Dr. Andrew Pleener Advises to Exercise Mental Health Along With Physical Being
It’s time to throw out the stigmas, stop labeling mental health as a disorder and start taking charge of overall wellbeing. According to American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) alum Andrew Pleener, MD ’14, that’s the only way society will move into a preventative model of mental-health care.
“Mental health is not a binary topic of sickness vs. health but rather a continuum, influenced by stress and trauma through life’s various challenges that impacts us all,” explained the Florida physician. “If someone has lived a sedentary lifestyle for years, that person would never go to the gym and just work on triceps. He would incorporate cardio, abs, biceps, chest and quads to restore architecture to the full body. Likewise, when we’ve dealt with stressors and challenges for many years, disrupting neurobiological connections in our brain, we need more than a singular modality like medication or talk therapy to restore full functionality.”
Pleener said when physicians begin incorporating overall care — physical and mental — there’s a high probability that mental health will improve. He recently joined forces with the Same Here Global Mental Health Movement, a nonprofit organization committed to normalizing society’s perception of mental health. The alliance, with the tagline “we’re all a little ‘crazy’,” began in 2017 and partners with reputable professionals in sports, entertainment and financial services. Its founder, Eric Kussin, worked in the sports industry for more than 15 years. During his climb to the top, he was hit with debilitating mental-health issues that were treated solely with various medications and talk-therapy techniques, all to no avail. It wasn’t until he was introduced to an integrative approach — breathing exercises, meditation, body posture, mindfulness and tapping, along with lifestyle medicine and nutrition, that he began to improve. Now, he aims to share that message across the globe.
Since connecting with Same Here, Pleener has developed Psych Alliances, a directory of integrative practitioners who champion total patient care and introduced STARR (stress and trauma, active release and rewiring), a set of exercises that allows users to build a mental-health tool box.
Impactful Life Experiences
“What people don’t understand is that you can be impacted by challenges you have experienced directly and those you have witnessed indirectly. All these experiences can cause physical changes to your body — hormonal imbalances, inflammation, vagal nerve changes. Just like we learn not to wait for plaque to build up in our circulatory system, we should not wait for stress and trauma to build in our central nervous system. Whatever you’ve experienced — war, parental divorce, bullying, academic stressors and all the challenges associated with COVID-19, your body will react and there can be lasting effects. We need to focus on the underlying causes, realizing there are circuits operating at high levels and not syncing with everything in the middle.”
Inspired by his physician father who practiced holistic medicine, Pleener said his medical journey was solidified when he witnessed his mother’s dwindling health due to an undiagnosed parasitic infection. “Watching my mom physically and mentally deteriorate for two years influenced me to go into mental health and look at the whole integrated approach.”
Pleener and his wife, fellow AUC grad Olga Aleksandrova, MD, met in medical school and both provide non-medication healing modalities to patients. Always ready to serve, the pair unexpectedly sprang into action during a 2017 visit to AUC when Hurricane Irma hit Sint Maarten. “We didn’t even think about it. We just set up a makeshift hospital to start providing medical care.” The couple share two small children (the oldest named Martin to honor their meeting place), enjoy playing tennis and living a balanced life.
As a friendly reminder, Pleener encourages everyone to stay focused on their core values and check out two helpful sections on the Same Here website — Hero Alliance Stories to learn about other’s mental-health journey and the newly launched Emotional Scale App to allow better social/emotional communication amongst teachers/students, coaches/players and employers/employees. “The brain has no delete button. We need to start making mental health part of our everyday, normal conversation and to begin taking strides toward improving our mental resiliency.”