Nutrition Is the Foundation of Resilience

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One of the key messages of our book THE BETTER BRAIN is that nutrition is the foundation of resilience. Very often we hear people say that we live in such stressful times, which must be why 20% of our population is now diagnosed with a mental disorder (in contrast to <3% in 1960). This explanation misses the mark, in our opinion. Our recent ancestors lived with the Great Depression and two World Wars, without antibiotics, without anaesthetics, and yes — even through a pandemic. Is our life really more stressful….or.…is our resilience lower?

Our current dietary intake. Recent studies show that we are not consuming as healthy a diet as our ancestors did. For example, in the last 50 years people in western societies have cut their intake of minerals and vitamins (which we will call “micronutrients”) by more than 50%! Why would anyone choose to do that?

We don’t think it is a conscious choice — it’s just that people have become used to consuming primarily ultra-processed food (UPF) — stuff that sort of looks like food but is mainly a chemical mix of things like fats, simple carbs (sugar), and salt. The problem is that these packaged items have very few minerals or vitamins. Would that matter to our brain health? YES! For our brains to work at their best, they need more than 30 micronutrients every minute of every single day of our lives. And UPFs cannot provide them.

How we handle stress. One underlying premise of the book is that people do not change their behavior just because they are told “it will be good for you.” So a high priority of the first few chapters is to explain why we all should avoid UPFs and increase our intake of whole foods, and how to do that inexpensively. We also provide a summary of the evidence that proves that the recent move toward relying on UPFs likely accounts for some of the reduced resilience and increased mental health problems. We support this argument in many ways in the book, and here we will focus on just one: nutritional treatment of post-trauma stress.

Post-trauma stress. Disasters, both natural (e.g., earthquakes, floods) and human-made (e.g., terrorism, mass shootings) affect communities worldwide, often causing immense suffering and long-term psychological effects. Julia lives and works in Christchurch, New Zealand, which has had its fair share of traumas, but then has also provided her with the opportunity to study the effect of nutrients on our resilience.

For example, on February 22nd 2011, Christchurch experienced a devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed the city centre. But as awful as it was, this trauma gave her Mental Health and Nutrition Lab at the University of Canterbury the chance to learn whether micronutrients could help people recover, not from the physical injuries, but from the psychological ones.

Here’s the rationale for exploring that question. When we are under high stress, even those of us who avoid UPFs often reach for “comfort” foods (like cookies, donuts) which are usually calorie-rich but nutrient-poor. But what is our brain simultaneously doing during that high stress? At such times, our  natural alarm response system responsible for fight or flight is activated. Chemicals like adrenalin and cortisol are released, enabling us to get to safety, shut down non-essential functions, and make sure the muscles we need for flight or flight get activated. Unfortunately, over extended periods of time, the alarm system can go into over-drive, and this is one factor that can lead to re-experiencing memories, having flashbacks, being hypervigilant and on edge all the time, feeling anxious and panicky when reminded of the traumatic event. Inevitably, sleep disturbance and nightmares become common.

But while this high stress is occurring, and your alarm systems are being activated, your brain and body use a triage system to divert nutrients to the urgent, acute needs of fight or flight. In other words, so many ongoing functions may be relatively neglected — such as regulating mood, growth, DNA repair, and clarity of cognition.

Making neurotransmitters (like dopamine or serotonin) and hormones (like cortisol) requires micronutrients, which are numerous kinds of vitamins and minerals, like zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron, and all the B vitamins, vitamin C. This is a well-established scientific fact. If your body is depleted of these nutrients, then either it won’t have sufficient nutrients to make these essential chemicals, or it will redirect all resources to the fight-flight response (as it is so vital for survival) and there won’t be much left for ensuring optimal brain function to do things like concentrate, regulate moods and sleep.

Earthquakes and a flood. Perhaps it makes sense now that as micronutrients get depleted at a high rate during times of stress, we need to replenish them in greater quantity from our food (and perhaps other sources). Julie studied this following the Christchurch earthquakes and with Bonnie during the Southern Alberta flood, and we want people to be aware of it during the pandemic. And by the way, during two of our studies, we also found that B vitamins in particular can be helpful in reducing stress.

Mass shooting. And then another event happened. In 2019, a gunman walked into two mosques in Christchurch and killed 51 people while wounding 40 others. Once again that city and its people were dealing with huge trauma. As an application of translational science, Julia’s research lab offered donated nutrients to anyone who was a survivor of the shootings and monitored their symptoms as both an ethical and standard action for good clinical care.

Within weeks, they were clinically monitoring 26 people who had come forward, and they saw the exact same treatment effect that both of us had seen after the earthquakes and the flood. Not everyone, but many people got better. These clinical observations have just been published in an APA journal, International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation.

Here are a few of the details from the mosque massacre treatment. Before starting the treatment, 77 percent of those original 26 participants met or exceeded a cut-off score defining probable PTSD. After an average of five weeks, this rate dropped to 23 percent. In other words, of all the people who likely had PTSD, almost three quarters showed substantial and clinically significant improvement after about a month of micronutrient treatment. Stress reduced into the normal nonclinical range, similar to the controlled research after the earthquakes and a flood:

Graph of post-disaster data: Notice that the three groups of people who received a broad-spectrum formula of minerals and vitamins reduced their stress into the normal range in just 4-6 weeks. In contrast, in the two groups who did not receive the broad-spectrum micronutrients, the reported stress remained in the elevated range.

