Tackling Mental Health with a Psychologist and College Quarterback

What do you think of when you hear the words “mental health?” For many people, there’s a stigma attached to depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, or any other form of mental illness, but these illnesses are real, and they are widespread. Luckily, more and more people are raising their voices to talk about their experiences with mental illness. You probably first heard of one such BYU student in September 2015 when he threw a Hail Mary to secure BYU’s victory over Nebraska, featured on ESPN. In an April 2017 Instagram post, “Miracle Mangum,” this year’s starting quarterback Tanner Mangum, spoke out about his struggles with depression and anxiety.

Now, a new CBS Sports video features the quarterback as he discusses more about his mental health. Dr. Michael Larson, a clinical neuropsychologist from FHSS‘s Psychology Department, appears in the video to elaborate on the science of mental illness. “Most mental illness tends to start between the ages of 18 and 24,” Dr. Larson says. It often manifests itself as young adults move away from home and live on their own for the first time.


Dr. Larson also addressed the myths that learning to “toughen up” or realizing “it’s just in your head” will cure mental illness. “The truth is that depression and anxiety have actual changes in the brain that are associated with these mental illnesses,” he explained.

Depression and anxiety may result from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and social factors, according to the American Psychological Association. And mental illness may occur if there are problems with the function of a particular brain region or as neurons send messages via neurotransmitters, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Office offers many resources and services to students with mental illnesses, and our Comprehensive Clinic provides counseling and therapy to members of the community dealing with mental illness. The office lets students make appointments with counselors, complete online courses on stress management, and enroll in student development classes, among other things.

Has mental illness affected you? How can friends and family members support individuals with mental illness?

Let us know in the comments, and don’t hesitate to share resources or tips.

New Faculty Member Dr. Derin Cobia Studies Mental Illness and the Brain

Cobia_DerinWhen Derin Cobia first came to BYU as student, he didn’t think he would end up studying the human brain. Through the help of one professor, his life changed directions. Now, thirteen years later, he’s back, and in the same position as his mentor. As his life was enriched, so is Dr. Cobia enriching others: through research that has the potential to aid countless individuals.   

 

 

 

Mental Illness and the Brain

Cobia is focused on mental illness, primarily schizophrenia and dementia, and its causes. He studies what factors lead to symptom variance, and what tools the brain uses to combat these diseases.

brain snip
These pictures show the areas of the brain most affected by schizophrenia. The brighter areas are places where the strongest amount of variance in relation to healthy brains occur.

He has found that different people react to the same illnesses in differing ways; some might feel the symptoms very strongly, others might not. The focal point of Dr. Cobia’s research on dementia has been PPA, or Primary Progressive Aphasia. This differs from traditional dementia in that the patient loses their language capabilities, yet remains cognitively sound.

Dr. Cobia’s research and findings possess significant implications. While he himself, not being a medical doctor, cannot produce treatments for mental illness, his studies will assist others in doing so. Other researchers can potentially use his findings to facilitate clinical studies that may eventually result in treatments.

The Importance of a Mentor

Dr. Cobia credits Dr. Erin Bigler, one of our psychology professors, for galvanizing his interest in neuroscience. It was Dr. Bigler who taught him about brain functions and other principles of neurology. About the organ, Dr. Cobia says: “I can’t think of anything more interesting.”

Dr. Cobia was hired as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology recently. He graduated in 2003 with a BS in Psychology, and later obtained a masters and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of St. Louis. He went on to become a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern, and then a neuropsychologist with the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation. While there, he was promoted the positions of Associate Director of Education and Clinical Training and Assistant Professor at the Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He held those jobs concurrently.

Of his return to his alma mater, he says that “BYU feels like home… [It] is my tribe.” More importantly, though, he looks forward mentoring a new generation of scientists and to pay back the university for the education he was given.