Disorders of the brain that cause distress are described in many ways. Some call them mental disorders, others call them behavioral disorders. The community does not agree on precise terminology, and traditional language is sometimes avoided out of fear of stigma or labeling. In fact, this lack of clarity inadvertently contributes to stigma – encouraging us to speak in euphemisms. Talking around the issue minimizes the presence of symptoms in our society, keeps people from seeking care, and promotes the notion that brain disorders are mysterious and shameful. As emotional and thoughtful beings, we do not like to think of our experiences as biochemical and electrical phenomenon. Yet, it is the complex, ever-changing interaction of our one-hundred billion neurons that makes us uniquely human. Our experiences, neuronal connections, and environmental influences make each of us distinctly our own selves. The brain is the essence of our specialness.
Over time we have developed a notion that our brains are somehow independent from the rest of our body—accepting treatment and disease explanations for other “medical” disorders. This separation of brain and body further contributes to stigma and has added to the problem of treatment and funding silos. Now, we face a need for greater healthcare integration and the task is made ever more difficult after decades of treating the brain differently.
In part, by changing our name from the Greater Dayton Mental Health Foundation to the Greater Dayton Brain Health Foundation we hope to be leaders along with a growing number institutions and disciplines cutting through stigma and cultural resistance by acknowledging that neurocognitive and memory disorders like Alzheimer’s, as well as substance use disorders, are, by their very definition, brain disorders. This is also true of traditionally accepted “mental” disorders like depression, psychosis, and anxiety.
Provocative change forces us to have conversations with ourselves and with each other about our beliefs and our use of language. When Patrick Kennedy gave our first community education presentation in 2013 he stated that someday we would wonder how we ever thought the brain was not part of the rest of the body. Perhaps that day is today.
Focusing scientific research on the BRAIN initiative, the President has called brain research the next “great American project.” By supporting innovation and advancement in brain science, we can improve the lives of individuals with brain disorders leading to symptoms of mental illness and substance use. We hope you will join us by sharing our message that brain healthcare is healthcare.
Let’s Talk About it: Brain Health Series