Summary of the post-trauma studies. The conclusion we draw from this line of post-disaster research is that providing micronutrients to survivors appears to reduce psychological distress to a clinically significant degree. These three different examples of traumatic events illustrate the powerful effect nutrients can have in recovery and improving resilience. Could these results apply to challenges associated with climate change and pandemics? We think so. Anything that can improve our resilience to coping with ongoing stressful events has to be a good thing to know about.

Given ease of use and large effect sizes, this evidence supports the routine focus on eating nutrient dense food and in some cases, additional micronutrients as supplements for disaster survivors as part of governmental response.

Obstacles. The road to convincing governments to help people with micronutrients has been quite the challenge. For instance, Julia wrote up a description published in the New Zealand Medical Journal last year, describing how, after the mosque attacks, they faced huge difficulties in disseminating the results of the earthquake and flood research, and the barriers that largely prevented it being translated into practice. She observed an inflexible health system unable to implement evidence-based research, and ethics committees unable to respond quickly in order to facilitate research in the immediate disaster aftermath, when distress and stress is at its height.

In Alberta, Bonnie’s experience was similar. Following the publication of the earthquake and flood results, there was a massive forest fire in Northern Alberta in 2016. More than 90,000 people had to leave their homes in and around Fort McMurray. Many lived in university dormitories sprinkled around the province and were not permitted to return to their homes for several months. Bonnie approached various officials in government and in the provincial health care system, asking that people be given micronutrients to mitigate the psychological impact of the trauma. Even though she was able to base her proposal on local, provincial data, all her suggestions were rejected — even the idea of just mentioning to people that they might want to take an inexpensive B complex after breakfast every day.

Broader future implications. It’s important to understand that the post-trauma studies described here are supported by other studies from the UK, Belgium, South Africa etc, all of which showed that nutritional supplementation can enhance resilience. This should not surprise the readers here, as many of you already know the truth of what we said in our first sentence: nutrition is the foundation of resilience.

In THE BETTER BRAIN we conclude with a chapter called “A vision for a happier, healthier tomorrow.” We emphasize food first as the way in which we should improve our resilience. We lay out a three-step approach to improving mental health resilience which acknowledges that we are not all the same, that individual differences will influence efficacy of different treatments, and there is a place in the “mental health treatment tool box” for all the evidence-based treatments: these include whole-foods diets, micronutrients, counselling, family therapy, and medication. And we argue that nutrition ought to come first, because it provides the foundation for all the others.

The proposed title for our book was Hidden Brain Hunger before being changed to The Better Brain. We think this aptly describe the modern brain today.

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

70 COMMENTS

  1. Thankyou for such a good read.
    I have been on high dose vitamins for over a decade, mostly the B vitamins. B vitamins give me vivid, prophetic dreams which is why I take them.
    Nothing I eat stops my schizophrenia alas, but I am going to buy a wok soon, having never cooked with one. Sizzle…sizzle…spit…pop!!!

  2. Such a great article- looking forward to the book. Research does support improved outcomes with better self care, nutritional choices, and sleep.
    Nothing about captivity is healthy. The side effects of most pharmaceuticals used long-term do not lead to health.
    Disability, early death, loss of self-ownership are not good outcomes.
    The hope of a better way that promotes resilience and maximizes wellness is so refreshing.
    Such appealing food for thought!

  3. I don’t doubt the veracity of all that’s been presented here. But I do envy the people who are able to juggle long work hours, cook healthy meals, socialize with friends and family and also get enough sleep. I feel like I’m lacking some essential quality that allows the normals to fully participate in modern life where I fall apart trying to do all this stuff. I’m struggling to see the point some days lately.

      • Nutrition surveys and food consumption data suggests that around 10% of Americans eat the minimum recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day. It’s abnormal to have a healthy lifestyle in most economically advanced nations. Though it’s probably also normal to vastly overestimated how healthy ones lifestyle is. I think one trait that might be more prevalent amongst people who get a psych label is that they for what ever reason don’t hide and deny their distress as much as others. (I remember seeing a survey where most of people had contemplated suicide).

        In Europe where there is less poverty, economic insecurity, and work weeks are shorter, people live longer, eat healthier, and spend more time soothing the soul with joyful activities compared to America. One reason for this is because America has accepted more of the psych dogma that people’s problems are caused by an inherent defect instead of being caused by environmental and social factors. Eating healthy is more likely to be blamed as a personal problem of “control” in America and therefore the idea that people would eat healthier if they had a better environment isn’t adequately considered. Europeans eat healthier because their society recognizes that in order to take care of your health you need the time and social support to do so.

        • These are good points. However, I don’t totally share your basic assumptions nor thus your conclusions.

          People’s problems are not caused by an inherent defect (at least not a genetic or biological one) but neither are they really caused by environmental or social factors. Yet if environmental or social factors are too extreme, more mental and emotional problems will trigger.

