated his experience through emotions rather than through the outcome and evidence. But through working with Jennings, Jones was able to develop a different outlook, draw a different conclusion, overcome his depression and was soon back at work.
Conscience, reason and will
The conscience is the part of the mind most sensitive to God, but can be faulty just like actual sight. That is why conscience and reason must be engaged together. On top of that, the use of our will is also crucial to healthy outcomes. An individual may be convinced by reason and conscience of what is good and right but unless the will is engaged, there is no benefit.
Jennings emphasises that when we choose to go against good judge- ment, the mind is damaged. A clas- sic case is that of a smoker who is convinced that smoking is harmful but fails to make a decision to quit and continues the health-damaging habit.
King Saul, a biblical character early in the history of the nation of Israel, illustrates the effect on the mind in the face of conscious wrongdoing. When he was made king, God renewed his mind and “changed Saul’s heart” (1 Samuel 10:9). Saul’s life immediately after this was marked by humility and wisdom and the nation prospered amidst its enemies.
A comparatively short time later, God gave Saul specific instructions but Saul carried out his own modi- fied version of what God had said, resulting in God’s disapproval (1 Samuel 13:8–14; 15:1–15). Soon thereafter, there was such an obvi- ous decline in the king’s mental health that he was advised to find a musician who could soothe away his demons. From that time on, Saul’s reign was marked by irration- al decisions and the resultant loss of respect by his subjects. Finally, critically wounded after a doomed battle with the Philistines, he ended his troubled life through suicide (chapter 31).
Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was another man who knowingly vio- lated God’s law and was driven to suicide by the unresolved guilt that followed (Matthew 27:3–5).
t is important to realise that a diseased mind is not evidence of God’s disapproval or divine retribution— and it’s not even a strange phenom- ena. Due to our first parents’ act of disobedience, unbalanced minds have become the default setting of all of humanity and a primary pur- pose of Christ’s mission on earth was to bring healing to our minds.
In John 17:3 , Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Life eternal references optimum health. What Jesus is teaching is that the true knowledge of God is central to our wellbeing and genuine mental health.
Studies have shown that when people contemplated a trustworthy and loving God, there were measur- able positive outcomes in the brain, and improved memory, blood pres- sure and stress hormone levels. Con- versely, when concepts of a vengeful and retributive God are contemplat- ed, these same outcomes fail to be realised.
A Healthy Toolbox
We are all susceptible to mental health issues, whether there is a fam- ily history of it or not. Extraordinary stress can cause anyone to have men- tal health challenges. We may not
be able to alter genetic or biological defects, but together with profes- sional help, good lifestyle choices and attention to the nutritional needs of the brain, we can develop a healthy form of spirituality that pro- vides resilience, helping us to reduce the effects of mental illness.
Habits for peak mental health
- Have adequate sleep.
- Maintain proper hydration. Bear in mind sugar is a dehydrator and can have a negative effect on the mind.
- Consume essential fatty acids either through foods or supplements.
- Take regular exercise.
There will always be moments in our lives that are deeply trying and test our limits. At times like this, we need help that only God can provide. The knowledge of God as a tender Father, during times of stress and crisis, can bring peace and calm. And remember that God can also send help through professionals.