The Mind Body Connection

The other day I was talking with a client about his anxiety. I always like to give as much information (when appropriate) as I have in my brain when it comes to mental illness. (After all, what is this education good for if I don't share it with my clients when needed? Right?) And just as I geared up (mini white board and all) he asked me the most simple and astute question of all:

"What causes it?"

For all my knowledge, I had to sadly say, "We don't exactly know."

You see, until very recently our discipline relied heavily on cause and effect types of research. Science knows very little still about the human mind, and therefore we were left with our own observations of behavior... but very little information about what actually was occurring on a neurological level. Part of what makes this tragic (in my opinion) is that mental illness was often dismissed as "all in your head".

Well yes, it is "in your head". But you get my point!

Only through recent advancements (about the last 10 years) in science have we had the technology to actually WATCH a live brain working. This has blown open the field and the data has started pouring in. Suddenly, we are able to actually see the difference between a depressed and non depressed person's brain. We are able to see things like schizophrenia. We may not know exactly what it all means yet- but it's thrilling none the less.

But to get back to my client's question, matters like depression and anxiety are very caught up in the "chicken or the egg" paradox. Is a depressed person's brain biologically different and therefore they experience depression? Or does a thought process like depression change your brain chemistry over time? And of course: are we born with this or is it our environment or both?

These questions are not simple and will take time to answer. They are part science and part philosophy- two fields that never come to answers quickly.

Additionally, we are just beginning to discover a whole body connection with things like depression. For example- inflammation and depression have a strong link. So can we treat things like depression or anxiety by improving the body's health on a molecular level?

All I know is, I am optimistic about the future of my profession. And even more importantly, I am thrilled that those who suffer in silence with serious mental illness might finally be shown proof that they have nothing to be ashamed of. And better yet, that what they suffer with may definitively be cured or even prevented! Wouldn't that be amazing?

In the meantime, we're slogging through the mess of conjecture and a long history of trying to treat illness without all the facts. Sometimes that is difficult to accept for me- because I want to know the "answers" darn it! But imperfect help will have to suffice. I can only anticipate the day when finally we will know "what causes it" once and for all- and people will have definitive answers.

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