Dr. Daniel Amen uses the pneumonic BRIGHT MINDS for 11 risk factors that can result in symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. Often, the DSM-V guides clinicians to assess solely from a psychiatric lens, but there is an abundance of evidence of physical illness, trauma, over medication, mimicking mental health symptoms. Amen’s neuroscientific approach to mental health empowers us, helping us gain momentum and autonomy in dealing with mental illness head on. Isn’t that truly what we are looking for? Feeling in control of our minds again?
I’ve outlined Dr. Amen’s approach below, and included both a snippet about each risk factor and some ideas of how to deal with depressive symptoms and cognitive decline relative to these factors. Please read Dr. Amen’s work for more detailed descriptions and insight, particularly The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience Is Transforming Psychiatry.
Blood flow: The brain is only 2% of body weight, but requires 20% of entire blood flow. If your brain doesn’t get enough blood, it will not function properly.
Exercise, screen for cardiovascular issues, reduce caffeine, reduce marijuana use, increase Omega 3 supplements
Retirement/aging: When you stop learning, your brain starts dying. If your job doesn’t require ongoing learning, brain aging happens more rapidly.
Coordination learning (yoga, table tennis), language games (Scrabble), memory games, math games (Sudoku), connection (volunteering, service work)
Inflammation: Your GI tract is your 2nd brain. It’s lined with 100 million neurons that communicate directly with your brain, as evidenced by the sensation of butterflies in your belly before a difficult conversation.
Increased flossing, practicing stress management, not taking antibiotics unless you have to. Build gut health with prebiotics (apples, root veggies) and probiotics (yogurt)
Genetics: While we all have genetic vulnerabilities, they can be a wake-up call versus a death sentence if properly monitored. Nature and nurture work together.
Look into epigenetics and notions of the future. Stress management can change your genetic death sentence for your kids– use this as a motivator. Early screenings
Head trauma: TBIs/head traumas are a major cause of mental illness.
Decrease contact sports, test and treat for Irlen Syndrome if you think you may have had a brain injury, avoid bright lights
Toxins: Alcohol, marijuana, + vaping/smoking severely decrease blood flow to the hippocampus, the brain’s memory drive.
Toxins are incredibly potent in cleaning agents and makeup products. Increase organic foods, decrease smoking and alcohol consumption, try to avoid plastic (especially when reheating food), dyes, preservatives
Mind storms: Abnormal electrical activity can change brain output quickly and result in temper outbursts, depression, and confusion.
Immunity + Infections: Your immune system defends against external invaders (bacteria, viruses) and patrols for internal troublemakers (cancer cells). It also regulates tolerance to environmental triggers, like allergens. Defense + tolerance = health.
Test for allergies and try an elimination diet, avoid ticks, change cat litter box daily, increase Vitamin C
Neurohormone stress: hormone imbalance complaints often mimic mental health complaints (i.e. depression can be one of the first signs of thyroid disorder).
Diabesity: as your weight goes up, the size and function of your brain goes down.
Avoid drinking your calories, add one colorful veggie at lunch and dinner, increase high quality protein and fat
Sleep: teens who sleep just one hour less per night are 58% more likely to attempt suicide and are 23% more likely to develop a substance use disorder.
Eliminate caffeine past 11AM, decrease technology at night, plan a sleep routine, sleep in a cool bedroom, assess for sleep apnea if you snore