If I Only Had a Brain

npsw ribbon

If I Only Had a Brain

In my body.  You know, like if my brain were a part of my body, my PHYSICAL body, and not some nebulous free-floating cloudy thing that exists only in my own… oh, wait.  Silly me.  I DO have a brain, and it is an actual solid organ in my (alas) all too solid body.  When other physical organs in our physical bodies have a problem, those are treated as medical problems.  We can’t see diabetes, or emphysema, or congestive heart failure when we look at a person.

We can’t see depression either.  We can’t see bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, drug addiction, borderline personality disorder, paranoid delusional disorder or alcoholism.  Yet we as a society treat them as if they are blameworthy, rather than recognizing them as what they are: Diseases of the body. 

Allow me to illustrate, with a series of scans showing a healthy brain side-by-side with the brains of some people who have the illnesses listed above, starting with depression:

brain with depression

Is it any wonder people talk about having the blues?  To me, this difference is remarkable, and wait until you see what’s next.

brain with bipolar disorder
 

After having talked to numerous professionals about this, it seems that there’s a fairly high probability that Tony, in addition to having depression, may also have had bipolar disorder, and possibly schizophrenia as well, something that runs in his family:

brain with schizophrenia
 

There are literal holes in the schizophrenic brain, on the left.  And then there are these, for PTSD:

 
brain with ptsd

The brains of people with various addictions:

brain with cocaine abusef

Brain with alcoholism

brain with meth abuse
 

Here’s the side-by-side of a brain with and without OCD:

brain with ocd
 

With and without ADHD:

brain with adhd
 

And finally, a variety of disorders:

brain with various disorders
 

What I find simultaneously fascinating and infuriating is that Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury and carbon monoxide poisoning are all treated as medical problems, meaning there are fewer limitations on coverage, higher levels of coverage, and certainly less stigmatization and shame of the patients. 

So the next time someone makes a comment about illnesses of the brain being anything other than physical, I hope you’ll remember these pictures and think about asking them if they’ve ever seen side-by-side scans.  I hope you’ll ask them what the difference is between a kidney disease, like diabetes, and a brain disease like schizophrenia.  I’ve frequently heard some people opine that a disease is “mental” because we can’t see it.  Well, we can.  I can.  I SEE IT. 

These are real, treatable illnesses.  No person, anywhere, deserves to be shamed, outcast or sidelined because they have a disease.  Period.

This is National Suicide Prevention Week.  The ribbon I used as today’s photograph is merely a symbol of what this week means to me.  What it needs to mean, to all of us.  It’s a starting off point for a conversation.  It’s a means to an end of all the needless waste of suicide.  In the time that it took me to research this blog entry, thousands of people took their own lives.

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9 thoughts on “If I Only Had a Brain

  1. Thank you for putting it into words. Hope all who read your blog pass it along so that the visuals are seen by thousands (at least). Love you, Madre/MD ❤ ❤

  2. Amy, thank you SO much for this very important post. I’m a therapist who met you on the suicide forum and is following your blog. I shared this post with all my colleagues and some friends. Tony does sound like he had bipolar disorder. The depression is part of the illness and I know he must have struggled tremendously. Thanks. Amy!

    • Thank you for reading and sharing. I wish I could have saved Tony, but I couldn’t. This is what I can do, and I’m so glad that people are responding the way they are.

  3. Thank you, Aimee, for putting this in perspective for so many people. My brother, like your Tony, committed suicide and must’ve suffered from depression for years. Mental illness is physical – it should be addressed as a physical and treatable ailment. My brother was very science minded and may have better understood the implications of his disease had he seen these side-by-sides and sought treatment. I’ll never know.

  4. That was very informative and interesting. I had never known that there were such distinct characteristics in the the brains of people suffering with these disorders. Thank you for putting all of this together.

  5. Hey I was wondering where you got your pictures from (sources) as I would like to use brain scans for a school project and am having trouble finding reliable sources

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