When she saw her child’s autism dramatically improve with the removal of gluten and dairy from her diet, Sue Westwind thought she should try the same thing on herself.
A long history of battling fatigue, depression and migraines made her open to almost anything.
“In less than two weeks I started to feel so much better,” she said. “I dropped 30 pounds without trying. I thought, really, you can have energy and optimism? Whole thought patterns of anxiety and depression — things I had worked on for decades — simply disappeared.
“I say my daughter Matty saved my life. I can now work full time. It’s been a miracle, really.”
This early success prompted Westwind to wonder about other mind–body connections. She began exploring the burgeoning field of green mental health, or alternative treatment without the use of drugs.
Green mental health proponents say that getting the body back into balance will heal the mind. Traditional alternative treatments such as exercise and meditation make up only part of the regimen. A green mental health approach looks at nutritional deficiencies and toxins in the system as well.
In addition to getting a full complement of nutrients often missing from the American processed food diet, such as vitamin C, people also need to detoxify their bodies of aluminum, cadmium, lead and other heavy metals that accumulate in their bodies as a result of environmental contamination. Many of these toxins can cause depression.
Westwind said a primary goal of green mental health is to treat the whole body rather than automatically turn to antidepressants and other anti-psychotic medications, which can cause a whole host of side effects such as obesity, cardiovascular problems and sexual dysfunction.
“Many on these drugs, including huge numbers of teenagers, are having difficulty with emotional and physical intimacy,” she said. “So many of us are on antidepressants. We feel nothing. We’re joyless. There’s so much pressure to be an achiever, to be happy. What will we become as a species if the range of emotions, the ability to experience intimacy, goes out the window?
“The most exciting thing about this field is that it could change the stigma of mental illness. By putting the body into the equation, it could help us treat the whole person and dismantle the stigma. It’s a very compassionate approach.”
As a green mental health coach, Westwind offers a course called “Natural Mind” based on a text by integrative health practitioner Dr. Mark Hyman. She also practices eco-therapy, or outdoor therapy, based on a person’s connection to the natural world.
“As we talk through issues, I encourage people to be mindful of where they are. We look at features in nature and see how we are what we see. I help them draw metaphors from the natural world and break down the barrier of separateness. It’s an illusion that we’re somehow separate from all that surrounds us, that we’re stewards rather than equal participants. We are nature.”
Readers can learn more about green mental health at Westwind’s web site, naturalmindwellmind.com.