What causes mood disorders in young people?

As we grow older, many of us have the tendency to idealize our child- and young-adulthood as a carefree, exploratory time, with few responsibilities or consequences.

Naturopathic Medicine, Naturopathic Doctor, Marita Schauch

Whether that view of our youth is true or not, North American statistics are showing a new trend towards the opposite: a study released by Statistics Canada on January 17 showed that over 11% of Canadians age 15-24 have experienced an MDE (major depressive episode) at some point in their lives. They are the demographic with the highest incidence of mental health disorders in North America.

The number appears to rising, as well: a study done in the US showed a 37% increase in mental health issues in young people between 2005 and 2014. Scarier still? Suicide is the second cause of death for kids in this age bracket.

...a study done in the US showed a 37% increase in mental health issues in young people between 2005 and 2014.

So what’s causing poor mental health in our young adults? And, more importantly, what can we do to help?

The diet

Naturopathy, Dr. Marita Schauch

The inflammatory response in the body and brain is largely due to the dysregulation of stress hormones, infections, environmental toxins and a diet rich in trans fats and sugar.

Canadian researchers found that a protein known to be a marker of inflammation was up to 1/3 higher in the brains of depressed patients compared to healthy ones.  Those with the most severe forms of depression also had the most inflammation.

Naturopathy, Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Marita Schauch

The current SAD (standard American diet) is FULL of hidden sugars, allergens, and food stripped of its nutrients due to over-farming… all things that cause massive amounts of inflammation in the body!

Parents have less control over what their kids eat between the ages of 15-24, so there’s a good chance inflammatory foods are being consumed on a regular basis by this at-risk age group - much to their mental health’s detriment.

Healthy gut, healthy brain

Naturopathy, Dr. Marita Schauch

On the subject of what we’re eating, our gut, or gastrointestinal (GI) system, is intimately connected to our brain. Just as emotional situations can cause feelings in our stomach (think about feeling butterflies, or feeling nauseous when we’re nervous), what’s going on in the gut can cause an emotional response.

In fact, did you know that 85% of our “happy hormones”, like serotonin and dopamine, are produced in our gut? Also, 80% of the immune system’s tissues are located in our gut.

Naturopathy, Naturopathic Medicine, Dr. Marita Schauch

The gut is as much of an epicentre in the body as the brain!

This is why it’s vitally important that we sustain a healthy gut flora. When we eat too many sugars, or allergens like wheat, dairy, corn and/or soy, our gut loses its ability to perform optimally.

Never mind just feeling sluggish or low-energy because we’re not digesting our food properly - if our GI system isn’t healthy, it won’t produce enough of the hormones we need to moderate our mood, either.

Screens & Social Media

If you’ve read my blog or visited me at my clinic, you’ll know that I advocate screen-free time strongly, particularly when mental health issues are involved.

Even for adults, who have (mostly) fully-formed opinions of themselves and the world, being exposed to a constant influx of information can have negative impacts on health, and self-worth.

Naturopathy, Counselling, Dr. Marita Schauch

For teens and young adults, too much screen time and exposure to social media can be like poison. As the brain develops it requires real-life social interaction and engagement, not 2D moderated interaction. Additionally, happiness studies have shown that a sense of community is crucial to living a happy, fulfilling life.

The isolation of staring at a screen all day, combined with the social pressure and downright bullying that happens on various social media platforms, make technology a bit of a lethal combo for a young person with a mood disorder - or on the verge of developing one.

How to help

If you suspect your child is struggling with their mental health, I highly recommend visiting a professional - be it an MD, and ND, or a counsellor - who can make suggestions for your unique situation.

That being said, there are some supplements & lifestyle changes you can implement right now.

Certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies and underlying hormone imbalances can lead to changes in our brain chemicals and lead to mood disorders.  The following are important to have checked by your MD or ND:  Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, iron, thyroid, adrenals, and blood sugars.


Naturopathy, Dr. Marita Schauch

5-HTP may help to increase serotonin synthesis as depression and anxiety have been linked to serotonin imbalances in the brain.

Passionflower is known as a “calming” herb for anxiety or nervousness, insomnia, generalized anxiety disorder, and ADHD.

