Dr Chris Palmer
The New Frontier of Mental Health (with Dr. Chris Palmer)

Mental disorders are now the leading cause of disability on the planet and in the United States. We have a crisis and we need new ideas and new approaches.

Dr Chris Palmer
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Show Notes

Mental health has become a global crisis. Harvard psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Chris Palmer (@ChrisPalmerMD) is the Director of the Department of postgraduate and continuing education in McLean Hospital, and he’s an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  His research is leading the future of understanding, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. His recent book Brain Energy outlines a revolutionary new understanding that for the first time unites our existing knowledge about mental illness within a single framework: mental disorders are metabolic disorders of the brain.

Dr. Chris Palmer was personally impacted witnessing the decline of his mother’s mental health when he was a child. His frustration with the medical system and his own struggles drove him into the field of psychology where he has focused on understanding what mental disorders are and how they can be treated in a new and more effective way. Dr. Palmer has made a link of metabolic health and treatment that is changing the way Western medicine views and approaches our mental health crisis. 

I am putting people with mental disorders (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression) into full remission, sometimes off of psychiatric medications, using strategies like the ketogenic diet, but also exercise, good sleep, get off the drugs and alcohol, and stress reduction.” 

Dr. Chris Palmer

Key Takeaways:

  • Mitochondria and Brain Health: Genes get turned off or on primarily in relation to mitochondria.There has been an explosion of research on the tiny things in our cells and the benefits of addressing them for brain health. Mitochondria are the primary regulators of the metabolism, and brain disorders are being linked to metabolic disorders. Scientists are beginning to understand the role of the metabolism and mitochondria, and the role they play in mental health. 
  • Individuals Brain Strength: Just like how each of us have certain muscles that are stronger than others, our brains are similar. Each of us have areas of the brain that are stronger or weaker. Once you locate the weak areas of the brain you can often retrain them and see amazing results in cognition and emotional functioning.
  • Ketogenic Diet, Lifestyle, and Brain Function: The ketogenic diet has amazingly profound impacts on the human brain. The ketogenic diet promotes metabolic health which positively affects the brain. The application of the Ketogenic diet paired with proper sleep, stress reduction, finding purpose, and exercise is a prescription that is working. However it isn’t a quick fix, it takes years of dedication and focus to see full remission in patients.
  • Medication is Limited: Although medication can be effective in treating the symptoms of a mental disorder there are limitations and many side effects. Dr. Palmer has dedicated his life’s work to finding better ways than the mainstream focus on medicating patients. He believes that although medication is necessary at times it is not the only route for treatment, and can be very limiting for overall recovery of mental health and brain disorders.

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Brain Energy Website



Mark Divine  0:00  

I’m Mark Divine. And this is the Mark Divine show where I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate, resilient leaders. I talk to folks from all walks of life meditation experts, Blockchain wizards, extreme athletes and brain health experts like my guest today, Dr. Christopher Palmer. Dr. Palmer is a Harvard psychiatrist and researcher who’s working at the interface of metabolism and mental health. He is currently the Director of the Department of postgraduate and continuing education in McLean Hospital, and he’s an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. For over 25 years, Dr. Palmer has held administrative educational research and other clinical roles at Harvard, and has been pioneering the use of a medical ketogenic diet in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Most recently, he’s developed the first comprehensive theory on what causes mental illness, integrating existing theories and research into one unifying theory, which he calls the brain energy theory of mental illness. Chris thanks so much for joining me on the Mark Divine Show, I’m super stoked to have you here I’m really interested in, in hearing some of your research and you know, the work you’re doing in brain health is near and dear to my heart, I’ve got a foundation that helps veterans with PTS. And you know, just recovery. And brain is obviously central to that, especially because of the TBI that a lot of the military vets have. Just before we get into kind of like the details and your work and your book and everything. Give us a sense for why you got interested in psychiatry and you know, kind of your, your formative years. And what led you down this rabbit hole?

Chris Palmer  1:30  

Quick version is that I had my own problems with mental illness when I was a kid, relatively mild. And then my mother, actually, as a result of a series of horrible things that happened in our family, that she had nothing to do with that she ended up being the center of it. She kind of had a nervous breakdown, which turned into a chronic psychotic disorder. It really actually ruined her life. It just devastated her entire life, devastated our entire family. And I was really kind of angry with the mental health field. I was pissed off that they were so incompetent. 


Mark Divine 2:06

How old was were you when all this happened? 


Chris Palmer 2:08

I was 13. 


