Reviewed by Dr Mihaela Bucur, Consultant Psychiatrist
Lifestyle psychiatry is an emerging approach within the mental healthcare field that acknowledges how lifestyle factors affect mental health, physical well-being, and psychiatric conditions. This approach considers lifestyle choices like diet and nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress management, social connections, and other environmental factors and recognises how they can significantly influence mental health outcomes.
Traditional psychiatric practice has long focused on medication and therapy as primary interventions for treating mental disorders. Lifestyle psychiatry seeks to complement these approaches and go a bit deeper by including specific recommendations for exercise, nutrition, sleep, or stress management to promote holistic well-being. Integrating lifestyle modifications into psychiatric treatment can help optimise mental health outcomes, prevent relapse, and enhance overall quality of life.
The Rise of Lifestyle Psychiatry
We can trace the origins of lifestyle psychiatry back to the broader movement of lifestyle medicine, which emerged in response to escalating rates of chronic disease and mental health disorders worldwide. Lifestyle medicine is an evidence-based approach that emphasises the impact of lifestyle behaviours on physical and psychological health. As mental health issues continued to rise, experts and practitioners realised the importance of incorporating lifestyle interventions into mental healthcare.
Compiling studies from various disciplines, including psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, nutrition, and public health helped researchers better grasp the profound influence of lifestyle choices on brain function and mental health. This combined evidence laid the foundation for lifestyle psychiatry to emerge as a new field within mental healthcare. In 2019, Douglas L Noordsy, MD, edited the comprehensive book Lifestyle Psychiatry, published by American Psychiatric Association Publishing. It provides an evidence-based approach to the burgeoning field of lifestyle psychiatry.
Lifestyle Psychiatry: Key Factors for Mental Health
Lifestyle psychiatry acknowledges the role of various key factors and how they influence mental health. Examining these factors can help us understand their role in overall wellness and improved mental health outcomes.
Nutrition and Diet
Nutrition plays a crucial role in brain health and cognitive functioning. Specific nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can support cognitive function and mood regulation. On the other hand, highly processed foods with excessive additives, sugar, and inflammatory fats are associated with increased rates of depression symptoms and other mental health disorders.
Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins can promote better cognitive function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. These foods include cold-water fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna and mackerel), nuts and seeds, avocado oil, and olive oil.
Regular exercise has numerous benefits for mental health. Physical activity can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while promoting positive mood and cognitive function.
Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins – neurotransmitters that promote feelings of well-being. According to the National Institute of Health, walking 30 minutes a day can boost mood and improve overall health (and small amounts of exercise add up throughout the day!).
Adequate sleep is essential for emotional regulation and overall mental well-being. Poor sleep patterns and sleep disorders can contribute to mood disturbances and worsen psychiatric conditions.
Sticking to a schedule and getting enough sleep creates a solid foundation for overall wellness. Practising good sleep hygiene by reducing blue light exposure from screens (phones, computers, television), developing a bedtime routine, limiting caffeine and alcohol, and using blackout curtains can help protect your circadian rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep.
Chronic stress can negatively impact mental health. Meditation, yoga, journaling, gratitude practices, and other mindfulness-based activities can be an essential part of stress management. These interventions provide opportunities to identify and challenge negative thoughts while developing a more positive mindset.
A mental health professional may also work with individuals to set goals, identify priorities, and develop boundaries. These efforts can help create more resilience, mitigate the impact of chronic stress, and prevent overwhelm.
Human beings are social creatures, and strong social connections are vital for mental health. Isolation and loneliness can contribute to the development and progression of mental health disorders. Comparatively, strong social connections and a sense of belonging are linked to better mental health and stress resilience.
A lifestyle psychiatrist can recommend opportunities for social connection rooted in your hobbies and interests. They can also help you address barriers to social connection by working with you to strengthen communication, improve self-confidence, and develop a better work/life balance.
Substance abuse and addiction can significantly impair mental health, exacerbate other psychiatric conditions, and hinder treatment outcomes.
Lifestyle psychiatry focuses on whole-person interventions for comprehensive recovery. This approach also looks at the root causes of substance misuse and identifies behavioural patterns that may increase the risk of relapse.
Living in a supportive and safe environment can positively affect mental well-being; access to green spaces and exposure to nature can improve mood and reduce stress. While we can’t always easily adjust our environments, a lifestyle psychiatry-focused therapist can help you develop hobbies and routines that make you feel more at ease in the world around you.
Integrating Lifestyle Psychiatry into Treatment
Lifestyle psychiatry involves a personalised and integrative approach to mental health care. Psychiatrists and mental health professionals with specialised experience in lifestyle psychiatry work closely with patients to identify lifestyle factors that contribute to mental health, either positively or negatively. From there, they can develop individualised treatment plans incorporating evidence-based lifestyle interventions alongside traditional psychiatric therapies.
