The Brain and Physical and Emotional Health
Research on brain structure and function, neurochemical messenger systems (neurotransmitters), and brain–body connections suggests fundamental, delicate, two-way relationships between the brain’s environment and mood, behavior, and resistance to disease (Cohen & Herbert, 1996).
One focus of brain research has been to identify and integrate traditional medical and psy-chiatric knowledge with new psychobiologic and psychoneu-roimmunologic data. Researchers in the field of psychobiology study the biologic basis of mental disturbances and have estab-lished some relationships between mental disorders and changes in the structure and function of the brain. Researchers in the field of psychoneuroimmunology study the connections between the emotions, the central nervous system, the neuroendocrine sys-tem, and the immune system and have established compelling evidence that psychosocial variables can affect the functioning of the immune system.
As this neuroscientific research continues, data about neuro-transmitters and the functioning of the brain will augment exist-ing understanding of emotions, intelligence, memory, and many aspects of general body functioning. In the future, an accepted definition of mental illness may well include biologic informa-tion. By enhancing the biologic knowledge base about the brain and nervous system, scientists establish the foundation for break-throughs in the treatment of both symptoms and illnesses.
These findings suggest that the health care community ought to place as much emphasis on emotional health as it places on physiologic health and ought to recognize how biologic, emo-tional, and societal problems combine to affect individual pa-tients, families, and communities. Some problems that nurses and other health care providers must address include substanceabuse, homelessness, family violence, eating disorders, trauma,and chronic mental health conditions such as anxiety and de-pression. To focus attention on these and other mental health problems, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiated a mental health agenda for the nation in the document entitled Healthy People 2010 (U.S. Public Health Service, 2000). The objectives identified are summarized in Chart 7-2. Nurses in all settings encounter patients with mental health problems and have an integral role in helping to achieve the national goals by recognizing and treating emotional distress and promoting emotional health.
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