Of A Sound Mind-Understanding Mental Illnesses
The Human mind functions in such a way as to make us be aware of ourselves ( consciousness ) and what goes on in our environment. Furthermore, it helps us in the interpretations of those events and how to respond appropriately. All these things happen in multiple, and well-organized stages. The rate at which it happens must also be appropriate. When there is disorganization in any of the stages, or if the rate is too fast, mental illnesses result. For example, the rate of thought processing is abnormally fast in individuals with Bipolar Disorder while individuals with Schizophrenia are known to have disorganization in their thought processing.
Information about our surroundings is brought into our brain (consciousness) through our five sense organs (Eyes, Nose, Ears, Skin, and Tongue).
THE FIRST STEP
The first step in the processing of this information is done in the various parts of the brain. It is this raw processing that allows us to see, hear, taste, smell and feel our surroundings. For instance, our eyes function just like a camera. The information from the eye is passed on to the back of our brain (occipital lobe). It is the processing of this part of the brain that allows us to see. (This means without this processing in the occipital lobe, we may not be able to see, even if our eyes are intact). Similarly, information from our various sense organs is processed in different parts of the brain (see ddiagrambelow)
These primary sensory areas also have connections with other parts of the brain for further processing. For instance, there are connections between The Sensory cortex area for hearing and the frontal part of the brain where thoughts are generated. Abnormalities in this connections are seen in people with schizophrenia (Type of mental illness) and may contribute to the reason why these individuals hear voices without anyone speaking to them (Auditory hallucination)
The human brain does the processing of these sensory informations by means of the numerous brain substances called Neurotransmitters (e.g. Dopamine, Nor-epinephrine, Serotonin, acetyl-choline, etc.). These are chemical messangers that transmit information from one brain cell (Neuron) to another. If for any reason(s), there is too much or too little of these chemical messangers, brain function abnormality or mental illnesses may result. Some individuals with mental illnesses may complain of seeing things that are not there or hearings voices of unseen people.
As mentioned earlier, information is transmitted from the primary sensory areas to other centers in the brain. Most important of these areas is the emotion processing center.
THE SECOND STEP
Information from these primary sensory centers in the brain is transferred to a structure called the Amygdala. It is in this structure that the emotional significance of the information from the five senses is processed. For instance ,the emotional significance of what I am seeing or hearing or smelling is processed here. Hence you can tell the difference between “seeing a loved one giving a public lecture” and “seeing a poisonous snake in your garden”, because of the difference in the emotional significance attached to them.
Seeing your loved one and seeing a poisonous snake will evoke two different types of emotions which will determine your next line of action. Usually, this processing is somewhat animalistic; it tends to evoke a quick and raw emotional reaction. Such reaction may be helpful when it comes to situations where one is faced with danger as in “seeing a poisonous snake in the garden” (fight or flight response is evoked). However ,a raw emotion of a “longing to jump on the stage to kiss your wife” while she is making a public presentation might not be a good idea. This raw emotion, is helpful in situations where we are confronted with immediate danger; otherwise, it needs further refining when it comes to other non-threatening situations.
Amygdala and Mental Illnesses
Problems with the processing of emotions by the Amygdala is seen Individual with Anxiety Disorder and other mental illnesses associated with Fear and Anxiety such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic attacks, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In these individuals, the amygdala processing is excessively hyperactive to negative events. This explains the symptoms of excessive fear and worry, difficuly in sleeping and excessive caution which involves going all the way to take extra and irrational measures to avoid similar situations.
THE THIRD STEP –The Role of a Sound Mind
The third step in the process, aims to fine-tune the raw emotions generated from our sensory inputs by the Amygdala- in the second step. The fine tuning ensures appropriateness of our responses. In the case of an impending danger of seeing a poisonous snake, this processing will guide us – as to which direction to run or what next to do to avoid danger. Similarly, in the case of seeing our loved one making a public presentation on the stage, this processing slows our emotions until such a later time that is appropriate to express such feelings, thereby avoiding unnecessary embarrassment for ourselves and our loved one. This is where the input from a sound mind comes in.
