Ignoring Your Mental Health Will Erode Your Brain Functions Too
Mental illnesses and disorders are a global problem and affect more and more people every day. Yet the amount of stigma and misconceptions attached to them are as hefty as ever.
Number 1 among them is that mental illnesses are about ‘emotions’; they are separate from and/or do not impact our day-to-day brain functions like memory, thinking, cognition, decision making, etc. That’s far from the truth.
Our mental and cognitive health are almost inseparable, and any issue in one always affects the other. Your clinical depression can affect your memory. Similarly, your memory disorder can lead to severe depression.
The World Health Organization has denoted October 10 as World Mental Health Day. We take this opportunity to explore the connection between some of the most pervasive mental health problems and cognitive impairments that can make our everyday life extremely difficult.
The stigma around mental health
The problem with mental health conditions is that they often do not have a clear outward symptom. You can see the wound if someone has been cut. But you have no way to know when someone is going through mood disorders unless they talk about it.
Mental illnesses can look very similar to ‘laziness’, ‘lack of effort’, and ‘excuses’. But most often these originate from cognitive impairments caused by hidden mental health issues. It is important, then, to look at these problems with empathy, so that people with real issues can speak up and get the help they need without having to fear about stigma.
Cognitive symptoms associated with mental illnesses
Different mental illnesses have different manifestations, and symptoms often vary depending on the level and intensity of the problem. As with physical illnesses, the longer you wait before getting treatment the worse the symptoms are going to get.
Cognitive impairments are central to the effects of Schizophrenia, which may also manifest in people with schizotypical personalities and sometimes in children of Schizophrenia patients.
Working memory, recall, executive functioning, information processing, attention, vigilance
These can lead to impairment of long-term memory formation, acute social withdrawal, isolation, and visual and/or auditory delusions. Cognitive impairment is considered one of the most prominent predictors of Schizophrenia in an individual.
One of the most common yet widely misunderstood mental illnesses, Depression actually has a significant impact on cognitive functions. Advanced stages of Depression and BPD can put patients in a stupor-like state, mimicking symptoms of Dementia.
Contrary to popular belief, Depression is not ‘sadness’. It’s a severe dysfunction of our mood systems that has a far-reaching impact on several cognitive functions.
Attention, sustained focus, working memory, spatial memory, verbal memory and verbal reasoning, abstract reasoning, complex motor skills.
All or some of these symptoms may be present in someone suffering from Depression, even in its initial stages. This can result in severe fatigue, inability to process, store, and express information, difficulties in decision making, and executive dysfunction.
Bipolar Disorder (BPD)
In a broad sense, Bipolar Disorder or BPD is characterized by extreme mood swings. ‘Manic’ or high-energy periods are interspersed by ‘Depressive’ or severe energy-deficit states.
Attention, information processing, visual and spatial recognition, verbal memory.
Patients encounter acute psychosocial problems, find it difficult to concentrate on tasks and/or finish them, and experience memory lapses.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is best characterized by fixation with behavioral patterns, which can be a result of neurological problems. They are unable to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant stimuli and often get overwhelmed by unprocessed information. OCD patients often experience huge deficits in executive functioning capabilities, which can, in turn, affect their productivity and capacity for independent living.
Visual memory, working memory, information processing, decision making, pattern recognition.
Patients have difficulties in recognizing and remembering visual and spatial cues. This can make OCD patients slow, forgetful, and unfocused at work and day-to-day life.
Mental Health is as important as our physical health. Some would argue it demands more attention since the symptoms are often not directly visible. Protecting your mental health is essential for protecting your brain functions. So if you are experiencing some of these symptoms, or know someone who is, do not hesitate to speak about it and seek professional help.