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Mental Illness

Mental Health and Brain Chemicals

Is mental illness and physical illness the same? Well, that depends on who you ask. Over 75 percent of people polled in a recent survey say that they are not. Most people know that mental illness is a sickness, but that’s where it stops. There is a severe stigma attached to mental illness that won’t be going away anytime soon. Maybe the stigma exists because many people feel that everyone has emotional problems and that there is simply no excuse for another persons' disturbing behavior, regardless of the reason. They feel that these people are weak and that they should just be able to get it together like everyone else has to do, and get on with their lives.

On the other hand, whenever we see someone who is paralyzed, or hear of someone who has cancer, we instantly feel sorry for them. Most people tend to be compassionate and sympathetic toward them, believing that they have a real and serious problem that is beyond their control. We wish them well in their battle to regain their physical health and happiness.

That's usually not the case when we are dealing with someone with emotional issues and mental illness. We often tend to remain in denial and disbelief that someone that we know is unwilling and unable to control their emotions and behavior and that they are not "normal." But, what is "normal"?

There is a fine line between someone who is “normal” and someone who is “abnormal”. Some people believe that everyone is abnormal and that it’s just a matter of how dysfunctional, how often they have a dysfunctional episode, and what's the subject of their dysfunction. The fact is, everyone has issues that cause them to be "a little" unstable, dysfunctional and imperfect. This, of course, applies to everyone, with some people being more dysfunctional than others. This is where the problem lies.

We all know people who behave badly and cause all kinds of problems. Sure, we should accept that people are imperfect with emotional issues, but where do we draw the line when it comes to emotional and mental illness, and their effect on everyone around them, including us?

We even tend to overlook many of their emotional problems until we can't take it anymore. Dysfunctional relationships with family and friends tend to be especially hard. When is enough, enough, and when do we accept that the person is sick, versus just acting out? This is a tough question to answer if we include everyone who misbehaves, has ill intent towards others or commits self-sabotage at some point in their lives.

But it's so difficult to be caring and supportive when people have "dysfunctional episodes" that disrupts and disturbs our lives so profoundly. We don't see them and think of them as being sick. We tend to see someone who chooses to behave in a dysfunctional and destructive manner. We see someone who is selfish and couldn't care less about anyone but themselves, regardless of the circumstances and how it affects our loved ones and us.

It is true that the person with the physical problem is a burden to all their caregivers and the people around them. But the person that has emotional/mental issues, they are a burden plus, they will usually wreak havoc on those around them, sucking and draining the life out of everyone and everything, like a vortex.

Although it may be tough to do, what if mental illness was treated the same way as a physical illness? What would it take?

Dealing with anyone who is emotionally sick requires a lot of understanding, tolerance, patience, and endurance. We don't see anything physically wrong with them, so we're not as forgiving as we should be.

The idea that mental illness is fundamentally different from other illnesses is as old as humankind. It’s up each person to learn and understand that mental illness is something that people struggle with throughout their lives, or if with the onset of Dementia, because of old age. As with other mental illnesses, Dementia isn't always obvious, therefore making it difficult to diagnose, until the illness has progressed. It’s important to be aware of subtle signs and changes as parents and other loved ones become older. It's safe to say that life is full of emotional struggles that we must all overcome, and we need to evolve in spite of the challenges and obstacles that confront us throughout our journey in life.

Even when things are going well, we tend to allow negative thoughts and self-sabotage to impact our emotional and mental state. It is, for most people, an ongoing challenge to maintain a high level of emotional health, happiness, and inner-peace. We like to think that some people are perfect, but that's mostly an illusion. The fact is that everyone has issues.

What’s the difference between mental health and emotional health?
Although mental illness covers a lot of health issues, it’s important to point out that disorders such as Epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and Multiple Sclerosis are considered neurological diseases, rather than mental illnesses. The risk of developing certain mental disorders can increase dramatically when parts of the brain are damaged due to head trauma or injury. The line between mental illnesses and other brain or neurological disorders is often blurred, so it’s important to make this distinction before continuing.

In 1948, the World Health Organization defined health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being", and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. So, does that mean that anything less than that, can be considered an emotional or a mental illness? A state of “complete”, 100%, physical, mental and social well-being is unachievable for humans at this point in evolution. We can only strive to become the best version of ourselves possible.

