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Acupuncture Therapy in Utah: Does it Work?

For those Utah residents who are new to the idea, let’s start with an overview: Acupuncture is the stimulation of certain points in the body through the insertion of thin needles, often paired with topical treatment, heat therapy, and/or suction cups. The process is rarely painful, although some people may still be nervous about the idea of feeling the needles at all. (They may be inserted anywhere from a few millimeters to a few inches depending on location. With proper training and needle standardization, the risks are minimal, but it’s essential to seek out a reputable provider because infections and other serious side effects have been known to occur.


How it Works

In terms of its effectiveness, the answer is yes and no. There is strong evidence to suggest that endogenous opioids, neurotransmitters, and hormones are all released and/or altered during acupuncture. However, the location, classification, and importance of hitting certain spots in the body—acupoints and meridians—remains controversial at best. People who receive this treatment often fare better than no-treatment control groups but about the same as placebo control groups. In other words, it’s possible that acupuncture works, but it only works because it creates an expectation of improvement in the individual.

But here’s something else to think about: This characterization can just as easily be applied to prescription antidepressants. We know that SSRIs inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, but we have no idea how this translates into an improved mood. Meanwhile, new evidence suggests that antidepressants may also work, mostly or entirely, through placebo effects.


What it Works for

The most common use is pain relief, but for mental health, acupuncture has also been used to treat depression, anxiety, addiction, schizophrenia, and PTSD. You can get a sense for the amount of supporting evidence for the treatment of each condition through the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Rather than a blooming “cure-all” treatment, there could be something about these conditions and the somatic experience of skin therapy that more easily lends itself to placebo effects.


Seeking Acupuncture Therapy in Utah

With this overview in mind, we encourage Utah residents to learn more about acupuncture and make their own judgments. Here’s something that does reliably improve one’s mental health: Increasing the control one has over their decision-making and behaviors. Maybe acupuncture with its somatic, tactile experience makes sense for you. Maybe yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, or some other complementary therapy better speaks to your individual tastes.

More to this point, don’t seek out this therapy with the idea that it’s an easy fix. Those who think they can merely lie on a table, get stuck with a bunch of needles, and get cured aren’t likely to receive much benefit. Placebos notwithstanding, there is no magic wand to wave away a serious bout of anxiety or depression.


Sustained Improvement with Mental Health Therapy

Here’s our final recommendation: It’s one thing if you’re looking to nurture positive mental health in general, but if you have reason to believe that you have a serious problem with depression, anxiety, or some other mental health condition, reach out to a mental health professional. Placebo effects may provide an important boost, but they may also be short-lived. Working with a licensed therapist can help “lock-in” these gains through a series of talk therapy sessions.


What is Anxiety, and How does it Affect People in Utah?

What is anxiety? If you’re looking for a catch-all definition, anxiety is feelings of worry, fear, or unease that tend to center on uncertain and threatening outcomes. It could be not having enough money. It could be whether a group of people will judge you as unworthy. It could be a fear of gaining weight. It could be a fear that a past trauma will happen again. That said, even a basic understanding of what anxiety is requires more than a working definition.

Depending on the context and person, anxiety can be a source of short-term focus and motivation, or it could be a persistent mood that leads to stomach pain, respiratory distress, fatigue, as well as other physical and psychological symptoms.


The Slippery Nature of Anxiety

Anxiety is deeply influenced by both nature and nurture. An individual’s genetic makeup, the social pressures they face, and cultural values they’ve internalized all help determine the contours of one’s anxiety. It may seem odd that our brains have trouble distinguishing between an ancient predator lurking in the tall grass and this month’s car payment. But it’s also true that, overall, anxiety has served humanity well. It’s not just faster reaction times for fight-and-flight responses. Anxiety has a way of super-charging our problem-solving. It spurred us on to invent better shelter, food production, and other evolutionary advantages. Unfortunately, anxiety is also the engine behind things like eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and post-traumatic stress. Not to mention anxiety disorders themselves.


What is Anxiety, and how does it Work?

Anxiety is the emotional expression of an unresolved problem that has threatening implications. Your mind becomes active, and there is a corresponding rush of hormones to the rest of the body. Anxiety occurs to the body every bit as much as it occurs in the mind. This is why anxiety disorders are diagnosed as much by the physical symptoms as the psychological ones.