Mark Divine 2:09

That’s young, yeah.


Chris Palmer 2:10

And I saw what they were doing to her. They were giving her pills. It just made her a zombie. And clearly were drugging her and she felt drugged, and they weren’t helping at all. And I was thinking, What the hell are these people doing? Like, these are supposed to be doctors, and they’re drugging her. And she’s not getting better. And if you try to have a real conversation with these people, they act all aloof and nod their heads.


Mark Divine  2:38  

Yeah. Like you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. You have no business asking now.


Chris Palmer  2:41  

Yeah. You know, Frasier Crane made his fame because people like laughing at psychiatrists, and their incompetence, just their arrogance. And you know, he typifies something that certainly exists. I think much more so back then. But still, probably to this day still exists. And that’s why his show was so popular because people can relate to it. They’re like, yeah, that is what psychiatrists are like. They’re just incompetent, arrogant fools, who can’t help. But I recognized there was something wrong with my mom, she needed help. She needed medical care, and she wasn’t getting it. The medical system sucked.


Mark Divine  3:22  

Did they not have anything besides psychotropic drugs to help heal the brain? They didn’t have anything did they?


Chris Palmer 3:29



Mark Divine 3:30

Unless you were gonna cut it open and remove a tumor? They didn’t have anything. They didn’t know how to do it.


Chris Palmer  3:34  

She was getting talk therapy. 


Mark Divine 3:36



Chris Palmer 3:37

But again, her problem was psychosis and talk therapy we know is not very effective for psychosis. Any moran could have told there’s something seriously wrong with her. There’s something wrong with her brain. She’s not herself anymore.


Mark Divine  3:51  

It’s literally how the brain is working and how its functioning. That was what was wrong. Right? 


Chris Palmer 3:55



Mark Divine

Talk therapy helped works with content, not process?


Chris Palmer  3:58  

Yeah, you know, because of all of that stuff that happened. I went on to have even harder times in my life. But at the end of the day, the real reason I’m a psychiatrist is because of her and what I saw happen to her. That mental illness can ruin people’s lives. And then I was actually very frustrated and angry and disappointed and disheartened with the mental health field as it existed. And I kind of knew in my heart, people with mental illness deserve better.


Mark Divine  4:28  

Right. How would you know, for the Layperson who’s listening here? What type of either symptoms or or known illnesses fall into the category of like mental illness?


Chris Palmer  4:39  

So, great question. And I think that’s one of the huge controversies in the mental health field right now. You know, and the way that I frame it, is I put, quote-unquote, mental symptoms, like we could take one symptom anxiety, and I can put it into three different buckets to make it really easy and understandable. Because right now, we just talk about anxiety. And we just say, Well, you know, if it’s bad, you need help. Well, that implies that you know that there are all these quote-unquote, normal, strong, resilient, healthy people who have normal, everyday anxiety. And they manage it, because they’re strong people. And that means everybody who needs help is just weak, and inferior. And so I don’t like this approach of saying, you know, everybody has anxiety. So that’s just a normal thing. And you know, and if you’re weak and you can’t manage it, then you got a mental problem, and you need help. 

So instead, I lump a lot of mental symptoms into three buckets. Bucket number one, normal, everyday human experiences, anxiety, depression, even paranoia, and other things are hardwired into the human brain. And they all have an appropriate time and place for them to occur. Bucket number two, when people are facing severe adversity, life threatening situations and other situations, they will have extreme versions of these symptoms.


Mark Divine 6:09

Like what happened with COVID?


Chris Palmer 6:10

Well, what happened with COVID, much more relevant to your work, I mean, veterans, people on a battlefield, guess what people on the battlefield have anxiety, they might even be having, quote-unquote, panic attacks, they might even freeze in their tracks. Those are not brain disorders. Those are normal human reactions when your life is being threatened. Same deal, you know, with abused women and lots of other people. But then the third bucket are people who actually do have brain disorders, who can be sitting in their Lazy Boy recliner, watching television, nothing stressful is happening. And out of the blue, they get an overwhelming panic attack, that makes them think they’re going to die. They are flooded with fear and anxiety. And that is not normal, that is a brain disorder. Their brain is doing something that it should not be doing. And the reason it’s important to lump them into those three different categories is because they require different approaches to helping these people. You know, normal, everyday anxiety. Sure, yeah, everybody could use a little support here and there when we’re anxious or when we’re facing challenging situations. But we don’t need intensive interventions, we don’t necessarily need to go to a psychotherapist for that or anything. The second category, the obvious solution is reducing the danger or the threat to human beings, getting those soldiers out of danger getting that abused woman out of danger, that is the treatment of choice, the treatment of choice isn’t to pull out a prescription pad and say, Oh, you’re a soldier on the battlefield, and you’re having a panic attack here, let me give you a prescription for your brain disorder.


