Students Study Brain Science to Better Understand Mental Health

Photos by Jess Newell


Dr. Mariah Goodall Brain Science Class

When Dr. Mariah Goodall asked students in her Brain Science course to tap into their creative side for a project, they were happy to oblige. Listening to lectures, reading materials, watching videos, and then reinforcing that knowledge with a hands-on art project is a hallmark of Mind Brain Education (MBE) practice and leads to much higher outcomes of knowledge retention and understanding. 

Erika Lee ’21 presents her clay model of a neuron to Dr. Goodall for review.

“Personally I am a visual and kinaesthetic learner when it comes to learning in general, no matter what the subject,” explains Erika Lee ’21, (pictured right with Dr. Goodall). “It is very helpful when it comes to the intricate details about structures of the human body and brain.”3

Students created clay models of a basic neuron and the synapse to depict neurotransmission, a project which will serve as a foundation for the next topic: the specific functions of brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, and lengthy conversations about mental health and what the neuroscience field currently understands from mapping out brain activity in order to better understand and treat mental illness and disorders.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people ages 10-19 years, and half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, with the majority of cases going undetected and untreated. Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents, and suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds.” 

Indeed, The 2021 State of Mental Health America reported that “youth mental health is worsening with 9.7% of American youth experiencing severe major depression, with the rate being highest amount youth who identify as more than one race, at 12.4% The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.”

At Gunston, understanding mental health is woven into the curriculum. In addition to the topics of cognition and emotion, lessons in etiology guide students to understand the underlying causes of learning and mental health challenges such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression among others. A project-based course, Brain Science examines the cognitive basis of human nature and explores the answers to questions such as how does the mind work? How does the brain support the mind? How do internal and external environments act upon the brain to produce perceptions, control bodily functions and generate behaviors? 

“Brain Science was added as a new course in the science department just this year,” said Assistant Head of School Christie Grabis. “It evolved from our intention to redesign and reassign our psychology offering, which has been taught for years as a social science elective in the history department. Gunston’s extensive work and training in MBE philosophy led us to the conclusion that it was time to make an adjustment where we move away from teaching psychology primarily as an examination of personal adjustment behaviors and toward taking a scientific approach to the study of the brain and its connections to mental processes and behaviors.”

“Students learn about the process of learning, making memories, emotions, basic principles of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neurochemistry, along with the methods we use to study these areas to develop an understanding of how these biological factors underlie human brain function,” explains Dr. Goodall.