Mental health is often overlooked in society. However, although there has been an increase in the discussion of mental health in our generation, many fail to connect how much mental health can affect the body.
A recent study conducted by L. Mason, E. Peters, and S. C. Williams, and V. Kumari analyzed the changes in brain connectivity following cognitive behavioral therapy. The scientists in the study continued their research from their original study: they evaluated their participants’ brain response to facial expressions ranging from happiness to anger. Each participant had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Those taking medication were compared to those who were receiving only cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of psychotherapy during which the individual reflects on negative patterns of thoughts and actions and tries to challenge them. Only those undergoing behavioral therapy showed changes in functional connections in the brain, which suggests that CBT may be associated with changes in brain connectivity. This therapy is preferred because it does not involve medication or surgery. Using brain imaging, the study indicated a connection in several brain regions like the amygdala and frontal lobes. These two brain regions are quintessential for long-term recovery from psychosis because the amygdala is the brain’s threat recognition center and the frontal lobes are responsible for reasoning.
In the scientists’ new study, fifteen participants who received CBT had their health monitored for eight years. Near the end of the period, the researchers sent the participants a questionnaire to determine the extent of their recovery. From the surveys and the medical records viewed, the scientists saw an improvement in their well-being as well as their recovery with the combination of medication and CBT.
In addition to seeing how changes in brain connectivity are evident in the treatment of mental health diseases, there is another study that presents how different mental disorders are linked to brain matter loss. Researchers at Stanford University identified a pattern in all of the psychiatric disorders. The meta-analysis of 193 papers published in JAMA Psychiatry indicated that there was a loss of grey matter in three regions of the brain that included the left and right anterior insula and the dorsal anterior cingulate. These areas are involved in planning and decision-making.
From both of these studies, it is apparent that there is a clear connection between the physical well-being of the body and mental health and that CBT may be an effective measure to treat individuals who experience mental health problems. However, due to the stigma associated with mental illness, many of these victims fail to receive help.
Although the ways to help individuals with mental illnesses are clear, many of these people suffer due to the lack of support. In fact, another study highlighted the fact that many clinicians felt less empathy for their patients when biological explanations were used to describe their conditions. The doctor’s response is critical as lack of empathy may cause the mental illness to either thrive or may make patients reluctant to acknowledge their existing conditions. This, in turn, causes ineffective psychotherapy.
However, the lack of emphasis on mental health goes beyond patient and clinician dynamics. An article published the Psychological Science in The Public Interest discusses the role of stigma in limiting care and access to mental health treatment. The effects often lead individuals to believe that recovery is impossible or that they are responsible for their illness. This shame further harms these people. However, stigma doesn’t stop there: there is also a lack of funding for mental health care and research. This research is crucial to aid a condition that almost 50% of the US population experience. Just like any other illness, mental illness needs to be treated seriously.
Talk therapy can be an effective way to treat mental health conditions such as depression. Learn more about depression here.
Edited by: Nelli Morgulchik and Karen Yung