The three basic functions of the human mind are (a) Thinking (b) Feeling (c) wanting. In other words, thoughts, feelings and desires are the three principal functional components of a sound mind. A sound mind works in a well-organized manner, at the appropriate time, in the right sequence and at a normal rate
Thoughts Feelings Desires
Input of our “thinking” (from our mind) into the raw emotions (generated from the processing of information from the five sense organs) is what gives rise to more enduring and highly refined feelings and the desires (of our mind). When we think, we are motivated to do things that make sense and act in ways that help rather than harm us. In other words, emotions and feelings are not the same thing.
Differences Between Emotions and Feelings
Abnormalities of Emotions and feelings in Individuals With Mental Illnesses
Our emotions are generated by raw processing of what we – See, Hear, Smell, Feel and Taste by our five senses. The brain structure responsible for this is the Amygdala. Emotions serve a purpose of ensuring survival. It is raw, quick and temporal. Our thoughts are generated by another part of the brain called the Medial Pre-frontal cortex (MPFC). “Thought” is the driver of a human mind. A man is a reflection of what he thinks and so is his destiny. When we apply thoughts to the raw emotion, feelings are generated.
As opposed to raw emotions which are usually more intense and alerts us to immediate danger, feelings are more refined but less intense. It alerts us to anticipate danger. For instance, using our earlier example, seeing a poisonous snake in the garden evokes an Emotion of Fear which prepares us to either run away from the scene or look for a way to fight the snake. Thinking about this event later on, will evoke a Feeling of Worry. This feeling even though negative, ensures that we take all necessary steps to make our surroundings not comfortable for snakes to live. “Fear” is an emotion while “Worry” is a feeling.
Anger is an Emotion. If we act out of this emotion of anger, we may not like the result of our action. However, if we “think” about this situation that evokes the anger (e.g. a rude comment by a co-worker); it may evoke a Feeling of bitterness, but it stops us from acting irrationally. At the same time, the feeling of bitterness may alert us to need of avoiding a similar situation.
Attraction to the opposite sex is an Emotion which if acted upon inappropriately can lead to embarrassment. Love on the other hand is a Feeling which can result, if we apply our “thoughts” to the raw emotions of attraction and we act appropriately.
Feelings and Thoughts-A Two way Traffic to Our Destiny
From the examples given above, we see that our thoughts, emotions and feelings determine our behavior. Similarly, our feelings can affect our thoughts. For instance, if a negative emotion of anger generates a feeling of bitterness, this will affect the way we think. Our thinking may become irrational. In this situation, we may decide to confront the source of the anger (e.g. having a nice conversation with a rude colleague) and see if we can resolve the bitterness within. In this scenario, we can see the need to always apply our thoughts to all emotions. Remember, our behavior and attitude towards life determines how far we go in all our endeavors as humans. Therefore, it is important to always apply our thoughts to all our raw emotions.
The Medial-Prefrontal-Cortex of The Brain – Origin Of Our Thoughts
Our thoughts are generated in an area of the brain called the Medial Pre-frontal Cortex (MPFC). We may not be able to see what “Thoughts” are, whether they are forces or spirits or sub-atomic matter. But we do know that thoughts are generated by neurotransmitter activities in this part of the brain. This explains the reason why people with some form of head injuries may have difficulty in thinking rationally. It also explains the origin of the disorganized thoughts that we see in people with mental illnesses. Think back to the time when you had a negative feeling of “worry” or “anxiety”, how was your “thinking” during this time?
Even though our feelings are generated by applying our ‘thoughts” to incoming emotions, our feelings also have effects on our thoughts.
