Nowadays you can get medication for any kind of inappropriate feeling or behaviour.

Simply decide whether you are depressed, anxious, apathetic, hallucinating or displaying any form of violent or deviant tendency, then ask for a prescription.

If a drug doesn't work, don't worry, you can always comfort yourself with the cheery thought that, if need be, a special secure unit can be built, just for you.

There are many definitions of mental illness and who is to say we aren't all inmates of a collective nuthouse?

Some, like Ian, get to explore it more comprehensively than others. He started having panic attacks when he was 18 years old and, over a period of time, became incapable of coping with normal, everyday events.

Severe depression and obsessive personality traits eventually led to Ian being hospitalised. His treatment consisted of tranquillisers, full-dose antidepressants and cognitive behaviour therapy. Although modern psychiatry didn't cure him, Ian says it allowed him to develop coping mechanisms and get on with his life.

His ultimate goal is to come off antidepressant therapy because of its risk of adverse side-effects.

Ian has a "survivor personality" but also believes many of his problems are dietary in origin.

In February, he consulted a nutritionist and worked on improving his diet which was high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.

He found that regulating his blood sugar balance by eating more whole and protein-based foods as well as cutting out starchy carbs brought about startling changes.

Night sweats ceased, concentration improved and he felt less anxious and more in control. Ian also lost a stone in weight without exercising.

How could such a simple measure make such a difference to his wellbeing?

Grains, fruit and vegetables are stripped of their vitamins and minerals during the refining process.

Yet we require a plentiful supply of nutrients and enzymes in order to digest and assimilate these refined carbohydrates.

Unlike foods in their whole, unrefined state, consumption of sugar and white flour severely disrupts our finely-tuned blood sugar mechanism, disturbing the body's entire hormonal and neural network.

Refined flour is fortified with a handful of imbalanced vitamins and minerals but most essential nutrients are discarded.

Much of the food we eat has been heat-treated or sprayed with pesticides, further drawing on nutrient reserves and adding to our chemical load. As brain chemistry depends on the adequate delivery of specific nutrients, the gradual depletion of our nutrient pool may be responsible for a large proportion of mental health problems.

Some people can stomach a certain level of dietary "abuse", while others notice the effects of an impoverished diet immediately because they have a higher requirement for certain vitamins and minerals.

Antidepressants have their uses and can help make people "socially acceptable".

It would be more challenging but ultimately more rewarding to find out what is upsetting their biochemistry in the first place.

Martina is a qualified nutritionist at the Crescent
Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: martina_watts