Monday, February 14, 2011

Brains need love too

I recently saw the new ad campaign from the institute where I work (the Douglas Institute), ‘Brains need love too’. Seeing as the campaign touches on brain awareness-related topics (including the brain's involvement in psychiatric illness), as well as today being Valentine’s Day, I thought it deserved sharing. The video is extremely open-ended, with the actual message of the campaign open to the interpretation of the viewer, at least until they visit the campaign’s web site. Here are the initial interpretations I took away from it:

- Psychiatric conditions are neurobiologically based, as implied with the opening shots of brains labelled by psychiatric diagnosis. I’m assuming the reasoning behind this is that it has traditionally been believed that stigma against mental illness could be ameliorated in the general public if it was more widely known that mental illness is fundamentally due to the structure and function of the brain itself, as opposed to any personal weakness of afflicted persons themselves. Although it’s noble to attempt to combat stigma by replacing popular misconceptions with fact, however, recent studies showing that stigma against mental illness persists even in the face of improvement of the public’s understanding of the origins of mental illness sadly cast doubt on the effectiveness of this particular strategy.

- People are more than their labels, another anti-stigma message. Outside of its labelled container, the brain reveals it’s capable of experiencing life just like anyone else.

- Take care of your brain, not meant as an anti-stigma message but more of a suggestion that all of our brains, well, ‘need love too’. Speaking of which, Brain Awareness Week is coming up in the near future, so get involved if you need some spring brain-awareness-lovin’. I’m assuming the figurative message here is to be aware that your brain needs care, if not by skateboarding and psychedelic brain-tossing, then by nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, paying attention to your mental and emotional functioning, and not-sniffing-glue-or-opening-doors-with-your-head-or-something. They’re pretty vague on this one.

Overall, it’s charming and cute, and I like the bold approach of using real (albeit calf) brains up-close and bloody to show that something that may seem disquieting to us (in this case, a bloody brain) is capable of experiencing cognition, emotions and the world around us. Similarly, although mental illness can be disquieting to those with a stigma against it, psychiatric patients are fully capable of these same experiences. Also, regarding the brain images, I feel obligated to point out that we’re talking about something we’ve all got, which is processing this sentence right now within your own head, and while you don’t necessarily have to realize how cool that is, you should at least try to get over your squeamishness over the look of your own brain. It is, after all, what ‘you’ really look like.

It’s a bit difficult to determine the overarching message of the campaign from the 62-second ad alone; it does seem to be necessary to go to the campaign website for clarification, where there’s a slightly vague description urging people to take care of their brains and, more usefully, a list of diverse resources for information on the brain as well as psychiatric disorders and treatment. However, despite this it’s a well-produced and genuinely endearing ad. So go love your brain.

-Ian Mahar

(Adapted from a post previously appearing here)

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