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Does One Have Control Over Their Mental Health?

By Kathy Hubbard

We all know that living a healthy lifestyle can prevent the onset or worsening of many diseases and disorders such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. We know that improving our life balance can help us recover from these and other conditions. And, we also know that mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health, but one in five of us will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in our lives.

The theme of 4Body4Mind as this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month led me to ask the question, “Do we have control over our mental health?” To answer this question I sat down with Natasha Splaine-Talbott, APRN, NP (advance practice registered nurse, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner) at Bonner General Behavioral Health.

Her answer was a succinct, “Some.” She said that lifestyle won’t necessarily stop the biology of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, but it can decrease the severity of symptoms.

“The continuum of health and wellness, body and mind are not two separate things. They’re connected,” Splaine-Talbott said. “Take care of our bodies and we’ll take care of our minds. It may result in prevention or a decrease in the burden of illness.”

She said that for some people improving their quality of life may alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Things like eating a healthier diet, having a robust support system and doing other activities like volunteering, being involved in church or getting active in a team sport can create a sense of belonging.

“Isolation is a symptom. Not getting out of the house is a behavior that feeds depression and anxiety. For example, a warning sign of a potential mental health difficulty is a child who suddenly doesn’t want to go to school, or shows avoidance behaviors,” she said.

I asked her how much social media plays a part in deteriorating social interfacing and whether that was detrimental to mental health.

“Social media can have positive uses, but can also precipitate anxiety. For instance, teens can be bullied online. Everyone should limit exposure, set healthy boundaries to technology and how you or your children are using it,” she said.

As a matter of fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics sets out a rather rigid set of recommendations for digital media use for children from infants through adolescence. The policy basically says that children under the age of 15 months should not be exposed to any digital media and children two to five years should be limited to no more than one hour per day of all forms of commercial media.

Splaine-Talbott said “Screen time affects circadian rhythms. Lying in bed watching TV and looking at the cellphone can cause or worsen insomnia. People should avoid screen time for one to two hours before bed. No one likes that, but they should do it.”

We talked about resiliency. How some people can experience a trauma and not develop mental health difficulties, while others suffer from issues such as PTSD, anxiety or chronic insomnia. We also talked about how there is currently a lot of research to try to identify if lifestyle changes or how more robust social and professional supports could improve resiliency.

Naturally, my next question was what holds people back from getting the help that they need?

“Stigma is one of the biggest barriers to people getting mental health treatment, and then there’s the lack of awareness of resources, or unfortunately, the lack of resources,” Splaine-Talbott said. She says the first stop can be your primary care provider. There are screening techniques that can be used to determine whether what you’re feeling is normal or not.

“If you wonder whether or not you should do something, do it,” she said. “Healthcare providers can screen for depression and anxiety. They can make treatment recommendations such as medication, therapy, or give a referral for further assessment.

“More often than not, treatment will entail suggestions for healthy behaviors and lifestyle modifications. Medications alone are not necessarily the answer. People tend to get better when they also engage in therapy and make healthy lifestyle changes.”

Bonner General Behavioral Health is located at 606 N. 3rd Avenue, Suite 102, call 208-265-1090 for an appointment.


Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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