For decades, the field of psychiatry has been placing emphasis in the wrong domain—the mind or the psyche—when brain imaging teaches us that mental health is really brain health.

Over the last 30 years, my colleagues and I have built the world’s largest database of brain scans related to behavior. We have performed more than 170,000 brain SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans, which measure blood flow and activity in the brain. It has become crystal clear to us that as psychiatrists we are not dealing with mental health issues but rather brain health issues. And this one idea has changed everything we do to help our patients.

The human brain is an organ just like your heart is an organ, and you can only be as mentally healthy as your brain is functionally healthy. No one is shamed for cancer, heart disease, or diabetes even though they have significant lifestyle contributions. Likewise, no one should be shamed for depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

Reframing the discussion from mental health to brain health changes everything. It decreases shame and guilt, and increases forgiveness and compassion. Doing so also elevates hope, increases the desire to get help, and improves compliance to make the necessary lifestyle changes to get well.

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