          So improving environmental factors is therapeutic, but does not handle root cause. How this is best done is open to discussion. The U.S. used to be better at this than it is now, though there were always factors present in the U.S. that weren’t significant in most of Europe.

          I don’t have hard data about Europe, but I share the perception that they are a bit more easy-going than Americans and that their welfare programs seem to be more effective. One possibility I have heard mentioned is that the nationalized health services that exist in most European countries have taken a lot of power and funding away from organized medicine. I’d be interested to learn if that’s a valid line of reasoning. It seems plausible. From the information I am getting, organized medicine is a huge part of our difficulties here in the U.S.

        • Funny you mention control when it comes to diet. I was reading related research that suggests the primary reason people overeat is due to the body’s attempt to acquire micronutrients. So we are literally driven to eat until we acquire what the body needs.

          Another issue here is the fact that intensive farming practices are known to deplete the soil of nutrients and that our plant foods don’t provide the same nutrition they did even 50 years ago. Even a WFPB diet can be inadequate for meeting nutritional needs and require supplementation. At least in the US.

          Food is also part of our social reward system. I’m convinced we aren’t meant to live in nuclear families with us all doing the work and the domestic stuff every day. A more community based approach to meals would alleviate some of these issues.

          • This does remind me of the book “Looking Backward” which I read with interest when I was much younger.

            It proposed a system of group dining somewhat like we have currently with our massive reliance on dining out (at least among certain socioeconomic groups).

            I have experienced this for real where I used to work, and it did seem to be workable. There is a social aspect to dining out that we miss when we dine apart (or alone) in our houses or apartments. For me, though, it is not financially viable. If it were, I would do it more often. The relative nutritional value of the food, however, I cannot speak to. I would not stop taking vitamins!

          • I have thought the building of apartments without full-service kitchen in NYC and some other places was an interesting development. The idea is that fewer and fewer people are cooking meals from scratch at home and that some buyers, especially younger ones, want to eat communally and would rather eat out, which is much easier to do in a large city with an increasing number of restaurants setting up cafeteria style seating. This was all pre-Covid, of course. 2020 was the year every home cook became a pro-chef and baker when we were largely isolated and home-bound. So, Covid also presents a real opportunity to innovate in the design of new communities in terms of creating more opportunities for inclusion and safe interaction in the midst of increasing climate instability and future pandemics. Open air cafeterias with overhead shelter but continuous air flow could be designed into future construction to make not just dining out safer but schools, businesses, etc.

            The one thing I know is that we need community now more than ever and communal healthy dining could be considered a public health objective to target both our physical but also mental wellbeing.

      • I can put on the normal act as well as anyone while I’m ordering takeout! But yesterday I made the choice to spend two hours preparing, cooking and cleaning up after making a pot of homemade chili. That was two+ hours I wasn’t working on or researching needs for my current project or returning emails or spending quality time with family. And that was using canned and frozen ingredients. Making that meal cheaply with dried beans would have meant overnight soaking and an hour cooking the beans or else still putting them in the instant pot for forty minutes.

        Preparing healthy meals takes time! Cleaning up takes time. Most of the time something is getting sacrificed whether it’s nutrition or a clean home or caring for friends and family or sleep. When homemaking falls on one person, it’s a JOB! And I don’t get time off or a vacation from it. So a lot of the time if anything else is going on like the current project, nutrition and sleep are the first things sacrificed. It just isn’t sustainable. And I don’t have enough years of education or letters behind my name to call it burnout so let’s just say I’m a little crazy right now… So excuse me while I put on my happy face and order takeout. Nobody is under the impression that it’s healthy but it’s what I’ve got because I can go without nutrition a lot better than I can go without sleep.

    • This is a good point. The demands from one’s environment can get so onerous that they can begin to become suppressive, or in other words, promote poor mental health.

      These days, I don’t know that it is any longer “normal” to have good body health. It is difficult – possibly even expensive – to achieve. This is a whole issue in itself, yet related to this one of mental health.

      If I had to name a higher-priority factor, though, I would say it was getting enough sleep.

    • Dear Kindred Spirit,

      You say sad words at the close of your comment that imply you feel low enough to no longer see the point in life. You are maybe right. There is no point to life. It is mostly utterly pointless.

      But then…

      I don’t see the point in the sun…but it is here…and my god it is beautiful”.

  4. These two have been working at this for many years now, and I am certainly happy to hear from them!

    There is not doubt in my mind that a healthy body makes a huge difference in our ability to stand up to the crap that life throws at us.

    As Bonnie has reported in the past, micronutrient supplementation, in one case at least, totally handled a psychotic break problem so that it never recurred.

    But this still leaves us with the whole world of cognition to understand and properly address. The brain and nervous system play a very major role in body health, but in cognitive health, this is not the case (assuming the body IS healthy). And I am still not seeing the discussions that are necessary to bring this subject forward in the direction of a useful resolution.

  5. Is nutrition really the foundation of resilience? I would shout NO! and then put it way down the list of important factors in maintaining sanity and survival in today’s world.