Anxious feelings can be rational or irrational, or both at the same time. How can it be both? Consider someone riding Cannibal, the new coaster at Lagoon Amusement Park, or the extreme zipline at Olympic Park. Anxious fear results from your cognitive brain being unable to convince your emotional and instinctual brain that the harness is going to hold. Thus, it’s rational to be afraid of falling to your death, but it’s pretty irrational to think this time is the time that something’s going to go wrong.


How Anxiety Affects People in Utah

Anxiety’s fearful judgment of past, present, and future events has a way of eating at the soul. More than just what is anxiety, here’s a better question to ask: What is anxiety for you? Is it helping you make your life better or worse? When you try, can you stop feeling anxious? Or least get it under control? Do you feel anxious all the time? Or are there times when the anxiety gets so bad that it’s difficult to breath, or your heart feels like it’s going to beat itself right out of your chest?

Usually, it’s also worth taking a look at what triggers your anxiety. Are you terrified of people thinking you’re fat? Or lazy? Are you having a crisis of faith? Is the anxiety a pure, formless terror that seems to rise up out of nowhere?


Having Trouble with Your Anxiety?

Taking stock of your own anxious feelings can help you take the right course of action. There are plenty of natural remedies, anxiety medications, and psychotherapy treatments that can provide at least some measure of relief. Maybe you simply need to develop better coping mechanisms that will enable you to get a handle on your anxiety. Or maybe you need medications and therapy to reduce the frequency and severity of your panic attacks. Check out our guide on anxiety treatment in Utah, or search for a mental health practice in your neighborhood.


Remote Therapy vs. Office Therapy in Utah

Also known as virtual therapy, e-therapy, or online therapy, remote therapy is becomingly increasingly popular and widely available. In addition to nationwide “e-therapy” companies, many therapists in Utah offer this type of therapy service to prospective clients. Starting with cost, there are number of reasons why people tend to seek out this type of therapy arrangement.

First and foremost, a lot of people want to know—all things being equal—is remote therapy just as good as a face-to-face office setting? So far, the research confirms that it’s better than nothing and very cost-efficient as well. There is also research to suggest that remote may be just as good as office therapy, but the jury is still out. In fact, this area of study is so new there’s still hot debate over how mental health researchers should design their experimental studies to compare effect sizes. Simply accounting for differences in audio/video quality and the reliability of Internet connections is problematic.


Individual Factors in Choosing Remote Therapy

Even though everybody knows better, it’s still easy to think that our mental health is somehow separate from where we live and what financial resources we have at our disposal. Talking to a qualified therapist in an office setting might mean a drive of several hours for people in places like Snowville or Garrison or Blanding. Even people much closer to the I-5 corridor may have considerable challenges in commuting to an office location.

One way to think of the potential value of remote therapy is the client’s own attitude about the approach:

  • If an individual doubts that any therapy is worth the trouble, seeks out remote therapy because it’s easy, and then doesn’t take the process seriously, this is a largely self-defeating attitude. A therapist may try to overcome this initial resistance, but if it’s surmised that the online nature of the therapy is a barrier to improvement, you can expect the therapist to make a different recommendation.
  • People who live in distant rural areas or who otherwise have trouble accessing therapy services may be thrilled to discover they have some way to talk to a qualified mental health professional, be it on a short-term or ongoing basis. In fact, the relief and hope tends to produce its own short-term improvement to mental health, an improvement that ideally can be built upon during future sessions.

The irony is that many of the same people who are most likely to benefit from remote therapy services are less likely to have the hardware and broadband Internet connection necessary for the best virtual therapy settings. On the other hand, for some people, remote vs. office-based therapy is a false choice. Some therapists offer in-home therapy. Often, the availability of these services is based on individual circumstances and living within certain geographical boundaries.


Comfort-Level and Confidentiality

In terms of confidentiality, there are pros and cons to both types of therapy. By visiting an office, you do run at least some risk of someone seeing you go into the building. Yet, remote therapy creates an entirely different kind of risk. HIPAA laws require mental health professionals to take all reasonable and standard precautions in safeguarding their clients’ confidentiality. The thing is nobody really knows yet what this means for online security measures.

