What If Mental Health Was Brain Health?

what if brain health was mental health

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), almost 44 million adults and 14 million children in the United States have a diagnosable mental disorder each year. Regrettably, the issue of mental health remains shrouded by misunderstanding and stigma.

The stigma associated with mental illness prevents many people from getting help; fewer than half of those who suffer from mental health problems ever seek help. People do not want to be seen as crazy, stupid, or defective, and they often don’t seek help until they (or their loved one) can no longer tolerate the pain (at work, in their relationships, or within themselves).

Additionally, people with mental health problems say that the social stigma and the discrimination they experience from not only society but also from families, friends, and employers, can make their difficulties worse and make it harder to recover.

Unfortunately, the stigma associated with mental illness is deep-seated and difficult to overcome. One strategy to decrease this stigma is to educate the public that mental disorders, rather than being character flaws or personal weakness, have a biological and neurological basis.

What if we re-imagined mental health as brain health?

What if mental health problems were evaluated and treated like other medical issues, and physicians were using functional imaging tools, genetics, and other markers to guide treatment?

Currently, doctors prescribe psychotherapy or powerful combinations of medications without ever looking at how an individual patient’s brain works. When it comes to behavior, learning or emotional problems, doctors prescribe treatments in the dark.

Imaging changes everything. After looking at nearly 150,000 brain scans on patients from 120 countries, we know that when physicians don’t look at how the brain functions, they guess at what is wrong, and that can hurt their patients. Without imaging, physicians miss important causes of trouble, such as brain injuries, toxic exposure, and infections. People end up misdiagnosed and on the wrong treatments.

Consider the story of U.S. Senator Max Cleland, disabled U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, recipient of the Silver Star for valor, and former head of the Veterans Administration. Forty-eight years ago in Vietnam, he lost his two legs and right arm in a grenade explosion. Although the physical injuries healed, the emotional anguish had never completely healed.

Prior to coming to Amen Clinics, his treatment path was slow, exasperating, and sometimes horrifying. For years he endured the all-too-familiar “throwing darts in the dark” approach to mental health issues – sharing his symptoms with his physicians, then based on those symptoms, being prescribed a variety of medications (anti-depressants, anxiolytics, and sleep medications), which he says were mostly ineffective or, in some cases, made him worse.

Senator Cleland’s scan results showed evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). This was critical information as it allowed his physicians to target a treatment plan to his unique brain health issues which in turn allowed him to significantly improve how he felt over time.

According to Senator Cleland, “Seeing my own abnormal functional scan helped me re-frame my problems as brain-based, medical, and not moral, which decreased the shame and stigma I had carried silently for decades. In addition, the value of knowing that the structure of my brain was normal, but the function was abnormal, gave me hope that my brain could get better if I was diligent about rehabilitating it… this motivated me to take better care of my brain in the many ways that were recommended, including improving my nutrition, sleep, and weight.”

The lack of the use of brain imaging has kept the treatment success of psychiatry behind medicine’s other specialties, decreasing their effectiveness with patients, and reinforcing the stigma that surrounds people who struggle with mental health issues. It is time to shed light on the biological and neurological basis of mental health issues in order to decrease stigma and discrimination.

It is time to see mental health as brain health.

At Amen Clinics, we have spent decades helping people just like you improve their brain, and thus mental, health and can help you, too. Call us today at 888-288-9834 or visit our website to schedule an appointment.


  1. I agree with what is said here. But, don’t the brain scans cost thousands of $$ and are likely not covered by insurance?

    Comment by Paige Hamernick — June 22, 2016 @ 12:17 PM

  2. They have profiles based on common symptoms they can use if you can’t afford the scans.

    Comment by Crystal — June 22, 2016 @ 12:57 PM

  3. Let’s ask..How much is a Brain Scan? and what is included in a Brain Scan?

    Comment by Kimberly Schick-Puddicombe — June 22, 2016 @ 1:23 PM

  4. Yes, I’d like to know those things!

    Comment by Paige Hamernick — June 22, 2016 @ 1:35 PM

  5. I agree these are brain disorders, and have a physical and biological basis. I hope in the future psychiatric conditions can be discussed as brain disorders and that this in turn can reduce stigma and make it easier for people to access treatment.

