It is common practice for an adult to visit their physician every few years to get a physical.
The visit is often a preventive or maintenance encounter designed to ward off illness or catch disease in early stages allowing effective intervention.
A new study from the University of Cambridge, UK, suggests society (and government) should prioritize mental health in the same way as we do physical health.
“As a society, we take our mental health for granted,” said Professor Barbara Sahakian, a leading UK neuroscientist. “But just like our bodies, it is important to keep our brains fit.”
In any given year, one in every four adults suffers from a mental disorder. As a result, in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability, with depression and anxiety accounting for a significant percentage of the disorders.
“Just as joggers check their pulse rate, we should encourage individuals to regularly keep an eye on the state of their mental health. Often people wait too long to seek help, making their condition more difficult to treat.
“We need to educate the public about what to look for and make them aware of the importance of early detection and intervention,” added Sahakian.
It is important to acknowledge that mental and physical health are not mutually exclusive.
Indeed, exercise is good for your cognition, mood and physical health. You can improve your cognition and brain health throughout your life through exercise and learning, both of which have been shown to increase neurogenesis in the brain.
Sahakian is also advocating for the use of innovation and technology to improve our mental health. Innovation is leading to novel treatments both pharmacological and psychological.
Sahakian said: “Innovation which promotes enjoyable cognitive training for example through the use of games on iPads and mobile phone apps will be of great benefit to healthy people and those with mental health problems alike.
“Technology for early detection of problems in brain health and for monitoring mental health problems is essential. This will promote early detection and early effective treatment, as well as public health planning.
“Hopefully, this conceptual shift in the way society views brain health will ultimately lead to the prevention of common mental health problems.”
Relevant statistics from Sahakian’s presentation:
- Today only around 40 percent of those with dementia know they have it;
- Estimated total annual costs including health service costs, lost earnings, lost productivity and human costs in the UK: depression – $31-36.8 billion; anxiety – $14 billion; schizophrenia – $20.6 billion; dementia – $26 billion; somatic disorder – $27 billion;
- Early detection is cost-effective for the UK’s NHS: Each patient with Alzheimer’s disease who receives early assessment and treatment saves society $12,000, compared no early assessment and treatment. Of this, $5580 is in direct healthcare costs.
Source: University of Cambridge