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of people have nothing to worry about when it comes to online therapy. So long as you take basic privacy precautions, the people and organizations with the technological sophistication to hack these types of video feeds are generally interested in things other than, say, a stranger’s marital strife. But if confidentiality—especially the content of what you have to say—is a top concern, this is something to think about.


Combining Remote and Office Therapy

Instead of one or the other, sometimes the best solution is a combination or remote and in-office therapy. These arrangements may simply help manage the limited availability and travel schedules for either the therapist or the client.

Some therapists also permit their clients to contact them during off-hours under certain circumstances. Remote therapy is filling this niche, too. Short impromptu online therapy may supplement a regular office therapy schedule. Though rare, some therapists may even use remote communications as an introduction to therapy for clients who have trouble leaving their home or engaging in basic social activities. The idea, then, is to graduate to in-office sessions and eventually greater exposure to social settings in general.

No matter what mode of therapy you think may be right for you, no matter what mental health challenge you’re facing, we encourage and commend you for getting help.


Treatment-Resistant Depression: Hope in the Absence of Relief

As those who suffer from it know all too well, treatment-resistant depression is more than just depression that’s a little harder to treat. It’s often years of poor mood and lack of interest that persist despite multiple, concerted efforts to treat the disorder with a combination of psychotherapy, meds, and other treatment protocols.

There is no single story or experience that fits everybody with treatment-resistant depression, but there are some touchstones that are familiar to many of those who struggle with the disorder. In those rare times when individuals do find themselves caring about something, it might be some vague combination of anger and envy that’s felt toward the nearest person, or maybe it’s a resentment of those who have similar symptoms but who quickly and permanently respond to treatment, so-called “wannabe” depressives. But these feelings never last and what most often takes their place is a deeply ingrained sense that one’s life is not worth living.


Good and Bad Kinds of Psychoeducation

One of the first and most common ways in which depression is treated is with psychotherapy that includes a heavy dose of psychoeducation and mindfulness. By meeting with an experienced therapist, a client learns more about how depression acts on the thoughts and feelings of the individual. Obsessively thinking about depression, also known as rumination, can be one of the signs of the disorder. Recognizing the way in which depressed thoughts become obsessive and exploring ways to disrupt this cognitive pattern, also known as mindfulness, is an essential therapy method for a lot of depressed people.

Yet, this particular symptom of the depressed mind also helps explain why psychoeducation may, in some cases, actually deepen the depressed mood in someone with treatment-resistant depression. Once you’ve read about how neurotransmitters no longer seem to be the key to beating depression, once you’ve read about the lack of new neurons being created in the hippocampus, once you’ve read about depression as an insidious, slow-moving neurological infection, and determined that none of the theories of depression have helped, the last reservoirs of hope may be threatened.


Let’s Talk about a Revolution — and the Hype that Comes with it

Lithium for people with bipolar disorder, antipsychotics for schizophrenics, antidepressants and better ECT protocols. Perhaps in part because mental disorders have some many different potential causes, there is rarely such a thing as a universal cure for everybody who suffers from them. However, the success stories do tend to be dramatic with rapidly-occurring changes.

Today, the frontier of the next revolution seems to look toward neuroscience. PET scans and new MRI technologies are allowing mental health professionals to observe the functioning brain in much greater detail. The study of this brain-imaging data and the resulting research is commonly referred to as neuroscience. But here’s the thing: Neuroscience as it exists today has been severely over-hyped by its own marketing, in large part by a mental health industry that wants to be taken more seriously by the scientific and medical communities. Now that we mental health professionals have neuroscience, we can tell you that your problems are a real thing.


A Better Approach for Treatment-Resistant Depression

There are several problems with this attitude. For one thing, this marketing seemingly tries to persuade people to seek treatment at all costs, but doesn’t seem to be aware of the ways it may diminish the empowerment that comes with seeking therapy. Put another way, this messaging leads the average person to more readily adopt the view that they don’t need to talk to anyone about their problems, they just need to get their brain fixed. The situation is almost always more complicated than that.

Also, neuroscience marketing also dramatically overstates our current understanding of the brain, its underlying mechanisms, and what they might mean for mental health therapy in general. For another thing, it makes it sound like neuroscience has “arrived.” There’s no doubt that brain-imaging technology and the study of neuroscience holds immense promise. But more than likely, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. For most people with treatment-resistant depression, it’s not today’s treatment that offers hope, but tomorrow’s.