    Comment by Sara Wood — June 22, 2016 @ 4:19 PM

  6. The year of The Brain was 1990 in Maryland anyway. Clinicians from all over the country met out west and held numerous seminars on this topic -The Brain. Awards were presented to individuals and groups who participated in educational presentations over the 4-6 day activity. I think it was in Nevada, but maybe California. This was also the time that Clozapine was finishing up its clinical trials at the hospital where I worked which helped hundreds of patients get discharged into the out patient settings. One major problem with such discharges was that some patients who were discharged had been hospitalized much of their lives, and were used to the daily routine at the hospital for 20-30 years. Now they were discharged to residential housing in communities they had no family in, nor any acquaintances. They were scared to death. Also, many patients on Clozaril began developing problems with elevated fasting glucose levels (A1C was not yet used for blood work, just FBS). So when these residents were discharged, they had multiple medical problems along with their schizophrenia, bi-polar illness, schizo-affective disorders, etc. These patients also had AIDS, Hepatitis B,C and other chronic conditions. The state was very proud in the many discharges they were making. However, the residential housing employees, and administration were not equipped with the vast amount of knowledge needed to properly care for these newly discharged patients. In some cases, especially with the new “diabetics”, some residential houses refused at the very last minute to accept patients who now needed daily injections of insulin, along with emergency first aid in case of low blood glucose episodes. The staff were more concerned than the patients who had been giving their own insulin injections several weeks before discharge. I was so proud of the state hospitals teaching our patients about injections, infection control, birth control, getting along with new people in a brand new scary place, etc. I was asked on a Thursday afternoon to please drive myself to a resendential facility the following day to give the new staff (who all had a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree) some pointers on giving emergency insulin, how to calculate the blood sugar monitors patients had to use 1-2 times/day, and how to store the insulin. They never had to do this before. It was very gratifying to work with an agency who came forward and explained their needs in order to keep a patient in their facility. I prayed & prayed that all patients would be able to deal with a whole new staff and try to adjust. As you may know, many of our discharged patients are now living on the streets because the new interactions were just too intimidating; patients, out of fear and anxiety often leave their new residence with everything they own, put it all in a shopping cart, and take it all with them where ever they end up for the night. They stop their medications and ultimately, because of the Brain Disease in their head, start hearing voices, maybe seeing unusual things, smelling unpleasant odors and experiencing all kinds of terrible, unpredictable dilemmas. They wear several pieces of clothing and a heavy coat on the hottest day of the year, because their body temperature is also screwed up because of this Brain Disease called Mental Illness. Our job as neighbors in communities with homeless folks or just with people who act a little different than you or I, is to always be polite and courteous. You do not have to give anyone money or food, but just be kind and tolerant of their presence in our neighborhoods. Keep your voice calm and soft and if they need assistance for directions, etc., just provide that. Do not be afraid -They are not going to hurt you. The neurotransmitters in their Brains may not be working properly, especially if they stop their medicines; as a result, their speech may be garbled or may rhyme and they may have a peculiar gait- all because of the many years of psychotropic medications they had to take while hospitalized. Patients with Schizophrenia and/or Bi-Polar illness are very intelligent! It is those dog -gone chemicals in the Human Brain that misfire when it is least expected that can cause problems for the patient, his/her family and us….in the community…their new family. It is up to us to help them along. After all, it can happen to you or me…and if we get hit by a car, we can get Traumatic Brain Injury with symptoms very similar to folks with Schizophrenia. We would want to be treated with respect and dignity too. It is quite easy and we will all be better individuals for lending a hand! Maren Junk

    Comment by Maren Junk — June 22, 2016 @ 6:06 PM

  7. 3 days of diagnostic testing, evaluations, 4 Spect scans, recommendations and follow-up cost me $3500 @ Amen Clinics, Atlanta… Well worth it.

    Comment by Beth Bromberg — June 22, 2016 @ 10:54 PM

  8. 3500.00 and my health insurance covered it. All depends on you health insurance.

    Comment by Tina Matney — June 23, 2016 @ 3:01 AM

  9. Thanks, Tina.

    Comment by Paige Hamernick — June 23, 2016 @ 5:19 AM

  10. It was worth every penny. I have a family member that needed brain health treatment. They were afraid so I had a scan first. We finally got a proper diagnose of severe Bipolar for my family member and our lives have drastically improved, honestly lives saved. Our situation was getting dangerous.