Mark Divine 7:58



Chris Palmer 7:59

But the third category are brain disorders. And we need to help those people correct their brain disorder. Right now, DSM doesn’t distinguish these things. According to DSM. A lot of people in Ukraine right now have brain disorders. It’s called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you have symptoms for more than one month, you have a brain disorder according to DSM. And it doesn’t matter if your country is still being bombed. It doesn’t matter if your life is still being threatened. That is nowhere to be found in the criteria of diagnosing mental illness.


Mark Divine  8:36  

That’s interesting. I think the DSM is so out of whack in so many areas, and this is just proving it.


Unknown Speaker  8:42  

Yeah. You can kind of tell I agree.


Mark Divine  8:47  

Yeah. But let’s talk about the causes of brain disorders I met you know, like right now, I can think of obviously some sort of genetic disposition, predisposition. And then obviously, some environmental factors like poisoning, lead poisoning or even diet, you know, just build up a crap over the years, you know, that just cause your brain kind of dysfunction, and then obviously, trauma, either severe emotional or blunt force trauma or micro trauma, what else could cause or would cause some sort of brain disorder that can lead to then behavioral disorders or problems?


Chris Palmer  9:21  

You know, there are lots of things. Those are some of the big ones. Some people can get hormonal imbalances that can cause brain disorder, thyroid hormone, women’s menstrual cycles, pregnancy, postpartum period, menopause. Those are all risk periods for women to develop a wide variety of mental disorders, not just depression, but also psychosis and mania and all sorts of things. Infections. any source of inflammation, especially severe inflammation can contribute to the development of mental disorders. And this is across the age span. It happens commonly in older people, we end up calling it delirium. But when an old person gets an infection, for instance, they can actually start hallucinating,


Mark Divine  10:12  

Does that mean the infection is in their brain or anywhere in the body?


Chris Palmer  10:16  

Anywhere in the body, the most common cause of delirium in old people is actually a urinary tract infection. So, a bladder infection, for a lot of old people, first shows its signs and symptoms in the brain, not in the bladder. The person doesn’t say, I have pain down there, or it’s painful when they urinate. Instead, what we see is the person starts getting confused, they might start getting paranoid, they might start hallucinating, they might get depressed, they might get agitated, they might have severe personality changes, all of those go along with delirium. And what it means is that when a person has an infection and high levels of inflammation, that affects brain function, which can result in symptoms of mental illness.


Mark Divine  11:09  

So we don’t really need to have a damaged brain to have a brain problem. 


Chris Palmer 11:16



Mark Divine 11:17

I think that was one of my misconceptions. I figured, well, you know, it could be environmental, even if it’s, you know, buildup of lead, but it’s doing something to hamper the physical functioning of your brain or like micro trauma. But you’re suggesting that that’s not true at all.


Chris Palmer  11:30  

So what you just said, is 100%, correct. But there’s more to the story. And at the end of the day, what I’m doing with brain energy is I am connecting all of those dots. And I’m saying how do all of those dots connect? Where do they intersect? Because all of those things; trauma, lead poisoning, and infection in your bladder, a bad diet, all of those can cause the symptoms of depression, for instance. All of those can potentially contribute to the development of hallucinations and delusions. And so how can we understand that? Right now, our the field for the most part is just kind of overwhelmed with complexity. And a lot of the leading psychiatrists and neuroscientists, the good ones, at least will say, yeah, it’s just too complex, nobody can figure it out. 

What I’m here to say is that over the last 20 years, we have had an explosion of research on two topics that help us finally once and for all connect these dots. And the two topics are we’ve had an explosion of research on metabolism broadly. But much more importantly, we’ve had an explosion of research on these tiny things in our cells called mitochondria, which are the primary regulators of metabolism. And once you understand the science of metabolism and mitochondria, you can actually connect all of those dots that we just talked about. Diet, blunt force, trauma, extreme stress, psychological trauma, as opposed to just physical trauma, but also infections, and hormones and all of it.


Mark Divine  13:18  

Because each one of those things is impacting the mitochondria, which is then infecting the brain’s behavior?


