How much do we really know about the brain’s role in our mental health? Dr. Daniel Amen’s groundbreaking approach offers new insights.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Daniel Amen. He is on a bold mission to eradicate mental illness through a revolution in brain health. Dr. Amen is a physician, adult and child psychiatrist, and founder of Amen Clinics, which has the world’s largest database of brain scans for psychiatry, totaling more than 225,000 SPECT scans on patients from 155 countries. Dr. Amen provided profound insights on reshaping mental well-being through a focus on brain health.
Note: For the full interview, listen to our ‘Evolving with Gratitude’ podcast episode, embedded in this article (above) and also available on your favorite podcast platform.
Journey to Brain Health
Dr. Amen’s path to psychiatry was both personal and professional. His interest in medical imaging, born out of his time as an infantry medic, laid the foundation for his future, but a pivotal moment came when someone he cared for attempted suicide, leading him to psychiatry, a field that helps individuals and has a positive ripple effect for those around those individuals.
Despite his growing passion for psychiatry, Dr. Amen was struck by a significant gap in the field: the reluctance to use brain imaging in diagnostics. Reflecting on this, he noted, “I fell in love with the only medical specialty that never looks at the organ it treats.” This realization fueled his determination to bring a change to psychiatry, to merge the insights of medical imaging with the understanding of mental health.
Armed with personal motivation and a vision for a more empirical approach to psychiatry, he embarked on a path that would redefine the understanding and treatment of mental health, focusing on the organ responsible for it all: the brain.
Revolutionizing Psychiatry with Brain Imaging
Dr. Amen’s encounter with brain SPECT imaging in 1991 was a turning point. SPECT, or Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography, examines blood flow and activity, revealing how the brain functions. “When I started looking at the brain, I realized your brain’s an organ just like your heart is an organ, and you have to take care of it,” he explained. This epiphany shifted his focus from traditional psychiatry to brain health.
The current psychiatric approach, Dr. Amen argues, is flawed. He criticizes the practice of “making diagnoses based on symptom clusters with no biological data, and then trying to drug people’s brains into submission.” He pointed out, “We are trying to drug America into happiness, and it’s not working.”
The Path to Brain Health
Dr. Amen is a strong proponent of redefining the approach towards mental well-being, emphasizing the crucial role of brain health. He challenges the traditional perception of psychiatric issues, stating, “Most psychiatric problems are not mental health issues. They’re brain health issues. Get your brain healthy, and your mind will follow.” Highlighting the inseparable connection between brain function and mental well-being, this approach involves a holistic view of health, encompassing diet, exercise, sleep, and mental discipline.
Get your brain healthy, and your mind will follow.—Dr. Daniel Amen
Dr. Amen stresses the generational influence of brain health, noting, “Every day, your habits are turning on or off health-promoting genes in your body that impact you, but also generations of you.” This underscores our responsibility for not only our own well-being but also that of future generations.
He reflects on a pivotal moment in his career: the successful treatment of that friend who attempted suicide. “I came to realize that if Dr. Wallace helped her, it wouldn’t just help her; ultimately, it would help me as someone who loved her. It would help her children, would help her grandchildren, as they would be shaped by someone who is happier and more stable,” says Dr. Amen. This experience not only shaped his approach to psychiatry but also highlighted the far-reaching impact of individual brain health, transcending personal healing to create a legacy for generations.
Key Strategies for Brain Health
Dr. Amen offers practical advice for improving our brain health:
- Start each day with a positive mindset.
- Exercise regularly to boost blood flow to the brain.
- Be mindful of your diet, choosing foods that benefit your brain.
- Practice meditation and breathing techniques for stress reduction.
- Cultivate gratitude and focus on positive experiences.
A Message of Hope and Transformation
My chat with Dr. Amen’s was not just enlightening; it was a beacon of hope. He emphasized, “You’re not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better,” underscoring the potential for improvement regardless of past brain health. His approach is not merely about treating conditions but about enhancing the brain’s capabilities for a more fulfilled life.
You’re not stuck with the brain you have. You can make it better.—Dr. Daniel Amen
This conversation with Dr. Amen not only sheds light on the importance of brain health but also inspires us to be proactive, taking steps towards improving mental well-being, not only for ourselves but for future generations. As we reflect on his insights, let us consider how we can incorporate his practical advice into our daily lives, fostering a healthier, more vibrant mind and spirit.
Connect with and learn from Dr. Amen: