As the world currently battles a deadly virus, the pandemic has resulted in the rise of mental health issues for many. Isolation, anxiety and fear have crept into our lives – leaving many of us feeling helpless and lonely. In a society that still stigmatises mental health, it is even harder to recognise mental illnesses, accept them and seek help. Whether it is our mood swings or a persistent feeling of sadness, we must acknowledge our emotions and accept them. The mind is the master of the body; mental health is as important as physical health.
To spread awareness regarding mental health on World Suicide Prevention Day, DocVita’s Head of Medical Affairs, Dr Amish Anand Pathak spoke to esteemed psychologist Dr Adita Agrawal. Dr Adita Agrawal is a psychiatrist practising in Mumbai who is an expert counsellor, deaddiction specialist and relationship therapist. In this edition of DocVita’s Expert Speak sessions, the medical professionals discussed mental health during the pandemic, nutrition and how one’s diet can help with their mental state.
“The lockdown has had severe effects on people socially and emotionally”, Dr Adita said. “It has created a feeling of isolation, especially because you cannot meet your loved ones. Many fear for the safety of their loved ones; depression and anxiety have increased during the pandemic, and it has been an emotionally challenging period”, the psychiatrist told us.
Nutrition has much to do with our mental state, and following the theme of the session, Dr Amish asked the Mumbai psychiatrist what foods we can consume to help us deal with specific moods. Before answering the questions, Dr Agrawal reminded the audience that our diet could only help with mental illness but not cure it. It is essential to consult a mental health professional for the same. One must also consume all foods mentioned in moderation and not excess, and check if they are allergic to any food item before consuming it.
“What food can we eat to reduce anxiety, something many are experiencing today”, Dr Amish asked. The psychiatrist suggested replacing coffee or drinks with caffeine in them with herbal teas like chamomile and green tea. Using more turmeric in food is also helpful. She noted that it was common amongst individuals with folate deficiency to experience anxiety, phobia and fear. Foods like walnuts, green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, yoghurt and salmon are rich in folate and should be consumed. “All these foods have a soothing and relaxing effect on the body”, Dr Agrawal mentioned.
“Now that people are living together all the time, we have seen an increase in anger and irritability. This is affecting relationships within families. How can we help individuals deal with anger?”, Dr Amish asked. The psychiatrist explained that anger is an important emotion while dealing with personal relationships. It is often linked with substance abuse issues, as the consumption of alcohol and drugs leads to the deficiency of vitamins and minerals. This temperament problem can be combatted by consuming foods and drinks rich in the natural “chill pill” – Magnesium. One can consume foods like bananas, peanut butter, avocados, omega 3 fatty acid-rich foods like walnuts and flax seeds to help elevate one’s mood. Drinking grape juice with fennel and cumin seeds is also a great option, the Doctor added.
“To boost your confidence, and help with shyness, one can consume salmon, tuna, legumes, beans and peas”, Dr Agrawal added.
Answering a question posed by Dr Amish regarding sexual health, Dr Agrawal said that sexual problems like lack of libido and erectile dysfunction are common problems. To increase one’s libido, you can consume aphrodisiacs. Zinc-rich foods like oyster, watermelon, apple, banana, fig, avocado, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts can increase sexual desire. Pomegranate helps with sexual stamina. The psychiatrist added that dark chocolate is not only an aphrodisiac but also a great mood elevator.
“Brain fog and lethargy are also common problems faced by many today. How can we deal with these issues where we feel confused and cannot make decisions?”, asked Dr Amish. “As we are always in a single environment at home, brain fog has become common nowadays. Drinking green tea induces alertness, and is a great option”, replied Dr Adita. To combat lethargy, she first suggested a routine investigation to ensure that it is not due to any other illness. Lethargy and tiredness is often caused due to deficiency in vitamins B12, D, and folate. Consuming foods rich in these nutrients like beans, dairy products, eggs, and beetroot juice which is rich in iron, can help the problem.
The Doctor also addressed the difference between sadness and depression. While sadness is a common and important emotion, it is different from depression. Temporary sadness is normal, but persistent sadness along with feelings of worthlessness and a lack of energy is depression. To boost your mood, you can eat foods rich in antioxidants like berries and dark chocolate. Depression is caused due to decreased levels of serotonin (the happy hormone) and other factors. “Green tea and bananas are proven to increase serotonin levels in the body”, the Doctor concluded.
The psychiatrist also answered a few queries from the audience regarding mental health and mood swings. For menstrual mood swings, the best solution is doing regular exercise and yoga. Medication with primrose oil is also helpful. If you experience many mood swings in a day, the Doctor advised eating nuts to help with emotional stability. For pregnant women, she suggested breathing exercises and talking to someone about your feelings.
On a parting note, Dr Adita addressed many issues regarding our society and mental health. While we have progressed in the right direction over the last few years, there is still a long way to go. It is important to normalise mental health issues, and we should encourage seeking help from professionals. There are many myths surrounding illnesses of the mind like one can get addicted to pills and medicine, which is untrue. The best person to take care of you is you; before you take an extreme step, pause and call for help. “Pay close attention to your emotions and symptoms and seek help from an expert”, she concluded.
Mental health matters. Currently, due to the pandemic, many are afraid to visit clinics. You can reach out to the many psychiatrists like Dr Adita for audio and video consultations on DocVita. It is vital to consult professionals, and you can find many experienced doctors on our platform. On World Suicide Day, Team DocVita would like to thank Dr Adita for her valuable time and extend our gratitude to all mental health professionals who help us struggle with complex issues, holistically and open-heartedly.