Chris Palmer  13:24  

Yes, each of those things is impacting mitochondrial function. And mitochondrial function determines whether cells function properly. At the end of the day, what I am arguing is that mental disorders represent cells in the brain malfunctioning, plain and simple. Cells are doing something they are not supposed to be doing. And usually it’s in one of two categories. They’re either overactive or they are under active, which at first glance seems like a paradox. And that’s one of the beautiful things about this theory is that it can explain both of those phenomenan. One cell can be under active 90% of the time, and then can be overactive 10% of the time. And both of those consequences can result in symptoms that we would call mental illness.


Mark Divine  14:18  

And the mitochondria is basically the furnace of the cell. So if it’s not producing enough energy, or it’s over producing or under producing, then that’s what’s causing this, this imbalance. And obviously, it’s not just one cell, but you know, it’s going to be a large grouping of cells in some area of the brain or maybe the hearts of the whole brain that ends up you know, having, or do you find that certain brain regions are having a mitochondrial dysfunction?


Chris Palmer  14:42  

That is the really important distinction, is because different regions of the brain respond to different inputs, and we all have areas of strength, but we also all have areas of vulnerability. Just like some everybody has stronger muscles and weaker muscles, like everybody’s got a weakest link when it comes to muscles. And they can be very different in different people. So for some people, it can be their legs. For others, it can be their back. And for others, it can be their shoulders. And if they all lift the same heavy object, they can all get different injuries. Even though they’re lifting the same heavy objects, exact same stress, they can get different injuries, because they have different areas of vulnerability in their musculature. What I’m arguing is that the exact same thing happens in the brain, different brain regions are more vulnerable to metabolic failure than others. And the reason people have different symptoms of mental illness is because those symptoms represent different areas of the brain malfunctioning. And that’s how we can begin to understand. The nice thing about the concept, though, is that a lot of treatments can help address a wide variety of mental disorders, once you understand that it’s metabolic dysfunction.


Mark Divine  16:01  

Right. My business SEALFIT, we were pretty dominant in the physical culture, which includes nutritional interventions such as intermittent fasting, as well as keto, you know, we’ve seen some pretty interesting results in terms of energy maintenance, and getting rid of, you know, cycles of high energy than crashing, which is pretty common with a high carb diet. And so I have an understanding, you know, about how ketones work and everything, but I’m really curious. I think I read the big part of your work is to use ketosis or ketogenic diets to help intervene to bring energy balance back to the brain. How does that work? Maybe just we can just explain what the ketogenic diet is for someone who might not know that.


Chris Palmer  16:42  

Sure. So, you know, most people have heard of the ketogenic diet as a trendy weight loss diet right now. And it is a diet that is low in carbohydrate, usually moderate, sometimes high in protein, and usually high in fat, but it can be different. You can have different types of ketogenic diets, especially in different people. So somebody who’s really overweight or obese will have a much easier time being in ketosis than somebody who’s thin and athletic. But although most people know the ketogenic diet as a weight loss diet, it’s actually an evidence based treatment for type two diabetes. And most importantly, for me, as a psychiatrist, it is an evidence based treatment for epilepsy. The ketogenic diet can stop seizures, even when medications fail to stop seizures. And the reason that’s so important to me as a psychiatrist is because we use epilepsy treatments in psychiatry every day in 10s of millions of people. There are lots of medications, including things like Valium, Klonopin and Xanax that are actually all anticonvulsants. But we use them for a wide variety of mental health disorders. I’ve been doing research on this. And although a lot of people understand that, well, yeah, diet and exercise, yeah, that might help somebody with depression. Or maybe it would help somebody with mild anxiety. But like Dr. Palmer, are you talking about like, what about real mental disorders like your mom had? What about schizophrenia? What about bipolar disorder? Those are real brain disorders and those need medications. What I’m here to say is that I am putting people with those disorders into full remission, sometimes off of psychiatric medications, using strategies like the ketogenic diet, but also exercise, good sleep, get off the drugs and alcohol, stress reduction when needed. All of those things so comprehensive lifestyle, good health strategies. For the ketogenic diet, there is no doubt in my mind is key. Because exercise usually does not stop seizures. Stress Reduction usually doesn’t stop seizures, but the ketogenic diet does. So the ketogenic diet has amazingly profound impacts on the human brain.


Mark Divine  19:12  

Your research or your intervention so far, are we talking about like, one six week kind of cycle of ketogenic eating, or is it permanent?


Chris Palmer  19:21  

So it’s not permanent, but it needs to be continuous. And for better or worse, you know, usually, if somebody’s coming to me with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, I tell them a minimum of two to five year commitment to the diet.


