What you will study
The module is structured as one introductory block, plus three additional topic blocks covering material as described below. Each block comprises of a book and associated multimedia in the form of video and audio excerpts, animations and activities with the assessment linked throughout. All blocks contain case reports illustrating the mental health or ill-health phenomena being studied, and all present evidence enabling you to compare and contrast ways of thinking about mental health, mental ill-health and mental health interventions.
In the introductory block you’ll explore the relationship between mind and body and the idea that mental phenomena have a physiological basis in the brain. You will be introduced to two models of studying and explaining mental health conditions. The first is the biomedical model of mental health. Here, an understanding of brain function is considered to be sufficient for understanding mental health conditions. The second model, the biopsychosocial model, is where the functioning of the brain is considered necessary but only as a factor that interacts with other psychological and social factors.
The over-arching aim of the module is to illustrate how, and why, the biopsychosocial model has emerged as a reaction to the limitations of the biomedical approach with the development of the field of health psychology. Therefore all blocks demonstrate how the biopsychosocial model can be applied to enhance our understanding of mental health and ill-health, both in theory and in mental health care. Throughout all blocks the role of preventive measures to guard against mental ill-health is discussed, as well as the promotion of wellbeing. Consequently the module aims to achieve a balance between a positive and a negative focus.
Block 1: Core concepts in mental health
This block introduces the concepts of mental health and ill-health, and develops your understanding of the link between mind and body (or brain). A study of the biological basis of psychological health and ill-health informs our understanding of the way that drug treatments can be successful at alleviating symptoms. This requires some knowledge of the brain and the way in which different parts of the brain and nervous system communicate with one another. However, the block also presents the idea that a full understanding can only be gained by a parallel consideration of subjective and objective evidence. So both personal narratives and objective evidence are used to gain insight into behavioural distress. At the beginning of the block a number of people are introduced and aspects of their life stories are followed through the block. Theoretical considerations are further augmented by consideration of how diagnoses are made and the range of treatments – both chemical (drugs) and psychological – that are available to those who seek the help of external agencies for treatment for their distress.
Block 2: Mood and wellbeing
Stress, anxiety and depression are commonly experienced conditions that impact on general wellbeing. They are frequently treated by biological (drug) forms of therapy, which raises crucial issues on the nature of brain-mind interdependence. This block explores this issue as well as discussing research into the factors that make us happy and may protect against the development of mood disorders. Our moods vary daily but some people seem to have a naturally sunny disposition while others find it much harder to see the positives that life offers. ‘Life is unfair’, but social and psychological inequalities do not explain every case where an individual moves down the continuum from unhappiness to disabling depression. How might a biopsychosocial approach inform our decision-making for preventing and treating these forms of mental distress?
Block 3: Addictions
This block asks what we mean by the term ’addiction‘ and whether we can truly consider it as a mental health condition. It explores the many forms that addiction can take and asks if we could potentially become addicted to anything that is pleasurable and why we classify certain substances as illegal and not others. The biological basis of addiction illustrates that all forms of addiction activate similar brain pathways. What is the link between the activation of these pathways and altered states of mind? If the activated pathways are the same, why is the subjective experience of smoking tobacco different from taking cocaine? Not everyone who takes addictive substances or indulges in potentially addictive behaviour becomes an addict.
So this block considers the evidence for viewing addiction as a disease, examines the effectiveness of pharmacological treatment strategies for addiction and looks at the alternatives available. It then moves towards a more balanced view of factors impacting on addictive behaviour and how a biopsychosocial viewpoint on addiction (and its treatment strategies) may better inform public health practitioners and policymakers.
Block 4: Dementias
Dementias are a growing problem in our society as people live to a greater age. What changes occur in our cognitive function and capacity as we get older? How can we effectively distinguish normal ageing from the development of dementia? How can we link degeneration of brain structures to cognitive and behavioural changes that occur in various forms of dementia? How much is known about the causes of dementias and, perhaps more importantly, about how to prevent or at least delay their onset? What are the treatment possibilities and what are their theoretical rationales? This block explores the efficacy of emerging psychological and social therapies for dementia and draws direct contrasts with biological treatments, asking whether a biopsychosocial viewpoint brings significant advantages compared to a biomedical viewpoint.
This block also completes the module by returning to our initial idea that the mind has a physiological basis. We ask you to reflect on where this thinking has lead in our perception (and treatment) of mental health. In particular, we ask you to decide what your answers would be to the following two questions:
- What more can we achieve in terms of mental wellbeing and the treatment of mental distress if we think also of psychological and social factors in addition to those that are biological?
- What evidence do we have that a biopsychosocial approach is critical?
This module will appeal to anyone who is curious about the link between mind and brain. In particular to anyone who supports and cares for people with mental distress, whether professionally or as family or a friend.
This module will be attractive to anyone interested in a career in health care, particularly those professions associated with mental health.