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Shivani Acharya

Effect of Mental Health on our Brain

6 August 2021

Effect of Mental Health on our Brain


Although mental illness is often stigmatized in our society, it is important to remember that mental illness is just as real and shocking as physical illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Despite what society may believe, mental health problems are not a sign of weakness, instability, or moral failure. In fact, mental illness can have a real impact on our bodies and even directly affect the functioning of our brains similar to physical illness that can affect other vital organs such as the heart and lungs. We'll explore the different ways mental illness can affect our brains, from changing the way our brains work to interacting with related disorders such as addictions and trauma. Health has a physical impact on our brain and body.

In this section, we will define mental illness as a disease and discuss how organizations like the American Psychiatric Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness view the problem. This will clear out the misconception that mental illness is not a “real” illness or that it cannot be effectively treated.


Mental illness


The term mental illness itself makes it clear that there are problems with the mind, but is it just the mind in the abstract sense, or is there a physical basis for mental illness? As scientists continue to study mental illness and its causes, they are learning more and more about how the biological processes that make the brain work change when a person has a mental illness.


Before we can examine the effects of mental health on our brain, it is important to define what exactly mental illness is. While different organizations may use different terms, mental health professionals and researchers, in general, agree on a standardized definition of mental illness as a mental health disorder. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines mental illness as "health conditions that involve changes in emotions, thinking, or behaviour" that affect a person's ability to live their life, whether it be maintaining personal relationships or managing them. According to the APA, a key difference between mental illnesses is that the term refers to mental health problems that are "diagnostic". It also means that if a mental illness can be diagnosed, it can also be treated. As the APA notes, mental illness is "a medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes" that has standard treatment and care protocols in place. The American Psychological Association says mental illness is a "treatable disorders that affect a person's mood, thoughts". While the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mental illness as a condition that affects a person's thinking, feelings, or mood, "although they suggest that each person's experience of mental illness is a different manner. Think about mental illness: Mental illness affects the way we think, act, and feel. If you or a loved one is concerned about your mental health, contact a psychologist. They will discuss all the signs and symptoms while examining your family history and lifestyle. Choose a reputable and licensed provider that you can trust.


Effect of mental health on brain


Now that we understand what mental illnesses really are and how they manifest in our brains and behaviour; we can better understand how mental illness affects the brain itself. As the organ most responsible for our behaviour, decision-making, and emotions, our brain is directly affected by mental illness. But as scientists continue studying the human brain, they have found evidence that mental illness can cause or worsen existing changes in how the brain works, and in some cases even in the structure of the brain. In other words, we still don't know exactly why some mental illnesses occur the way they do. We have much better insight than ever before into the relationship between our brain chemistry and our mental health.


Neurotransmitters help to understand the structure of the brain itself. As we know, our brain controls our way of thinking, acting, moving, and feeling. Even processes that do not require conscious thinking, such as breathing or blinking, are controlled by the brain via our autonomous nervous system. It sends messages from our brain via the spine and nerves send to different parts of our brain. But how do messages get from our brain to the whole body, often without even noticing them? The answer is special cells in the brain called neurons that act as messengers that send commands from the brain to the rest of the body. Neurons can "talk" to many different parts of the body, including our muscles, nerves, and glands, which secrete various chemicals for our bodies to function normally. We have an estimated 100 billion neurons in our brain that enable us to participate in very complex and precise tasks and behaviours.


Neurons communicate with each other through small spaces called synapses. To fill this gap, neurons first send out an electrical signal, and when that electrical impulse reaches synapses, the signal triggers the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters that send messages to other neurons by binding to receptors on the receiving neuron. There are many different types of neurotransmitters that are responsible for sending different types of messages. The most common neurotransmitters are listed below. Dopamine is a key component of the brain's motivational system and is involved in human behaviour including cravings, lust, breastfeeding, and sexual arousal. Many forms of drugs and alcohol cause the brain to release excessive amounts of dopamine, resulting in euphoria, or short-lived euphoria. For people struggling with depression and other mental health areas, doctors often prescribe antidepressants that alter serotonin levels in the brain to help stabilize mood. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that slows down activity in the brain as well as in the body. For this reason, GABA is widely believed to temporarily relieve or improve mental problems related to stress, anxiety, and trauma. Some foods, such as soy sauce also contain this chemical. This neurotransmitter puts the body on "high alert" by increasing the heart rate, increasing blood pressure, and activating muscles.


Dopamine and Mental Health Disorders


Changing dopamine levels have been linked to a variety of mental health problems often associated with cravings, addictive or rewarding behaviours, and even hallucinations. Dopamine is linked to a drug use disorder because many types of drugs and alcohol increase dopamine levels, which causes dopamine to cause the brain to continue the addictive behaviour. Normal dopamine levels can be related to hallucinatory experiences that are common in bipolar and schizophrenic people. Anhedonia, or lack of zest for life, is related to low dopamine levels and is very common in people with depression.


Serotonin and Mental Health Disorders


Serotonin is involved in stress management and decision-making. When serotonin levels in the brain change, people can experience various psychological problems. Low serotonin levels are particularly associated with depression. Since serotonin helps regulate our appetite and our intestinal system, the neurotransmitter also plays a role in the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Alcohol use is believed to also affect a person's likelihood of having thoughts, suicidal acts, or impulses. Scientists are continuing to study the relationship between serotonin and common mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders and Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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