Good brain health is a state in which every individual can realize their own abilities and optimize their cognitive, emotional, psychological and behavioural functioning to cope with life situations. I like this definition from the World Health Organization, and I wish more people would consider brain health the term to use when discussing mental health.
Without our brains, the rest of our body is unable to function, right? Our brains are the central nervous system for our entire body. Our brains send signals to all other areas of our bodies to help keep us safe, to help our cells know when to fight. So imagine when our body is under stress, and our brains receive signals to send out to all parts of the body to handle tension or anxiety or high blood pressure? I mean, when we are stressed, everything works differently. We sweat more, our breathing changes, our hearts race, even our gut is impacted by stress. All of this is a known fact, and it ALL starts in the brain.
So, why do we say “mental health” when we talk about depression or anxiety, for example. Isn’t it more appropriate to use the term “brain health?” Medically, why should we treat our brains any differently than we treat our hearts? We don’t say love illness or love health, so why say mental illness or mental health? It is brain health, just as it is heart health.
Why do the terms matter?
Self-stigma refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental illness have about their own condition.
Mental. Mental illness. You’re just mental. You’re crazy. You’re hysterical.
Imagine what happens when someone who already feels a sense of shame is then treated by society as if they are “mental.”
Did you know the 2nd and 3rd cause of death for youth under the age of 18 is suicide? Split into two causes depending on the type of suicide, which has risen by 22% in the last five years. Did you also know the rate of suicides in kids between the ages of 10 and 14 has risen by 50% in the last five years? Around 800,000 people go through with suicide every year, and for each of those, there are around 25 times more suicide attempts. (Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
Our ancestors understood brain health better than we do. What happened?
This historical perspective on mental health treatment is interesting.
You can find, for instance, quotes from ancient Greece– 400 B.C. or 500 B.C., which say if somebody is showing what we would call the symptoms of mental illness, take them to a nice place, care of them, give them lots of light and air, and support them until they recover.
You can fast-forward from that, almost 2,000 years to Thomas Moore, at the time of Henry VIII– who says people who show the signs of mental illness should be chained to a tree and the devil whipped out of them.
The powerhouse of the Human Body is the brain.
The brain is a very powerful tool, and that goes for whether it aids you or beats you down. As a society, we need to realize that brain health is as important as any other form of health. We don’t ignore heart health or broken bones, right? We need to realize that kids as young as 8 or younger have brains that work the same as adults but with less life experience (usually), so when someone is mean and hateful to them, it is tough to come to terms with them how that makes them feel. This isn’t just about sensitive kids or overprotective parents. This isn’t about one kid being more dramatic than another. No one should feel that death is their only way out.
We need better resources and understanding.
We need to have more resources for taking care of our brain health and our emotional well-being. From the time we are babies all the way throughout our lives, we should be evaluated for our physical and emotional wellbeing in a way that better includes our brain health.
Did you know 56% of individuals report discomfort talking to even friends and family about mental health-related issues? That number skyrockets to 84% when talking to an employer, according to MentalHelp.
Healthcare should not be separated into two types of practice between physical and mental, because I guarantee you that they are connected. If you are experiencing brain health issues, then you are also experiencing physical symptoms and vice versa. There shouldn’t need to be different copays for therapists than any other physician. Healthcare providers need to work together as treatment teams to ensure a holistic and successful approach to patient care. I know I would be more apt to go to a practice with this type of team mentality. It would be amazing to address symptoms simultaneously with a team who could look at what I am experiencing more comprehensively.
Perhaps these changes can begin with a simple change in terminology.
Let’s use the phrase brain health instead of mental health and see how the tides change.