Brain health just as important as physical health

Published on February 17, 2013 at 11:24 PM · No Comments

A Vision for Excelling in Mental Health and Well-Being

We all know the importance of keeping healthy and are familiar with the refrains of 'exercise more', 'eat better' and 'get regular physicals'. But what about our mental health? Professor Barbara Sahakian, best known for her expertise on cognitive enhancers, challenges society (and government) to prioritise mental health in the same way as we do physical health.

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

In any given year, one in every four adults suffers from a mental disorder. As a result, in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability, with depression and anxiety accounting for a significant percentage of the disorders.

"Just as joggers check their pulse rate, we should encourage individuals to regularly keep an eye on the state of their mental health. 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," added Sahakian.

Mental and physical health are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, exercise is good for your cognition, mood and physical health. You can improve your cognition and brain health throughout your life through exercise and learning: both of which have been shown to increase neurogenesis in the brain. Psychological wellbeing, especially in the early years of life, is important for instilling resilience throughout life.

Professor Sahakian is also advocating for the use of innovation and technology to improve our mental health. Innovation is leading to novel treatments both pharmacological and psychological.

Professor Sahakian said: "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.

"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."

Relevant statistics from Prof Sahakian's presentation:

  • Today only around 40 per cent of those with dementia know they have it.
  • UK - Estimated total annual costs including health service costs, lost earnings, lost productivity and human costs - depression - -20.2-23.8 billion, anxiety - -8.9 billion, schizophrenia - -13.3 billion, dementia - -17 billion, somatisation disorder - -17.6 billion.
  • Early detection is cost-effective for the NHS: Each patient with Alzheimer's disease who receives early assessment and treatment saves society -7741, compared no early assessment and treatment. Of this, -3600 is in direct healthcare costs.
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