And there’s no telling what the future may hold. The day may come when people suffering from a chronic biological depression have access to an easy, effective treatment, while the people who suffer from situational depression must continue to go through a prolonged course of psychotherapy. Or maybe there’s a breakthrough that doesn’t make the news but which delivers life-changing results to you personally. There are clinical trials that produce dramatic results for a few, while creating comparatively little promise for large-scale implementation.


Hope and Bargaining with Your Life’s Value

Even individuals who struggle to believe their life has value may find a way to avoid suicide by bargaining with themselves about their situation. One of the most common examples is the presence of loved ones in their life. I could never do that to my mom. I could never leave my husband on his own like that. But not everybody has these loved ones in their life. And sometimes it’s hard not to think that ending their own long-standing agony shouldn’t be the bigger concern.

Recognizing that a personal mental health revolution may still be in stars is another way to protect that last threads of hope to which one may cling. Even when it feels like there’s nothing left for the individual to try on their own, there are hundreds of thousands of people across the world who are actively studying and experimenting with different mental health therapies.


The Importance of Documenting Treatment-Resistant Depression

The importance is so that you can be first in line for clinical trials and so that mental health professionals can match you with the most promising new treatments. Even as they have deepened your depression over the years, the repeated failure of depression treatments may still lay the groundwork for eventual success. Even if the chances aren’t as big as you would like, endless agony or suicide may turn out to be a false choice if you can keep finding a way to make it through another day.


Feminist Therapy: For Women and Men in Utah

It’s easy to think that feminist therapy is only for women. It’s right there in the name, right? Well, like a lot of things, the truth is a little more complicated than that. Instead, the fundamental principle of this therapy is to first recognize the social forces that have been contributing to the individual’s mental health issues. Next, the therapist and client explore ways together that the individual may overcome these forces.

That said, in a clinical setting, feminist therapy isn’t a chapter in a college philosophy class. The ultimate goals aren’t so much about making insights into society and feminism. Instead, the end result is for the individual to gain control over their self-concept and their life—to empower the individual—so that when the course of therapy is concluded, the client and therapist have established an egalitarian relationship.


Why is it Called Feminist, then?

Good question. To some, a different name might have been a better choice. We could probably give you a lot of explanations, the best one is simply that feminist therapy focuses on the disempowerment that women face. And for good reason. While we generally avoid a game of one-upmanship when it comes to psychological distress, it’s well-documented that women consistently seek counseling at higher rates than men do. Moreover, these differences can’t be dismissed with some comment about men not wanting to ask for help—not when we know, for example, that the rates of childhood sexual abuse are twice as high for women.


Feminist Therapy for Men in Utah

But even as we’re careful not to equivocate between the mental health challenges facing men and women, there is no shortage of situations in which men find themselves that can be explored through a feminist perspective. Maybe you’re gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or not sure. Maybe your passions, hobbies, or career choice have been pigeon-holed as for women only. Maybe you had the crappy luck to be born into a fundamentalist community and were kicked out by older men as a sexual rival when you were an adolescent. Or maybe you’re someone who’s recently struggled to meet their personal goals, goals which are tied to a masculine identity. No matter what your story is and no matter what your goals are, don’t underestimate the potential benefit of talking with a devoted mental health professional.


Feminist Therapy for Women and for Everybody

Feminist therapy is often only one component of an integrated therapy model. EMDR—desensitization and reprocessing therapy—is one of the more effective and popular therapies for trauma and abuse. This process involves eye moment or therapeutic touch to help process the trauma and re-traumatization that may occur in the aftermath. As such, if you’re a woman who wants to talk with a therapist but you’re not sure who exactly, more than just a feminist therapist, you look for someone who has experience working with clients who have faced similar challenges.

Put another way, the practice of feminist therapy, for both men and women, can be described in terms that would apply to most any type of psychotherapy: A therapist with plenty of training and experience talking with people who had similar mental health problems will make every attempt to look at the world through your eyes, to have someone on your side no matter. But also someone who isn’t going to automatically agree with everything you have to say, someone who will help you look for the best path toward better mental health.


What is Marginalization in Mental Health?

