The Differences Between Neurological And Psychiatric Illness

The terms “neurological disease” and “psychiatric illness” are often used interchangeably and there are even many experts who consider that there are no real differences between both types of disorder.

In this article we will describe the differences and similarities between neurological and psychiatric diseases.

What are neurological diseases?

Neurology is the branch of medicine that deals with the study of the anatomy, functions and organic alterations of the nervous system This discipline is largely based on the contributions of neuroscience, which is defined as the study of the nervous system as a whole and draws on methods such as cellular analysis and neuroimaging.

When talking about neurological diseases, we are generally referring to any type of disorder that involves the nervous system, regardless of its causes or symptoms. Therefore, it is a very broad term that can be used for phenomena as different as insomnia and Korsakoff syndrome.

There are many different types of neurological diseases. These can be classified based on different criteria; If we are guided by the location of the alterations, one of the most common, we find neurological disorders that affect the brain, the spinal cord, the cranial nerves, the peripheral nerves or the autonomic nervous system.

Some illustrative examples of the disorders that are usually categorized as neurological diseases are dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders, neuropathies, epilepsy or behavioral disorders caused by brain lesions, such as aphasia (affecting language) and apraxia (associated with movement planning).

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The causes of neurological diseases are as varied as their manifestations Among the most common are genetic alterations, nerve injuries due to external causes, infections, vascular disorders and factors related to lifestyle such as malnutrition or excessive consumption of certain compounds.

Psychiatric illnesses or mental disorders

The concept “psychiatric illness” can be considered equivalent to that of “mental disorder.”, which predominates in the field of psychology, with which psychiatry overlaps in a very significant (and often problematic) way. It is used to talk about alterations related to external behavior or what we know as “mind.”

Psychiatry is the specialty of medicine that is responsible for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of mental disorders or illnesses. Unlike psychology, it specializes specifically in pathology; In this sense it is very close to clinical psychology, although psychiatrists can prescribe pharmacological treatments.

This discipline has been even more questioned than psychology for its conception and management of mental problems. Perspectives critical of psychiatry deny the social labeling that derives from medical diagnoses, the rigidity of this type of procedures and the medicalization of non-pathological interindividual differences.

Psychiatric illnesses can be due to both organic and environmental causes ; For example, traits such as neuroticism, which predisposes to the development of anxiety disorders, are largely determined by genetic factors, although stress and other psychosocial variables (for example, substance abuse) are also essential.

Among the so-called mental disorders we can highlight disorders such as schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, anorexia and bulimia nervosa, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia and bipolar disorder. As we see, some of them can also be categorized as neurological diseases.

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Differences and similarities between these types of alteration

In general, there is a tendency to understand psychiatry and neurology as complementary sciences. Thus, both would share an interest in many disorders, although each of them would deal specifically with some and would place a different emphasis on the analysis of the manifestations of the alterations and their neurophysiological correlates.

However, there are those who consider that the syndromes we refer to as “psychiatric illnesses” are simply neurological disorders whose anatomical and physiological features have not been fully identified at the moment. From this perspective, psychiatry would not be necessary but an example of atavistic body-mind dualism.

David and Nicholson (2015) deny this idea and propose that the basic difference between neurology and psychiatry is that the latter focuses on behaviors and mental contents such as thoughts, perceptions and emotions, while neurology deals with preferential form of the organic basis of disorders.

Along the same lines, Baker et al. (2002) warned that neurology should be cautious, although they stated that psychiatry would equally benefit from the knowledge obtained by neuroscience. According to the authors, Mental health cannot be reduced to its neuroanatomical correlates ; Each of these sciences would, therefore, have its own area of ​​specialization.