PharmaGABA is the most inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.  Low levels of GABA have been linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Probiotics will restore imbalances in the microbiota in the gut that can negatively affect brain function.

B vitamins, especially B12, B6, B5 and folic acid are often low in people with anxiety and depression.

Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the inflammatory response in the body, which seems to be an underlying cause in depression and anxiety.


Naturopathy, Dr. Marita Schauch

Encourage your kids to get outside, see their friends in person, engage with their family, read, write (on paper!), play sports - anything that breaks up the lonely monotony that comes with “smart” technology. “Phone free” zones and times of day can be really effective, as can strict boundaries - your kids may not like the feeling of being without their technology at first, but the benefits far outweigh the bad moods!

More than anything, if you suspect your teen/young adult is suffering, a little love & compassion can go a long way. It’s hard enough to be a teenager, but nowadays kids and young adults are contending with a world  - and a level of mental health - we’ve never seen before. Try to be patient with them, and give them the support they need.

The psychological effects of concussion

One of the most challenging things about concussion is that you can’t see it; there are no scars, no broken bones, very few, if any, outward signs of injury. We hear a lot about common symptoms of concussion such as headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, balance or vision issues, and memory and attentional impairments, but we don’t often talk (openly) about the psychological symptoms.

When it comes to concussion, I’ll begin by emphasizing that everyone is different and each experience is unique. Psychological and emotional symptoms present differently in each person. That said, there are a few more common symptoms that we tend to see. Here’s a short list, along with a few strategies to help you work through them:


There is no shortage of things to worry about post-concussion. How long will this last? When will I be able to go back to school/work/play? What will others think of me? Will I ever be the same again?

Excessive worry never seems to do much good for anyone, especially if you’re worrying about things that are beyond your control. When you’re injured, your physical, cognitive, and emotional resources are limited. Ask yourself this: is there anything you can do right now to help the situation? If the answer is yes, then do it. If the answer is no, then direct your energy toward more productive avenues. Focus on the 3 S’s: Strengths, Solutions, and Safety. 


Getting back to “normal”, financial concerns, work or social commitments, physical and cognitive limitations, the list goes on. 

Test out some strategies to manage your stress.

Test out some strategies to manage your stress.

Being injured is stressful, no one should deny that, including you.  The first step is acknowledging your stress and, more importantly, identifying your “stressors”. What are your “yellow light” and “red light” things that signal stress? Know your triggers, acknowledge them and decide in advance how you’d like to deal with them. Test out some strategies to manage stress like deep breathing, meditation, light physical activity, or just spend time with a friend or loved one. Everyone deals with stress differently, the key is knowing what works for you and deciding in advance how you’re going to deal with it. 

Depression/Low mood:

You’ve been told you should rest, limit your screen time, limit your physical and cognitive strain, you can’t do your regular duties or activities, you’re missing out on other commitments, and you generally don’t feel all that good, physically or mentally. 

Optimism and hope matter. You will get through this.

Optimism and hope matter. You will get through this.

Concussions suck. Period. But they are not uncommon, and one has happened to you. While that can be pretty scary and overwhelming, it isn’t permanent. We hear all about the ‘worst case scenarios’ in the media, but we don’t often hear about all the people who successfully recover from concussion (the vast majority) in a reasonable amount of time (a few weeks to months). Again, everyone is different, but those with a positive outlook tend to experience positive outcomes (ref). Look for the good things, no matter how small they are, and choose to focus on those. What are you able to do? What are you learning from this experience? How is it making you stronger? Make a list and refer to it often.


Flashbacks, nightmares, negative thoughts, avoiding certain places or activities, avoiding thoughts/feelings, fear of re-injury.

You’ve been through something significant and when that happens your subconscious mind can sometimes take advantage of your vulnerability. Talk about it. Grab a close friend, family member, or a professional, and talk it out. Sometimes this can be scary and uncomfortable, but better out than in, as they say. Once you feel a little more comfortable talking about it, try to gradually reintroduce some of the things that make you uncomfortable. For example, if concussion is a result of a car accident, the idea of driving might be stressful for you. Start by simply spending a few minutes per day just sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked car. Put your hands on the wheel. Maybe even turn the car on and adjust some of the radio or mirror settings. Eventually, once you feel comfortable (and that might take days, weeks, or months), take a slow ride around your block or on quiet side street, and then build from there. By gradually reintroducing some of these things in a safe and controlled environment, you allow your body and mind to build some confidence to reengage in those activities or experiences.  


