Understanding Neurology And Mental Health For World Brain Day

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated July 8, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

World Health Organization approves proposal by World Federation of Neurology for World Brain Day

In 2013, World Brain Day was first proposed by the World Federation of Neurology (WFN) to the World Health Organization (WHO), which gave it a warm welcome. At a Board of Trustees meeting in February 2014, World Brain Day became an officially recognized day. Since then, it has been celebrated annually on July 22nd. 

World Brain Day seeks to promote optimal human brain health, including treating mental and physical conditions, furthering neurological research, and teaching the general public about neurology. On World Brain Day, one area of well-being that can be beneficial to understand on a neurological level is mental health. 

In this article, we’ll be discussing the intersection of neurology and mental health and exploring how you can recognize World Brain Day individually and alongside your community.

Getty/PeopleImages

How to recognize World Brain Day 

The WFN suggests celebrating World Brain Day by educating your community, collaborating with organizations, creating educational art, or holding an annual activity in your community. Writers, artists, and influencers can make content promoting brain health for a wider reach. You can also download and print educational materials on the WFN website. You can promote advocacy-related education through these materials by posting them on a wall, holding a conference, building an advocacy committee, or offering equitable medical support through your medical business. 

As an individual, you might post on your social media, talk with a friend about mental health or brain disorders, or make your first appointment with a mental health professional. There are many ways to recognize World Brain Day, and none of them are too small. No matter how you choose to celebrate, know that you can make a difference just by acknowledging the importance of this day.

Mental health and the brain 

World Brain Day aims to teach communities about various areas of brain health. Although someone might think of physical health and neurological issues when considering neurology, there are also many mental health connections between the brain, body, and emotions. Additionally, studies show there is a significant mind-body connection overall. Below are a few ways that mental health and the brain are connected. 

Memory

Memory is the ability to retain, store, and reuse information gained through our senses. Memory works within the frontal cortex and hippocampus of the brain. The frontal cortex notes memories that may be important, and the hippocampus stores them, depending on their importance. Because our brains cannot retain every last bit of the information we learn, the classification system recalls the most vital information first. 

In some cases, memory problems can occur when brain health is not optimal, such as in cases of dementia. Additionally, when people experience severe trauma, the hippocampus may be smaller, and memory problems can result. However, there are ways to improve memory, even when illness occurs. For example, one study found that meditation alone can increase the size of your hippocampus, boosting its memory storage abilities. 

Memory can be connected to mental health because it allows individuals to remember those they love, form relationships based on emotional closeness, remember mistakes, and build on previous skills. With low or minimal memory capacity, people might have trouble remembering lessons learned and how to care for themselves. In minor memory loss, someone might forget where they put an item or miss an appointment by accident. These episodes can feel scary or challenging for someone who previously had an average memory. 

Trauma

Trauma can significantly impact the structure of the brain, memory capacity, relationships, and perception of emotions. One area of the brain that is often significantly impacted after trauma is the amygdala, the emotional response center responsible in part for emotional memories and the fight-or-flight response. After trauma, the amygdala may be more active, causing emotional reactions to uncomfortable stimuli and creating a fear response in those impacted. 

These impacts are often more pronounced in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that forms from traumatic experiences. In one study on PTSD and the brain, researchers found that individuals diagnosed with PTSD could efficiently complete a logical task when not associated with emotional intensity or a trigger. However, the task was no longer easy for the participants if a trigger was added. The authors summarized that people diagnosed with PTSD had less activity in their brains between the hippocampus and the salience network. The salience network is a part of the brain that allows individuals to learn and develop survival skills. When not connecting with the memory storage area of the brain, people with PTSD may act impulsively to defend themselves from a perceived threat. 

Brain scans of people with PTSD have shown that the amygdala lights up with more intensity than other areas. Fear responses also impacted the prefrontal cortex. The study states that it may be possible to use brain scans as a diagnostic tool for PTSD, and further studies may be required to assess the impact of treatment methods on the brain scans of those impacted. 

Learning 

Learning is connected to memory and emotional safety, as well. Researchers have studied how the brain retains information for years. One such study was famously conducted by psychologist Ivan Pavlov, who used dogs to show how the brain conditions certain stimuli. He found that dogs could learn to associate food with the ringing of a bell over time, hypothesizing that synapses in the dogs' brains would fire and connect, allowing them to create associations. 

All areas of the brain must connect to retain information for learning purposes. Neurons in your brain may fire off and connect in all brain areas. As each area has a different purpose, difficulties in one area may cause difficulties in others. For example, your brain is responsible for the movement of your hands when learning a new skill. If you cannot connect with physical movement, you may have difficulty learning or retaining memory about the situation. 

