Brain health vs Mental health- Is it all in your head?

Silhouette of a woman's head with a sunrise image in her head illustrating mental health

Did you know that statistics show that close to 1 in 5 of us suffers from a mental illness? Historically, mental health issues have had a stigma attached to them. Thoughts, emotions and mood are often thought of as separate from our physical entities. This has led to people experiencing feelings of shame and guilt about having a mental health disorder or illness.

But let’s sit down and think about where our thoughts and emotions really come from. In reality, everything we think about, remember, feel and experience is through our brain. All our thoughts, emotions and subsequent actions occur because of biochemical and electrical activity within our nervous system, primarily our brain.

So why aren’t we talking about BRAIN health instead of mental health? Why don’t we say we have a brain illness instead of a mental illness? After all, our brain is a real, physical organ in our body. Would people feel like they needed to hide a problem with their liver or kidneys or heart?

Here's why I am passionate about talking about BRAIN health and why it’s time to ditch the term ‘mental health’:

1. The term Brain health removes the label and stigma. 

Talking about brain health removes the stigma and label attached to mental health by changing the focus to a very important organ in our body. After all, what exactly is the ‘mental’ part of you? You can’t you see it and you won’t find a part of your body labelled as the mental part on any anatomical charts. Unfortunately, mental illness and mental health are labels that are loaded with a lot of negative connotations. When we talk about the brain instead, we know what we’re talking about. We’ve seen pictures of the brain and know exactly where it is in our body.

Talking about brain health as opposed to mental health encourages a more positive and non judgemental discussion. People are generally more empathetic too when they talk to someone who has a physical problem, for example, an injured back or broken wrist or someone who’s had a stroke, which is essentially a brain injury. If we re-frame anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, brain fog, autism, ADHD, poor focus and memory problems as problems due to an injured brain, people will be more sympathetic and less likely to see these problems as moral or character flaws.

2. It encourages people to be kinder and more compassionate with themselves.

If you twisted your ankle badly and it was swollen and bruised, you’d be ok with using a pair of crutches for a couple of weeks or longer. You’d stop going to the gym and you’d rest your foot up and put an ice pack on it. Perhaps you’ll even take some Ibuprofen to help reduce the pain and swelling. You wouldn’t say to yourself “Just pull yourself together, forget the pain and let’s keep hitting the gym as usual”, would you?

But unfortunately, when people feel depressed, suffer from brain fog or mental exhaustion, they tend to force themselves to go on and pretend everything’s normal. Trust me, I used to do this too. I forced myself to carry on as normal with my busy schedule despite suffering from severe sleep deprivation. The result? Numerous mini breakdowns that left me feeling like a failure and lots of days off work because I kept getting colds and migraines.

I eventually learnt that it was OK to stop, acknowledge that I was struggling with my brain function in a non-judgemental way and start to take care of my brain. I gave myself permission to start incorporating self care actions like taking a voluntary break from work, going to bed earlier, going for quiet walks in nature and doing guided meditations to switch off my automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). The result of being kinder to myself? Less emotional eating, a clearer mind, fewer sick days and getting back to my normal routine faster.

3. It gives people back a feeling of control for developing a better brain. 

Most people know that if they want a better body, they need to take action. So they start going on a diet, exercising, researching what supplements will help achieve their physical goals. They want to know what they can do more of to lose weight and have a better looking body.  They’re focusing on a desired goal, which they can visualise. When people talk about mental health or mental illness, the focus is often on what negative symptoms they want to get rid of. For example: I want to stop feeling depressed, or having panic attacks or my addiction to something. This can feel overwhelming and out of our control. It’s also quite common to think that just medications and/or counselling will help. But if we start thinking about brain health in the same way as our physical health, we realise there are lots of ways to improve our brain health by ourselves, without being reliant on medications and direct help from health professionals. We start looking for alternative solutions we can add to our normal routines. We consider taking supplements, eating better, meditating and doing brain exercises all with the goal of having better blood flow to the brain and nourishing the brain itself so it works better.

4. A brain health approach changes the questions we ask

Once you appreciate that your physical brain is a complex machine, you start to review your brain health issues differently. You realise your brain is unique and the solution to your problems doesn’t lie in one simple remedy. Instead of saying “OK, I have Depression. I need anti-depressants”, you wonder “What exactly is causing my feelings of sadness?” and “What else can I do apart from taking anti depressants to improve my mood and brain health?” and “Could there be a link between my insomnia and feeling depressed? In which case, how do I improve my sleep?” It helps you - and anyone else helping you - tailor a solution that’s unique to you and your challenges, rather than treat a label or disease. This approach is both personalised and holistic. By asking more and better questions, you’re more likely to find solutions that work for YOU.

If you’d like to move your focus away from mental health and towards brain health, I’d love to help you. Contact me here to arrange a FREE 30 minute Health Exploratory Call to see what steps you could take to achieving a better brain.

Leave a Comment