    The final conclusion of this blog states the following:
    ” We lay out a three-step approach to improving mental health resilience which acknowledges that we are not all the same, that individual differences will influence efficacy of different treatments, and there is a place in the “mental health treatment tool box” for all the evidence-based treatments: these include whole-foods diets, micronutrients, counselling, family therapy, and medication. And we argue that nutrition ought to come first, because it provides the foundation for all the others.”

    In this blog there is not a single criticism of psychiatry and their Disease/Drug Based paradigm of so-called “treatment.” How can we even begin to discuss the importance of nutrition in today’s world without identifying the very oppressive social and political terrain in which we all live (some more than others), AND which has everything to do with who has the ability to have access to good nutrition.

    This blog provides no critical critique of psychiatric labeling, psychiatric drugs, psych hospitals, and poor counseling methods in today’s “mental health” system. No political critique of the pervasive class based oppression that denies the majority of people in the world from even having access to good food, besides being being able to be educated about these type of issues.

    All this blog wants people to do is put “nutrition” (and possibly reading their book “The Better Brain”) at the head of the list of important things to do in order to be “resilient in the face of a very stressful world.”

    Of course good nutrition is important, but it is NOT “the foundation of resilience.” I would suggest that the following things on this list are FAR MORE important than nutrition:

    1) and internalize sense of love and connection to other people currently in your life (or in your past) who support and care for your human needs, and help provide a belief and overall sense of hope for the future.

    2) a cognitive awareness of what forces in society can be trusted to help meet your needs and those of other human beings, AND what forces in society should be avoided and potentially eliminated in society.

    3) an ability (flowing from the above two conditions) to think strategically about possible ways to overcome obstacles and forms of oppression that stand in the way of one’s survival, and of future possibilities to move forward and make progress in life for oneself AND other human beings.

    Think for a moment about those people who survived concentration camps in World War Two (where “nutrition” was non existent), and those people currently incarcerated in prisons and psych hospitals (where good “nutrition” is severely limited) – what can and will help these people the most from not being totally “crushed” by this experience and thereby losing (or never gaining) their resilience?

    Better food is NOT even close to being the most important foundational necessity for what is going to help these people survive this experience with some sense of hope and motivation for moving forward with their lives.

    As is the case with all the other blogs written by these authors, they discuss the value of nutrition in today’s world ABSTRACTED (without any real social or political critique) from the very real forms of oppression facing humanity, especially those people suffering from all forms of psychiatric oppression.

    Richard

    • I tend to agree with this analysis Richard. I do think nutrition is pretty damn important and this was driven home to me as a child when I could see the obvious differences between the way the families ate in the neighborhood I grew up in and the one my dad moved to after my parents divorce. There really isn’t any comparing cold sugar based cereal with a hot protein and whole grain rich breakfast, for example.

      But I totally agree with your premise that there are many other equally important points to consider and that boiling things down to nutrition is a bit reductionistic. I do want to say though that I think in terms of being able to strategically, good nutrition and good sleep are probably the basic requirements of good strategy and reasoning. There is only so far you can get with instinct and fight or flight responses.

    • It is true that these authors live within the world of academic research and feel somewhat constrained to be “polite” to their colleagues. Others of us, in the field or not, feel the time for politeness has long passed. And in many ways I agree. I see no particular benefit, at this point, in being polite to psychiatry.

    • Harsh!

      On the jolly subject of nutrition I must say this comments section sometimes seems like a restraunt where writers are “waiters” and “chefs” and the decadent readers are seemingly encouraged to hurl their dainty dishes at them. I feel sorry for them to be honest. We all just want love.

      I see it like MIA is a large communal house that needs redecorating. Some writers are great at painting the fiddley cornice. Some writers are magnificent a knocking down walls. Some writers are smooth at sanding doors. Some writers are splendid at sewing cushions. Some writers are good at levering up old traditional floorboards. Some writers are adept at making baked potatoes with pineapple and apple and mayo for all those doing their specific tasks. Change is seldom by en bloc but rather by incrementals mounting up, from specifically talented people who know their niche well. And all of them acting uniquely and almost in splendid isolation pull off the remarkable group transformation. Granted this may be frustrating if you want the whole house decorated by tonight. I understand that frustration. It is utterly galling. But I am not inclined to berate a tryer. Especially given that this site attracts multifarious kinds of people who may not think as I do, why should they? And who may not think as you do. Why should they? Every activist on this shared planet has the answer. All the answers are different because all the people are different…but that can make a beautiful, calm, warm, redecorated house if we let it be.

      • I would ask the question: Is it really being “harsh” to point out that in the face of multiple forms of trauma and oppression in the world, someone keeps telling you over and over again that “you just don’t eat the right foods?”

        That in the face of being labeled “mentally ill” for life, given mind numbing toxic drugs, sometimes incarcerated in psychiatric prisons, limited in your access to good jobs, housing etc., your told over and over again that “food first” is THE WAY to finding “a vision to a happier, healthier tomorrow.” That “food first” will somehow give you the “resilience” to do WHAT I say? – perhaps maybe tolerate (and even accept!) the intolerable.