As discussed earlier, emotions are always triggered by incoming information from out five sense organs. They are often intense and last for as long as that information is being perceived. Such emotions disappear as soon as the trigger is gone; therefore emotions are usually short-lived. However, when we think about the event, feelings are generated. Feelings often last as long as we think about the event; thus we can choose to either continue to think about the event if it is a good one (e.g. sighting someone of opposite sex), or distract our thoughts from the negative feeling of anxiety and worry (as in sighting a snake in the garden). Feelings last longer than emotions, but we have control of how long such feelings it last.
Problem Of Thoughts In Individuals With Mental Illnesses
Thought distortion or disorganization is one of the problems seen in some individuals with mental illness e.g. Schizophrenia and Major depression. This results in a disconnect between their emotions, feelings and the behaviour manifested by these people. You may see some individual with mental illnesses laughing in sad situations and vice versa. Another example, is the irrational guilt feelings and low self esteem of individuals with major depression
Moods-Interpretation of Feelings. Mis-interpretation seen in Mental illnesses
Mood on the other hand results from our interpretation of the feelings we have. Emotions and feelings are highly varied but moods are more generalized as being good or bad, positive or negative.
Our interpretation of negative feelings such as bitterness, anxiety, depression and disgusts generally results in a bad or negative mood, while positive feelings of Joy, love, contentment , interest and serenity are interpreted as good or positive mood.
This interpretation of our feelings as being good or bad is also influenced by other factors such as our Environment, and State of health. It is this effect of our environment on the mood that explains why some people have a depressed mood when the weather is gloomy and cloudy, and good and elated mood when the weather is sunny and bright. It also explains the cause of a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) –Depression during the gloomy months of winter which gets better in the sunny- summer months.
The Limbic Lobe
The brain area where interpretations of our feelings (which give rise to our mood) take place is called the Limbic lobe. This brain area consists of various connections between adjacent brain structures including connections to the Medial Prefrontal Cortex, where thoughts are generated. We can see how our “thoughts” can become inaccurate in people with depressed moods. Such alterations is what gives rise to false beliefs (Delusions) and Suicide thoughts in people with the illness of Depressions and some other Mental illnesses.
The way we feel and the mood generated by the way we feel, have an effect on our thoughts. Similarly, our thoughts have an effect on our mood.
Negative Moods from Nowhere
Have you ever asked yourself this question – Why am I feeling sad for no obvious reasons?
Moods often occur as a reaction to an event or feelings. An example is the SAD mood generated when we are faced with adverse events. Such mood will disappear once the trigger is no longer there or when the situation changes
Our moods can also surface for no apparent reason. Such moods originate from our thoughts which can be generated automatically (without a trigger) from the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. A negative though generated by the medial prefrontal cortex; can result in the generation of a depressed mood in the limbic lobe (remember that they have connections). This mood may last for hours, days, weeks or months.
When such moods last for more than two weeks, it is an indication of a problem with the neurotransmitter in the brain. For example, a depressed mood lasting for two weeks or more is indicative of a low serotonin level in some parts of the brain. Such an individual has an illness-diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, or what we commonly refer to as Depression.
Our mood state determines how we see and interpret the world around us. It also determines how we interact with our surrounding.
Of A Sound Mind
Our thoughts, (the way we think), – is the driver of the human mind. It influences the emotions we generate when we perceive (Hear, See, Feel, Smell or Taste) things in our surroundings. When we apply our thoughts to the emotions, feelings are created. It is the interpretation of such feelings that give rise to our more pervasive Mood.
Our mood in turn, determines how we interpret the world around us as well as our overall behavior. Our Overall attitude to life determines our future. This is the role of a sound mind in the pursuit of our destiny.
All these events are generated by the passage of chemical messangers Neurotransmitters) from one brain cell to another
Undestanding Mental Illnesses
In instances where there is too much or inadequate amount of the chemical messangers (neurotransmitters) as seen in individuals with mental illnesses, medications can be used to correct the chemical imbalance. In addition, therapy sessions can be used to correct the inaccurate thoughts. This statement implies that mental illnesses are treatable.