I have always had some patients who consult me for integrative approaches to mental illness. In the past year or two, a higher percentage of patients have been reaching out for support for their anxiety, depression, and maladaptive stress reactions.

According to a quick Google search, I found the following statistics:

  • COVID-19 has tripled the rate of depression in U.S. adults in all demographic groups.

  • Nineteen percent of U.S. adults are experiencing mental illness in 2021.

The first statistic did not surprise me, but the second statistic seems low from my clinical perspective.

In 2017, one of my colleagues, Dr. Christina Bjorndal, published a book “Beyond the Label: 10 Steps to Improve Your Mental Health with Naturopathic Medicine,” which I promptly ordered, then let collect dust for a few years. I was motivated to devour this book during a recent car trip to Milwaukee.

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The first eight chapters of the book focus on Bjorndal’s personal struggle with debilitating mental illness and her journey to recovery. In the remaining chapters (9-21) she emphasizes that the following list of 10 areas that need to be addressed to maintain mental wellness. The book is a blueprint on how to find these balances:

  • Diet

  • Sleep

  • Exercise

  • Stress management

  • Thoughts

  • Emotions

  • Your behaviors and interactions in the world

  • Exposure to environmental toxins

  • Spirituality

  • Love and compassion for yourself and others

Within the book, Bjorndal touches on “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, along with Byron Katien’s “The Work,” which were both much appreciated reviews. She provides a helpful chart on neurotransmitters and hormones, a fun quiz called “The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale,” a chart on distorted automatic thoughts and its pertinent solution, a chart on soul vs. ego, a thought-provoking Spiral Emotion Chart, and a useful appendix with food sources for essential nutrients and a mental health diet.

In the diet section, her take-home points include “cook real food, breathe, chew, relax.” I found a section of her chapter on exercise absolutely hysterical.

In the chapter titled “Breaking the Thought-Emotion Cycle,” she teaches us The Seven Rs: recognize, refrain, relax, resolve, rephrase/reaffirm, reflect, reward. This framework teaches us how to work with our minds to free ourselves from the urge to follow destructive thought patterns.

Bjorndal’s perspective is that mental illness is a way by which our spirit is trying to get our attention, because some aspect of our lives is not moving in concert with our spirit or divine plan (page 256).

The ultimate lessons gleaned from this book include: learn to love yourself; find your inner voice; quiet the unhelpful voices of others; follow your path; live as your heart desires, according to rules you define for yourself.

Remember, health is a journey, not a destination.

Rachel Oppitz has lived in Park Rapids with her husband, daughter and dog since 2006. She is a naturopathic doctor and owns Itasca Naturopathic Clinic in Park Rapids and Bemidji. In her spare time, she loves to read, workout with friends, play games, do jigsaw puzzles, camp, hike, bike, canoe, travel, do guided meditations on Insight Timer, try new recipes, listen to music and journal.