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When we refer to mental illnesses, we are really describing diseases of the brain. Diseases of the brain are similar to other medical illnesses in which an important body organ system is not working properly or at full capacity. There are many instances where organ dysfunction results in human disease. For example, in congestive heart failure, chambers of the heart are enlarged and do not contract properly. As a consequence, blood is not circulated effectively throughout the body. By knowing what an organ does for our body, we can better understand what happens when that organ does not operate properly.

The human brain is very complex and scientists are just beginning to appreciate and understand its many functions. To understand why people develop mental illnesses, it may be helpful to learn a little bit about how the brain works.

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I. The Brain and How it Works