Don't Ignore Your Brain

As a Neuroscience major enrolled in a university as socially progressive as Loyola, it is often easy for me to forget that awareness about mental health is not as commonplace as it should be. In light of Mental Health Week at the Her Campus LUC chapter, I want to share with you some important truths that I have learned over the years concerning mental health.

 

  1. Mental health IS physical health.

The above photo exhibits the difference in neuronal activity in a healthy person as compared to someone who suffers from clinical depression.

 

Maybe mental illness does not physically manifest itself outside the body, but that does not mean it is not real. Many mental illnesses can be the result of chemical imbalances within your brain. In the same way that Type 2 diabetes is the result of low insulin production from the pancreas, depression can be the result of low serotonin (the “happiness” neurotransmitter) levels in your brain.

  1. Your actions can affect your mood, and vice versa.

However, mental illness can oftentimes be a mix of external and internal factors lending to changes in mood, thought patterns, and behavior. Like I mentioned before, it is possible to suddenly find yourself feeling anxious or depressed, even when there doesn’t seem to be anything going wrong in your life.

 

However, when you treat your body poorly, your brain, like any other organ, also suffers. Factors such as lack of sleep, poor nutrition, lack of sunlight, stress, or fluctuating hormone levels (such as your time of the month) can all contribute to your overall mood.

  1. Mental Illness encompasses a long list of different disorders.

ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are only a few of the hundreds of diagnosable mental illnesses in the DSM-5, the most current manual of mental disorders used by psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose their patients.

 

Though we may not think of it in this way, addiction is yet another diagnosable mental disorder. Mainstream media tends to glamorize drug use and binge-drinking as a “normal part” of the college experience. The distorted reality we perceive in movies and television shows can influence us to believe that it’s completely normal to get blacked-out at parties or regularly have a drink after a bad day. However, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that about 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for alcohol abuse disorder. The point I am trying to make here is, just because social norms make certain unhealthy behaviors seem “ok”, we need to critically think about our actions and whether they are actually harming us.

 

  1. We need to end the stigma.

Though awareness about mental health has vastly increased in the past few decades, many cultures around the world still stigmatize mental illness. Social gender norms tend to discourage men from being emotionally vulnerable or seeking help for issues such as eating disorders. This lack of understanding and awareness can stop people from seeking help when they need it the most.

 

If you struggle with a mental illness, remember that it is not your fault, and it is more common than you’d think. Do not let anyone convince you that you should “just cheer up” or “get over it”.

  1. Get help if you think you need it.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that nearly 45,000 Americans die by taking their own life every year. However, this is only a small fraction of the total number of people who actually attempt to commit suicide every year. Most of the time, people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts show important warning signs. Sometimes, all they need is someone to talk to or someone to show that they care.

 

If you, or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, do not hesitate to seek help; there are countless online resources and people willing to listen:

Sources:

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression