In the last few decades, science has proven that there is an intricate and highly valuable link between the brain and the body. This link means that stress, mental illnesses, and sleep disorders can manifest themselves in various physical ailments.
“Unfortunately, we’ve tended to almost treat the brain as being separate from the body, when, in fact, they are very connected,” said Dr. Husseini Manji, Neuroscience Head at Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
Essentially, the brain operates by sending signals to the rest of the body through the nerves that branch off the spine, says Manji. When the brain senses stress, it releases adrenaline and regulates immune cells and immune function. Adrenaline is a very useful tool for basic human survival, in times of stress, but can become worrisome when the body is constantly in a stressful mode.
“What’s bad is that your body is constantly secreting adrenaline and that’s what happens in chronic stressful situations. And what adrenaline does is reduce blood flow to parts of the body and (also) turn(s) on the immune system, and these things have a huge negative effect on your whole body,” said Manji.
This stress can then manifest itself in physical ailments.
“What we’ve found over the last twenty or thirty years is that if you have something that’s affecting the brain, for example, depression or severe stress, it has a huge impact on physical health,” noted Manji.
Manji points to studies that show that heart attack victims are three to four times more likely to die if they are depressed.
The brain has a critical impact on what happens in the rest of the body, and this isn’t just about positive thinking and attitude. These are very real biological, neurological responses that manifest in very real diseases, says Manji.
This is why the doctor encourages veterans and military members to seek the help they need, and there should be no stigma or taboo for our Canadian service members to receive the help they need.
“Not only will it hopefully help you with depression, insomnia, etc., but there’s a very high likelihood of it helping you with your physical health as well,” explained Manji.
Besides reaching out for medical, professional help and treatments for mental illnesses, such as Operational Stress Injuries, Manji believes that getting a good night of sleep and reducing daily stress can make a difference.
“There’s no doubt that reducing stress will help you. It might be sufficient, and then it might be that you need something more,” commented Manji.
According to the Healthy Heroes Survey, conducted by Johnson & Johnson, Canadian military service members and first responders are more likely than the general population to disagree with the statements “I do not think I will be judged for seeking help for mental health issues.” And “I do not think I will be judged for seeking help for general health issues.”
This is where family and community members can come together to urge military members and veterans to seek the help they need. According to Manji, strong family and community relations play a role in resiliency and helping individuals to get better.
“Let them understand that there is absolutely no weakness in reaching out for help. We all need it,” said Manji.
During the 2017 Invictus Games Toronto, True Patriot Love arranged a symposium dedicated to various health aspects that impact the military community. The symposium was attended by hundreds of individuals and experts connected to the military community.
During this symposium, Dr. Manji delivered an address, entitled The Promise of Emerging Science to Address Veterans’ Mental Health. In this address, he spoke about the critical link between the body and the mind and a message of hope that if society comes together, they can make a difference in supporting military members and veterans in seeking the help they need.