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Making sense of mental health problems
Making sense of mental health problems

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2.2 Scientific advances in understanding mental health problems

In the next activity you will hear about how biomedical research can help us to understand and therefore treat mental health problems.

Activity 3 A medical perspective

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Now watch the video of Dr Thomas Insel talking about biomedical research. Below is a text box for you to record any notes you might wish to make while watching or after watching the talk. One thing you might like to think about is the ethical dilemmas posed by identifying individuals as having a possible psychotic disorder before they display any signs of having a problem.

Once you have watched the video, answer the questions that follow.

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Video 2 Thomas Insel
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Question 1

What percentage of mental health conditions have become established by the age of 24?

a. 

75%


b. 

65%


c. 

55%


d. 

45%


The correct answer is a.

Answer

According to Insel’s figures, 75% of mental disorders have become established by the age of 24.

Question 2

What is the main reason for Thomas Insel drawing attention to psychiatric disorders?

a. 

Because he has a personal interest


b. 

Because they are easy to treat


c. 

Because their treatment lags behind physical disorders


d. 

Because their existence is contested


The correct answer is c.

Answer

Insel points to the successes that medical science has had in tackling conditions such as leukaemia, heart disease, stroke and AIDS. By contrast it has, so far, had little impact on preventing the development of mental health disorders.

Question 3

What is Insel’s preferred term for the mental health problems he is talking about?

a. 

Mental disorders


b. 

Brain disorders


c. 

Behavioural disorders


d. 

Psychiatric disorders


The correct answer is b.

Answer

Insel sees these problems as disorders of the brain.

Question 4

What does Insel see as being the root cause of mental health problems such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in the brain?

a. 

Disruption to synaptic pathways


b. 

Areas of dead tissue


c. 

Chemical imbalances


d. 

Impact of external factors


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Insel believes that it is possible to find differences in the brains of people with disorders that indicate disruption to the synapses, which allow communication between different parts of the brain.

Question 5

What does Insel see as being the root cause of schizophrenia in the brain?

a. 

Disruption to synaptic pathways


b. 

Loss of cortical grey matter


c. 

Chemical imbalances


d. 

Impact of external factors


The correct answer is b.

Answer

Insel says that ‘... you can think about normal development as a loss of cortical mass, loss of cortical grey matter, and what’s happening in schizophrenia is that you overshoot that mark, and at some point, when you overshoot, you cross a threshold’.

Comment

Scientific advances such as those outlined by Dr Thomas Insel offer the possibility of a better understanding of the workings of the brain and of what can go wrong in certain circumstances. However, these advances also raise questions about how to best use the information obtained. For instance, if brain imaging did reveal the likelihood of someone having a psychotic disorder, how sure could the clinician be that the person would go on to develop the disorder and what would be the effect on the person’s life of being told that they were at risk? Medical approaches, in common with other approaches to mental health problems, have to take ethical and practical factors into account when introducing innovations into practice.