Darlene Egelhoff
(970) 209-9086
503 6th St, Crested Butte 81224

Suicide and Relapse Prevention: A Holistic, Biochemical Approach

Suicide and addictions are not selfish, they are broken brains. People who suffer with severe depression and/or addictions, as well as other mental health issues, most times have a bio-chemical imbalance that often overrides the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PC) where rational thought, decision making, judgement, personality, morality, spirituality, a will to live, and relationships, including deep, profound love are rooted. It is well known these issues are caused by neurotransmitter (NT) imbalance and deficiencies in the brain. No one chooses to suffer such painful emotions or to be an addict. While our choices are contributors, there is no level playing field. Many of us are drawn to addictive substances and/or behaviors because we were low in “feel good” brain chemicals to begin with either genetically, from chronic stress, trauma, or a combination, and became addicted because of our biology. There are over 800 genes associated with addictions. Specifically the NT’s are serotonin, endorphins, GABA, and dopamine, which targets the reward system of the brain and offers external relief that stimulates the production of those feel good chemicals. My brother joked that “Our family gene pool could use some chlorine”. Little did I know at the time he was right. Our family is steeped generationally in addiction, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, myself included. Our dearly beloved brother and hero chose to end his life over a decade ago. It still hurts profoundly. It is part of why I have been drawn to the profession of recovery. There is help. Brains are Neuroplastic meaning they can be reshaped and healed through good nutrition, learning to think differently, manage emotions, and cultivate joy, meaning, and purpose.

Studies show that a lack of serotonin, which is a NT that is produced with dietary tryptophan an essential amino acid, along with important nutrient cofactors, has been strongly implicated in the neurobiology of suicide across industrialized nations. Low Dopamine that is produced with dietary tyrosine is associated with ADHD, drug and food abuse, as well as other harmful behaviors and mental health issues. NT’s are synthesized from amino acids obtained from protein in the diet. Amino acids are natural substances found in food as well as in supplement form available at local health food stores. A well- nourished brain allows for better coping skills. Improved mood, and relationships. No matter the cause, the solution is to get the body the necessary nutrients it needs through diet and supplements, including a good multivitamin, to restore proper NT function and prevent NT depletion as much as possible eliminating toxins and harmful substances.

There is a scary high correlation of relapse, domestic violence, and suicidal thoughts to having missed a meal. A hungry brain goes off-line causing less self-control, impulse control, increasing irritability, aggression, and a desire to self-harm or use substances interfering with crucial sobriety skills and decision making. Low blood sugar puts the body into a fight/flight response that uses up serotonin and other important nutrients to produce more stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, derailing the PC with the emotional part of the brain, the limbic system, taking control reacting without thought. You’ve probably heard it called “HANGRY” which is an emotional response due to low blood sugar. I agree that there are times when prescribed drugs are very helpful if not essential. However, many mental health issues may be very successfully treated with good nutrition. For NT production and good mental health nutrition it is recommended that we eat at least half of our body weight in protein spread out in no less than 3 meals a day in order to get the necessary amino acids to convert into NT’s and at least 4 cups of colorful veggies for the necessary vitamins and nutrients needed as co-factors. Drink at least half of your body weight in water and include saturated fats and omega 3’s for communication of those NT’s to keep your brain cells well hydrated and communicating well.

Please help reduce the stigma around mental health by educating yourself and others, asking questions, and by looking after yourself and your neighbors through a lens of compassion and love offering support, care, and a warm smile to others. And please support the 3rd annual Crested Butte Turkey Trot at the 4way stop on Thanksgiving Day at 8:30am presented by Camp 4 coffee and hosted by Griggs Orthopedics. Proceeds go to supporting mental health services and outreach in the Gunnison Valley.

Darlene Egelhoff, licensed mental health counselor