What do you do when you are sick? Usually, I have a difficult night where my nose is stuffed and my throat is sore. I begin the next day with dryness on the outside of my nostrils and I take two tablets of cold medicine. If it doesn’t get better in a week I go to the doctor. Sometimes I will have a sinus infection, and the doctor will prescribe me some medication to get it all fixed up. Doesn’t that sound simple?
When you get an infection somewhere, or you have issues with an organ, doctors can usually see what is happening. If a person has cancer the doctors will choose a course of treatment that will help the patient in the best way possible.
There is one organ that is usually taken less seriously than the rest, especially when it comes to mental health.
This organ is our brain.
Our brain is a complex mass of cells, blood vessels and nutritious fluid. Brain cells or neurons communicate with one another to make sure the organism is breathing, eating, digesting and mating. Neurons are also responsible for responding to stress, pleasure, and nutrition.
Out of all the species of animals in the world, humans have the most complex brain. We have a bigger front half of our brain so we can problem solve and use language to communicate. This section of the brain is called the frontal lobe.
Think about how you can read a book or how you can speak your native language without actually thinking about it. How can you write or solve a math problem? What allows you to think?
Is it magic?
Nope! It’s the Frontal lobe that gives you the ability to do all these things. Heck, your eyes are sending signals to your brain so you can read this blog. Isn’t that fascinating?
Now back to what this blog is all about: mental illness. Why is the brain so important?
To understand the importance of our brain in regards to mental illness, there is this quote my neuroscience professor, Kim Hellemans said in our first lecture in 2018 that will help you think about it:
“Mental health is the price we pay for language.”
When I advocate ending the stigma surrounding mental health this quote always comes to my mind. Your brain is as complex as hell. To be able to speak any language or solve any abstract problem, complexity is essential. There are billions of connections between neurons firing every minute so you can see, think, speak and breathe. It is so complex that it can’t keep up with itself.
The brain, unfortunately, much like our other organs is not perfect, and evolution is a slow process. How was the slow evolution of our brains supposed to keep up with the fast modernization of our world? Our brain is not evolved enough to be able to speak, think, breathe, go on the computer, drive a car, go to school and go to work without something going wrong. Not to mention, there are often many societal pressures that affect us on top of our basic needs. There is pressure to be successful and to be better than everyone else. Not to mention people have unplanned traumas that come with everyday life such as abuse, bullying, illness and much more.
Mental illness is caused by our brains going into overdrive, and therefore mental illness is a brain illness. Did you see how I got there?
Let’s do a quick recap.
Your brain is this super complex organ that uses its cells to communicate so your body can work. There are so many cells communicating at the same time because of our external environment as well as our internal environment which can cause some malfunctioning. The stressors of modern-day can be too much for our brain since this is the same brain humans were using thousands of years ago. So, with so much happening there can be some cells that don’t fire, or that fire too much and something can go wrong.
That is where mental illness comes in.
When you are depressed, it is because of your brain.
When you are anxious it is because of your brain.
When you see things and hear things that aren’t there it is because of your brain.
When you feel a need to starve yourself or purge it is because of your brain.
When you struggle with substance abuse it is because of your brain.
When you struggle with compulsions and obsessions it is because of your brain.
It is important to understand that mental health is brain health to recognize that there is never a choice in regards to depression, anxiety or any other mental illness.
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, or heart disease people become so distressed and this is 100% valid. When I hear of a person being diagnosed with any illness I empathize and understand the difficulty. We must understand is that mental illness can be just as bad as any other illness.
When someone has cancer or a heart condition and they have to take time off from work or school they are not questioned. People understand that people who are ill must get better and do whatever they need to survive.
When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness and they have to take time off from work or school people question them. It is seen more as a choice than a necessity to get better.
People send get-well-soon cards to patients who have just gotten out of surgery while patients with mental illness get phone calls from loved ones saying “stay positive” or “just smile more.”
The craziest part about all of this is that the mortality rate from mental illness is extremely high. Every 40 seconds someone commits suicide which happens because of mental illness. Every 62 minutes someone dies from an eating disorder which is a mental illness.
I am not trying to minimize cancer, heart conditions, diabetes or any other illness. I am using these other illnesses as proof that mental illness is just as bad as any other illness in the body. They are at the same level. This is not to say that every single person struggling with mental illness, will die, just as many people with cancer will not die.
We have to stop minimizing mental illness. Everyone has to recognize the effect that mental illness has on someone’s life. It is already hard enough to live with mental illness. It is even harder to live with mental illness when people don’t even take you seriously and when the health care system does not prioritize mental health.
It is time to end this minimization of mental illness. It is time to show kindness and love to those struggling. It is time to empathize and listen to those who need to be heard.
Today my loud mind tells me that I am not sick enough for society’s standards so I don’t need to ask for help.
What do I have to say to that?
My suffering is specific to me, and everyone is affected by mental illness differently. I must get help to live my life to the fullest, even though I don’t fit in a specific mold.
How will you challenge your loud mind today? #myloudmind