Let’s Talk: Osteopathy and Mental Illness

Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Mental Health, Osteopath of the Month, Osteopathy | 0 comments

Let’s Talk: Osteopathy and Mental Illness


Mental Health poster February 12th is Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk Day,” a day to raise awareness about mental health in Canada and to raise funds for mental health programs and community initiatives across the country. Canadian Olympic athlete Clara Hughes is the frontwoman for this campaign, which has been a blessing to many who suffer from anxiety, depression and various forms of mental illness.


The Canadian Mental Health Association defines mental health as “not only the avoidance of serious mental illness. Your mental health is affected by numerous factors from your daily life, including the stress of balancing work with your health and relationships.”


The Canadian Psychology Association has named February Psychology month as well, “to generate grassroots activities that will raise Canadians’ awareness of the role psychology plays in their lives and in their communities.”


This time of year also contributes to the increase in patients suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects many Canadians during the long Winter months. Bodyandhealth.canada.com reports that for most people it tends to be worse in the fall or winter, making it an extreme form of the “winter blahs.” Some people, however, experience symptoms in the late spring or early summer. It is estimated that about 2 or 3 out of every 100 people are affected by SAD. About 15 out of every 100 people have less severe symptoms of SAD called the “winter blues.” Some believe that SAD may be related to the levels of melatonin in the body, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland.


All of this means that February is the perfect time to discuss our Osteopath of the month, A.G. Hildreth, who was a leading contributor to the development in dealing with mental illness through Osteopathic manual approaches. In addition, the Dr. Andrew Taylor Still quote chosen this month describes his views on the interconnections between mind, body and spirit.


Mental illness have always been seen as a taboo subject. We can talk about our friends or families physical ailments, but when it comes to listening to people who are suffering from crippling emotional and mental issues many people struggle to understand, or feel like it’s “just a phase.” Since we know that the body is a dynamic unit of function and that the structure and function are intimately connected it would make sense that physical ailments lead to mental concerns and vice versa. Dr. Still wrote in The Philosophy of Osteopathy, “There is one indispensable item to control this active body, or machine, and that is mind. With that added the whole machinery then works as man.” It would be a logical thought (fourth principle of osteopathy) that the application of Osteopathic manual therapy would benefit people dealing with their illness.


You may ask, “can Osteopathy really help with illnesses related to the mind?” Dr. Still, his sons and Dr. Hildreth believed that many disturbances of the mind could benefit from the correction of the structure and function of the human body.


In Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine, under the chapter “Osteopathic Considerations in the Behavioural Sciences” they state that early Osteopaths noted there seemed to be movement restrictions associated with certain mental illness. The authors describe that they found considerably less freedom of suture motion and cranial vault resiliency in psychiatric patients. Specifically schizophrenia patients typically displayed immobility in the Occiput, bi-polar cases demonstrated restrictions at the sphenobasilar symphasis and Frontosphenoid articulations could be a predictor for involutional dimentias.


A.G. Hildreth declared in 1929, “To what are nervous and mental breakdowns due? This cannot be answered in a single word. The one word, however which comes nearest, is ‘strain’ – physical strain, mental strain. Mental overwork, grief, worry, religious excitement, etc., physical overwork, injury to head or spine, exhaustion from hemorrhage, operations, childbirth, etc., acute and chronic infections, and diseases of metabolism, are causes.”


Dr.’s Still and Hildreth believed that Osteopathy had a role in balancing the body to relieve physical and mental strain. Dr. Hildreth reported after many years of clinical treatments at the Still-Hildreth Sanitarium “Physiological crises, such as puberty and menopause, inheritance of nervous instability, toxins or poisons, whether taken as drugs, formed by bacteria, absorbed from sluggish bowels, or formed in the tissues and retained in the blood through failure of elimination – all these are possible factors the production of mental disorders. Of these, heredity is just a predisposing cause. Nervous instability is all that is inherited. Probably every case is the cumulative result of a number of causes acting in concert.” This statement supports Dr. Still’s initial principle of Osteopathy that structure and function are intimately related.


In Fifteen Years at Still-Hildreth, Dr Hildreth continues to explain that mechanical lesions directly affect our nerves that control blood supply and nutrition to the central cortex as well as those providing general nutrition to all organs including our brain. “A starved and poisoned brain cannot function well. So the mind breaks down under a strain that normally would not affect it.” Dr Hildreth spent considerable time dedicated to understand the link between mechanical/chemical dysfunction and mental illness. He discover that there were links but treatment of the cause was never an easy task. “Treatment, therefore, is primarily adjustment of structure to restore normal function. Most lesions require persistent efforts at correction for some time. The time required for recovery varies greatly, even in patients of the same type. The great majority of recoveries take place in from three to twelve months. A year does not exhaust the possibilities, however. Of sixteen manic-depressive cases that stayed over a year nine recovered and the time required ranged from thirteen to thirty months. There have been seven dementia praecox recoveries requiring more than a year and ranging from thirteen months to five years.”


It’s evident that the principles of Osteopathy developed by its founders still hold true today. So this month, on “Let’s Talk Day” and beyond, remember that we cannot ignore the relationship between the mind, body and spirit.


Be well.



Still, A. T. DO, Philosophy of Osteopathy. 1899
Ward, Robert C. Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine. AOA, 1997.
Hildreth, A.G. Fifteen Years at Still-Hildreth. The Journal of Osteopathy. Vol 36 p518-521. 1929.


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