Can A Mental Health Diagnosis Be Just A Symptom of Another Bigger Issue In The Body?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

After over 150,000 functional SPECT brain scans, Dr. Daniel Amen knows the brain. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Amen and Tana discuss one of the main lessons learned from all these scans, which is how a mental health condition may merely be a symptom of a different, larger issue in the brain or body.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit
Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're talking about the X factor. The big lessons I've learned from imaging. And we stopped with all psychiatric disorders are not one thing. And in the book, I actually tell a story of two 15 year old murderers. Kip Kinkel, who murdered his mom and dad and then he went to his high school in Springfield, Oregon and shot 25 people.
Tana Amen: This is just way too common now.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And based on my work, they scanned him at Oregon Health Sciences University and they presented the scans a part of his trial. Not to get him off, but to try to just understand why he did what he did. And then I compare his scan, which was severely damaged. I mean, it's horrifying how low in activity it was for a 15 year old. It would've been bad if he was 100. I mean, it was really toxic, traumatic looking scan.
Then I compared it to another 15 year old who murdered his mother and his eight year old sister. And what happens is one had really seriously low blood flow in their brain. The other one had seriously high blood flow in their brain. Much like somebody who might have bipolar disorder had. And so you take the same symptom clusters, aggression, murder, and they have wildly different patterns.
Now, would you do the same thing?
Tana Amen: They do.
Dr. Daniel Amen: They do. But it's insane.
Tana Amen: That's the short answer is that's what they do.
Dr. Daniel Amen: That's what they do. And it's just not right. So the third lesson, looking at the brain just it decreases stigma, increases compliance, and completely changes the discussion around mental health. This is what we talked about earlier. What if mental health was really brain health and when you look at the brain you go, "Oh, these are brain health issues. They're not mind issues."
Tana Amen: Like even in the story I told in the last podcast of my experience with a psychiatrist and why it made me kinda hate psychiatry. My own issue, if someone had explained to me, "Oh, by the way, you're going to have brain issues when you go through this thyroid problem you have. You have thyroid cancer, and when we go through the treatments, you're gonna have problems."
Dr. Daniel Amen: When you take away thyroid.
Tana Amen: I would have seen the entire process differently. Right? I would have seen it as a physical problem. I wouldn't have thought I'm going crazy. Do you see what I'm saying? That is so different.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Absolutely do. Looking at the brain improves outcomes. It helps people get better faster. It changes the discussion about good or evil and I know you and I have had that discussion a lot.
Tana Amen: Oh, over, and over, and over.
I do believe there is evil in the world.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Someone sent me this. The lyrics from Phil Ochs' song, There But For Fortune.
Show me a prison, show me a jail, show me a prisoner whose face has gone pale. And I'll show you a young man with so many reasons why. And there but for fortune, may go you or I.
It's way more complicated than most people think.
Tana Amen: I agree. I still do believe there's evil in the world though.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I do. But I would never call someone evil unless I could look at their brain.
Tana Amen: And that is where ... So that is one thing that your work ... Our work has ... That's one place it has given me pause for thought. Is the other place where it is really ... Because when you grow up with the life like I had, you tend to get a little bit like this needs to ... You need to stop. That's it. So you've given me pause for thought.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Sort of the same thing as kill the bastard.
Tana Amen: Oh, absolutely.
