Something is on my mind… uh brain. Namely, the distinction between mind and brain especially regarding mental illness and brain disease. I’ve noticed some articles lately about renaming alternative or complementary medicine and other articles about efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness.
Perception is everything. There are some inherent problems in the way the brain becomes the mind when it’s mental illness (paranoia, depression, etc.) yet remains the brain when it’s brain injury or disease (TBI, tumor, etc.). Apparently when it’s still the brain and has a disease there is no stigma. But when it’s the mental/mind experiencing a coherence problem there is a stigma.
From where I’m sitting it’s still the same brain. So here is what I propose, to change the conversation: Reframe mental health to ‘calibration and/or re-calibration’ of the brain. A healthy brain is in balance. The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines calibration: “to adjust or mark (something, such as a measuring device) so that it can be used in an accurate and exact way.” Brains are measuring and calculating and deciding all the time so having a balanced brain is a good place to start if you want a healthy, balanced life.
But, you may say, what about that ‘chemical imbalance’? To which I reply, read Charles Barber’s book, ‘Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation’. Charles speaks of the efficacy of cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) in treating a wide range of human difficulties. Thus, I like to think of myself as a Mental Hygienist.
This brings me to a recent report on NPR about the use of CBT in treating a boy whose mother modeled hypervigilant, catastrophic thinking and thus experienced a high rate of anxiety. Not surprisingly her son began to experience the same thing. A state of constant anxiety will indeed change the brain, effectively bathing it in stress hormones that will then maintain the anxiety that will then maintain the stress response…
The son’s anxiety was also maintained by the good intentions of others–in this case the behavior of his parents–who were depriving him of self-mastery by always swooping in to rescue him from any discomfort. While the report did not say this explicitly, the reality is that the parents were attempting to manage their own anxiety by accidentally reinforcing their son’s anxiety. Once those behavior-change agents stopped interfering and allowed their son to gain mastery of self-regulation skills, a family of recalibrated, rebalanced brains emerged.