Mark Divine  19:37  

Until the whole system gets rebalanced and reset and rejuvenated.


Chris Palmer  19:41  

Yes. And what I’ve found is that, especially in the first yea. What I have found is that a lot of people get dramatically better, and then two or three months in, they’re so much better that they think they’re cured. And then they go off the diet. And guess what as all hell breaks loose, their symptoms come back with a vengeance. They are hallucinating, they’re delusional again. They’re depressed and suicidal, like, all hell breaks loose. So these are people who clearly have serious brain disorders, there is something physically wrong with their brain. But the ketogenic diet appears to be able to heal those problems. In some people, not in all people. I am not here to promote the ketogenic diet as a cure all. I’m not here to promote it as the only intervention, because if you have a hormonal imbalance, ketogenic diet is not going to save you. If you have a vitamin B 12 deficiency, because you have an autoimmune disorder, ketogenic diet is probably not going to save you. Like we need to think more comprehensively about strategies. The exciting news in my mind is that this work once and for all begins to help us connect the dots of mental illness if we begin viewing them as metabolic brain disorders, as opposed to just these mysterious things with neurotransmitters and genetics and all sorts of stuff that nobody can figure it out.


Mark Divine  21:14  

So I mentioned I do a lot of work with vets who I think one of the biggest issues they have is not just the battlefield, extreme trauma, you know, the terror and whatnot, but actual micro trauma, you know, similar to when athletes have soccer players, football players. I mean, every time we shoot a gun and blow something up, which is pretty much every day in the SEALs, boom, you’re just rattling your cage. I had a friend commit suicide last year, and I’m pretty certain you know, he just had unresolved TBI, because otherwise he was very perfectly functioning guy. So anyways, if the brain actually has blunt force, trauma injury like that, what, what’s one of the some of the best interventions to to heal that, or to begin the healing process.


Chris Palmer  21:57  

So I’m gonna give you the real truth. The real truth is that in some cases, if the trauma is severe enough, neurons can die. And once neurons die, we’re usually not resurrecting them. I want to just say that up front, that I’m not talking about miracle cures, and I’m not talking about, you know, hocus pocus, medicine or brain health or anything else. Once neurons die, they die. However, the brain can sometimes exhibit what’s called neuroplasticity, which means that if some brain cells have died, sometimes not always, but sometimes other brain regions can take over those functions, and help that person function normally again. But that requires training and adaptation and patience. That person really has to commit to doing the work of rehabilitation. And it’s easy to give up and kind of, it’s kind of like if you break a leg and have it in a cast, and then they take off that cast two months later, your leg is shriveled up, like the muscles in it are shriveled up, and you can see that there’s a problem with the leg and you’re gonna have to rehabilitate it. So same with brain injuries as well, that is going to to be a process.

You know, you mentioned using ketogenic diet, ketones, I think that there is a lot of tremendous potential to help people with TBI using those types of strategies. Because not all of the brain cells are dead. In many of those cases, what happens is those brain cells are injured. And that injury causes a state. That’s called hypo metabolism. Which basically means there are regions of their brain that are not getting enough fuel from glucose. So these brain cells are actually under powered, they do not have enough energy, literally. And we can measure that. And this has been measured. This is not controversial. This is not speculation on my part, it is fairly well defined evidence based on numerous studies, people with TBI have a brain energy deficit. And what I would argue is that we need to think about strategic ways to restore brain energy metabolism. And if we can do that, and couple it with training. We have to couple it with just like if you’re trying to rehabilitate that leg with a cast. You can’t just say well eat a good diet and that’ll make that leg better. Yeah, eating a good diet. It’s important. Get enough sleep that’ll make that like we all Yeah, good. Sleep is important too. So eat a good diet, get good sleep, but you have to work that leg. You have to work it you’ve got to get on it. You’ve got to push it you’ve got to grow it you’ve got to make it more resilient. Same deal with the brain. If they have cognitive impairment, they’re gonna have to work at reading at writing at communicating at focusing at whatever. 

