We suffer mentally because of alterations in brain functioning, but a difficult question to answer is: Do mental sufferings arise as a result of brain chemistry imbalances, or does the chemical imbalance occur because of conflicts in the person’s life?
Seems like it’s all together. We can think, because electrical chemical circuits are at work in the brain, and they are active due to the blood circulation that carries nutrients to the brain to function. Therefore, mental health also depends on what we eat and drink. Mental suffering can therefore be connected with physical aspects, such as poor diet, insufficient hydration, sedentary lifestyle, overeating, even on healthy foods, air pollution, among other factors.
In addition, there are psychological factors: interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts that produce sadness, excessive anxiety, exaggerated fears, shame and guilt. As for the social environment, violence and crime, especially in large cities, in addition to stressful traffic, noise and visual pollution contribute to mental stress. Therefore, to deal with mental suffering we need to take care of our physical health with exercise, preferably outdoors, ingesting pure water between meals, breathing pure air, getting plenty of sunlight, preferring a balanced vegetarian diet, getting a good sleep at night, and eliminating what is harmful to health.
It is also necessary to solve or manage emotional problems in relationships, first with oneself, then with family members, at work, at church, with other relatives, avoiding to leave situations pending that need to be resolved. At times it may be necessary to receive professional counseling and undergo psychological treatment. Do what you can to improve your social life. Having friends is important. Helping people unselfishly promotes mental healing. Asking forgiveness, setting limits, being patient, sharing experiences and materially helping the poorest contributes to mental health and relief from suffering.
Psychiatric and psychological treatment varies not only in terms of the severity of the illness, but also in terms of personality type. There are individuals who are more likely to understand and accept the relationship between their current sufferings and past conflicts, which facilitates treatment. Others, who do not have this ability to think from cause to effect, deny having suffered in the past or diminish the personal impact of what they have suffered in earlier years of life.
When, in a psychological consultation, the professional explains the relationship between the current suffering and the conflicts in the patient’s life, he comes to understand and accept, that a good part of his mental struggles of today are related to the traumas of the past. We call this understanding insight. But is that insight enough to promote emotional healing? Not always. Many, by making the connection between their suffering today with painful phases of the past, can have a good perception of their struggle, but this perception alone may not be enough for healing.
In fact, beyond the insight, beyond the perception of possible causes of current mental suffering, the person needs to decide to act in a different and better way. Perception or insight helps, but what he will do with what he has perceived is the key to healing, and the starting point in learning to manage mental pain.
However, in the same person undergoing psychotherapeutic treatment, there may be a moment of greater perception and a moment of greater difficulty with this. Each one has his time to get a grip about the cause of personal suffering. This is because memories of emotional pain are not pleasant for anyone, and we can escape the thinking about what hurts for a long time, even for years.
So the person who suffers mentally and who still doesn’t understand the causes of his mental problems, needs to be patient with himself and ask God for enlightenment on what He thinks he needs to understand in order to improve. He must ask not only for enlightenment or insight, but also for the strength to take a look at what is the source of his emotional pain, and that is not easy for anyone. On this point of having or not the perception of the causes of emotional pain, Jesus once commented something along these lines:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.John 16:12
He knew that His followers were not ready to accept certain things about themselves. There are conflicts in our unconscious mind that we are not able to perceive. The Unconscious is the virtual space of our mind where we guard information, images, thoughts and feelings of everything that has happened to us, since we were born, until this moment in life. We do not have access to this information when we want it, but when we are ready to see and understand it. The Bible talks about the unconscious in the book of Psalms:
Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.Psalms 19:12
You have set our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.Psalms 90:8
So, recognize that the unconscious exists, and that it has many answers about a person’s mental sufferings.
The treatment of mental illnesses or disorders varies according to the type of illness, and there are different types of treatments for the same illness. For example, depression can be mild, moderate, or severe. When a person suffers from mild depression, psycho-therapeutic treatment alone is enough. No medication is needed. But when the level is moderate to severe, maybe even with suicidal thoughts, the medication is indicated for temporary use, under the supervision of a psychiatrist.
A good part of mental suffering can be improved or resolved without the use of medication. Others need them, such as during the euphoric crisis of bipolar disorder, agitation with delusions and hallucinations in people with schizophrenia, among others. Some people undergoing psychiatric treatment may need medication for a moment, but once they get better they will no longer be needed. Or they can use them as SOS, which means the medication will only be used at the most difficult times, when the symptoms are wanting to come back.
Finally, it is important to consider that spirituality is a very positive factor to help people in their struggles with mental suffering. Several scientific studies have confirmed that faith, attendance at a religious community, the exchange of experiences of spiritual growth in the group, prayer, and for Christians, the study and meditation of the Bible, favor mental health and powerfully assist in emotional recovery.
As human beings, we have struggles not only because of physical problems, such as an organic disease, or family, social, economic and psychological problems, but also of spiritual origin. According to the biblical account, we are spiritually corrupted since birth, which means that we are already born with selfishness, pride, vanity, envy; these problems that we need to resolve using spiritual instruments such as prayer, study and meditation on the Bible, socializing with people in the religious community for spiritual learning, the practice of voluntary charity, among other factors.
Therefore, if you identify with any of the points discussed here, correctly follow the psychological and psychiatric treatment, including family support. But put the search for God, the kind creator of the universe, as number one in your life, praying, meditating on the scriptures – the Bible, helping others who suffer, and participating in a religious community that sincerely seeks the truth. With this, your mental health and well-being can improve much faster.
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Dr. Cesar Vasconcellos de Souza is working as a psychiatrist and international speaker. He is author of 3 books, columnist of the health magazine “Vida e Saúde” for 25 years, and has a regular program on the “Novo Tempo” TV channel.