Mental complaints are still largely treated with talk therapy. But what if mental complaints were approached and addressed more physiologically? That’s what some 50 healthcare professionals discussed in late November during the symposium ‘Mind, brain & body: mental health through a physiological approach’. The event was organized by the Healthy010 satellite Mentally Healthy.
‘Gosh, if only my consultation room had talked about lifestyle, the importance of exercise and the bad of eating too much sugar… I probably would have recovered from my depression sooner.Good that this is being talked about this afternoon!So opens the symposium in the Ridderzaal of the Sparta Stadium by the experience expert chairman of the day Sophie Schmeets of Maskerclass.The participants deal with (the treatment of) mental problems in their work. They include healthcare professionals, researchers, entrepreneurs and people working in the social domain and education.
The attendees listen with interest to Fabienne Melcherts’ kickoff, who immediately asks them to participate in a breathing exercise. It fits perfectly with her story about the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. And the effect of movement and breathing on mental health. Fabienne is a psychologist with BioCheck, which is co-hosting the afternoon. BioCheck is a recovery and vitality center specializing in prevention and recovery from burnout, chronic fatigue and stress-related complaints. BioCheck recently added the BioPsychology branch, for which Fabienne is responsible. She herself struggled with burnout 9 years ago, which she overcame mainly through exercise.
Body and mind too often separated
‘Body and mind are still too often separated,’ Fabienne says. If you go to the doctor with a shoulder complaint, they often don’t ask what’s going on at home. With mental complaints you are referred to the mental health clinic without being physically put to work. At BioPsychology, we actually combine mind and body. We offer psychological counseling, supported by real-time data through HRV measurements (heart rate variability, ed.), breathing therapy, (psycho)physiological education and endurance training. For many people, the little engine stays on, even when they sit quietly on the couch thinking they are relaxing during a Netflix series. The body remains active; the HRV is low instead of high. This means the “gas pedal” of the autonomic nervous system is depressed. Those people do not recover sufficiently at rest and burn themselves out. In our opinion, mental recovery is best achieved through a comprehensive approach. In which we also work on improving physical load capacity and recovery capability.’
Connection between gut and brain
That view is shared by Dr. Anne Dekker. She is a lifestyle doctor, having previously been a general practitioner for many years. ‘Actually, every general practitioner should be a lifestyle doctor,’ she says. In her presentation, Anne talks mainly about the gut-brain axis, the connection between gut and psyche. ‘There are many proverbs that talk about that, such as “doing something on gut instinct.” Yet we seem to forget that connection a bit, while in general you can say that gut health has a great influence on your psyche. And that this therefore deserves extra attention when treating psychological complaints.’
Anne’s story is relatively unknown to many attendees, but is described as wildly interesting. It is supported by theoretical information about the workings of the nervous system, the microbiome, neurotransmitters and the immune system. The lifestyle doctor concludes with concrete tips on influencing your gut health. Such as: don’t eat too much, eat mostly plant-based and as little sugar as possible, keep moving and make sure you relax enough. “Because,” Anne says, “taking care of your gut health is taking care of your brain. She turns directly to those present: ‘Start working on this yourself; only then will you be able to convey it properly to the people you help.’
Society as a team
After an energizer, participants are ready for the third speaker.That’s Dr. Lea Jabbarian, researcher and GZ psychologist at Next JMP & MiSi NeuroPsy.She too begins with a breathing exercise, inviting everyone to look at themselves and the world from a distance.”You need that distance to reflect,” Lea explains.Using the bio-psycho-social model, she explains more about the balance between body & senses, performance, contact and fantasy & future.’All these factors are co-determinants of health, illness and healing,’ Lea states, ‘We as professionals need to promote wellness rather than reduce illness.In doing so, I call for collective solidarity. As a society, we are a team, in which we must help those who are struggling mentally.’Stimulating discussions
Lea repeats that message during the closing panel discussion (pictured), in response to the question, “Can you make people with mental problems responsible for their own physical health?It is suggested from the audience that the patient is always ultimately responsible.It is countered that people with mental problems need more information about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.’Because with many people this is unknown.’People who are illiterate or living in poverty are also pointed out. ‘They want to, but are often unable to exercise enough due to various circumstances.’
Mental health is alive
This makes it clear that the subject of mental health is alive and well in the city. This was also noticed by Karin Oppelland, network director at Radar, an organization that stands for equal treatment and an inclusive society.Today I discussed with several organizations how we can work together even more preventively.In our case when it comes to people who have mental problems because of discrimination.Yes, it was a valuable afternoon!’
Els van Beek, social broker health at welfare organization SOL in Feijenoord, shares that opinion.’I obviously knew that body and mind are one and that exercise can help with mental complaints.That insight has been refreshed, but I have also gained new insights. I can definitely use that in my daily work. In any case, I now walk more often with my clients.
The symposia on mental health are intended for entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, researchers and people from the field in the social domain and education working on mental health in Rotterdam.The goal is to inspire each other, exchange knowledge and network.The symposium ‘Mind, brain & body: mental health through a physiological approach’ was organized by Gezond010 in collaboration with BioCheck.