Brain dementia depression Mental health Sleep Stroke

Why mental health is brain health

Mental health is brain health
Written by Dr. Anthony Levitt

The brain is an incredibly powerful organ. It is in control of what we think, how we move, our behaviour, the sensations we experience, feelings, mood, emotions, and overall psychological well-being. On top of that, the brain is involved in how our bodies function and respond to different situations.

All of the things that the brain is responsible for – physical and mental – are part of brain health. While often spoken about separately, mental health is a central part of brain health – they are not separate or distinct.

Mental health is brain health.

Understanding this can help to reduce the stigma that continues to be associated with mental illness, which, like any physical disorder or disease, is a health problem and requires appropriate treatment.

One of most important things that people don’t often realize is that the three major brain conditions of our lifetime; stroke, dementia, and depression, are all inter-related. They are all happening in the same organ, and if person has been diagnosed with one of those three conditions, their risk of the other two conditions increases.

That is to say: if an individual has a stroke, it increases their risk of having post-stroke depression and developing dementia; if someone has dementia, there is an increased risk of developing depression and having a stroke; and having clinical depression, increases the risk of going on to have stroke and/or dementia.

What affects brain health

Any disruptions to the brain can affect the way it works. The brain is an incredibly vascular organ – there are a rich supply of arteries and veins that help with the delivery of nutrients to the brain, as well as the removal of toxins and by-products of metabolism, to keep it healthy.

When that blood flow is interrupted, it affects brain function and that results in changes in the way information travels along the brain’s pathways. This can impact how we move, how we sense things like hearing or touch, the way we think about the world and people around us, how we perceive a situation, and how we behave.

It is important that brain conditions are understood and treated from multiple perspectives at the same time. Traditionally, the various medical specialties that deal with brain conditions would treat disorders individually; for example, if a person has a stroke and needs a blood clot removed, they will be seen by a neurosurgeon or neurologist. If a person has depression, they will be treated by a psychiatrist. If a person has dementia, they might see a neurologist or a psychiatrist.

But the new way of understanding and treating brain conditions involves a broader and more collaborative approach.

A multi-disciplinary approach to brain health

When construction is completed in late 2023, Sunnybrook’s Garry Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre will connect brain health experts from across medical disciplines in the same building.

Bringing brain specialists together to collaborate with one another will help enhance a patient’s treatment, education, and will pave the way for possible new discoveries of the causes and potential treatments of brain conditions.

For stroke, depression, dementia, and other brain conditions, including sleep disturbances, anxiety, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), tremor, and others – having a broad range of the brain specialities and disciplines, including neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry, psychology, and more, working together for improved patient care, is really the way of the future.

For more information about brain health:

If you need help in an emergency, please call 911 or visit your local emergency department.

If you’re feeling like you’re in crisis or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available through community resources:

About the author

Dr. Anthony Levitt

Dr. Anthony Levitt is the Chief of Sunnybrook's Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program and the Medical Director of the Family Navigation Project.