The connection of your neurons when learning is called neuroplasticity. Frontiers for Young Minds states that the more you learn something, the more neuroplasticity you have, and the more you can master a skill. That's why practicing something repeatedly may allow you to retain knowledge more quickly. In mental health, learning difficulties might arise in a learning disability or mental health condition that impacts the brain's processing centers. 

Brain disorders and diseases

Many brain diseases and conditions can impact mental health, memory, and physical health. For example, dementia is an umbrella term for any brain condition that causes a loss of memory and connection with sensory abilities. Alzheimer's disease is one of the leading causes of dementia and often impairs function in daily life over time. For many, these conditions develop after the age of 50. However, they may rarely occur in younger individuals. Some people have risk factors for dementia, so talking to your doctor early on if you notice memory loss can be essential.

Epilepsy is another neurological disorder that is one of the most common in the United States. Those who have this disorder experience seizures and may face a greater risk of depression. They may also have cognitive issues or anxiety. While psychological treatment isn't an appropriate treatment for epilepsy itself, since it often requires medicine, it may help with the comorbid mental health concerns that can develop alongside epilepsy.  

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Lessons from neuropsychology

Neuropsychology, the psychological study of the brain and its processes, can show people many factors of brain health and wellness. Below are a few lessons that neuropsychology might teach. 

The brain and body are connected

The mind and body work together, as they are part of the same system. Without one, the other would not function. As emotions are often caused by chemicals in the brain, the brain is necessary for emotional responses. Additionally, certain mental health conditions can impact the body's physical health. For example, prolonged stress or a trauma response may cause physical illness over time. 

Many mental health conditions are visible in the brain

Although mental health conditions are behavioral, many can be viewed in the brain through brain scans like MRIs. One study found that for conditions like bipolar disorder and depression, brain scans helped doctors spot mental differences. However, more studies may be needed on how these scans can be useful. The National Institute of Mental Health states that brain scans should not be used as a sole diagnostic tool

Addiction changes the brain

The National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that addiction can change how your brain responds to certain stimuli. Certain substances can interfere with neurons by activating or deactivating them. Other substances may cause an increase in certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, causing a rush of feelings. However, over time, the body may produce less of these hormones, causing symptoms of depression, withdrawal, or dependency. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of substance use disorder, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

There are ways to make your brain healthier 

There are several ways to improve brain health, from memory exercises to mental health treatment. To know which treatment option might benefit you, consider talking to your primary care physician or mental health provider for further information and to develop a treatment plan. 

If you want to improve your brain health at home, you can try the following: 

  • Get at least eight hours of sleep each night, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and night

  • Eat healthy foods, such as leafy greens, berries, and fish 

  • Study and practice skills often 

  • Partake in music therapy or learn an instrument 

  • Practice at-home memory exercises 

iStock/Yaroslav Olieinikov

How online therapy can support your mental health

Whether you're struggling with dementia, memory loss, a learning disability, or a mental health condition, counseling could be beneficial. With a therapist, you can discuss the circumstances behind your mental health concerns and find a treatment plan that works for you. For those who face common barriers to treatment, such as cost, distance, or availability, support is also available online. Online therapy allows users to attend voice, video, or live chat sessions and receive internet-based support from a licensed therapist. 

If you're interested in learning more or talking to a counselor within a short period of time, you can sign up on a platform like BetterHelp, which offers a database of thousands of licensed and experienced counselors around the US. 

Research has shown that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy. One comprehensive review assessed 373 different studies conducted on the effectiveness of online therapy for treating mental health concerns like anxiety, PTSD, trauma, depression, phobias, relationship issues, and more. It found online therapy to be effective, cost-efficient, and particularly useful for those unable to attend in-person therapy. It also found online therapy to be more efficient than in-person therapy for increasing client understanding of their condition, decreasing stress, and reducing the severity of their stress and other conditions. Overall satisfaction was also higher. Researchers concluded that “ICBT is useful in treating mental health and medical illnesses with psychiatric comorbidities.” 

Takeaway

Learning more about the brain can be just one step toward understanding mental health on a deeper level. On World Brain Day, consider trying to find out more about how your brain keeps you mentally healthy and safe. If you're experiencing difficulty with memory, mood, or other mental concerns, reaching out to a mental health professional, like a counselor, could be helpful. While it’s possible to face barriers to in-person treatment, resources such as online therapy can make it possible for a greater number of people to get the support they need. Take the first step toward getting support and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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