Mold, Environmental Toxins, and Mental Health

My Experience 

In recent years I had the experience of developing a chronic inflammatory response to mold which went undiagnosed for some time.  As I educated myself about this condition, I discovered that my health care practitioners lacked the same education – they turned to me for answers to their questions.

This page (and the link below to a list of biotoxin effects) is posted in an effort to raise awareness within the general public regarding the effects of environmental toxins upon our physical and mental health.  

Additionally, this page is posted to urge health care providers of all types to:  (1) become knowledgeable about the effects of exposure to mold and other biotoxins; and, (2) incorporate questions about possible biotoxin exposure during client/patient intake.

For those of us living in Northeastern US areas flooded during recent hurricanes and tornadoes, there is much we can learn from the recovery efforts of both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy regarding water-compromised buildings, mold, and the effects of biotoxin exposure on health.

The Reality of Mold

Here on planet Earth, we are surrounded by millions of kinds of fungi (molds) and bacteria.  

Most are harmless In the great outdoors, and varieties that can be harmful to us are kept in check by more beneficial species.  

Indoors, an overgrowth of certain types of fungi can cause significant harm to humans and other animals.  It is well-documented by medical research that a variety of biotoxins have profound effects – some of which are quite odd and multi-system – upon our physical, emotional, and mental health.  

Finding Help

Information about mold and biotoxin exposure has not yet trickled down to most health care providers – primary care providers and mental health workers alike.  However, much valid science-based research is being published and can be found on the internet and in libraries (see especially the work of Dr. Richie Shoemaker).  

During an intake, few providers routinely ask whether a patient is (or has been) working or living in a water-damaged building.  Some medical professionals still believe if they are unable to diagnose a cause for chronic symptoms using routine laboratory tests, the problem must be “all in your head”.  

Chronic Inflammatory Response and Symptoms

A wide array of mental health issues can arise from the body’s chronic inflammatory response to mold exposure.  These include depression, anxiety, unexplained irritability, aberrant violent behavior, diminished cognitive functioning in the form of decreased memory, delayed word retrieval and poor judgment.  

Due to their anti-inflammatory traits, some antidepressants may provide short-term symptom relief from a chronic inflammatory response.  Such periods of respite from symptoms can support a belief that the presenting physical symptoms are "psychological problems”.  Thus, the underlying cause of distress remains unaddressed.  

Please be judicious when using antidepressants for temporary relief from a chronic inflammatory response.  When used in this off-label manner (for symptom relief from a chronic inflammatory response), short-term use is best as the body can become habituated to these medications and they may be difficult to discontinue. 

The inherent psychological orientation of mental health providers means we, as therapists, may overlook the possibility of mycotoxic environmental exposure as a cause of cognitive distress.  Current research makes it evident that we must include environmental elements such as mold exposure in our assessments so we can support clients struggling to find proper care.  

There are no easy answers, but it behooves each of us to endeavor to continue to educate ourselves.