What is Mental Illness according to Chinese Medicine?
Both our health and Illness are dictated by the flow of Qi (your vital energy). When Qi is plentiful and flowing smoothly, then we suffer no illness and have a long life. Unfortunately many things can disrupt the flow of our Qi, and further upset the balance of yin and yang.
The causes Mental illness can be many in Chinese Medicine, a large part of its strength is every person is unique. Therefore so is their pathology.
Mental Health conditions like anxiety and depression come from emotions which have caused our Qi flow to become blocked. If Qi doesn’t flow smoothly, neither do our emotions. If the blocked Qi flow causes an imbalance towards too much downward yin energy, then we become depressed, lethargic, withdrawn and even lose our appetite.
If the blockages cause more an excessive Yang response, then you can become manic, angry, frustrated and even suffer headaches. If you swing frequently between excesses of both, you are diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder, characterised by the manic/depressed mood swings.
Mental Health in Chinese Medicine is largely influenced by our Liver, whose job is to keep Qi flowing smoothly. This is why people who abuse drugs and alcohol, can end up with mental health issues, as their Liver has become toxic and weak from the substance abuse.
The origin of the illness though is not always in the Liver. Many people can become depressed after the death of a loved one, or chronic illness, all of which weaken your overall Qi. If the person then has a constitutional tendency towards mental illness, it can manifest as Depression or anxiety, whereas someone else who has an inherently weak digestion may develop IBS.
Our whole psyche is housed in our Heart, which is called ‘Shen’, this is our spirit and what makes each of us unique. The brain is for thought and memory, but our unique spirit resides in the Heart. This is why when we experience excessive emotions, many people feel palpitations or a tight chest, as the Qi in the Heart is becoming knotted. When the Heart is severely weakened my illness people experience mania like symptoms and even seizures, which is an indicator that the Heart energy is severely blocked.
Mental Health and Diet
As I say in my diet page, “we truly are what we eat”. This not only pertains to our physical form, but our mental health as well. A poor diet leads to accumulation of Yin dampness (fat/mucous and toxins), which can impede the flow of Qi, causing our minds to become malnourished and causing fatigue. These are often the first step towards developing depression and anxiety.
A good healthy diet means our mind is well nourished, not just our muscles and organs. A vicious cycle often occurs when people are depressed or angry, where they crave sweets or binge on junk food, which often leaves them feeling worse.
This is why I always educate my clients on the importance of a healthy diet!
Foods to eat in moderation
- Soft drinks and alcohol
- Processed foods and take away meals
- Excessive amounts of dairy and oils (even good fats)
- Don’t eat heavy wheat based meals (pasta and bread) more than once a day