Toxicity and Mental Health

Heightened anxiety was one of my first clues that something was wrong in our home. Of course I didn't pick up the clues. It's only in retrospect that I see how the growing level of toxicity adversely affected my children.

Suddenly my elementary school age children were obsessed over quizzes, worried about being late, anxiety-ridden over homework. Other symptoms emerged. Paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality changes, and depression. Emotional meltdowns became a daily part of our life. We found it difficult to make decisions, even small ones. We had a tough time filtering out various types of sensory stimulation.

Only now am I seeing how clearly toxicity is related to mental health.

Dr. Laura Mark, a Board Certified psychiatrist, writes about this in the book Surviving Mold. Her health began to deteriorate in 1995 at the age of 40, when she joined the staff of a state-run psychiatric hospital. Over the next five years she developed stabbing headaches, itchy rashes, joint swelling, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, abdominal pain, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and memory loss. Others in her workplace complained of similar symptoms. She left the position and experienced improved health, until she took a job at a 200-year-old satellite clinic in a rural town. Her story continues from there. A story of compromised indoor air quality, declining health, and the impact of musty, moldy conditions on the clinic's patients.

Dr. Mark writes,

How much of patients' anxiety, apprehension, irritability, mood swings, explosiveness, cognitive dysfunction, neurologic (i.e. seizure and movement disorder) symptoms may have resulted from pre- or post-admission exposure? In the worst-case scenarios, how many of our long-term folks inevitably became long-term patients, with their life confined to an institution's four walls as a consequence of exposure to the water-intruded, chemically-saturated indoor air quality of the very institution charged with facilitating their recovery in a "safe" setting?

Dr. Mark has a passion to share the medical evidence linking inflammatory responses, and the resulting mental health impairments, with compromised indoor air quality.

She even looks back and sees that her health issues began during her childhood, long before her toxic encephalopathy was diagnosed in July 2007.

Might my genetic susceptibility to a whole host of toxic triggers (particularly musty, moldy, moist places) have contributed to the years of stuttering, crying, shyness, intermittent brain fog, irrational anxieties, and sleep disturbances? Were these things due to an underlying inflammatory response syndrome? Was I a "crybaby," or were those things a result of where I lived and went to school, what foods I ate, or what air I breathed?

Imagine what was happening to my patients' children, so often misdiagnosed and mislabeled, pigeonholed. If a teenager had an episode of suicidal gesture at age 15, that history was the first thing recited in a subsequent psychiatric evaluation. Yet if her gesture was due to frustration, sadness, chronic pain, and cognitive issues from exposure to a moldy bedroom, would we still label her as an adult with depression just because she had ideation of suicide years before?

I'm learning. I see so many themes now, starting from the need to educate physicians, the need to get the word out, the need to protect my patients from moldy buildings, and to preserve my own health. The learning has so many dimensions.

Indeed, education needs to happen at so many levels. It's easy to miss the signs of toxicity and focus on behaviors and mood issues. Who better to help us learn than a psychiatrist with the experience and dedication of Dr. Laura Mark?