Mental Health Important For Maintaining A Healthy Body
February 18, 2013

Mental Health Important For Maintaining A Healthy Body

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

Many people have likely called in sick from work opting for a personal “mental health day.” While this could just be a fancy excuse to play hooky from work, researchers are finding that actual brain health could be just as important a physical health.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, of the University of Cambridge neuroscience department, has focused much of her gray matter studies on the understanding of the neural basic of cognitive, emotional and behavioral understandings. Sahakian has called for society and governments to prioritize mental health in the same manner as physical health.

“As a society, we take our mental health for granted,” said Professor Sahakian. “But just like our bodies, it is important to keep our brains fit.”

Professor Sahakian has been credited for highlighting the cognitive changes in unipolar and bipolar depression.

Her studies noted that in any given year one in every four adults suffers from some form of mental disorder. Her results show that in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada mental disorders are the leading causes of disability. Depression and anxiety account for significant percentages of these disorders.

“Just as joggers check their pulse rate, we should encourage individuals to regularly keep an eye on the state of their mental health,” added Sahakian. “Often people wait too long to seek help, making their condition more difficult to treat. We need to educate the public about what to look for and make them aware of the importance of early detection and intervention.”

Sakahian´s studies are just the latest in a long line of milestones in the history of so-called mental health. In fact, it was in 1733 that English Malady by George Cheyne was published. This book was among the first works to introduce the concept of “nervous” as a medical and lay term.

It wasn´t until more than 200 years later that the United States Congress passed the National Mental Health Act, which resulted in the founding of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1946.

Sakahian looks to take this further, noting that mental and physical health are not mutually exclusive and that whereas exercise is good not only for physical well-being, but also cognition, mood and physical health. Cognition and brain health can thus be improved through exercise and learning, where both have been shown to increase neurogenesis in the brain. To this end she has advocated the use of innovation and technology to improve our mental health.

“Innovation which promotes enjoyable cognitive training for example through the use of games on iPads and mobile phone apps will be of great benefit to healthy people and those with mental health problems alike,” she emphasized. “Technology for early detection of problems in brain health and for monitoring mental health problems is essential. This will promote early detection and early effective treatment, as well as public health planning. Hopefully, this conceptual shift in the way society views brain health will ultimately lead to the prevention of common mental health problems.”

Sakahian is a Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and a Bye-Fellow of Christ´s College, Cambridge; she is also the President Elect of the British Association of Psychopharmacology.