“Mental Illness” is a Brain Disorder?

Why do we still think of mental illness as a brain disorder?


Many mental illnesses are not simply “mental” nor is a person just… “ill.”

Many mental illnesses are not simply “mental” nor is a person just… “ill.” Some studies report that people who live with addiction experienced some form of trauma in their lives. Their addiction is an attempt to cope with devastating and frightening memories, emotions and sensations. Similarly, people who live with ADHD not only face challenges with attention or memory. The condition impacts a person’s ability to listen and pay attention to other people, sense or pay attention to social cues, or be consistent and build trust in intimate relationships.

Addiction, ADHD and many other mental illnesses impact not only the mind, but also our emotions, relationships,  memory, senses, confidence, employment and our experience with learning. Mental illnesses are often a response to very difficult, disturbing and disorienting life experiences. They are not a life sentence and not all mental illnesses respond to medication.

For me, mental health is not medical. Reducing my mental health to what’s happening with my brain chemistry doesn’t really help me. Mental health does not consist of which pills I take or my diagnoses. Mental health is about my ability to enjoy my relationships and do my work; it is about my ability to be creative and to be physically healthy. Mental health is not about a pill. It is about what happens in the rest of my life. Mental health is about doing what feels alive rather than maintaining my brain chemistry.

They are often a way that your mind and body attempts to adjust and deal with overwhelming experiences. Most people with “mental health disorders” also have a variety of traumatic experiences in their past, and in their present lives. Many “mental illnesses” are about how we live with our traumas, not how we are ill, how we are disordered or how we are dis/ordered.

Treatments can include talk therapy, but should also include activities that encourage movement and reconnecting with our bodies. Some examples include doing art or bead work, dancing, stretching, yoga, body scans, mindful breathing or awareness practices, intentionally stopping our activity several times through out the day to ‘check in’ with ourselves, listening for our ‘gut feelings’, gardening.

Peter Levine PhD, has dedicated his professional life understanding and healing trauma. In this brief youtube video, he describes how trauma impacts a person’s entire system, mind-body-emotions.

What do you think?

• • •

A few links to some of my related work:

Mental Illness Cannot Be Treated With Just a Pill

What if Addiction Is Not a Disease and Your Brain isn’t “Broken”?

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Keep it Real

Photo by Lord Cuauhtli

2 thoughts on ““Mental Illness” is a Brain Disorder?

  1. Really enjoyed this.I’ve always wondered why we reduce it to a problem with the brain. This quote really struck with me: “Mental health is about doing what feels alive rather than maintaining my brain chemistry.”

    Liked by 1 person

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