        And the same people telling you over and over again “you don’t eat right” (just another thing I’m f#*king up in my life) never attempt to identify (or critically analyze) the true sources of your overall oppression and unhappiness.

        To me this sounds like a very sophisticated form of “gaslighting” where you will be constantly questioning your own sanity when a better diet essentially does NOTHING to fundamentally address the oppressive power and control of psychiatry and a class based profit system that denies almost half of humanity decent food and other necessary essentials of a decent life.

        Once again, nutrition is NOT “the foundation of resilience.” And those who keep telling us this, in the face of very identifiable forms of oppression and means to fight it, are actually leading us AWAY from finding a true path to liberation and a healthier life.

        Oh, and BTW, YES, we should probably eat better than we do along the way.

        Richard

        • Thankyou Richard for your list of things wrong with the world. We could join our lists and lengthen it all into a very very long list, but maybe that would feel overwhelming. I mean where does one start? I should like to start with the three thousand a day dying in India. Maybe you could add the incarcerated persecuted gay people in dictator countries. I could add the polluted ocean. Maybe you could add the human trafficked workers. Shall I chip in with the eighty thousand raped women I heard of last week? I guess we can all be morbid list-givers in response to a jovial homey article by two non psychistrist ladies, lovely moms I am sure, who maybe believe that an army marches on its stomach and if I want to be an activist with robust stamina enough to help the people on our long list then maybe I need to consider my vision, which may need carrots to read lots more academic articles and maybe magnesium to help me sleep after the nightmare statistic of eighty thousand innocent women raped, and maybe iron is going to help heat my circulation while my activism calls me sit in a chair all day whizzing through fantastic and bitingly sarcastic comments.

          Not saying all this to rub you up the wrong way. I think you are great. Like me you don’t suffer fools gladly. In that respect we are twins. And a conflict is sometimes really just two opposing sides of the same coin, or argument.

          Oh dear, my hallucinations are ramping up too frequently today. Forgive my not very able reply. I am needing to go away now and flop and eat comfort food.

      • I think that people who come across very strongly in these comments sections and elsewhere could be better understood by considering the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said “Violence is the language of the unheard.”

        There have been times here that have been extremely heated. Yes, authors take a beating sometimes when their work is torn to shreds in the comments section. But those angry at experiencing the kinds and degrees of harm that the psychiatric system have doled out to them don’t have any patience left for incrementalism or reform.

        Violence – even the verbal kind – does have a place in fighting back against oppression. When authors here, many of whom are graduate students in UMass Psychology use psychiatric jargon and reinforce the “mental illness” paradigm, it does and will elicit push back. That push back comes from ex patients as well as current and former mental health professionals, because it is unscientific. It’s been almost 8 years since Thomas Insel called the chemical imbalance a metaphor and the NIH stopped using the DSM because it’s interrater reliability is very poor besides there being zero attempt to discover etiology besides biological and genetic approaches. There are many other good explanations for what gets termed “mental illness”, and it’s through the efforts of activists that change happens. The foundations of psychiatry are crumbling but you’d better believe that activist organizations that get their funding from Pharma are just as actively trying to keep up the status quo.

        I support activists. I am an activist. I have put my body on the line risking arrest for clean water. I have volunteered for peacekeeping positions at national marches as well as burning man type events. I’ve given at least one interview at an event to protest detainment of a current major political prisoner. I, and other activists, do these things out of love for those being harmed, not out of hatred for those perpetuating harmful systems. There is no agenda toward or dislike of the authors themselves because we are not discussing the author but rather the topic. A diversity of belief and opinion is necessary for a functioning world, but discussion, even when it’s forceful, is not a personal attack.

        There are other sayings that I like in the activist community. Among them “silence is violence” and “if you’re not outraged, you’re part of the problem”. Both are applicable to a lot of the injustices that continue to plague modern life in the US and many other western countries.

    • Thank you for your comments. We probably agree on much of what you say regarding psychiatry. But there are tons and tons of books out there (and articles) on that topic already. We were addressing nutrition, a very neglected area. So please don’t hold it against us for not covering every single aspect of every cause, treatment mistreatment etc of mental health. It wouldn’t fit in one book :-).

  6. Good nutrition and good sleep are the foundation of emotional well-being so in that sense I agree, but “resilience” is far more a function of personal histories than diet. “Resilience” is a weapon to “blame the victim” for their traumas rather than address the injustices of most personal traumas.

    • Resilience is not a stick. We think that virtually all previous books just say ‘eat this’ ‘cook this way’ — now those sound like sticks. What we do is provide educational information about what nutrients actually do in the brain (personally, I’m more likely to change my eating habits if I know why I might want to), as well as the kinds of things that happen in life that make us need additional nutrition for resilience (again, useful information of someone is undergoing a lot of stress). We are empowering people individual with knowledge that we should have learned as children but is not in any curriculum that we know of. So — no sticks!

  7. Hmm.

    A baby is silent. Is a baby’s silence violent? I want to be a baby. If the world were full of nothing but babies we would all live in blissful peace. But people do not want to be babies. They want to be arguers.

