The Omnipresence of Neurological Diseases - Sanjana Pulaparthi
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Neurological diseases and disorders are one of the major global health issues that are present around the globe. People in underdeveloped countries are in need of proper diagnosis and good treatment for these problems. Intervention through proven methods at the right time can be very helpful in identifying and treating the problem. This paper discusses the geographical omnipresence of mental health issues and effective methods to address them.
Conditions of the brain are among the most prevalent yet hidden global health issues. The problem of neurological diseases and disorders is seen in high-income countries such as the U.S. but is often hidden in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). According to surveys and research done by scientists at the Fogarty International Center, these underdeveloped countries also have populations suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, and much more. The same issues are present all around the world. The difference lies in the access to resources to diagnose and training for treatment. LMICs don’t have the resources to take on the health care challenges of their populations. However, improving public health is not solely dependent on resource availability. Increasing awareness about mental health issues is something that can result in higher outreach for help. The goal of many global health scientists today is to help people recognize the problem and then be able to treat it, because without identifying the problem, there is no way a solution can be derived.
In 2018, Dr. Dixon Chibanda created a resource in his homeland Zimbabwe that changed the lives of many Zimbabweans. The creation was named “Friendship Bench”. The goal of the Friendship Bench was to promote mental health awareness and increase access to help if needed. Older women within a community were chosen as counselors and trained to be a part of the program. People who needed counseling or psychiatric help would then have sessions with these older citizens to discuss their problems and find solutions. Dr. Chibanda believed that consulting with respected elders from their community benefited the consulates more than visiting a psychiatrist. In this way, 400 “grandmothers'' were trained across Zimbabwe impacting about 40,000 people total in the 70 Zimbabwean communities that the Friendship Bench was established (Patosh, 2018). This is just one mental health initiative that has been taken to battle the innumerable psychiatric problems faced by people every day. The population of Zimbabwe at the time was about 16 million with a mere 12 trained psychiatrists among them. This displays the too-low proportion of doctors to patients. The lack of resources and professional help is making the lives of people all around the world extremely difficult. The focus of global health initiatives also needs to extend to people who may not be able to afford the treatment even if they had the availability. Finding cost-effective solutions is one of the major goals that global health activists have been fervently promoting in the past few years.
Much research suggests that the best way to battle neurological diseases is prevention. Taking care of your brain and making sure that it’s constantly stimulated is one of the most important preventive measures one can take. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are caused by neuronal death in certain key areas of the brain. Studies have shown that encouraging neuronal growth from an early age can be key in transforming the brain’s resistance to such diseases. One such practice that has come to light in recent years is mindful meditation. Meditation, contrary to popular belief, isn’t just a method of relaxation; in fact, studies have shown that meditation may be able to prevent and alleviate symptoms of many neurological diseases. Practicing meditation for long periods can help reduce cortisol levels in the brain. Cortisol, which is the neurotransmitter that is released in response to stress, can be extremely damaging to the hippocampal regions in the brain (Mishra, 2012). The hippocampus is closely related to learning and memory capacity in the brain. Thus, in diseases like Alzheimer’s where stress can play a huge role in damaging neurons, being able to control cortisol levels can be helpful in making sure the neuronal degeneration isn’t aggravated.
Similarly, the same effects can be seen in eplileptic patients as well. In a study done by Dr. Rajesh Bhagavatheeswaram with epileptic patients, substantial evidence was produced to show the importance of meditation in medical treatment. Most epileptic patients suffer from seizures throughout their lives. There is no cure for this but medications such as Carbamazepine and Phenytoin which are used as management drugs. In the randomized study done by Dr. Rajesh, 19 of the 20 patients reported reduced frequency in seizure attacks after three months of treatment. Meditation and yogic practices have proved to serve as preventive practices where vulnerability to such conditions is detected. The effects of meditation and yoga can be seen not only in neurodegenerative diseases but also in conditions such as major depressive disorder and anxiety. Anxiety is a state of acute stress where a person becomes highly afraid. In depression, patients feel a loss of motivation and constantly feel sad and worthless. Depression and anxiety exist over long periods slowly affecting a person’s neuronal health.
Prolonged stress or a prolonged feeling of demotivation can have permanent negative effects on brain functions such as memory, problem-solving ability, and cognitive thinking. In the brain, depression is when there are decreased levels of the two neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin. These two inhibitory neurotransmitters are responsible for activating your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system ensures that the body doesn’t stay in a constant state of acute stress by releasing inhibitory neurotransmitters that limit activity between your neurons. When there is a deprivation of GABA and serotonin, the stress-response takes over your body and prevents you from rebalancing. Antidepressants increase levels of serotonin in synapses by binding to postsynaptic serotonin receptors. However, antidepressants have a plethora of side effects with some being extremely deadly to neuronal health. A study in 2010 revealed significant evidence to suggest that practicing yoga regularly can help lift patients out of this depressive state. An MRS (magnetic resonance study) conducted with a randomized sample of depressive patients revealed that yogic practices promoted immediate spikes in GABA levels in the parasympathetic nervous system. At the same time, the relaxing effects of these yogic practices decreased the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (Gilhotra, 2010). Being able to treat mood disorders without the help of antidepressants is a huge leap in helping those with depression. If similar practices and training were passed on to health specialists around the world, the cost of treating depression would immediately become much more affordable. There is a common misconception that depression is a problem solely in the west. In an article published by The Guardian, Dr. Vikram Patel went on a hunt around the world to disprove this misconception about depression. He found that countless underdeveloped countries around the world had populations suffering from depression but neither had the systems to diagnose nor professionals to help. Many people often don’t get professional help for mental disorders simply because they can’t afford it. Establishing training centers and educating people about the benefits of yogic practices is both cost efficient for the providers and consumers. In this way, there is hope of providing help to all those who need it in a way that is affordable to all.
Neurological diseases and disorders are extremely prevalent around the world but at the same time are rarely recognized. In underdeveloped countries, patients do not have access to a proper mechanism of diagnosis nor qualified professionals for treatment. Along with providing them with this access, there needs to be guarantee that the services and resources are affordable. Through proven techniques of mediation and yogic practices, there is hope of prevention and ameliorating these health issues at a low cost. Investing in such initiatives can not only improve the overall health of many people around the world but can also become a major step in raising awareness about the importance of public health in underdeveloped countries.
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