And it’s gonna be really disheartening initially, just like that person on the leg, if that person with the cast on his leg was an athlete, when he goes out the first time, he’s gonna be pissed, it’s gonna be like, what the hell, I used to be strong and fast. And this is frustrating as hell, this leg is so weak, this is not who I am. That person can easily get disheartened and give up and say, well, there’s no point in even trying. He has to understand that it’s gonna be a process. It’s a frustrating process, but it’s a process and he can build up his strength again. So when we’re talking about brain rehabilitation, we need to take similar approaches. The reason I’m stressing this is because so many people, they try to do something, they try to read a book, and they can’t remember, hardly anything, they become convinced that they are permanently damaged beyond repair. And unfortunately, some doctors will imply that to them. And these people need to understand how to restore brain metabolism. It’s a combination of using it. And even though it’s frustrating initially, because it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do, and it’s not doing what you’re used to it doing. But you’re gonna push yourself just like that person with the broken leg who’s got the cast off, now he’s gonna push himself, you gotta push yourself, even though it might be painful at times, even though it might be slow, at times, you’re just gonna keep pushing, keep pushing, to try to regain your function.


Mark Divine  26:42  

So in my heart for preventative measures, and partly because I wanted to understand different modalities that we could recommend through my Courage Foundation, I have played around with or participated in lecture stem, as well as I own a hyperbaric chamber. So I use that three, four times a week. I’ve been doing meditation and breath practices since I was 21. So I already had that one kind of in the bag, and there might be others. But those four seem to be kind of, maybe not well known, but well hewn are proven kind of methodologies for I would call that put the all those in the training bucket. Because it requires you to actively participate in your, in your healing. So what do you think about those four interventions, and where’s the best place to start? You know, like my, my SEAL friends who are like, shit, now we’ve had like three or four suicides, which, you know, most of us never thought we’d ever see. Because we’re such highly functioning individuals pre resilient, I call it we should have that pre resiliency. And we don’t like go into doctors, and we don’t like to admit that he’s wrong with us, because we’re supposed to be like these superheroes. So what would my teammates do first, if they’re listening, going, Oh, shit, if Mark does that, maybe I should do that.


Chris Palmer  27:50  

All of those strategies that you mentioned, interestingly, relate exactly to my primary thesis.


Mark Divine 27:56



Chris Palmer 27:57

Which you know, oxygen is used only by one thing in the human body, and that is mitochondria. So hyperbaric oxygen is all about mitochondria, and restoring mitochondrial health. Meditation  interestingly, a group of researchers at Harvard tried to figure out how does meditation work, the medical community’s not taking this seriously enough, like we’ve got to prove a mechanism of action. How does meditation improve human health. And what they found is it increases the health and resilience of mitochondria. That is its specific mechanism of action.


Mark Divine  28:36  

Physiologically, there’s other psychological benefits, you could probably point to.


Chris Palmer  28:40  

There absolutely are, but physiologically, it actually changes gene expression. And the genes that get turned off are primarily related to mitochondria, and their benefits. So all of those strategies that you’re talking about are metabolic strategies. That’s what I would argue. The suicides that you’re talking about, are really about. I mean, there are so many reasons, and I should not try to over generalize, but I’m going to go ahead and just make an attempt at something that probably applies to a lot of people. When people have been kind of highly successful people. In whatever way we define that. You’re a SEAL. You are a successful business person. You are a successful mother with kids and a loving husband. When those successes fall apart. When you no longer have those things that supposedly made you successful. It almost universally triggers depression, in a lot of people triggers severe depression. And if a person becomes convinced that I have already gone through the prime of my life, and there’s nothing to look forward to in my future, it’s all downhill from here, I can never accomplish anything that will be as important as what I’ve already done, they can start to lose hope, they can start to lose the will to live. Because the will to live is about having a purpose in your life. It’s about being somebody, being not necessarily important to the whole world, but important to someone or something. Like we all want to have some degree of worth. Like, we matter, my existence matters. And you know, we see this a lot in injured football players, their career is over. Some of them didn’t even bother going to college, because football was their whole thing. Football was their whole career. And now they’re left at 30 years old, with what am I supposed to do now with my life? In the same way the SEALs have lots of head injuries? Oh, those football players certainly do. So they’ve got physical trauma. But more importantly, they’ve got that psychological trauma, and they’ve got this trauma or insult to their purpose in life. A lot of them struggle with what the hell am I supposed to do now? I was adored by fans. And now I’m nobody now I’m nothing and what am I ever going to accomplish that matters?


Mark Divine  31:21  

And they also feel utterly alone because their team has been left behind?


Chris Palmer  31:26  

Yeah, well, they’ve been left behind by their team. This team is still playing, the coaches still playing. They just don’t need you anymore, because you are weak or injured or something and you just aren’t up to it anymore. Unless you’re Tom Brady.