    Comment by Tina Matney — June 23, 2016 @ 5:26 AM

  11. They are not covered by health insurance and we cannot afford it. Many people can,t

    Comment by Jane Bowman — June 23, 2016 @ 6:06 AM

  12. Since sometime in the mid 80’s I came to this conclusion. I could find not a single “Professional” who thought this way. To me it has always stood to reason that everything we see and experience is nothing more than electro-chemical combinations of the biological processes of the neurons inside our head.
    I forget who said “I think therefore I am.” I always thought that was putting the cart before the horse.

    Comment by Paul — June 23, 2016 @ 7:09 AM

  13. Rene Descartes, a philosopher, mathematician and scientist who lived in the 1600s said it.

    Comment by Jane Bowman — June 24, 2016 @ 3:06 PM

  14. Thanks.

    Comment by Paul — June 24, 2016 @ 3:23 PM

  15. I completely agree with you, Sara. There’s got to be something more than medication cocktails and all the side effects that go with them, talk therapy in which the therapist just sits back and lets you prattle on, without giving you any real feedback, just collecting their paycheck, or even primitive ECT (electro-conductive therapy – something I tried and succeeded only in losing a lot of memories). The whole neurons going haywire thing is too Matrix-y to me. (I still don’t get that movie). I only discovered the Amens Clinic and SPECT a few days ago in my research journey into MS, because I think I have it. All my mental disorders, the depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and high anxiety among others are part of the very long symptom list (I recently discovered) of MS. My journey has become quite enlightening.

    Comment by MeowRia — June 24, 2016 @ 10:45 PM

  16. I hear that!

    Comment by MeowRia — June 24, 2016 @ 10:47 PM

  17. Maren, I appreciate your thoughtful and kind words. Presently in downtown Portland, Oregon. we have a large number of homeless people living on the street, primarily because of mental health and drug abuse issues. My daughter, who spends time in psyche wards every year due to her mental illness, says she sometimes sees people she met in the hospital who are now living on the street. It is true that many of them prefer it because they cannot cope with the life elsewhere. But it is a rough life for them.

    Comment by Jane Bowman — June 25, 2016 @ 6:50 AM

  18. In 1989 during the clinical trials for several new neuroleptics like Clozapine, the patients all got PET scans before, during and after they started the trials. They either took Clozapine the study medication, or a placebo. No one knew who was getting what, so vital signs were taken fifteen minutes before and fifteen minutes after Clozapine was swallowed ( blood pressure, pulse & respirations).As time went on, the researchers found out that the ventricles in patients with Schizophrenia were enlarged. That was a major finding in decades, and was only determined by having PET scans done of the patient’s brains. It was very interesting. Plaster of Paris molds had to be made of the patient’s face to protect their eyes
    and such during the PET scans. I as so proud of the patients participating in these trials. They had been living in psychiatric hospitals for 10-30 years & functioning fairly well on the available psychotropics used at the time. Then they are asked to stop all their meds for a ” cleaning out” type ordeal and started on who knows what for no money or other “benefits” except helping scientists develop new medications for mental illness. That in itself helped these individuals through this process! They were allowed to have Ativan as needed if they became anxious or upset. They also had annual presentations of awards to people who participated in the trials. These were, and are the true HEROS of psychiatry! The PET scans were free of charge to the patients who lived inside the hospital, part of the trials. I imagine those researchers are now involved with SPECT Scans too. Unfortunately, I have been retired for over 12 years and not really sure what is happening at that hospital anymore. I do know that people who are out patients come to that hospital for ongoing testing and perhaps outpatient clinical trials.

    Comment by Maren Junk — July 1, 2016 @ 2:23 PM

  19. Orthomolecular medicine focuses on nutritional therapy, the food that our body and brain CELLS need for proper functioning. Humans didn’t evolve to have such a heavy, well functioning brain by consuming crap and drugs. This business of “raise your serotonin levels by taking drug X” makes no sense when the majority of serotonin is made in the gut. And what is wrong with our respective guts these days? It’s dead, or nearly so. The very mechanism of how Round-Up/glyphosate containing organorphosphates kill weeds supposedly works just as well in the gut to kill off the beneficial bacteria, leaving behind harmful ones, ie C.diff. and severely limiting the available nutrients we need for optimal functioning. It is no secret in the medical world that the health of the gut’s microbiome dictates the health of the host. I cringe when I learn of people taking powerful psychotropics first before even trying to improve diet and the gut’s health, and to do this to children is, in my book, criminal. Diet should ALWAYS be first in line when it comes to getting and staying healthy. Drugs should be last. Dead last. And if diet works best by eliminating certain foods/ingredients such as nightshades or gluten or dairy, so be it. The Standard American Diet leaves a lot to be desired. Just look around you.

