Linking mysteries of neuroscience with caring for mental health | Opinion

By Patrick McNamara

Special to the Sun Sentinel

Oct 08, 2021 11:22 AM

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Patrick McNamara, president and CEO of Palm Health Foundation

Patrick McNamara, president and CEO of Palm Health Foundation (Patrick McNamara / Courtesy)

When I first began my career as a social worker, I learned a vital lesson that has resonated with me throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: A consistent, supportive relationship is profoundly important to smooth the ups and downs of a person struggling to overcome adversity. We are social creatures — our brains are wired to connect.

The people struggling to overcome adversity are no longer them, they are us.

No one has been spared the social and emotional disconnects of the past two years. Studies show that isolation takes a toll on our brains, shrinking our hippocampus. Fortunately, studies focused on cognitive decline during strict COVID-19 lockdowns have shown that cognitive function was restored after restrictions eased.

While this is fascinating research, what do we really know about the mysteries of the brain and the power of community engagement? Not enough.

When I became president and CEO of Palm Health Foundation, we created the Brain Health Innovation Fund to invest in advancing new technologies, treatments, resources and educational tools for better brain health in Palm Beach County. It is our goal to make our county a national leader in brain health advancement by strengthening and connecting the bonds between our incredible local assets in scientific research, community supports and quality care.

These collaborations are essential to overcoming the disparities between physical and mental health care and creating a movement for understanding that taking care of our brains is just as important as taking care of our bodies. It’s a movement we co-created with community partners, research institutes, the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium and Florida Atlantic University’s Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute over the past five years through the annual Train the Brain campaign. Train the Brain, “Connecting Brain Science, Community & Care,” is offering the last of two virtual educational events featuring Amishi Jha, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Miami and director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, at 1 p.m. Oct. 19.

Amishi P. Jha, author of

Amishi P. Jha, author of “Peak Mind,” will participate in a virtual event on Oct. 19. (Amishi P. Jha / Courtesy)

I invite the community to learn about how cutting-edge research is changing what we know about the brain and how to keep it healthy. Our mental health needs are growing. Our understanding needs to grow as well.

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