Mark Divine  31:48  

Yeah, that was a very good summation of why this problem happens. It is multi dimensional. And I think that the physical TBI just is like insult to injury, it may not even be the primary cause, right? Because like you said, in these cases, especially my SEAL friends, it’s the loss of that purpose and loss of the teammates. And I think they also feel like they’re going to be a burden if they know they have TBI. Or they might sense that there’s something wrong and they don’t want to be a burden. Many of my teammates literally say, you know, I’m a warrior, I’m not going to be some old indigent guy where someone’s changing my diapers, right? I want to go out and battle. You know what I’m saying. And so when suddenly, they’re 60 years old, and they’re looking like I’m not going out and battle. Uh ph, it’s a real problem.


Chris Palmer  32:35  

It is a real problem. And what I would say, as the psychiatrist is there is a solution. But people are going to have to adapt. That’s what Darwin talked about survival of the fittest. Fittest does not mean strongest ,fittest means most adaptable. Can you adapt to your circumstances? And I think former SEALs should be able to hold their heads high and be proud of all of the work they’ve done and everything they’ve accomplished, and the people in the country they’ve defended, but they also need to look to the future and say what’s next. And although they may not be dying on a battlefield, there are lots of battles that still need to be fought. Charitable organizations, volunteer organizations, helping other SEALs who are you know, struggling, what you’re doing is a perfect example of, I can still matter, there are people who could use my help, I can serve a purpose, I can save lives. And there are so many causes. Find one that matters to you, whether it’s somebody in your family who just needs help, who needs support, who needs mentorship, whether it’s you’re going to help your local community or whether you’re going to do something nationally or internationally. I mean, there are a million opportunities for human beings to matter and to make a difference in other people’s lives.


Mark Divine  34:04  

Yeah, I agree. The SEALs are a tiny, tiny little force. I mean, most people don’t recognize how, like 2000 people. And if we’re seeing this, then magnify that across the 750,000, you know the reserves in the guard over a million people who serve. It’s a huge problem. And then I would like to get your thoughts on just how big you think this problem is, especially post COVID. Like how, how much mental illness are we facing in this country?


Chris Palmer  34:30  

You know, mental disorders are a growing crisis. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 1 billion people on the planet met criteria for a mental disorder in 2017. You know, in the United States, the statistics prior to the pandemic were about one in five people in any given year will suffer from a mental health or substance use disorder. During the pandemic rates skyrocketed. Now again, we’re not separating what I would consider brain disorders from reactions to stress or adversity, they get lumped together for better or worse. But during the pandemic, at one point 40% of the American population was struggling with depression, anxiety, post traumatic symptoms, or a substance use problem, 40%.


Mark Divine 35:27

What reported or just extrapolated? 


Chris Palmer 35:30

It was from a CDC household survey. I think it was more than 1000 people. And it was a, you know, what was deemed a representative statistically meaningful sample of the US population. In that same survey, kind of shockingly, and, tragically, they asked participants have you seriously considered killing yourself in the last 30 days? 11% of the people surveyed said yes. When you look at the younger group, they didn’t interview any adolescents. So the youngest they interviewed was 18. That group 18 to 25 25% of those people said yes. One in four had seriously considered offing themselves. So the rates have come down since then, that was probably the peak during the pandemic, but the rates are not back to their baseline rates. And for those who don’t know, this, mental disorders are now the leading cause of disability on the planet and in the United States. In the single diagnosis like everybody, almost Yeah, most people with schizophrenia are disabled, most a lot of people with bipolar disorder are disabled. The shocking thing, plain old depression is the leading cause of disability. Above all other medical diagnoses. More people are disabled from depression than any other medical diagnosis. That includes heart failure, cancer, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s, whatever you want. More people are disabled by depression. We have a crisis in the world and in the United States. And we need new ideas and new approaches.


Mark Divine  37:20  

So your book, Brain Energy: Revolutionary breakthrough in understanding mental health, and improving treatment for anxiety, depression, OD, and PTSD, OCD. That’s a long subtitle.


Chris Palmer 37:32

It is.


Mark Divine 37:35

You cast a wide net.


Chris Palmer  37:36  

I think it’s got search engine optimization or something. I think that’s what went into that subtitle.


Mark Divine  37:45  

Is it geared toward other mental health professionals or users or in end users, people might have mental health issues?


