The Connection Between Mental Illness and Thyroid Health
I had a good life growing up. I had supportive parents, strong friendships, good teachers and educators, and a good brother who shared his toys with me (most of the time). I had grandparents who adored us, and aunts and uncles who were there for my brother and I through it all. There was no tough love, we were given everything a child could ever want. I look back at my childhood and remember the many cottage trips with my dad, and the dance competitions with my mom. I remember going up north to visit extended family and trips across the border to go shopping and stay in fancy hotels. Like I said, I had a good life growing up.
It is bittersweet to look back on these memories because I can recall being miserable for a lot of it. I had no reason to be, but I was. I was overweight and never felt good enough, despite my parent’s endless love and support for me. I used to look back and think I was lazy and spoiled. Now I am realizing that I was probably struggling.
I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease when I was 12 years old, but they say you can have the symptoms up to a decade before being diagnosed. It makes sense. I ate pretty healthy. I liked food and sugar just as much as any other kid but not enough to explain my weight issues. I was competitively dancing four days a week and still gaining weight rapidly. I was 209 pounds at just 13 years old. I was 'lazy', never wanted to do anything and was always tired. I was irritable and would lash out and people, especially my poor mother. I had a good life, but something was always off.
Fast-forward a couple of years, I was taking Synthroid every day and eating a gluten-free diet (by choice). I had dropped 90 pounds in just eight months and felt genuinely happy for the first time in my life. The diagnosis, medication and diet changes seemed to have saved me from my own mind. I was 15 years old and happy. Unfortunately, shortly after this I lost my best friend, tragically and fell back into old patterns. Grief had taken a major toll on my health. I lost most of my long, thick hair, I started to break out, I would lose weight and then gain weight. I developed a debilitating anxiety disorder and pretty much gave up in school. To be quite honest with you, I don’t remember most of what happened that year. I blocked out a lot of those memories.
It has been almost five years since her death. My former doctor used to connect all my symptoms to her. It always felt like I was blaming her for my problems. My hair was falling out because of the stress. My weight was fluctuating because of the stress. I was tired because of the stress. I was depressed because of the stress and I was anxious because of the stress. Though this may have been true at the beginning, it has been five years and I am still struggling with these issues. I was told it wasn’t my thyroid because my TSH labs were in range, all I needed was some anti-depressants and things would start to fall into place.
I had a good life, but a hard one. I dealt with things that most people don’t have to deal with at a young age. I am sure the chronic stress had led to a rise in my antibodies and the worsening of my condition. You see, there is a massive connection between our mental health and our thyroid. Had I known this growing up I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself. There is a connection between stress and thyroid disorders and grief and thyroid disorders as well.
The Connection Between Mental Health and Thyroid Disease
If you’re reading this and also suffer from thyroid issues I can almost guarantee you’ve suffered debilitating mental health issues as well. It is not all in your head. Thyroid disease and mental health disorders share an intricate connection to one another.
Statistics state that around 20% of those diagnosed with depression are also suffering from a thyroid disorder. There is even research that suggests 52% of depressed patients have subclinical hypothyroidism, meaning their thyroid gland is slow but not slow enough to be detected in a lab test as abnormal. It is only a matter of time before these people are full blown hypo/hyperthyroid.
There are three common issues I see in thyroid patients that could also be the reason they are struggling with their mental health. All three of these issues are directly related to one another and are present in all autoimmune conditions.
1. Nutrient Deficiencies
Without an abundance of nutrients such as vitamin D, A, B, selenium, iodine, Omega 3s, magnesium, folate, iron, amino acids, zinc etc., we can experience depression, anxiety and other mental health ailments. Thyroid patients, because of our compromised immune system and metabolism, often struggle with the absorption of these nutrients which directly alters our mental health.
2. Gut Health Related Issues
90% of serotonin is metabolized in our digestive tract. If you don’t have a healthy gastrointestinal system, you are probably not metabolizing key hormones for the health of our brains. Our microbiome releases neurotransmitters connecting our gut to our brain. It works both ways. By healing our gut, we can experience an increase in serotonin levels and by reducing our stress we can experience a healthier gut.
3. Adrenal Dysfunction
Our body responds to the environment we live in. Often, our lack of hormone production in the body is the reason why we suffer from mental illness. The adrenal glands share a connection between the mind and the body and are responsible for secreting vital hormones in the blood. Adrenal dysfunction will alter our hormone production making it hard for our bodies to adapt to stress and other mental health related issues.
It is important to note that although I refused medications for depression not everyone will feel as though they have that option. There is no shame in taking medications for mental illness and I am just speaking on behalf of my own experiences. As soon as I started to focus on the root causes of my thyroid and autoimmune condition, I started to heal physically and mentally. The dark cloud that followed me around, evaporated and I finally feel like I did for those short months back when I was 15 years old. This is something I have to dedicate my life too. As soon as I stop working to heal my body I will slip back into the many issues that left me miserable and sick. What I want you to know is that healing is possible and that your mental health condition does not define who you are as a person.
You are not alone. This is a very real problem today. If you have a chronic health condition and are also experiencing issues with your mental health, I urge you to find a doctor who will look into how your condition directly relates to the health of your mental state. if you have not been diagnosed with a chronic health condition but relate to this post, be sure to rule out chronic, physical health conditions. You don’t have to live an unbalanced, miserable life. Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are very real and should be taken very seriously. I have a good life and it is only getting better from here!
Thank you for reading! Everything that has happened in your life has led you to this moment.
The Butterfly Effect Blog