Neuroscience: It is the Brain, not Circumstances that Determine Mental Health

Guest post by David Stephen who shares his thoughts about a recent article by The Guardian , I’m a psychologist?—?and I believe we’ve been told devastating lies about mental health, describing how social, political and economic problems are responsible for mental health.

There was striking paragraph in the article, “In efforts to destigmatise mental distress, “mental illness” is framed as an “illness like any other”?—?rooted in supposedly flawed brain chemistry. In reality, recent research concluded that depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain. Ironically, suggesting we have a broken brain for life increases stigma and disempowerment. What’s most devastating about this myth is that the problem and the solution are positioned in the person, distracting us from the environments that cause our distress.”

Neuroscience: The Brain Determines Mental Health

Saying certain postulations about the brain are inaccurate does not mean having assumptions against the brain for its determination is accurate. The question is how does a political, social or economic issue get into the brain to affect mental

At least, no matter the ‘environments that cause our distress’ no one puts the environment inside their head to relate with or understand, so how does it get there?
For those it affects where does it go in the brain, for those who use drugs, what does it alter, for those who therapy works for, how come?

These are questions that could align progress, not the broad brush that circumstances are responsible for mental health when it is not the case for everyone all the time. Some people have faced worse, it was nothing, some have faced less, they could not handle it. What happens in the brain to make these determinations?

The chemical imbalance theory found dissatisfaction, in part, because molecules are not the decision makers, they join in the construction for experiences. No one experiences serotonin, dopamine, neurotensin, or n-acetylaspartylglutamate and so on, individuals experience what those and others build.

It is the same reason some people abuse substances. They don’t do so for gaps within
myelinated axons or neurolemmocytes, but what the brain expresses for them, in
experiences—of better or worse. So while brain chemistry is not the whole picture, the brain is still the determinant of mental health. The question is how?

What transports when a family is told to vacate an apartment because they could not make the rent? Or what causes intense distress when one is let go from a job?
First, the message—written or uttered, became a thought. It goes to destinations in the brain where those are defined, then to where contrasts get felt, bringing an effect then a reaction.

This means that any external situation becomes a thought version to the brain. It is this thought version that goes where stored thought versions are [or memory] to know how hopeful or hopeless the situation is in that time. When it leaves, it goes where feelings are expressed before reaction. It is also in the memory, where there are stores for internal senses that could make the thought [of disappointment] affect an array that causes some physical sensations.

This build at different centers—by cells, impulses, sequences and molecules—of the brain become how mental health gets determined. If therapy or something else helps, it is that it became a form of thought, went to where thoughts are known [memory] to compete with whatever is causing the heaviness, irritation, and others, then gets the better of it.

Mental health, this simplified by experience, holds a better chance for care.
Mental health is circumstantial to the extent that thought and memory constitute.
For the most part, nothing can affect mental health if thought and memory don’t accede. The exploration would have been to seek out the functional basis of thought and memory in line with experiences, to display—as rules, for usefulness to people that this is where this went to make the state of mind or mood result this way.

In neuroscience, it is established that all senses or sensory inputs arrive at the thalamus, except for smell, that arrives at the olfactory bulb. It is at these centers that senses are integrated or processed before relay to the cerebral cortex for interpretation. This means that what is sensed in the external gets to the brain through hubs before procession to locations for interpretation.
It is propounded that sensory processing or integration is into a new identity, or a uniform unit or quantity, which is thought or a form of thought—pre-prioritized [awareness] or prioritized [attention].

This makes thought or its form become the version, representation or equivalent of senses, making the housing problem, job loss, finals anxiety, and so on, exist as forms of thought. The road, the damaged spigot and the situation—good or bad, are thought forms to the brain, beginning at the entry ports of senses.

Interpretation at the cerebral cortex is theorized to be knowing, feeling and reaction.
Knowing is memory. Memory can be said to store thoughts in small and large stores. Small stores contain the least possible unique information on anything, while large stores contain similarities between small stores. All experiences are large stores. It is what large stores and how small stores travel there that determines what feelings follow, then reaction, expressing mental health.

This quadrant is what cells and molecules construct for experiential interactions. There are various views on things that help or affect mental health, yes, but the brain is the central park and should be not be disregarded.

David Stephen does research in theoretical neuroscience. He was a visiting scholar in medical entomology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He blogs at

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