There have been some encouraging discoveries, developments, and confirmations in relation to how to support our mind (mental) health. Here are a few of them;
*Neuroplasticity is a good place to start. Simply described, neuroplasticity is the brains ability to form new connections, to rewire itself. If a part of the brain gets damaged, it often has the ability to form new connections, termed functional plasticity. We can also change our brain's physical structure as a result of learning, termed structural plasticity.
In his book The Secret Life of the Mind, Dr Mariano Sigman researched what predisposes our brains to change and stay changed. Heat is the answer. Simply repeating a thought over and over will not necessarily change our brains unless there is a determination (motivation) to actually make the change, when both of these work in tandem dopamine is released into our brain thus the brain becomes 'plastic' similarly to what water does to clay. Therefore, to change our brains faster for longer, it comes down to both motivation and effort.
*Epigenetics is proving to be another field of exciting development for psychology. We know that all of us are who we are from the affects of both nature (genetics) and nurture (what happens to us). Recent science, through fMRI scanning shows that we can actually turn some genes on and some off by controlling our thoughts on a specific thought. Unfortunately not all genes can be used in this way, we can't 'think' ourselves taller or to grow more hair!
*A team of engineers and physicians at the University of Southern California (USC) have recently discovered that mood variations can be decoded from neural signals in the human brain and thus by using this code, the goal is to create a technology that helps clinicians obtain a more accurate map of what is actually happening in a depressed brain at a particular moment in time. By obtaining a more objective assessment of our mood over time to guide a more directed course of treatment.
*Researchers have identified a new process in the brain that is responsible for the delayed stress response and the long-term effects of stress: with a delay of 10 minutes after the "danger" occurred, the area of the brain that reacts to stress and responsible for further action is activated via cerebral (brain) fluid. This could provide new perspectives for understanding the processes at play in post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic stress and burnout.
*Researchers are recognising more and more that the intestinal microbiota (gut microbes) affects our health. The human intestine contains tens of trillions of microorganisms and humans have developed a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria. Studies show that the intestinal microbes also influences the brain. By transferring specific microbes from the gut of a person who has had depression may help immunise others from depression. (Transferring faeces may work the same way...)
So what do all of these 'new' and encouraging discoveries, developments, and confirmations mean for the future? If we continue to advance the way that we are, brain diseases and disorders may well become less frequent and when they do occur, they can be healed much faster.
Something that is common with all of these studies that is overwhelmingly obvious, we are discovering, developing and confirming what we have always known - eating a balanced diet, exercising at least four times a week, reducing harmful habits, and having a balanced lifestyle will help us all. Furthermore, if we bring enthusiasm and effort into the mix, we increase the chances of a positive outcome.
Finally, let's not forget the huge benefits of socialisation, of talking with real people in real life. Socialisation is hardwired into us all.