You do something truly evil and it's like ... But not so much anymore, okay? There's pause for thought. The other ... Let me tell you even more than that. Beyond that, where I really am passionate about what we do is the hope that it brings in prevention and getting treated early. And when you see the signs, I just am passionate about getting the word out there. And having people understand before it happens. There are signs. People know the signs. Well all of these shootings that we've been seeing, the signs were there. These people were trying to get help. So if we can get that word out and we can get this ... We can see their brains, we can figure out what's going on sooner. That's what gives me ... That's why I'm passionate.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So if the things we've talked about. The brain things, the mind things, the attachment things, inspiration, food are not working for you, someone should be looking at your brain because how do you know unless you look and-
Tana Amen: Otherwise, we continue with this ... This is why I love what we do. Otherwise we continue with this crazy cycle that hasn't worked. It's not worked forever. We continue with the stigma of if you see a psychiatrist you're crazy. You have a high likelihood of getting the wrong treatment so people don't go. Or they go and they get the wrong treatment and they do something really awful. And then you have people in society like me who are like, "Yeah, not gonna happen." And so we have to be harsh. And so this cycle is insanity. It hasn't worked. It's not working. We've got to do something better. There's a better answer. That's why I love what we do.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And the answer is to do things that help you feel better now and later versus now and not later.
One of the stories I talk about in the book just breaks my heart every time I think about it. Jason was 19 years old and Madeline ... Madeline loved ... Jessica loved him back. And then one day he got into a bike accident where his front tire hit the curb and he flew over the handlebars and landed on the left side of his head. And he had a brief loss of consciousness and the emergency room doctor was too busy to say much except he had a mild concussion and they should watch him for a couple of days. Within a month, his behavior changed. No one related to the concussion. Jason became negative angry, obsessively jealous. Unlike behavior he had before, Jessica got afraid and broke up with him. And Jason went into this really bad tailspin we talked about under attachments. When you have a break in your relationship ... I know if you go away, I'm going to get crazy. I already know that. I've predicted it. It's one of the reasons I'm super nice to you. And he just couldn't stop thinking about her. And three months later she had a new boyfriend. And when Jason found out, he went over to the house, tied up the boyfriend, and sexually assaulted Jessica.
Police were called and he was gonna kill himself because he'd already had serious suicidal thoughts. And ultimately he was taken into custody and the defense attorney called me and said, "I have this kid and he had a bad bike accident. Can you scan him?" And he had very clear left temporal lobe damage, which is an area of the brain that's often associated with violence. He also had an OCD pattern in his brain. So violence, trouble letting go of negative thoughts. I actually changed his ... I put him on medication to balance his brain while he was in jail waiting the trial. But the judge, when I testified, didn't believe in any of this new neuroscience nonsense. He was running for re-election in a get tough on crime city. And he basically dismissed my testimony and sentenced him to 11 years. And I wanted them to send him to a place where he could get help. And when he got to prison, the psychiatrist in prison didn't believe in any of this new neuroscience nonsense. Which is rampant among psychiatrist. They don't believe imaging adds any useful information. So actually figuring out how your brain works, many psychiatrists, they call me crazy when in fact-
Tana Amen: So wait, what you're telling me is that they're disconnecting brain function with your psychology?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.
Tana Amen: Dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So they're with Freud in 1895. Because Freud was a neurologist and Freud actually-
Tana Amen: You mean the coke head.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes, Freud had issues with cocaine.
Tana Amen: A little bit.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But he was very smart. And he tried to come up with a project for a scientific psychology.
Tana Amen: The one who thinks all women have penis envy?
Dr. Daniel Amen: No, he doesn't think all women have penis envy.
Anyways, in 1895, he writes the brain science of my time is not up to the task of explaining patient symptoms. And so most psychiatrists still believe that. But after 150,000 scans, it absolutely can help you understand your patient's symptoms. But when Jason went to prison, on my cocktail of medications that were working for him, he didn't believe in any of this new neuroscience nonsense and he took him off of of it and labeled him as a sociopath even though he didn't meet the criteria for anti-social. Because he had not one anti-social bone in his body before the head injury. And he took him off his medication. Four months later, Jason hung himself. And I'm still horrified by it. Because how do you justify being a medical professional that never looks at the organ you treat? And that's the insanity that we here at Amen clinics are trying to change. Because it's not right. And we need to change that.
When we come back, we're gonna talk about more of the lessons we've learned from looking at 150,000 scans.
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