The Brain: Basics re "Mental Health"
Mental Health and the Brain:
Our second session and resulting on-line forum discussion seemed not to entirely settle the question of what is meant by "mental health," suggesting instead that part of the explanation for the existing fragmentation of the mental health care system may have to do with different and in some cases conflicting conceptions of what "mental health" actually is. For the next several sessions, we'll be looking at the brain and features of it that may suggest more coherent ways to think about "mental health."
Readings for this week
Where we've been so far
"All this disagreement about the idea of soul, self, mind and body as being seperate entities makes the study of mental health a fractured and incongruous practice. To which part do we owe the most loyalty and which part needs to be cured?" ... akerle
"I think we are actually, truly downplaying mental illness if we decide that mental health is basically subjective. " ... ysilverman
"My definition of mental health consists of two criteria: personal and societal. Yet I am unsure how to treat the tension between them." ... jrlewis
"While we are replacing the terms/ideas of "illness"/"health" with new ones, the idea too of "help" should be more broadly defined/termed, as an exchange/engagement with other individuals (whether "experts/professionals" or not)/culture." ... LauraC
soul, self, body, mind, individual, culture, subjective, objective, normal, abnormal, physical, mental, biological, psychological, assistance, exchange, health, diseased (ill) ....
What we're looking for is a way to think about "mental health" that acknowedges its complexity, rather than requiring us to choose between things presented as alternatives. And that makes sense of that complexity in a way that is practically useful?
"If a person presents with a symptom that is mentally unhealthy (by whatever standard of mental health we conclusively decide upon) the person who is helping them must then look to what could have caused this to be the case. Maybe it's social, maybe it's biological, maybe it's existential, etc. Then, a treatment plan is decided upon, to restore this person to mental healthiness (to being able to understand their current condition and how to change it, or whatever other definition we would like). This treatment plan might involve talk therapy, it might involve drugs, it might involve meditation. Most importantly, it must involve the patient's continuing involvement in self-assessing and assisting their helper is assessing them." ... kmanning
"We need to think deeply about a good definition of health and illness that deals with both on a holisitic level, without stigmatizing, but still opening up our ability to really help each other. " ... adiflesher
"So it almost returns us to the notion that "mental illness" had much more to do with disconnect from the (social) norms than anything else- yet for those of us who have felt the rush into the pit of darkness and apathy, there seems to be more than just social norms. So what does a truly biopsychosocial definition, or an otherwise multifactorial one begin to look like?" ... Judie McCoyd
"I cannot stress enough how important it is to me for personal responsibility to play a part in the definition. Even people who are struggling need to be held accountable for their “stuff.” ... merry2e
A way of thinking that acknowledges an important role for the personal, what is going on inside ourselves, without neglecting the physical, the interpersonal, or the cultural? Want "help" with what seems out of control without given up personal agency in its entirety (maybe even enhancing it?)
Alternate models of mental health
- Biological evolution
Traditional Loopy, story telling and revising
- Empirical science is not and cannot be an account of "reality"
- Empirical science provides a way to account for observations but leaves open the possibility of others
- Empirical science has inherent and desireable subjective elements
- Empirical science is a story, a way to account for observations whose significance is as much in the new questions it raises as in its use in the present
- Scientific stories should always be taken with a grain of salt
- One never gets it "right," but one can always get it less wrong
- The standard is local, not global, fixed, or eternal; there is no single right way to get it less wrong
- Wherever one is at any given time, one has the resources to get it less wrong
- What is important is not what one can't do but what one can do
- Getting it less wrong can be facilitated by borrowing from/contributing to others getting it less wrong in their own ways
- "Meaning" derives from the process rather than existing in the abstract, and is itself revisable
- "Mental health" = a measure of a continuously variable and multi-dimensional capacity to grow/change/evolve/create and recreate meaning for oneself and others?
The Brain (= nervous system): Starting Point for a Story
Suggests brain as central node, a locus for complexity
- not genes versus environment but genes AND environment
- not physical and mental but physical AND mental
- not biology versus culture but biology AND culture
- not individuals versus society but individuals AND society
- all influences on mental health, including the self, are influences on the brain
- brain is different in each individual, constantly changing?
Suggests all human experiences/thoughts/understandings are constructions of the brain
- meaning doesn't exist in things but rather in our interactions with, characterizations of them
- who are we in terms of the brain? how does the brain create meaning? (see Illusions, ambiguous figures, and impossible figures: informed guessing and beyond)
- how does the brain create self? other? culture?
Is the brain THAT big? Starting to think about it .... and getting less wrong
|Reflex brain||Loopy brain|
|The problem||Another loop|
- not a stimulus/response machine but an interconnected set of sem-autonomous input/output boxes at several levels of scale with small scale architecture continually being changed by its own activity
- excitation (including self-excitation) and inhibition
- lots of room for individuality and change
- sensory neurons, motor neurons, interneurons
- signals are action potentials, themselves context dependent for meaning
- action/perception as patterns of action potentials in neurons, so too feelings/thoughts/understandings
- who's in control? where is self?
- I-function (experiencer, story teller, conscious) as distinct box
- Pain (like all other "meaning") is in the head
- Self is distributed/variable
Your thoughts in the on-line forum ....
- Brain as node?
- Can find what we need in there?
- Does it help?