Charlotte Church: "In my Brain"
In this hour-long programme singer Charlotte Church turns to presenting, and does an excellent job exploring the latest developments in the understanding of mental health disorders and treatments.
Available on BBC iPlayer: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09pb8rl
At the beginning she poses the questions,
“How much do we really know about the relationship between mental health and our brains?”
“What happens when things go wrong?”
“How effective are current treatments?”
Seeking answers to these questions, Charlotte visits a number of academic institutions engaging in neuroscience and mental health research, where she conducts interviews with clarity, warmth, and well-placed humour.
We are introduced early on to the personal context for Charlotte’s interest in this subject, as we meet her Mum who is described as “battling mental health issues” and Charlotte talks of her wish to try to understand. At intervals throughout the programme we return to Charlotte having tea with her Mum as they chat about her own story.
At our first visit, which is to Imperial College, a demonstration of human brain dissection very clearly demonstrates changes present in degenerative conditions such as Parkinsons.
Charlotte is then given an introduction to the most detailed MRI scanning of the internal wiring of the brain; work conducted at Cardiff University and just beginning to realise its potential for understanding the relationship between brain function and mental health disorders.
Having established that common treatments for depression, such as SSRI’s, fail to work for about one third of patients, and despite the fact that new treatments are very expensive to develop, in her next interview Charlotte learns about pioneering work being conducted at Imperial College. Here the 20 patients with treatment-resistant depression who are taking part in a trial of psillocybin (a derivative of magic mushrooms), are experiencing some very encouraging outcomes.
We go on to discover that at Cambridge University human brain tissue is being successfully grown in the form of organoids, each of which contain 86 billion brain cells, which will be useful for future research purposes.
At the University Hospital of Wales we meet an ex-army major who is involved in a trial of a new form of treatment for PTSD, named 3MDR. In a particularly fascinating scene we watch him undergo a tiring and emotional session involving a treadmill, music, war images and moving numbers. As confusing as that may sound, there are very clear explanations throughout this programme.
The possible link between mental health and the body’s microbiome is being investigated at St Marks hospital in London.
As the programme seeks to explore the “nurture verses nature” debate about causation, Charlotte is recruited by the National Centre for Mental Health in Cardiff which is carrying out a survey of volunteers to study the possibility that there are genetic factors contributing to the risk of schizophrenia. She also undertakes an assessment at Swansea University to determine the level of her digital addiction. Here there is mention of a disturbing finding from their study which suggests exposure to the internet ages peoples cognitive functions.
Whilst the programme doesn’t include any current talking therapies research, there are regular references to the benefits of psychotherapy, counselling and CBT and thus the programme does achieve a balance in describing treatment pathways.
As the programme closes we return once again to the chat between Charlotte and her Mum, and she offers a homely reminder of the simple benefit of a good “cutch” (watch to learn more!).
As a clear and easily accessible insight into some of what is currently being undertaken to increase the understanding of mental health difficulties and potential treatments, I highly commend the programme.
It is available on BBC iPlayer: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09pb8rl
Clare Nichols (Family counsellor)