Chris Palmer  37:53  

I will give you the real deal assessment. So this is a science book. This is a book that outlines, how can we understand mental disorders as metabolic brain disorders, and what does that mean?, and more importantly, what can we do about it? But I walk people through the science, it is written for the lay community. But if you hate science, you’re not going to like this book. But what I can also tell you is if you want to understand how to treat mental illness, and you’re not getting better with current treatments, this is it. This will help you. And you may just have to tough yourself through it. I’ve actually had numerous people who’ve read the book now tell me, you know, I started getting overwhelmed with all that science Dr. Palmer, but I got through it all. And then I started implementing some of the things you’ve talked about. And I’m better for the first time in 20 years, or the first time in 40 years, I am better, thank you so much. So science book, I want to paint the whole picture for people give people the evidence. But yeah.


Mark Divine  38:57  

Do you have a way to like, skip the sciency stuff and get right to like a protocol or do this kind of list checklist?


Chris Palmer  39:04  

Well, part three goes through all of that. If you want the easy free versions of information, it’s just gonna come piecemeal, a little bit at a time, people can go to a website called brainenergy.com. We actually have a free assessment there where you can assess both your mental and metabolic health. It’s not going to give you a cookie cutter recipe for how to fix it all. But you’re given at least understand which areas are compromised in yourself and which areas might need attention.


Mark Divine  39:36  

And of course, engaging with a competent mental health professional is always recommended. 


Chris Palmer 39:42



Mark Divine 39:43

Unless their first move is to prescribe some psyco tropic then I would be like, I mean, maybe right. If they’re also saying we’re gonna get you on these other protocols, but if that’s the only move, maybe find another practitioner.


Chris Palmer  39:56  

And that is exactly why I want to empower people with this book. I want people to understand the real deal the whole picture. And I want people to understand that diet exercise, as you said, hyperbaric oxygen meditations, and other things, these things are real treatments for real brain disorders that can actually help people really heal themselves. And unfortunately, a lot of the medications that we are prescribing are not healing medications, they are symptomatic treatments, they reduce symptoms, but they sometimes come with horrible side effects that might actually end up making matters worse for some people. And so I want people that just have all the information and be able to make the best choices for themselves. But I completely agree, it’s important that you work with a mental health professional, especially if you have serious or dangerous or life threatening symptoms, like suicidality or anything like that.


Mark Divine  40:53  

Well, great work. I really appreciate it. And I appreciate your time today. So Brain Energy, the book is available. It’s out in the marketplace.


Chris Palmer 41:00

Where books are sold. Yeah. 


Mark Divine 41:02

Do you do social media or have a place you’d like people to connect with you if they want to reach out to you personally,


Chris Palmer  41:07  

I do, so if you go to brainenergy.com, you can, you’ll see all of my social media handles and you can follow me there. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, we’ve got a newsletter, you can sign up for the newsletter, you’ll get periodic updates with more and more information. So yeah.


Mark Divine  41:26  

Dr. Palmer, thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it and stay focused and help a lot of people.


Chris Palmer 41:31  

Thank you for having me on the show. 


Mark Divine  41:33  

It’s been my pleasure. What an extremely interesting and valuable podcast episode that was, thanks so much, Dr. Palmer for joining me. Fascinating discussion about how the keto diet helps the mitochondria in your brain, you know, rebalance your energy, we talked a lot about the interventions of hyperbaric chamber, breath, work, meditation, exercise, sleep, all of these things, we know are really valuable for healing the brain and bringing things back into order from disorder. So great stuff, share with your friends and anybody because man if 40% of people in this country or in this world have mental health issues, and we really really need to take this seriously. Check out his book, Brain Energy. Show Notes are up on our website at MarkDivine.com. And of course the video will be up on my YouTube channel. You can reach out at Twitter @ Mark Divine, reach out on Instagram or Facebook @ Real Mark Divine, my newsletter Divine Inspiration comes out every Tuesday where I have the shownotes for the weekly podcast, I have my blog, the book I’m reading, other really interesting things that come across my desk. So if you’re not receiving that, consider going to Mark Divine.com to subscribe. And please also share it with your friends. A Special shout out to my great team of Jason Sanderson and Geoff Haskell and Catherine Divine, who help produce the podcast and the newsletter and bring great guests you like Dr. Palmer every week. Very helpful if you can rate and review the show. So wherever you listen, whether it’s Apple or Amazon or Spotify, please consider rating and reviewing the show and I really appreciate you for doing that. Go check out what we’re doing is SEALFIT.com. We got lots of cool programs and want to help you be strong in body, mind, and teams. And we look forward to supporting your journey to do just that. Till next time this your host Mark Divine, Hooyah!


Transcribed by Catherine and https://otter.ai



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