    Comment by frank — August 30, 2016 @ 10:05 AM

  20. Frank, I don’t understand half of what you said. One sentence stood out quite literally, though: that it is criminal to do this to our children. I’m pretty sure all the drugs specify to not give them to persons under the age of 18.
    Frank, maybe you should reevaluate your diet and/or get some counseling for anger management. Please don’t reply to my comments again or I will report you.

    Comment by MeowRia — September 3, 2016 @ 9:08 PM

  21. Tina,

    who is your health insurance through?

    Comment by Curt — May 10, 2017 @ 8:20 AM

  22. I had this thought when my father, who suffered from quite a few mental health issues his entire life, was in the hospital following a stroke. It was soon determined he would not survive. The doctor said, “The blood vessels in his brain appear to be very weak”. It struck me like a brick. Of COURSE his blood vessels were weak, and wouldn’t that account for both the stroke AND the mental health issues?!

    Comment by Misty Frislie Lambert — May 10, 2017 @ 1:46 PM

  23. Is that right? I called Amen Clinic and they stated they are strictly private pay and do not bill any insurance.

    Comment by Amy Minjarez — May 15, 2017 @ 8:43 PM

  24. Yes Amy that is correct. I suggest you contact your insurance company and get a pre approval. You can than file a claim with your insurance company. That is how I handled mine. Contact the people at your insurance company that handle mental health. Best of luck! It will be well worth it.

    Comment by Tina Matney — May 16, 2017 @ 12:38 AM

  25. Amy get your pre approval in writing. Or some form of proof they approved the assessment/treatment.

    Comment by Tina Matney — May 16, 2017 @ 12:40 AM

  26. Thanks a bunch!

    Comment by Amy Minjarez — May 16, 2017 @ 1:57 PM

  27. Cigna

    Comment by Tina Matney — May 16, 2017 @ 10:00 PM

  28. To who reads this Amen Cliincs take Veteran Insurance please tell me l have Bipolar and PTSD.

    Comment by Arnold Cabral — May 30, 2018 @ 4:41 AM

  29. Jane, it may seem a daunting cost at first, but think of all the ways you can cut down on extras in your life to save for something that can drastically improve your life for the better. All it takes is a few small sacrifices to save money. I get it!

    Comment by Loni — May 30, 2018 @ 6:50 AM

  30. Neurotransmiters do start in the gut. Please get tested for nutritional deficiencies- vitamins and minerals as well as absorbtion issues. Wiliiam Walsh’s book -Nutrient Power- WAS the answer to my 30 year search for answers to my treatment resistant suicidal ideation depression. Simple blood tests and urinalysis with the correct perimeters Is a must. Histamine must be looked at too.

    Comment by Barbara Sigel — September 24, 2018 @ 3:01 AM

  31. I was going to click on the invite at the top of the page for the free book and it quickly left the screen-can you mail a hard copy? Or email it to me? Thank you.

    Comment by mary burkett — March 21, 2019 @ 10:41 AM

  32. Hello Mary, we will have a Care Coordinator reach out to you to get this free book to you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 21, 2019 @ 10:52 AM

  33. Would you elaborate on your comment about histamine?

    Comment by MD — May 8, 2019 @ 10:30 AM

  34. Hi. I would like to receive a copy of Dr. Amen’s book. I have an old copy. The offer has vanished. Thank you!

    Comment by Vicki Standafer — May 12, 2019 @ 5:19 AM

  35. What is the nearest location to SW Florida? Also, are there payment plans offered? And finally, is there a difficult type of patient that would be too challenging or difficult for Amen clinics to treat?

    Comment by yellow — October 18, 2019 @ 6:56 PM

  36. Hello, and thank you for reaching out. We have a few clinic locations on the East Coast (https://amenclinics.com/locations/) and we also offer financing options. We often treat treatment-resistant patients and difficult cases, but we’d be happy to reach out to you directly to learn more about how we can assist you. We look forward to speaking with you!

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 22, 2019 @ 7:09 AM

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