He was driving too fast and not paying attention, the turf was too wet we shouldn’t have been playing on it, I should have been more careful, he back-checked me on purpose!

It happened, it was scary, but it’s over now and your energy is best spent in the here-and-now.
Physiotherapy, Concussion

It’s human nature to want to understand why bad things happen and it can feel cathartic (at least temporarily, anyway) to assign blame. The problem with that is, when we assign blame to others, we remove our control over the situation; we become victims. In some cases, it can even be tempting to blame yourself. The problem is, the blame game can take a serious toll on your recovery. Blame requires a focus on the past (what happened, why did it happen, who was involved, etc.) but at the end of the day, how can you expect to move forward and recover if you’re spending your limited resources dwelling on the past? It happened, it was scary, but it’s over now and your energy is best spent in the here-and-now. What are you going to do today to help yourself move forward? What is your goal and what steps can you take to bring yourself closer to achieving it? 

To summarize, this is very much a simplified explanation of the psychological and emotional side-effects of concussion paired with a few tidbits of advice, but be well-aware that there really is a lot more to it. These symptoms can be difficult to acknowledge and challenging to work through – no one is saying it’s easy – but around here we like to operate guided by optimism, positivity and, of course, the evidence. What that tells us is that with the right attitude, a lot of hard work, and maybe a little guidance, you really can feel better, get back to school, work, sport, and life, and thrive once again.

'Tis the unwind?

Acupuncture, Lucy Mei Lee

We are quickly approaching the holiday season including Winter Solstice, which officially marks the longest night of the year and the return of the lengthening days.  In Chinese medicine, we consider winter to be a time for restoration and going inwards in opposition to summer when the abundance of sunshine gets us moving and wanting to be outdoors.  That may seem easy as the weather makes staying inside a little more tempting, but it may be harder than you realize.

Acupuncture, Lucy Mei Lee

    This idea of waxing and waning energies is described as “Yin and Yang Theory”, which is portrayed in this iconic black and white symbol.  In this theory, everything is divided up into relative “yin” and relative “yang” categories which work together to mutually oppose as well as support each other.  You cannot have one value without the other: up/down, in/out, left/right, male/female etc.  Daytime belongs to yang (brightness, movement) and nighttime belongs to yin (darkness, stillness), which means that winter is the most yin time of year.  What does this mean for our health and well-being?         

It means that during winter, taking time to be quiet and reflective is even more essential.  That certainly can be challenging amongst all the demands of the season to shop, socialize, decorate etc.  While these kinds of activities help to bring brightness on the darkest of days, we must remember to honour that inner calling to slow down and regenerate as well.  So many other animals are hibernating right now and I’m sure many of you have felt the temptation to curl up in the blankets just a little bit longer.  So, I would encourage you to do so and stop judging yourself for it; sleep a little longer, read a few more pages of that book, sit quietly in a chair and take an internal inventory or review of your year. 

You might be pleasantly surprised how taking it a little easy now can set you up for a better health in the spring

While there is a real concern for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is well addressed in many articles out there with helpful tips including Dr Marita Schauch’s (here),  we must also remember that there is a natural decrease in sunlight occurring that may be affecting our energy levels.  With that in mind, ease up on how much you are demanding of yourself right now and be sure to check in with yourself on how many events you can realistically do comfortably.  You might be pleasantly surprised how taking it a little easy now can set you up for a better health in the spring.

I also encourage everyone to make sure you have things to look forward to this winter season.  Perhaps a yoga or meditation class is just what you need to set aside some quiet time to go within.  A counselling session could also help put things into perspective.  My patients find that acupuncture is wonderful way to recharge your batteries and let go of stress.  There are so many “shoulds” at this time of year, make sure you add something in for yourself, now or in the New Year. 

Happy holidays everyone.