In a general sense, marginalization is exactly what it sounds like. It’s pushing people or issues to the margins of society, where they’re less likely to be seen or can be more easily avoided. Most people are at least generally aware that some individuals are living in the shadows of society, but the real issue is all the stories that never get reported and all the struggling people we never hear about at all. And so, while it’s important to understand the concept of marginalization, often the real trick is identifying and changing the things that cause populations in Utah to be marginalized in the first place.

With this in mind, here is an overview of the harmful effects and misconceptions that people have about this phenomenon.


The Difference between Marginalization and Stigmatization

Stigmatization has more to do with demeaning, ridiculing, and general discrimination. In high school and in society, there are people who are bullied and persecuted, but there are also people who are easily and repeatedly overlooked and who feel invisible as a result. People in the former group are being stigmatized. People in the latter group are being marginalized. This is, perhaps, the easiest way to understand the difference between the two.

However, mental health professionals also frequently discuss “social exclusion” as a key element of stigmatization. In this sense, marginalization is one of many contributing factors to the overall stigmatization that a person with mental illness may experience. Without a doubt, the two forces have a direct link. A bully, for example, is likely to be emboldened and have less fear of facing consequences when the person who’s being bullied is perceived as marginalized.


Marginalization as an Effect AND a Cause of Mental Illness

There is no face of mental illness and friends, family, and other sources of support frequently rise to the occasion. But people with mental illness do tend to get marginalized to varying degrees. Either as a symptom of a mental illness or as a side effect of treatment, many individuals display odd behavior and temperament. And people often fail to appreciate the isolating and judgmental ways that we tend to respond to these behavioral differences, even when no danger or harm is present. While people with bad intentions may see someone with mental illness as a vulnerable target, there is also plenty of prejudice that occurs as the result of common misconceptions and natural insecurities.

Likewise, the individual who faces prior marginalization is also more likely to develop any number of mental disorders. People tend to underestimate these effects as well. Take poverty, for example. A lot of people focus on the fact that people who are mentally ill can’t maintain gainful employment. And while this is true in some cases, nuanced research conducted over many years has also revealed that poverty is itself a risk factor and contributing cause of many mental and physical illnesses.


Specific Disorders and Research

Zooming in, there are also stark examples that link certain mental disorders with specific cultural forces. Take rising rates of eating disorders and increasingly idealized depictions of women in the media. This link is more than just common-sense intuition. The research between eating disorders and modern-day media content is quite robust. The average person can now find reputable literature reviews of multiple research studies which conclude “that the media does contribute to the development of eating disorders.” More than just Photoshop and airbrushed images that create unrealistic depictions of the human body, there is also a general absence of people with body types that do not match societal ideals and expectations.


Stop Feeling Invisible

If you’re feeling invisible, no matter the situation or cause, you should talk to a mental health therapist. It sounds cheesy and cliché, but one of the essential things that a mental health therapist does is listen. In fact, these professionals spend years developing the skill known as empathetic listening. More than just having some to talk to, you’re likely to feel heard in a way you haven’t in years. But, of course, this is just the beginning. Mental health professionals can help you gain access to public resources and community programs. They can also help you make positive changes to your environment and self-perception that are likely to alleviate the worst feelings and effects of marginalization.



Statistics, Baseball and Mental Health in Utah

On a visceral level, baseball and mental health go together like Christmas and childhood memories. There’s the crack of the ball hitting the bat, the pop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt, and catching a foul ball in the stands or a home run on the lawn of Smith’s Ballpark. There’s bonding with family at a young age or making new friends at any age. You can enjoy the in-game entertainment, or there’s plenty of opportunity to catch your breath and reflect a moment between innings—followed by moments of fleeting, yet structured, drama on the field. There is a set of rules and an ultimate objective, but there is also a sense of endless, undirected fun. And there’s a collective sense of belonging that comes with rooting for the home team.


Mental Health Statistics and the Role of Luck

What many people don’t know is that the study of baseball also contributes to the study of mental health. Whether you’re trying to determine which treatments are most likely to improve mental health or which skills and players are most likely to contribute to a winning team, careful observation, recordkeeping, and statistical analysis is required.

