Is It Mental Health Or Brain Health We Should Be Talking About?

Relmi Damiano
4 min read

The state of mental health, and how we treat it, is alarming in much of the world. Stress, genetics, environment--all of these factors can affect mental health. However, the term “mental health” is in itself somewhat vague. Instead, we should talk about brain health & how having a healthy brain is the first step to being happier, more productive, and more optimistic about life.

Many people don’t look for help because of mental health-related stigma. This stigma can be present in people who suffer from mental illnesses, doctors and nurses who care for individuals, and others we interact with (including coworkers and family members). The facts are sobering across the globe, including:

  • United States. 60% of adults and nearly 50% of children between 8 and 15 years of age with a mental illness did not receive care the previous year. Serious mental illness is associated with nearly 200 billion dollars in lost wages each year, and 90% of people who die by suicide have some underlying mental condition.1
  • Australia. In Australia, 54% of people with a mental illness do not access treatment options, yet nearly half of Australians will experience mental issues at some point in their lives. An estimated 14% of those suffering are afflicted with an anxiety disorder, and an estimated 6% are affected by depressive disorders.2
  • Mexico. Mental health issues are a major unresolved problem in Mexico. A survey found 1 out of 8 Mexican people suffered from a depressive disorder, although many scientists feel this number is low because of the stigma of mental illnesses.
  • United Kingdom. 17% of persons interviewed reported a common mental health problem in the previous week. Over a third of individuals (36.2%) who self-identified as having some mental health issues were never diagnosed or seen by a professional. One in 5 people in the UK showed symptoms of anxiety or depression in a 2014 study.4

The Budget Shortfalls For Mental Illness

According to WHO, over 300 million people worldwide are affected by depression, 60 million by bipolar affective disorder, and 23 million by schizophrenia and other psychoses.5 Clinical anxiety affects over 250 million people, which represents a 15% increase during a ten-year span.6

As the numbers continue to rise, it’s clear something must be done. Unfortunately, many people don’t seek help for mental problems because of a perceived stigma. In some parts of the world, mental illnesses are seen as a weakness and admitting a problem results in shame and guilt. So instead, these people suffer silently with almost no hope of getting the help they need.

In Latin America (including South America, Central America, Mexico, and countries in the Caribbean Basin), the prevalence of mental illness is thought to be between 18-25% of the population, yet most of these countries spend less than 2% of their annual health budgets on mental illnesses.7

The same story is told in the rest of the world. Only 5.6% of the health budget in the United States is spent on mental health8, and 7.7% of health dollars were used on psychological issues in Australia.9

How come every other organ in your body can get sick and you get sympathy, except the brain? 

Ruby Wax, Comedian

Changing The Way We Speak About Mental Health

Ruby Wax, a comedian who spoke at TEDGlobal 2012, talks humorously about mental illness, and her own experiences with brain disorders. Everyone is kind and caring when we break a shoulder, face cancer, or deal with some other physical ailment. Her resounding question is why do we not sympathise with problems in the brain?8

Part of the issue is the stigma that makes mental damage or mental illness a sign of weakness. Our brains are amazing organs, but just as prone to diseases and disorders as any other part of us. Taking a stand and changing how we talk about brain health means expecting our healthcare providers, including doctors and nurses, to acknowledge and respect disorders of the brain.

When you go in for a checkup, your doctors use various tools to see different parts of your body. Modern technology has given us a simpler, cost-effective way to image the brain. Large rooms full of expensive equipment aren’t needed anymore. The excuse that doctors are limited by technology no longer holds true. It’s time to properly view the brain to truly determine what factors are at play when we discuss brain health.

This shift will likely take time, but each of us can begin by talking with our medical professionals honestly but firmly. You MUST be your own biggest advocate! If you feel like something isn’t quite right in your brain or how you are thinking, you have to be the one to insist on figuring out why. While many people find relief using pharmaceuticals, without knowing the exact underlying condition, doctors are guessing at what might work. 

In the meantime, we can be more compassionate, more kind and more understanding when people around us are suffering from poor brain health. We can also be more sympathetic to ourselves if and when a problem arises in our own brain. 

Improving Brain Health To Improve the Quality Of Life

As a leader, change starts with you! When you value brain health and take care of yourself first, others will see getting treatment is no different than seeking help for a broken leg or a cancerous tumour. Lead by example, and expect to see positive changes to health and wellbeing, as it’s clear many of us suffer quietly from conditions ranging from mild to nearly debilitating.

When people have a healthier brain and body they are more creative and innovative, and ready to think outside the box. What kind of workplace would you rather have--one full of stress and unchecked illness or one full of healthy, thriving individuals?

Want to learn more about brain health, but aren’t sure where to go? Check out the i4 Neuroleader Programs, which support a healthy body and brain using techniques and ideas grounded in neuroscience.

You can tackle the stigma associated with mental conditions by bravely leading the way. Check out my next article on addressing brain disorders and how we think about them. Read on here!


  1. NAMI. Mental Health Facts in America. National Alliance on Mental Illness. 2019. Available at:
  2. Black Dog Institute. Facts & Figures about Mental Health. Black Dog Institute. 2019. Available at:
  3. Gonzalez D & Alvarez M. Depression in Mexico: Stigma and its Policy Implications. Yale Global Health Review. 2016. Available at:
  4. Mental Health Foundation. Fundamental Facts About Mental Health. Mental Health Foundation: London. 2016. Available at: 
  5. WHO. Mental Disorders. World Health Organization. 2018. Available at:
  6. WHO. Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. World Health Organization. 2017. Available at:
  7. Alarcón RD. Mental Health and Mental Health Care in Latin America. World Psychiatry. 2003;2(1): 54-6.
  8. Statista. Total US expenditure for mental health services from 1986 to 2020. Statistica. 2019. Available at:
  9. Wax R. What’s so funny about mental illness? TEDGlobal. 2012. Available at:
Originally posted on: 12 March 2020
Last updated on: 18 February 2024
Relmi Damiano

Relmi Damiano

Creative Director & Co-Founder
About my Brain Institute

In 2009, Relmi Damiano co-founded the About my Brain Institute alongside scientist and leadership expert Silvia Damiano. Their vision is to democratise leadership & neuroscience by shaking up how we develop the human, the leader and the creative we all carry within.

Relmi is a full-stack designer, brand strategist and entrepreneur. She is interested in the intersection of strategic design, innovation, leadership, coaching and applied neuroscience. Relmi was also the producer for the 8-time international award-winning ‘Make Me A Leader’ Documentary.

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