There are two terms which are frequently used interchangeably, they are “Psychiatric Illness” and “Neurological Disease”. There is such a confusion about each of of these terms and their meaning to the point where some experts have agreed there is no difference between one and the other. Here I will try to explain some of the characteristics which differentiate one from the other.
Neurological Disease…. Neurology is a branch of medicine which deals with anatomy, the nervous system, its functions and its organic alterations. Neurology is based largely on Neuroscience; which many of you may know, is the study of the nervous system as a whole and uses methods such as cellular analysis and neuroimaging. Neurological Disease is a very broad term usually referring to any type of disorder involving the nervous system regardless of its causes or symptoms.
There are many different type of neurological diseases which can be classified according to various criteria: If we use the location of the alterations as point of reference, then we find neurological disorders which affect the brain, the cranial nerves, the spinal cord, the autonomic nervous system or the peripherals. Some examples which would qualify as Neurological diseases are: Dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders such as Epilepsy or behavioral disorders caused by brain injury such as Aphasia (which affects speech) and Apraxia (which affects movements).
The causes of neurological diseases are as varied as their manifestations; among the most common are genetic alterations, nerve injuries due to external factors, infections, vascular disorders and life style factors (nutrition or excessive consumption of certain compounds).
Psychiatric Illness…Psychiatry is the branch of medicine which specializes and is responsible for the diagnoses, prevention and treatment of mental disorders or mental illnesses. Unlike Psychology it specializes mostly on pathology. Psychiatry is no very different than Psychology with the exemption that psychiatrists can prescribe pharmacological treatments. The concept of Psychiatric illness is considered the equivalent of a Mental Disorder predominantly found in the branch of Psychology. Psychiatric illness is used to refer to alterations found within our external behavior or what we refer to as “mind”. Both these branches often overlap each other in a very significant yet at times problematic way. Psychiatry however has been questioned even more than psychology due to its management of mental problems.
Psychiatry illnesses can be due to both organic and environmental factors, for example: Neuroticism which predisposes to the development of anxiety disorders is largely determined by genetic factors, however stress and other psychosocial variables are also fundamental. Among mental disorders we can highlight Dissociative Identity Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Anorexia. Among some of its illnesses we can point out Schizophrenia, Psychopathy among others. Some of these can also be categorized under Neurological Diseases.
Differences and Similarities…Generally Psychiatry and Neurology tend to be seen as two sciences which compliment each other. They share the same interest in many disorders; although each of them deals specifically with some and would focus differently in the analysis of their manifestations/alterations and their neurophysiological factors. Some experts believe some syndromes psychologists refer as Psychiatric illness are simply neurological disorders which anatomical and physiological features have not yet been properly identified at this time; personally I agree with them. This does not mean that Psychiatry/Psychology are not be necessary. Personally I believe they would both benefit from each other; Psychology would benefit from the Knowledge gained by Neuroscience while neurology would benefit from Psychology’s focus on behavior/mental contents such as thoughts, perceptions and emotions.
The fusion of these two disciplines have given rise to Neuro Linguistic Programming, which is revolutionizing the way we approach our psyche and our brain. Where this branch will take us still remains to be seen, so far however the integration of Neuro Linguistic Programming to the branch of Psychology has been mostly beneficial for many people who have gone for years without finding a way out of their pain.