Understanding Mental Illness

Mental Illness = Brain Disease

To explain mental Illness, it makes sense to look at other illnesses that affect the human body. Hypertension, also called High Blood Pressure, is a type of disease that increases the blood pressure in the body. This illness is often an inherited disease that is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. This disease can cause symptoms of headaches, fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, and even heart attacks and strokes. Treatment for this disease may include medications, dietary changes, and exercise.

Similarly, cancer is a disease of abnormal tissue growth that leads to tumors that can cause pain, weight loss, organ failure, or even death. Cancers have been found to be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Treatment for cancer includes surgery, medication, and radiation therapies.

Mental illness is a disease that affects the brain. These diseases are caused by a combination of problems with electrical activity and chemical imbalances in parts or circuits of the brain. These illnesses are inherited genetically and often worsened by the stressors of life. Symptoms of brain diseases can include sadness, irritability, anxiety, concentration and memory problems, fatigue, insomnia, and even thoughts of death. The most common types of mental illness are depression and anxiety. However, others such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia are also well known.

Mental illness is NOT a weakness of character or personality that you can overcome by willpower.

This stigma, which has historically been associated with mental illness, has led to many misconceptions that cause people to avoid getting treatment to relieve suffering. Unfortunately, many people avoid treatment for brain illnesses that are affecting their relationships, work, and quality of life.

Consider this…

If you had hypertension (high blood pressure), that caused symptoms which were bothersome, you would seek the care of a doctor or nurse practitioner to get relief. Sometimes the disease can not be controlled, and you might need a specialist, called a cardiologist, so that you can get well. If you had cancer, you may go to see your doctor or nurse practitioner, but if the cancer is particularly aggressive, you would likely be referred to a specialist, an oncologist.

Treating Mental Illness (Brain Disease) 

Brain illnesses are VERY treatable, just like high blood pressure and some cancers. Many and nurse practitioners prescribe medications and therapy for many people with these illnesses. Some patients will not respond to these treatments or may have very aggressive mental illnesses, and will require more specialized care from specialists such as psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners who receive specialized training.

At the NeuroScience & TMS Treatment Center, we have several treatment options we can use, beyond common medications and therapy, to aggressively treat you for brain diseases. Learn more about our treatments and services on our Comprehensive Behavioral Health Page

Blog Post Authors 

Michelle Cochran, MD, DFAPA

Founder & Chief Medical Officer • Medical Director, Nashville Locations

Dr. Cochran has been living and working in the Nashville area for over 25 years. She supervises the skilled Nurse Practitioners who work in our clinics. She has been offering TMS services since 2011 and lectures and consults nationally and internationally about TMS. She is Board Certified and is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. Learn more about Dr. Cochran.


Jonathan Becker, DO

Medical Director, Brentwood Locations

Dr. Becker is a native of Tennessee, born in Memphis. He completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in Developmental Psychology at Tulane University in New Orleans before attending Des Moines University for Medical School. He completed his psychiatry residency program at Vanderbilt University and served as a faculty member there for 7 years before transitioning to our office. While at Vanderbilt, Dr. Becker served as the medical director of the neuromodulation service from 2017-2020. Dr. Becker has also published many psychiatric articles. Learn more about Dr. Becker.

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