Good mental health requires that the brain is functioning well, and without damage. In a good state of health, the brain must be able to process information and store it in memory for future use. It must also have the ability to comprehend, understand, and maintain attention, and focus on a particular task. All functions such as reasoning, converting every experience into information, forming opinions, making decisions, and using logic are all components of mental health. Almost anything can cause a person difficulty in their ability to function “normally”.

There are many different types of mental illnesses. Some of the more common types include dementia, disorders due to psychoactive drug use (e.g. alcohol, opiate, stimulant, etc.), psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, neurotic disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobic disorder, and several eating disorders. Disorders in childhood and adolescence include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and conduct disorder. Each illness alters and impairs an individual’s thoughts process, feelings, perception, emotions, and behaviors in very distinct ways. Some chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain occur often and are often overlooked and dismissed as part of a person's personality, their tendencies, and habits.

Although the two are closely intertwined, emotional health cannot exist without a functioning state of mental health. Emotional health is often the result and condition of the state of mental health. Emotional health involves being able to express your feelings in an appropriate way.

Preventing mental illness
There is no sure way to prevent most types of mental illness, but there are things; such as medication, nutrition, and exercise, that can help in a lot of cases. Let’s remember that human beings are imperfect, so there isn’t a cure or a complete fix. However, that being said, there are many things that you can do to minimize emotional issues, and possibly slow down the onset of mental health illnesses.

The brain is responsible for all movements, body functions, thoughts, feelings, and everything else that makes up who you are today. The brain grows, adapts, and works well in healthy people, but normal brain development and functions can go away, leading to mental illness. Regardless if it stems from genetics, environmental issues or past life experiences, all mental illnesses are really about the condition of the brain, and the chemical levels and balance within it. Everything we do relies on the brains' ability to use electrical impulses and chemical signals to carry messages across different parts of the brain, and between the brain and the rest of the nervous system.

The brain is responsible for coordinating the billions of specialized cells called neurons that are critical for your development, function, and health. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that allow the transmission of signals from one neuron to the next across synapses. Neurotransmitters also transmit information to other nerve cells, the nervous system, muscles, and gland cells. Most neurons have a cell body, an axon, and dendrites.

Brain chemicals such as Acetylcholine, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), Glutamate, Serotonin, and Endorphin cause specific physiological reactions when they are released. For example, low levels of the neurotransmitter Serotonin can cause depression, and impulsive and aggressive forms of behavior, violence, and even suicide. The neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, is responsible for much of the stimulation of muscles, while the neurotransmitter Norepinephrine, affects the sympathetic nervous system, and increases our heart rate and our blood pressure. It is also involved with the fight-or-flight syndrome. Epinephrine is commonly known as Adrenaline. It is a hormone but at the same time, it is also classified as a neurotransmitter because they function by carrying the nerve impulses between the neurons towards the target cell. This gives adrenaline its electrochemical nature. Endorphin (endogenous morphine) is structurally very similar to the opioids (opium, morphine, heroin, etc.), and has a similar function. Endorphin is involved in pain reduction and pleasure.

Correct levels and quantities of brain chemicals are vital to maintaining good physical and mental health. The more a chemical is released into the brain, the more the brain starts to crave that substance, regardless whether it’s healthy or unhealthy for you. This explains why we can quickly and easily become addicted to almost anything or anyone. In other words, the brain and body react and function independently of what you want. Although you do not have direct control over these chemicals, you can do things to manipulate them to help you achieve good health. It all starts and ends with taking good care of yourself.

Below is a list of tips and ideas that can help to maintain brain function and chemical balance to support good health.

Remain active and exercise daily.

Get sufficient sleep.

Maintain a healthy eating regimen.

Live, love, laugh every day.

Maintain a positive and constructive attitude

Adapt a healthy lifestyle.

Food and nutrition play a significant role in health. Choose wisely.

Create healthy habits.

Take steps to minimize stress.

Maintain healthy relationships

Strive to achieve a well-balanced and well-rounded lifestyle.

Maintain a high level of self-esteem and self-confidence.

Get routine medical care and checkups.

Strive to achieve a high state of life-wellness (social, financial, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, occupational, and environmental)

Practice meditation, mindfulness, and Chi Qigong (Chi Kung) exercises.

Pay attention to warning signs and take action accordingly.

It’s up to you to learn how you can take proper care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to get help when you need it. Talk to your health care provider to find out what steps you can take to improve your health.

It’s important to note again, that taking care of yourself will NOT prevent some mental illnesses such as dementia, nor will it prevent death, but it can help improve the odds that you will live a healthier, happier life.

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