And the truth is that human perception isn’t naturally predisposed to reading and interpreting quantitative data. What looks like random outcomes in an everyday context can add up quickly over time. A 5 percent improvement to a player’s batting average—one extra hit per week—is the difference between an average ballplayer and a Hall-of-Famer. An antidepressant that’s 5 percent more effective than what’s available today can be hard to detect in clinical studies, but it could also mean a more stable mood and higher resilience for tens of thousands of Utah residents.

The same science and math skills are used to answer questions across many different types of human activity, baseball and mental included:

  • Does a player’s horrible batting performance in May indicate a lack of focus, a string of bad luck, or an inability to adapt to new defensive strategies?


  • Does an antidepressant drug that makes 65 percent of patients feel better owe its success to a better chemical formula and molecular structure, selection bias in finding patients for the study, or heightened placebo effects that come from oral medications and doctors in lab coats?


  • And sometimes the link between baseball and mental health is a direct one: Is a pitcher who was struck in the head by a line drive 3 months struggling to throw strikes because there are lingering effects of a brain injury, a newly formed fear of getting hit in the head, or simply because it’s taking a little longer than expected to regain his previous form?


Emerging Realities and Incomplete Data

In baseball as well as mental health, early detection and intervention are crucial. Recognizing before any other team that a young second baseman with stellar defensive skills is also going to fill out and develop into a power hitter in a few years is the kind of thing that sets the most successful teams apart. Likewise, getting an accurate diagnosis for autism, bipolar, or schizophrenia twelve or even six months earlier can have a substantial impact for treatment and long-term mental health outcomes.

Years of recruitment and development—not to mention diligent practice routines—go into assembling the baseball team that we as Salt Lake Bees fans go to see. Likewise, there is a complex tapestry of environmental and genetic causes that go into the presentation of most mental disorders. And yet, from one day to another, dumb luck creates unpredictable outcomes for what happens on the baseball diamond and what happens to an individual’s development and mental health.


Development of Skills across Industries

You might be thinking that this is a neat idea, but does baseball really contribute to mental health in any material way? We think it does. In fact, people often underestimate the ways in which professional skills that are developed by one organization or industry tend to bleed into other applications. FiveThirtyEight—a scholarly data-driven news site that covers topics including public and personal health—has much of its genesis in sports statistics and data analysis.

But baseball and statistics are far from the crossover. Take the VA system, for example. Due to an inability to process veterans’ claims, track and report patient wait times, and generally provide a reasonable access to health services, there have been calls to privatize the VA system. (Other policymakers are instead pushing to revamp and better fund the VA system.) But smart, experienced people who have looked at the issue point out that one of the things that make privatization impractical is the VA’s role in training mental health professionals.

Many of the doctors and psychologists who treat head injuries in Utah due to car collisions, organized sports, occupational hazards, and canyoneering—many of these professionals received their education and early career training in the VA system. And while the private health care system could possibly accommodate more patients in the short-term—for a price—it doesn’t have the infrastructure or track record when it comes to replacing these professional training programs.


The Statistics We’re Trying to Change

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 44 percent of adults know little to nothing about  mental illness and 31 percent of adults say a fear of being judged by others would stop them from seeking mental health treatment. Try as we might, the goal of a completely informed and destigmatized society is not realistic. But even making a small difference—one more person, one more mental health insight, one more therapy session per week—will eventually lead to a large, positive impact.



Body Mass Index, Healthy Weight, and Mental Health in Utah

Introduced in the 1980s, body mass index is today a ubiquitously cited statistic of healthy weight and obesity. On the news, online, in research, in public health information. It’s hard to be in this world and not at least hear about BMI. And like so many things to which we are constantly exposed, there’s a tendency to put too much importance on and trust in this measurement. This over-importance can have harmful effects when it comes to body image and mental health—whether it’s rising rates of eating disorders or simply making it more difficult to feel comfortable in our skin.

Utah is far from immune to these forces. In fact, there is evidence we may be suffering disproportionately. The state has the eight highest rate of plastic surgeons per capita in the country, something that Utah mental health professionals argue goes hand-in-hand with body image and issues of self-worth that are all too common. (For those interested in a long-form discussion of body image and middle-aged LDS women, we recommend this analysis.)


Who uses BMI?

