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Neuropsychiatry: bridging mind and brain

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Dr Michael Dilley

Chair of the Faculty of Neuropsychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Professor Mark Edwards

Consultant Neurologist

Does it make sense to separate brain and mind? How can understanding the brain help us understand and treat mental illness?

Neuropsychiatry is a specialist area of medicine where psychiatry, neurology and neuroscience meet. Neuropsychiatrists focus on the uniquely complex relationship between the brain and the mind in order to better understand and treat mental illness related to neurological conditions and neurological symptoms that are caused by mental ill health. These can include problems with thinking, emotions, memory or behaviour.

Brain detectives

Neuropsychiatrists are experts in picking apart and identifying the different causes of mental illness associated with brain conditions in order to make a clear diagnosis of the problem. Possible treatments include rehabilitation, psychological therapy and medication, often in combination.

Patients with neurological conditions report that mental illness is among the most difficult problems that they have to deal with. Getting the diagnosis right, explaining what it means, challenging stigma and providing hope for improvement through rehabilitation and treatment can make a real difference.

But despite the clear need for more research and access to specialist assessment and treatment, there are currently only 0.07 neuropsychiatrists per 100,000 people in the UK, compared to 1.1 neurologists per 100,000.

The COVID-19 pandemic: an example of the role of neuropsychiatry

Illnesses such as delirium, brain inflammation, stroke and psychosis have been seen in up to a third of people severely ill with COVID-19. Neuropsychiatry can help assess and treat the sometimes serious psychiatric consequences of this new disease, which has infected millions of people.

Significant physical symptoms can also emerge without any disease or injury in the brain, but instead because of a problem between conscious control of the body and the automatic machinery that allows us to move, think and feel. This problem is known as functional neurological disorder and is an important area of neuropsychiatric treatment, including in relation to COVID-19.

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