Clues to understanding the brain
Food for Thought
"Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain come joys, delights, laughter, and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear and know what are foul and what is fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet, and what are unsavoury. ... And by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us. ... All these things we endure from the brain" (On the Sacred Disease, Hippocrates, 5th century BC).
Neuroscientist Jeanette Norden cites Hippocrates to remind us that there have always been individuals and minds that have been well ahead of their time! (Understanding the Brain, 2007)
What is a mental "disorder"?
Generally speaking, a mental mental illness is diagnosed when the way an individual experiences the world is radically different from most people's, or when a person's behaviour makes it difficult for him or her to function in society.
According to CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime, and the remaining 4 will have a friend, family member or colleague who will experience mental illness. Also, "mental illness affects thinking, mood or behaviour and can be associated with distress and/or impairment of functioning, with symptoms that vary from mild to severe."
Much of the knowledge scientists have gained about the disordered brain has been the outcome of treating patients with mental illness, studying detailed notebooks recorded by physicians treating patients with mental illness, using brain imaging technology to view structures and functions of "living" brains, and postmortem brain dissections. Modern neuroscience now recognizes that every mental state corresponds to a particular pattern and sequence of brain processes.
Most mental illness is the result of combination of causes - including head injury or other physical trauma, degeneration or deterioration in the related brain structures, inherited genes, and developmental problems during gestation or infancy. Causes of mental illness or "disorders" may be generally categorized as follows:
- degeneration - e.g. Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease
- developmental or genetic - e.g. Down syndrome, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- injury or trauma - e.g. cerebral palsy, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
Scientists continue to work on understanding the root causes of many common mental illnesses in order to prevent their occurrence and to provide effective interventions to help individuals with mental disorders cope with their everyday lives. In many cases, fundamental discoveries continue to elude them.
In other cases, modern neuroscience has yielded effective therapies to help individuals coping with certain forms of mental illness or non-typical mental states. The relatively recent discovery that the brain is changeable throughout an individual's lifetime has gone a long way towards generating different approaches to procedure and therapies for achieving improved brain functions.
The Importance of Language and the Hidden Power of Labels
Scientists continue to work on understanding the root causes of many common brain states that are not neurotypical. Their aim is to prevent their occurrence, when they are problematic, and to provide effective interventions to help individuals cope with their everyday lives. In some cases, fundamental discoveries continue to elude them.
In other cases, modern neuroscience has yielded some effective therapies to help individuals coping with certain forms of mental "disorders" or non-typical brain states. The relatively recent discovery that the brain is changeable throughout an individual's lifetime has gone a long way towards generating different approaches to procedures and therapies for achieving improved brain functions.
Much of the literature and resources continue, generally, to refer to non-typical brain states as "mental disorders." However, more people are becoming increasingly aware that the language use reinforces habits of mind and informs how we perceive and relate to others.
Disordered or extraordinary?
TED Talk by Faith Jegede, "What I've learned from my autistic brothers"