Neuroscience is Helping Shed Light on Mental Disorders

Brain Awareness Week

During Brain Awareness Week, we’re striving to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research, especially concerning mental health disorders. Neuroscientists are uncovering the brain processes involved in behavioral illnesses, and there is great promise for development of more effective treatments in the near future.


A Neurological Approach

Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease are clearly brain diseases that should be treated by neurologists. But is it accurate to group psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, depression and ADHD with these brain diseases? Recent research shows that a more neurologic approach to mental disorders could be helpful.


Advanced Imaging

Recent studies suggest that mental disorders are linked to disorders of brain circuits. Advanced neuroimaging techniques like PET, fMRI, MEG and high-resolution EEG are allowing the broad range of cortical function to be mapped with great detail. While researchers are still in the early days of using these powerful technologies, studying the brain is leading many to rethink mental disorders.

Breakthrough Study

One new study from the University of Cambridge shows that a serious behavior disorder – conduct disorder (CD) – can be seen in the cells of the brain. Researchers found that girls with CD had less gray matter in an area of the brain called the amygdala, an area that not only governs fear response but also plays a role in our perception of whether others are experiencing fear or not. Whether the neurological changes are due to the brain biology that one is born with or due to changes that come after certain life experiences remains to be seen. More on this study can be found at

Pre-Empting Mental Disorders

As indicated by the Cambridge study, a brain disorder approach could transform the way mental disorders are diagnosed. Understanding the biology behind certain disorders could help researchers not only treat abnormal mood and behavior issues, but actually prevent them. As seen with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, symptoms emerge years after changes in the brain are noticed. If the same is true of circuit disorders, imaging could allow for earlier detection and pre-emption of the behavioral and cognitive changes associated with many serious mental disorders. To learn more, visit