Deep Bench: Reframing the discussion from mental health to brain health

Published: Mar. 31, 2020 at 5:14 PM CDT
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Our nation is in the midst of a growing mental illness epidemic with conditions like suicide, depression, bipolar disorders and addictions increasing dramatically.

Standard treatments and success rates have barley changed in the last seven decades and now neuroscience is transforming psychiatry.

"If you get your brain right, the mind will follow."

That's the advice from Dr. Daniel Amen. He's a psychiatrist and best-selling author of the book "The End of Mental Illness". Dr. Amen talked to Holly Chilsen about his book, and how it's aim is the change the conversation about mental health into brain health.

"Nobody really wants to see a psychiatrist. No one wants to be labeled as defective or abnormal, but everyone wants a better brain," he said.

Amen Clinics has the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior. Dr. Amen has been working on brain imaging for the past 30 years, conducting about 170,000 scans, and said researchers realized that it's not mental health issues people face, it's "brain health issues that steal your mind."

"This one idea changes everything."

He added that the mind is a result of the physical functioning of your brain.

"So you can go to therapy for a very long time, but it won't help if your brain's not right," he said. "And I'm a fan of therapy if your brain's right."

It comes down to optimizing the physical functioning of your brain. People start seeing their problems as medical and not moral. He said the stigma of the “mental illness” label, damaging and devastating on its own, can often prevent sufferers from getting the help they need.

"With this message, there's an increase in forgiveness and compassion from families," he said. “You’re not stuck with the brain you have. You can make your brain better quickly, and I can prove it. I actually talk about many stories in my book. People don’t know, your brain can be better, you just have to treat it right,” Dr. Amen said.

He said it’s important to realize that many mental health professionals meant to treat patients living with a mental illness, aren’t talking to them about the physical health of their brains.

“If you want to rescue [your brain] from heading to the dark place, you have to prevent or treat the 11 major risk factors that steal your mind."

The risks are summed up in the words BRIGHT MINDS, which makes it simple to remember them:

B – Blood Flow

R – Retirement/Aging

I – Inflammation

G – Genetics

H – Head Trauma

T – Toxins

M – Mental Health

I – Immunity/Infection Issues

N – Neurohormone Deficiencies

D – Diabesity

S – Sleep Issues

Dr. Amen also discussed medication use.

“When you just take medicine for depression, the medicine actually changes your brain to need to medicine in order to feel okay. And I’m not opposed to medicine, but I’m opposed to medicine if you’re also not exercising, if you’re also not changing your diet, if you’re also not taking a multiple vitamin. You want to do everything you can to optimize the physical functioning of your brain,” he added.

t's also important to think in different ways and practice mindfulness. He said he teaches people step by step how to do that in his book.

You can learn more at