    In my own personal opinion, and I am only speaking for myself here, and everyone is entitled to their own unique views…

    Love is, and never shall be, violence.

    And violence is not the language of the unheard. Violence is not language at all. It is the absence of language. And those who choose it instead of language are depriving themselves of dignity. Which is what most oppressive governments want the oppressed to do and such governmemts count that loss of dignity as their penultimate climax.

    I do not think Dr Martin Luther King meant…
    “Violence is the language of the unheard so all the unheard should be violent”.

    Given that most eight billion people on the planet feel unheard, if they were all violent that would make for a worse cruel world for kids and frail elderly.

    I prefer to adopt an attitude of mercy. Mercy comes from love.

    • “ A baby is silent. Is a baby’s silence violent? I want to be a baby. If the world were full of nothing but babies we would all live in blissful peace. But people do not want to be babies. They want to be arguers.”

      Babies are anything but silent. Have you spent much time around babies?

      “I do not think Dr Martin Luther King meant…
      “Violence is the language of the unheard so all the unheard should be violent.””

      I don’t think that either. I didn’t suggest that.

      “Given that most eight billion people on the planet feel unheard, if they were all violent that would make for a worse cruel world for kids and frail elderly.”

      Taken to extremes that I wouldn’t endorse either. Although if even a fraction of the unheard and oppressed of the world fought back against their owners, it’d sure be a different place for a while.

      “I prefer to adopt an attitude of mercy. Mercy comes from love.”

      Love and mercy absolutely have their place. Those are not in any way the opposites of fighting back against continued harm.

      You’re not exactly a wallflower. You have vigorously defended your own positions. I admire that about you.

      • I would suggest that King was not advising or supporting violence (he was a VERY strong advocate of a nonviolent approach), but more putting the violence from the poor and disenfranchised into perspective. While he supported nonviolence, he understood that if you push people enough and deny them their voice, their frustration and anger will in many cases be translated into rage and violence. So a person wanting to reduce violence would be wise to start listening to those who are shouting but not being heard.

        • Nah. I am afraid I refuse to listen to any shouters…unless it is like that mountaineer I once saw dangling on the edge of a cliff. Had to call a heli.

          Any appeal to listen to the violent because their violence is “for a reason” is just allowing justification for violence. Their “suffering” may be “for a reason” and so we must always listen to the suffering. Their “anger” may be “for a reason” and so we may want to listen to the angery. But violence is damaging kinetic energy and is utterly bewildering. A man once trailed home drunk and stabbed his doting wife several times until she died and then knifed his teenage son until he died and the man would have gotten his younger son too had he not jumped out of a window two floors up. You could say the man was drunk. You could say the man was miserable. You say he was a casualty of an unjust society. But aside from statistical aberations honestly what woman does this? And if his intoxication made him insensible and unable to recall what he was doing, then how come his steady hand precisely threaded the house key in the lock. How come he annihilated that poor woman and boy and not some random person on the way home? He knew what he was doing. It was “just” violence. There can be no “reason” for it. Like the supposedly “accidental” violence of child sex abuse. In my humble opinion you cannot have “good” murder and “bad” murder. Or “good” cruelty and “bad” cruelty. Or “reasonable” brutality and “unreasonable” brutality. Or “logical” child abuse and “illogical” child abuse. Or “romantic” violence and “repulsive” violence. Violence should never be “understood”. It should be banned.
          Quite how one goes about banning someone’s bad behaviour without “fighting back”, as dear Kindred Spirit suggests, which I fear may only lead to behaving with similar depravity, is a bone of contention which may not be spiritually or comfortably resolved. But maybe we are not on this Earth to resolve much, but we are maybe here to bear the unresolvable without violence, since violence is like the contageous covid of easy solutions.

          • I am never one to justify violent behavior, just because someone is enraged. But I find it predictable and understandable, even if it is ineffectual and counterproductive in most cases.

            Of course, there ARE cases where violence IS justified, when one’s safety or the safety of others is involved. In such cases, the minimum force should be used, but the use of force isn’t always “wrong.”

          • Self-defense should not be considered violence. I remember a well known US revolutionary saying that refusing to defend oneself from violence is not nonviolence but masochism.

            Keep in mind that any state is an organization of violence, by definition.

          • It always bothered me a lot when institutionalized children/adults had hands laid on them by staff, and when they fought back, they were accused of “assault,” and sometimes even charged criminally! The “CLIENTS” were assaulted by the staff and were fighting back! It is stunning that this obvious fact seems to be lost not only on “mental health professionals,” but on our entire legal system. Defending oneself can’t be considered an assault!

          • Fight, flight or (sometimes) freeze. All forms of self-defense, all legitimate, all animals use them. Your oppressor (or hunter) gets no vote on the tactics you use to defeat him.

      • Cheers for this KS. You found my achilles heel…a well aimed embarrassing compliment. That’ĺl shut me up. I enjoy the playful tustles of debate. But I am also tending to question my motive for wanting to defend my positions when in reality nothing much is threatening them. I think like alot of people we all feel numinously menaced by an amorphous ominous daily threat and so we go to war on anything that might be “it”. It is not easy to drop the cave man cudgel and go and gnaw a dainty bit of bison.

