The Brain’s Role in Teen Mental Health Treatment

There is more and more research that indicates a healthy brain plays an essential role in teen mental health treatment.

Teen Mental Health Treatment

For instance, researchers are beginning to see that the shapes of certain parts of the brain are different among those who have Bipolar Disorder, for instance, versus those who don’t. Another example is the way that the amygdala functions differently in those that have mental illness. There are four parts of the brain that significant in research and have their influence on mental health. They are:

Cerebral Hemispheres – The left and right hemispheres make up the part of the brain that are uniquely human. They are responsible for collecting information, processing, making connections, generating thought, and controlling emotions. When there are problems with parts of the cerebral hemispheres, there is likely mental illness. For instance, when the amygdala, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex are impaired, so is the mental health of that individual.

Thalamus and Hypothalamus – These two parts of the brain are small but significant. They regulate important levels of functioning, such as sleep and body temperature. The thalamus is responsible for the messages received by the senses and then delivers it to the cerebral hemispheres for processing. It is also responsible for our experience of consciousness, sleep, and alertness. The hypothalamus regulates temperature, hunger, thirst, and energy cycles.

Brain Stem – This part of the brain regulates daily life functions such as breathing and the functioning of the heart. It also plays a role in our experience of reward and pleasure and is significant in the experiences of mania and addiction.

Cerebellum – This is sometimes known as the little brain in that it also has two sides that communicate between one another. This part of the brain regulates coordination, movement, posture, and balance.


Another essential part of the brain and significant to healthy psychology is the network of neurons. This large network in the brain allows cells to communicate with one another, carrying signals back and forth between the brain and the rest of the body. Research points to the fact that a healthy psyche means the ability for that network of neurons to change.

As the human being grows and learns, and this is especially true for teens, neurons form connections that can last a lifetime. However, a healthy brain is one that can be plastic, adaptable, and continue to change with its environment. The adolescent brain is undergoing incredible growth. Neurons are wiring and new connections between the two hemispheres of the brain are forming.  This kind of growth and connection forming is in an explosive time during adolescence. If the brain can continue to be plastic, that is if new neural connections can continue to form and if old ones can be released, this is can support healthy brain function and mental health. These neural connections and adaptability are important in a person’s learning, behavior, and mood regulation.

Malfunctions in the Brain 

When there are malfunctions in the brain and in this network of neurons due to either drug use, for example, mental illness is often a result. For instance, the rush of dopamine that cocaine releases when a teen chooses to ingest it is dangerous, leading to permanent alterations in the way the brain processes dopamine in the future.  According to research, this also means that because of these permanent changes in the way a teen responds to dopamine, he or she is more vulnerable to cocaine addiction later in the life as well as addiction to other drugs that stimulate the release of dopamine.


Drug use is not the only danger to the developing teenage brain. Other conditions such as genetics, environmental circumstances, or trauma can influence the functioning of the brain. The way the brain functions has a significant role in the quality of our health, both physical and psychological. Research continues to investigate this relationship in order to better the understanding and treatment of mental illness.



Fink, C. & Kraynak J. (2013). Bipolar disorder for dummies. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.