The brain is perhaps the most important organ of our body. The brain and nervous system attached to it coordinate every movement and action our body makes. It controls every function inside the human body as well.
Every physiological function that is operated by the body from the beating of the heart to the movement of muscles, is controlled by the brain. In addition, the brain is also responsible for forming our individuality and consciousness. It directs all of our actions and reactions, lets us think and feel, and allows us to have memories and emotions. It processes sensory information, letting us hear, see, touch, taste, and smell.
Thus, keeping our brains healthy is critical. One prevalent fallacy among us is that being healthy and fit is related to the physical body, failing to recognise the importance of the brain. Most people perceive health as physical well-being. Without regard for mental health, it’s common to assume that anyone who appears to be physically fit is considered healthy. This isn’t the case though, and a person who seems to be physically fit might be dealing with mental issues that aren’t often apparent or even known to us or to the person itself.
This indicates that there is ignorance and lack of awareness among the people regarding mental health. Every year, July 22 is celebrated as World Brain Day to address this issue. It holds significance as it helps raise awareness on an increasingly significant health issue related to mental and psychological health. Brain health can refer to many prevention methods designed to help preserve both mental health and brain neurological health.
As people have become increasingly more vulnerable to neurological issues, raising awareness of the issue is as important. The topic of this year’s World Brain Day is “Brain Health for All.” This will address important areas such as mental health awareness, prevention, education, advocacy, and access.
Lack of awareness is perhaps the most important issue related to brain health. People are not much informed about this topic therefore in most cases they either fail to recognize or they ignore if any mental disorder is associated with them.
Another major issue related to awareness is the stigma associated with brain health. Due to a lack of knowledge and awareness, people have a negative perception of mental health. People with mental health issues are often distinguished and categorized as mentally retarded persons. The widespread sense of guilt and shame associated with mental health issues can lead to people avoiding professional help or discussing it with their peers and loved ones. Therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of brain health.
Issues related to brain health are a global problem affecting millions of people around the world. In this so-called modern era, the issue is increasing even more and therefore it holds more significance in the coming years. This includes mostly two factors:
1) The world’s population is ageing rapidly. According to the World Health Organisation, between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s older adults is estimated to almost double from about 12% to 22%. In absolute terms, this is an expected increase from 900 million to 2 billion people over the age of 60. Ageing is associated with a significant loss in bodily capacities and a decline in functional ability, making older people more prone to mental issues. However, apart from the physical constraints, the shift in societal structure is also affecting the mental health of older people. Our society is experiencing a shift from joint families to nuclear families. The young generation often migrates to different locations in quest of better work, services, and other resources. Elderly members of households are sometimes left behind with no one to care for them. Even when they are with their family, the younger generation is so preoccupied with their lives that they spend so little time with them. With so many physical restrictions at their age, they also cope with concerns such as loneliness, which frequently leads to disorders such as depression, stress, pessimism, worry, anxiety, etc. Thus people with old age require special attention towards their physical and mental health which need to be recognized not only medically but also socially
2) The second factor is the change in lifestyle of the people with the dominance of technology especially the internet and social media in their lives. Although the use of the internet has become a necessity in today’s world, however, people are becoming increasingly reliant on it and are over-engaging themselves in it. The lives of people are shifting towards a materialistic world where material possessions are valued more and more highly than human connections like relationships and emotions. Rapid urbanization has restricted people to their homes and their exposure to natural and outdoor activities has reduced drastically. Free space like playgrounds and parks has been replaced by apartments and other construction activities. Outdoor sports like cricket and football have been replaced by online games over mobile phones and computers. People are spending more time in the virtual world of the internet than in real-world interactions. According to a poll, children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours per day interacting with electronic media. This is affecting their cognitive ability. Over-indulging themselves in the technology and virtual world of the internet exposes them to a false sense of contentment making them more vulnerable to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
The effect on mental health was quite visible during the time of lockdown when people were restricted in their homes. They experienced a sudden void in their lives as their materialistic pursuits and fast-paced lifestyle came to an abrupt end. Cases of anxiety, loneliness, and depression were commonly recorded. Numerous suicide instances have also been reported, highlighting the fact that even if someone appears healthy and normal on the outside, he or she may be hiding mental baggage within. The extent of mental disturbance that a person may be experiencing gradually increased during the lockdown. Therefore, it is crucial to comprehend the significance of mental health, the variables that exacerbate it, and the need of being willing to seek professional assistance when necessary.
Many brain health issues are preventable. It can be incorporated by incorporating a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity, mental exercise, a healthy diet and nutrition, social interaction, ample sleep and relaxation, and control of vascular risk factors are considered six pillars of brain health that can easily be included in an individual’s lifestyle. A person must also be aware of the social aspect in addition to that. A person can become more socially engaged and be protected against mental health difficulties in various ways, such as via real interaction with people, encouraging outdoor activities, physical exercise, and moderation in their use of social media and the internet.
(Writer is an Assistant Project Officer at Xavier Institute of Social Sciences, Ranchi)