        • DW, It is my experience that I learn and grow the most from those that disagree with me and force me to defend my positions. I appreciate that not because they are under attack but because it keeps me out of the bubble mentality and the last thing I want to be is a sheep following the herd. I know what I believe and why.

          I know there are many who appreciate your writing here, too, for various reasons. It is delightful, whether or not we’re in agreement. Few have the ability to issue dissent so melodically.

          • Dear Kindred Spirit,

            I would say to myself…

            Never know what you believe or why. If you do then you are moving out of childlike wonder.

            And as for learning and growing, I am no huge fan of either. It is my ardent wish to unlearn every piece of logical learning that has been imposed on me. And growing happens anyways all by itself… according to my houseplants…..welll…..if I remember to drench them.

            And as for a bubble it sounds highly desirable, tranquil and womby. If nobody pops it. Which of course people do and because they do we all have to arm ourselves with defensive hard phrases like “prove it” which invariably require us to keep a cargo of loaded logic within our popped bubble incase they ask “prove it aint so”. A bubble which is so popped it is beyond repair and so then we blame the world for causing mass extinction of bubbles because we feel out in the cold without a bubble, but when we see someone dozing in their cocoon-like bubble we think this cannot be allowed because if we cannot enjoy the bubble existence then why should they the swines.

            If its a bubble I be in then it is my bubble so leave me to my bubble.

            And as for sheep I say sheep are meek. Blessed be the meek. Sheep and children spend all day believing nothing and learning next to nothing and wondering about everything and yet they cause no wars.

            That’s if you are of the view that sheep are infact sheep. Between you and I, Kindred Spirit, I may have my doubts. Having loudly sobbed in a meadow one day, much to the consternation of a flock of sheep, I can whisper that every one of them does a different sonorous scale of baaing. It would seem even the most identical looking sheep are beautifully unique in character. Behind each foggy call heralds truly a one off. A rare original.

            I am glad that you seem to be also a rare original Kindred Spirit.

          • DW, I find your willingness to challenge others willingness to challenge your beliefs quite remarkable. You seem to desire others to change their style by adopting their style while challenging their style. I can but sense some internal conflict. I will continue to welcome your contributions to the community.

  8. There’s a bit more man made traumas than mass shootings or so-called terrorism. Both are relatively rare. Focusing on them continuously will certainly induce trauma.

    Other man made traumas include losing a job, being unable to pay the rent, having to stand in line for food, being foreclosed on and losing a home, not being able to pay medical bills, declaring bankruptcy, collecting unemployment, sued or persued by debt collectors and watching a wealthier segment of society live in an entirely different world but the same country.

    I enjoy reading Mad in America but there seems to be a pattern of ignoring some elephants in the room as they pretain to mental health. We have some of the identity issues covered but the growing mass of poorer people can only be ignored by social media for so long before it too becomes irrelevant.

    • I would add domestic abuse and child abuse to your list. Both are highly associated with “mental health” issues. But of course, that must be because people being abused have bad genes or something. Couldn’t be that the trauma themselves cause “mental health symptoms?”

    • I would love to be an elephant in the room. An actual elephant. Elephants dont have to speak or be fiercely intelligent in a humany sort of way. I think I would find it bliss. Maybe you feel like an elephant in the room and nobody is looking at you or caring what you feel most heartfelt about. I suppose everyone is maybe feeling like an elephant. Even actual elephants are not being appreciated but are being systematically wiped out. It is a travesty.

      Yes, it is appalling what is becoming of the poor. I agree, the poor do not want to be irrelevant nor even relevant. The poor want money.

      I suppose Mad In America is primarily a venue where people can discuss and be critical of and reinvisage psychiatry or reinvisage alternatives to it. It is a bit of a niche. Like a website for cancer research is a niche. Everyone knows cancer is more likely to occur among the poor. As most illnesses are. So ending poverty globally may well cure all illness to the extent no niche websites would be needed. No poverty equals everyone healthy. So maybe a focus on building a website totally focussed on eradicating poverty is more apt. But the world is full of billons of not quite poor people yet who maybe are so busy trying to put food on the table and have a roof over their heads and hold down three jobs that all they feel they can care about is their dying grandparent or self harming kid. Maybe that is on iatrogenically harmful psyche drugs that are making their symptoms worse. And maybe that kid is a snotty nosed, fed up zombie who sleeps all day and has no interest in the global nightmare of rising misery. And maybe that kid happens to scroll onto an article on self harm and how a reduction in meds may heal it. And maybe that kid wants to join in the comments secton and become a born again pill refuser. But maybe they cannot dance with all the political heavyweights just yet. And so maybe they click off Mad In America and go back to bed after a session in self evisceration. You might say that what will help is if they turn yheir self hatred into outrage at global inequalities. And maybe someone with cancer might also feel revived after throwing a brick through an environmentally polluting refinery. But it wont stop their own tumour gnawing through them. And so they may need a website that equally attends to the way tumours make people shed alot of weight and so an article on nutrition might be life saving for that person. Niche websites have their importance. But to be niche probably means those with so much more to say feel like proverbial ignored elephants.

