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  • Writer's pictureYvonne Coleman

Mental Health and Brain Development

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Mental Health and Brain Development

Why Understanding Brain Development is Important

Mental Health as many may know is a topic that is discussed all the time. Many people in the field of Psychology discuss the attributes of mental health and do a great job at it, but fail to discuss the importance of a healthy brain. Many individuals rush to diagnose but don't discuss or educate others on the functions of the brain and why it is one of the most important organs that we have in our body. Yes, our brain is responsible for almost everything in the body i.e. movement, speech, etc, but what happens behind the scenes? What part of the brain influences what? Commoners (individuals outside of the health field) may not even know.

The brain has fascinated scientists and philosophers for centuries. It comprises only 2% of the body’s total weight. There are over 400 billion capillaries in the brain. Capillaries are the fine branching blood vessels that form a network between arterioles and venules. Knowing the cause and effect of the brain's functions is essential to understanding the brain, which is why patients should know about the Central Nervous System (Cause) and the Peripheral Nervous System (Effect). The Nervous System consists of the brain and spinal cord. The spinal cord can be thought of as the highway between the brain and the rest of the body.

Like other main parts of the body, the brain has a number of structures. The cerebrum (the fore-brain) is composed of two parts; the left and the right hemispheres. The right controls the left side of the body and the left controls the right side of the body. Responsible for functions like memory formation and storage, movement, body temperature, senses, emotions, and learning etc. The Mid-brain or the Brain Stem, is located in front of the cerebellum. It is the main panel for the body and passes messages back and forth between the brain and other parts of the body. Control functions like breathing, consciousness, cardiac function, movement of eyes, and mother and relaying sensory messages (pain,heat, noise, etc). Lastly, one of the most important structures of the brain includes the Cerebellum (the mid brain). The Cerebellum receives information the sensory systems, the spinal cord, and other parts of the brain. It is responsible for the following: voluntary muscle movements, maintaining balance, posture and equilibrium and also fine motor skills (which involve the smaller movements that occur in the wrists, hands, fingers, feet and toes).

The Limbic System: Our “Emotional Brain”

Although out brain has four different lobes used to help us control our speech, senses etc.; our emotional brain is equally important. Known as the emotional brain, the Limbic System, is found deep within the cerebrum. The Limbic System contains the Amygdala, hippocampus, and the thalamus. Amygdala, is involved in the emotional reaction such as fear, anger, and pleasure, as well as emotionally charged memories. It also influences behavior such as eating, sexual interest, and the immediate fight or flight reaction to stress. The Hippocampus involves memory and learning where as the Thalamus acts as a two-way relay station. It sorts, process, and directs signals from the spinal cord and mid brain structures to the cerebrum, and from the cerebrum down to the spinal cord. Interesting enough, a health adult brain has over 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) with long branching extensions connected at 100 trillion synapse points. This network is called the “neuron forest.” Information flows through the synapse via tiny chemicals or chemical impulses released by one neuron and received by another.

Neurotransmitters known to affect the mind or our mental health consist of two major neurotransmitters one being Dopamine, and the other being Serotonin. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter because it is considered both excitatory and inhibitory. It is involved in mood and the control of complex movements. Dopamine is involved in aiding the flow of information to the front of the brain, which is linked to thought and emotion. It is also linked to reward systems in the brain. The reward system controls an individual's responses to natural rewards such as food, sex, and social interactions, and is important determinant of motivation and drive. Lack of appropriate dopamine levels in the body are linked to Parkinson's Disease, sleep disturbances, addiction, and depression. Many medications used to treat disorders work by modifying the action of dopamine in the brain.

The second most important neurotransmitter is Serotonin. This neurotransmitter is responsible for maintaining mood balance as well as appetite, temperature and regulation and sleep-wake cycles. Manufactured by the brain and intestines, it cannot cross the blood brain barrier and so serotonin used by the brain must be produced within it. Research shows that people with depression often have lower than normal levels of serotonin. The types of medications most commonly prescribed to treat depression act by blocking the recycling or re-uptake of serotonin by sending neurons. As a result, more serotonin stays in the synapse for the receiving neuron to blind onto, leading to more normal mood functioning.

Over all, The brain is the most complex organ in the human body and is the command center for the nervous system and all of the functions of the body. This relatively small organ is the seat of intelligence, the interpreter of the senses, the initiator of body movement, the seat of the mind, and the controller of behavior. The brain is the source of all the qualities that define human existence. It is the crown jewel of the body.

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