In general, implementing lifestyle psychiatry in practice typically involves a few stages, outlined below.
Behavioral health treatment should always start with a comprehensive assessment to understand the patient’s symptoms presentation, history, mental state, and lifestyle habits. Lifestyle psychiatry goes a bit further and will also include a thorough evaluation of a patient’s health-related behaviours and lifestyle choices regarding diet, physical activity, sleep patterns, stress levels, social connections, and substance use, if applicable.
By combining information from multiple assessments, healthcare providers can comprehensively understand a patient’s mental health and physical condition – and how lifestyle factors may contribute to their symptoms. At APN London, a comprehensive assessment is always the first step in creating a personalised treatment plan for each client.
Treatment Planning and Goal Setting
Next, the patient and the treatment provider will work together to set specific lifestyle goals based on the assessment. These goals are designed to address areas of concern and support mental well-being and are tailored for each patient.
At APN London, we believe patient input should help guide treatment recommendations. We’ll take time to learn your story, understand your strengths, and set measurable goals rooted in evidence-based approaches.
Education and Therapy
Providing education about how lifestyle factors affect mental health can help improve client outcomes. Lifestyle psychiatry may include various therapeutic modalities like psychoeducation for the individual client and their support network to help increase self-awareness and make informed, positive changes. Individual and group therapy can provide targeted support and new opportunities for self-reflection, and family therapy sessions can deepen understanding within a broader support system.
Continued Monitoring and Support
Regular follow-ups and check-ins allow the psychiatrist and other mental health professionals within the lifestyle psychiatry team to monitor progress, provide support, and adjust the treatment plan as needed. Continued monitoring is an important part of lifestyle psychiatry because change takes time; it would be unrealistic and irresponsible to recommend a list of lifestyle changes to a patient without providing a structure with multiple opportunities to check in and objectively assess progress.
Collaboration with Other Professionals
Lifestyle psychiatrists often collaborate with other healthcare providers, such as general practitioners, nutritionists, physical therapists, mindfulness practitioners, and therapists. Collaboration is a key component of comprehensive care – increasing a client’s professional support network gives them multiple avenues to access ongoing care.
Pharmacological and Psychotherapeutic Interventions
Lifestyle psychiatry does not replace conventional treatments – instead, it complements them. Medication and psychotherapy are reliable, evidence-based tools and may still be necessary for some individuals, especially those with severe or persistent mental health conditions.
Lifestyle Psychiatry: Efficacy and Applications
Lifestyle psychiatry represents a promising approach to mental health care, emphasising the role of lifestyle factors in influencing mental well-being and psychiatric conditions. As research in this field continues to grow and awareness increases, lifestyle psychiatry has the potential to become an integral part of comprehensive mental health care.
While it can be difficult to quantify the results of a lifestyle psychiatry approach, this meta-review itemises the outcomes and acknowledges that lifestyle psychiatry and health behaviours “may play an important role in prevention and treatment of mental illness.” When we address the key factors that contribute to mental health and physical wellness, patients have better long-term health outcomes.
Lifestyle Psychiatry: APN London
At All Points North in London, we utilise lifestyle psychiatry to reduce disease burden and improve overall health by addressing modifiable contributors. Lifestyle psychiatry is one of many therapeutic modalities our multi-professional team uses to help clients develop comprehensive, personalised treatment plans.
Our lifestyle psychiatry approach specifically considers the following lifestyle factors:
- Social interactions and relationships
- Substance use
- Mental and physical health
By combining information from multiple assessments, we can comprehensively understand an individual’s mental health and lifestyle factors contributing to their symptoms. We use this valuable information to create a personalised treatment plan with each client that addresses their mental health concerns and lifestyle factors to improve overall well-being.
The Lifestyle Psychiatry Programme at APN London
The proposed length of the lifestyle psychiatry programme at APN is three months, with weekly multidisciplinary team (MDT) input. We use personalised lifestyle plans to enable a holistic and meaningful approach to positive lifestyle changes and monthly comprehensive mental health assessments.
We may also indicate a review from a general practitioner before treatment and again after three months to assess the impact of lifestyle changes on physical health. After three months, the client will develop a personalised lifestyle maintenance plan with the MDT and establish follow-up every three to six months.
While family and friends can provide emotional support, an integrated multidisciplinary team can empower you to pursue better health with specific and individualised professional recommendations. The APN London MDT includes nutritionists, psychiatrists, exercise specialists, mind-body therapists, general practitioners, and sleep specialists.
Get Started with Lifestyle Psychiatry
The lifestyle psychiatry programme at APN London benefits clients with mental health conditions and anyone who would like to start making transformative changes to their lives through healthy habits. To get started with a free consultation, call 0203 984 7699 or complete our online contact form.