      I am glad your comment was so interesting to look at.

      I have a migrane again so may not respond to anything but lying in a darkened room and the wafting cool flapping of a gracious elephant’s ears.

  9. Basically we always go in circles in articles by these authors. The point is made that good nutrition is vital to health, which makes one feel good. Then somehow it becomes a discussion of “mental” health, and the familiar quasi-medical model discussions ensue.

    Steve made the most significant observation here — that MANY Americans are falling apart on the inside (physically) while appearing “normal.” Which explains why many seemingly “healthy” people have succumbed to COVID. Nutrition is essential to a functioning immune system and should be prioritized; however this has nothing to do with “mental health,” unless you define feeling healthy as “mental.” I would also agree that resilience has a spiritual component as well as a physical one. However to equate the mind and brain as the authors apparently do is fallacious.

    • I like what you say Oldhead. But for me I find I am amazed every time I haul my trolley of weekly shopping up many stairs. The food in it weighs so much and yet it is all gone in a week. As Leonardo Da Vinci noticed, most of humanity ends up as effluence. So I do know I am evacuating as much grocieries as I bolt down. But I suspect a quantity of that digested food mass is going to become a whole new me. The skin replaces itself entirely every seven years or so, blood is made new in a few months maybe. My trillions of jubilant cells do their own shopping and lug their own heavy trolley loads of trace minerals or enzymes or whatevers. And some of that import and export is going on in my brain. Knock off a few B vitamins and you get severe memory impairment. My brain has been trying valiently to renew itself on pizza and onion rings and bricks of melty chocolate for a decade or so. My brain, my new me, is dough.

  10. I have to step back here and clarify because I think the comments are beginning to border on the absurd.

    Of course we have to deal with all the other oppressions and traumas that the current system doles out. But it is ludicrous to suggest that nutrition is not a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to surviving the shit we all have to deal with.

    No one is served by the push back being dealt here suggesting that nutrition isn’t one critical aspect (among multiple factors) to surviving traumas.

    No one wants to have to be resilient against structural harm but I’m going to use every tool in my arsenal to survive when I’m falling apart inside. And by that I mean mentally because mental health/ well being/ functioning IS tied intimately with physical health. And mental functioning/cognition is dependent on the brain being nourished. I’m kind of shocked that this is creating controversy.

    The medical model of psychiatry is completely unrelated to other means of ensuring survival, including all of the environmental and social factors necessary for good mental functioning.

    It is throwing the baby out with the bath water to suggest that self care in terms of nutrition, exercise, sleep, social support equates with the medical model.

  11. Like the feather cracks of a lightning fork there are a few topics illuminated here. But I just want to return to Steve’s point about violence being necessary for self defense. The use of the word force seems apt since those who are reluctant to damage others may use necessary force to remove a threatening obstruction, as one might heft a sack of potatos out of the way to get free. But that, in my own opinion is different from violence.

    I suspect there is a difference also between using violence on someone who has directly, willfully, deliberately been a bully to you and using violence on people whom you do not know and who have not been directly, wilfully, deliberately violent to you. I have notice a exponential rise in violence towards complete strangers and whole countries of strangers and whole planets of strangers.

    If a person can pour milk in their coffee without spilling a drop they have the self control to stop being violent.

    I don’t want my great grandchildren to inherit a violent world.

      • Who are you fighting? What is this fight? Is it fighting the whole world? Is your hope welded to the fight or can your hope root in something easier and more profound? If the whole world is oppressive? What if some of the world find you oppressive for wearing certain shoes or not wearing their approved colour of jacket, or whatever, whatever, to the extent they call you, little you who hurts nobody, the “oppressive world” that must be fought with lots of fighting?

        My problem with the notion of grabbing “defense” as other folk have used that wordage in other comments, as an excuse for violence, is that very fundamental adherents of ALL political regimes can use that excuse to commit genocide. I dare say the early psychiatrists were “defending” the world against “the oppresssive world” of the “imbecile”. In the last world war I dare say the Hitler Youth, beaming and chanting and waving nazi flags, thought they were “right” to “defend” their homeland, and their gene pool, and heritage, and economics by fighting with terrified wee girls on street corners who hadn’t yet got the ghetto memo.

        Fighting, defense, violence are words of the craven wish for power over. I can see why when feeling powerless one might want power over, injustice must be responded to and corrected, but some of the human experience of powerlessness is maybe just the existential fear of being a soft bodied creature in a hard hard world and as such is just the ordinary dread filled daily fear of being mortal, a mortality that comes with the birth certificate, a mortality that will defeat even the toughest fighter in the end. Humans all hate that sense of mortality and its resultant effrct of powerless. Humans make it their mission in life to defeat mortality when it pops up in life as all manner of vague “threats”, like in the spectre of a stern psychiatrist or a frozen lost wee girl.

  12. I can eat as many blackberrys as I like, but if someone I trusted decides to do something without my permission presented with a fob off excuse and expects me to go on trusting them by doing the same thing…it aint going to help put the trust back!

    It’s time to end and move on.

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