This Saturday is World Mental Health Day – what an urgent time it is to keep our brains as resilient, strong and flexible as possible. Learning to adopt daily habits to innovate, adapt and overcome is a strong elixir to cope with unpredictable conditions and unknown futures. Innovative brain skills are precisely the mental challenges that enhance and strengthen our brain’s frontal networks. They allow us to find hope and make small steps of progress when faced with despair.
Research shows that innovative thinking can even help intercept and significantly lessen depressive symptoms, along with getting any necessary medical treatment. My team conducted a randomized clinical trial with adults who had recovered to near-normal levels from a traumatic brain injury suffered years prior, but still had lingering effects. Cognitive training strengthened cognitive performance on measures of innovative thinking and complex abstraction, but the even more exciting results were the generalized gains to mental health with:
58% reduction in depressive symptoms
43% reduction in stress-related symptoms
Brain health matters tremendously at a societal level. Psychological resilience requires effort and is key to absorbing and adapting to social and economic shocks such as those many of us are experiencing in 2020.
As I shared in a recent message, a coalition led by my colleague Dr. Harris Eyre is calling for the creation of a Grand Strategy to protect brain health, significantly reduce mental health issues and further our brain-based economy. This Saturday, let’s recommit to being proactive about our personal mental health as well as those in our midst. Depression, stress and anxiety are NOT forms of weakness – seeking help and finding ways to ignite the brain’s innovative engine are some of the most courageous things we can do.
P.S. It’s never too soon to start thinking about this. A proud shout out to the UT Dallas undergrads who have launched the Global BrainHealth and Wellness Initiative to raise awareness about the importance of brain health and science-backed strategies to enhance it.
Published October 9, 2020
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