In recent decades awareness for mental wellbeing is rising. In a world that becomes ever more fast-paced that is crucial. Unfortunatelly, numbers of mental disorders are on the rise, including monopolar and bipolar depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and many more. understanding the brain mechanisms of each of these disorders is necessary to be able to treat them.
Crucially, although these disorders can be more or less accurately categorized, each individual case is different. So learning how each brain is different helps us to understand different manifestations of mental illness and provide personalized therapies.
If you want to learn about the brain function deficits of a particular disorder, you have to investigate patients suffering from that disorder. Easy, right? Wrong! It is often difficult to categorize a patient based on symptoms. Symptoms may point to different disorders. Furthermore, each patients has a different combination of symptoms, with different levels of severity. And even within a single patient symptoms vary over time. Patients suffering from depression may have occassional positive days. And even a narcissist sometimes has doubts.
Neuroscience, is not an exact science and we deal with many variables. No surprise, because the human brain is incredibly complex. Therefore, no single study can provide conclusive evidence. Keep this in mind when you read an article with a sensational title that some research 'has found the cure for depression' or something like that. Having conflicting result and challenging established theories does not make neuroscience a bad science. Neither does it mean that neuroscientist don't know what they are doing. We do. Over time evidence accumulates and a consensus can be reached.
Fundamental research refers to research that studies the elemental aspects of how the brain works. This includes animal research. Research in dead tissue on in models. And research in healthy volunteers. Why is this important? If we want to understand a brain with an illness, we first must understand how a healthy brain works. Fundamental neuroscience is sometimes not well received, because societal benefits are not always directly obvious. Why does it matter that a layer 5 pyramidal neuron responds different to an electric field in comparison to a layer 4 large basket neuron? This may not be directly important for treating depression or schizophrenia. But without this foundation not improvements in clinical treatments can be made.
Next to fundamental research, there is translational research. This branch of neuroscience investigates fundamental aspects, but tries to translate them to therapeutic benefits. For example, a study on the effects of repeated rTMS in healthy volunteers has implications in two ways: 1. It tells us, fundamentally, how a healthy brain activity is altered by magnetic fields. 2. a change in brain activity is itself a useful finding for clinical research as it shows the potential of rTMS as a therapeutic tool (learn more about rTMS as a therapeutic tool in the Brain Stimulation Therapy section).
To summarize: Clinical, fundamental, and translational neuroscience are all crucial elements to develop treatment of mental disorders. clinical research directly relates to the understanding of brain functions impairments in disorders. However, it needs the foundation of fundamental and translational research.
In my daily practice as a neuroscientist I collected data from participants. This data is anonymized. When analyzing this data I treat each data point in the same way. Each data point is worth the same. Each data point is equal. Why treat people differently, when they are not anonymized and standing in front of us?
Also, during analysis, scientist do not want to make any assumptions. An assumption would mean that you cannot accurately describe the data, which is not a good thing. Again, I advocate for approaching people in a similar way. Do not make assumptions. Making assumptions shows you don't know someone, nor his beliefs. You can only know someone by respectfully interacting with them.
Why is this important? Because feeling respected, feeling equal, and feeling that you matter are crucial for a healthy mind. No method promotes mental wellbeing more than showing love to the people around you. Having an open mind about equality starts in the brain!