You may have noticed that here at the Chase Bjork Foundation, we talk about brain health as opposed to mental health or mental illness. This is a conscious decision, with meaning behind it – not just relabeling to replace older terms. Yet, the terms are, in our opinion, outdated and no longer reflect the data- and evidence-based understandings that researchers, psychiatrists and others in the field have come to accept over the past 10+ years.
A New Perspective on Mental Health: Brain Health
We’re talking about brain health in order to destigmatize mental/brain health conditions by demonstrating and emphasizing how treatable these conditions are – just like physical illnesses
We are focused on reaching students in high schools because the vast majority of brain health conditions arise in adolescence. One in six adolescents (age 6-17) has a diagnosable brain health condition. Astoundingly, 75% of lifetime mental illness starts in adolescence – and impacts individuals and their loved ones – for the rest of their lives, if it goes untreated. Nearly half of struggling young people never seek treatment (AAFP, NAMI).
When adolescents are proactive about brain health, their outcomes improve
High school is often the time when lifetime mental illness/brain health conditions emerge, and getting diagnosed and treated sooner rather than later drastically affects outcomes. Just like reading literacy, delays in treatment (or education) lead to worse conditions that are harder — and costlier — to treat.
Demystifying “mental health” and reframing it as “brain health” encourages students to openly talk about their well-being and fosters healthier adolescents and a healthier overall school environment. Brain health education encourages students to be proactive about promoting their brain health instead of reacting to their brain health crises, or worse, succumbing to their brain health conditions. (WHO, AAFP, NAMI, Reuters).
Brain health literacy is vital for action, but few schools can create/implement effective programs
A 2016 study reviewed 15 school-based mental health awareness programs and found that mental health literacy decreased stigma and increased the likelihood that students would seek mental health resources (NIH). At a time when the need for mental/brain health resources are at an all-time high and states are mandating mental health education in schools, high costs and the scarcity of effective, trustworthy resources make it extremely challenging for schools to fulfill their obligations. And worse, students continue to suffer during a critical, formative time in their lives.
How to Get Involved: Try the Brain Health Bootcamp
For these reasons we have shifted the conversation to talk about brain health, and we are making the Brain Health Bootcamp available for free to everyone online. Click on the link to take the Brain Heath Bootcamp, or to request that BHB become available at schools in your community.
Sources: NAMI: Improving Mental Health in Schools, AAFP: One in Six US Children Has a Mental Illness, WHO: Adolescent Mental Health, University of Iowa: Mental Health in K-12 Schools, Reuters: U.S. Teen Suicides Rising, Especially Among Boys, APA: Helping Men to Help Themselves, NIH: Systematic review of in-school mental health programs