Pretty much everybody, mental health professionals included. In fact, despite plenty of criticism and controversy from these mental health professionals, the latest edition of the DSM uses BMI to not only diagnose anorexia but also to describe the severity level:

Mild: BMI ≥17

Moderate: BMI 16–16.99

Severe: BMI 15–15.99

Extreme: BMI <15

Note that while these numbers may indicate the physical danger associated with anorexia, they say comparatively little about the shame and fear that likely led to the low body weight to begin with.


What’s Wrong with the Body Mass Index (BMI)?

Nothing’s wrong with BMI, but for many individuals, it’s a flawed indicator of healthy weight and overall health especially. And here’s why: It was designed and calibrated for large population studies in which the full range of body types are accounted for by the sample size. Thus, when we hear that the obesity rate doubled in the United States from 1980 to 2000, that’s a serious statistic and a troubling sign for the nation’s overall health. But it’s also a statistic that’s more properly cited in a discussion of the ways in which we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup—rather than an indictment of an individual’s waistline.

Indeed, body mass index is a crude, misleading tool when it comes to measuring healthy weight for any particular individual. Because it doesn’t distinguish between muscle and fat, people with more muscular builds are often skewed toward the heavy end. The numbers also tend to get skewed for people who are very short or very tall. Not everyone who is 5’1” and 135 lbs. is at unhealthy weight. Here’s another good example: In the movie, Superman, at 6’4” and 225lbs, is overweight. At 6’3”, 235 lbs., he’s borderline obese in the original comic.


So, what is a Healthy Weight?

One of the big reasons body mass index is so commonly used is because there is no better alternative. But this is simply because there is no easy standardization for individual bodies. Our individual physiology and body plan are such that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to create a single “metric” that is determinative of an individual’s health body weight. Here’s a better plan: Talk to your doctor. We know it sounds like a legal disclaimer, but in the right context, it’s also just good advice. Put another way: Don’t just to a doctor. Develop a relationship with a primary care physician that you like who knows your medical history, your family history, and your personal health priorities. This is the person to whom you ask, “What is a healthy weight for me, and why?”

On the other hand, if you’re struggling with the behavioral aspects of weight management, if you’re feeling overwhelming shame about your appearance, or if you’re terrified of the idea of gaining weight, a therapist might be a better choice of health professional.


More “Bad” Numbers: Weight, Physical Health, and Mental Health

Every hear the statistic that overweight people die, on average, 3 years earlier and obese people die 10 years earlier? It’s sad because it’s true, but it’s most likely true for more than just biological reasons. Obese people tend to make less money. They’re less likely to have friends. They’re more likely to be depressed, develop an eating disorder, or struggle with body image in general. They’re less likely to visit and follow up with their physicians—many of whom harbor a weight bias that can adversely impact their clinical judgement. (The Obesity Action Coalition is the leading advocacy organization for issues of weight bias.)

But here’s the real kicker. Once these stigmatizing factors are accounted for, the link between a healthy weight and longevity is substantially weakened. Moreover, as we cross middle-age, putting on a little extra weight is associated with a longer lifespan, and it’s been posited that this extra weight offers the body protective benefits. And this brings us back to the last reason not to put too much trust in the body mass index without talking to a doctor: It doesn’t account for changes in body type that occur as we get older.


How to Meditate to Improve Your Mental Health

If you’ve never tried to meditate, it doesn’t take long to give it a go. Along with a step by step introduction to meditation, here a few basic things to know about how to meditate to improve your mental health.


How to Meditate

  1. Create a Space: This could be a literal task, such as informing your family that you wish to be left undisturbed for a certain period of time. It could be making a commitment to finding time in your schedule each day—even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes—to meditate. You could make your first attempt during your next trip into the mountains. You might find it helpful to set a timer, so you don’t have to worry about the duration of the session while you’re meditating. Smartphone apps for meditation provide several useful aids, including the ability to take your meditation space with you wherever you go.
  2. Pick a Technique: There are many ways to meditate. You can follow a guided meditation. You can choose a short mantra to say silently and focus your attention. You can focus on your breathing. You can gaze at a candle. You can listen to your thoughts. If you just don’t know where to start, breathing meditation is one of the most common techniques for both beginners and experts. But there’s no need to overthink it: You can always try different techniques later on.
  3. Establish Posture: You want to be as comfortable as possible without slouching or lounging. Meditation is not the same thing as taking a nap. Sluggishness is not the same as calm. Ideal posture and comfort level may not be possible for some, and that’s okay. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions may cause aches, pains, and general discomfort. Posture is usually more important: Simply maintaining good posture is its own treatment for depression, while the physical discomfort may subside during the meditative session.
  4. Give it a Try: Without trying to control it, begin to notice your breath, or other chosen subject. Notice your mind wander and run into the same thoughts that nag you throughout the day. Then bring your focus back to the present moment. Expect this to happen several times. Try to focus on the process rather than whether or not “you’re getting it.” The idea is to achieve a quiet mind, but it’s not uncommon to feel like your mind is more active at the beginning of a session. Instead of dislodging the chaotic thoughts of your everyday mind, the meditation may, at first, simply add its voice to the mix. Eventually, the present awareness will begin to assert itself and the other thoughts will begin to recede.
  5. Patience and Perseverance: If you feel overwhelming emotional or psychological distress, it may be time to consult a licensed mental health professional. But know that there is no need to feel ashamed. You can’t go back and unthink thoughts, so just let them go. Your very first try you may spend the entire session struggling to stay in the present and let your mind wander without running into these thoughts. And, for many, here’s the biggest surprise about meditation: It ain’t easy! Or, at least, it isn’t easy to get really good at. So give it some time, and give it some practice. And while many people notice a difference right away, even the best meditation is unlikely to show dramatic results from a single session.


Further Reading


Guided Meditation Services in Utah

Guided meditation is the use of a mantra, script, or other verbal stimulus to help an individual reach a meditative state. It may be accomplished through live voicing or a recorded program. This verbal messaging typically provides instruction on focusing our attention and becoming more aware of our thoughts without trying to control them.

This verbal direction is not necessary for meditation. In fact, silent rather than guided meditation may deliver more powerful mental health benefits. Several techniques can be used in either a guided or unguided session. With breathing meditation, for example, you can focus on your breath on your own or take breathing instructions from the guide. You can learn more about the general use and benefits of meditation here, or you can read more about how to meditate on your own here.


What about Music?

Many people listen to music when they meditate. This is fine as a general relaxation technique, but meditation as a discipline discourages it. This doesn’t mean you have to sit in complete silence, especially if the idea doesn’t sit well with you. A CD of soothing sounds or pure ambient noise are both options for meditation, though you probably shouldn’t count on chirping birds or ocean waves to drown out your kids’ screaming in the next room.


Why Guided Meditation?
Many people find guided meditation provides an easier path to a meditative state, especially at first. Individuals with racing thoughts, active minds, and an inpatient disposition may find it difficult to stay in the present moment and quiet their mind even with practice. These individuals may find it easier to concentrate on someone else’s soothing voice, rather than their own breath or thought patterns. A verbal guide may also help facilitate the benefits of meditation toward a specific goal—a reduction in anxiety or stress, for example. Likewise, verbal cues may add an element of suggestibility and hypnosis—one more way the mind’s power can be harnessed for better mental health.


Meditation Centers vs. Free Online Programming

There are advantages to visiting a Utah meditation center with a live-voice guide. For one thing, an expert will listen to your goals and priorities and be able to pick out a personalized program to fit these priorities. As you learn to describe your experience of meditating, the expert can provide feedback and tips for future sessions. Moreover, despite best intentions, some people simply can’t shake an intrusive sense of embarrassment and silliness when they try to meditate. Seeking out a meditation center is a great way to maintain an earnest attitude about the process. An appointment is also a great excuse to set aside a good chunk of time and stick to it.

That said, you don’t need to seek out a center in order to engage in and benefit from guided meditation. If you like to learn things on your own, if you have a safe quiet place in which to meditate, and/or if you’re short on cash, these free online sites should serve you well:

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center

The Art of Living

The Chopra Center


Meditation as Complementary Therapy

For those interested in meditation as a treatment for a specific mental health problem, we recommend you first speak with a licensed mental health therapist. Many therapists are themselves trained in a number of meditation techniques. Plus, this professional can provide a wider context for understanding your problem, as well as more comprehensive therapy services to improve your quality of life.

This doesn’t mean meditation centers have no place. Many individuals see a therapist for talk therapy but prefer to seek guided meditation from someone who “does nothing but meditation.” If a lack of mental health is causing you serious disruptions, the best plan is to marshal as many resources as feasible.