Mind and Brain

The picture to the right demonstrates a remarkable discovery about the human brain: it can grow even as we age. Our brain has natural mechanisms to protect itself and further its growth. During a mood disorder, these mechanisms may not work well, in part because of an imbalance of stress hormones like cortisol. Stress and mood disorders can both take a toll on the brain.

Another remarkable discovery is shown below. Several medications for mood disorders actually help the brain recover its health and grow new connections. These include lithium and depakote (valproate) for bipolar disorder and antidepressants for unipolar depression. Notice how the brain cells to the right, after medication treatment, are more plentiful and healthy:

The dots in the picture above are brain cells. Notice they are more plentiful at right – after treatment with medication.

This electron microscope photo shows an actual brain cell growing

Scientists used to believe our brains didn’t change in adulthood, but new imaging techniques like these have taught us otherwise. We also know that activity can enhance the brain: walking, playing piano and juggling promotes growth in the brain (but the brain shrinks back if the activities are given up).

These connections help dispel the myth that the mind and brain are separate. The word Resilience Factors describes anything which improves brain function, whether it is psychological or biological in nature. Biological resilience factors include BDNF and bcl-2 (two molecules which enhance brain growth). Psychological resilience factors include:

Optimism, humor, gratitude, flexible thinking, acceptance, spirituality, charity or altruism, the ability to “step outside yourself,” supportive friends, good role models, and physical exercise.

—Chris Aiken, MD, Updated 12/22/2016

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

“Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds.”

Andrew Solomon • The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

“Denouncing these medicines makes as much sense as denouncing the immorality of motor oil. Without them, sooner or later the bipolar brain will go bang.”

David Lovelace • Scattershot: My Bipolar Family

“There is no harm in taking medication as it is utilizing the wisdom God gives to doctors. But it is also your responsibility to build faith for healing while using medication.”

Paul Silway • Pastor

“Being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

Carrie Fisher • Actor and Author