Christy Van Arragon and Joshua Leo look at an experiment done by a BBC television program. How easy is it to see if a person has a mental health problem?
Hello and welcome to Spotlight. I'm Christy Van Arragon.
And I'm Joshua Leo. This programme uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
Today's Spotlight is about a TV show. It asks an interesting question: how insane are you?
Groups of people sit in the room of a small hotel. A man with a microphone appears at one end of the room. He explains to the people what is going to happen during the evening. A number of people will each talk for five minutes in front of everyone. The aim is to tell stories and make people laugh. These people then appear one by one. All of them look very worried! But everyone claps to encourage them. And each of the people manages to perform well.
This event was from a BBC television programme. It is called "How Mad Are You?" Its aim was this: to explore the line separating mental sickness from ‘normal' mental behaviour. The programme producers invited ten people to stay in a large country house for one week. Five of the people had experienced mental health problems at some point in their lives. The other five people had no record of mental sickness at all.
During the week, mental health experts organized a series of tests for the ten visitors to perform. They designed each test to cause a particular kind of mental reaction. For example, the test where people told stories and tried to make people laugh. This test shows if anyone has social anxiety disorder - a fear of people. Somebody with this condition becomes worried if he is surrounded by a crowd. He may start to shake. He may produce a lot of sweat - just as if he had been doing hard exercise. And he would have a strong desire to run away.
Cameras recorded each of these tests - and how each person reacted. Then, three different mental health experts watched the recordings in secret. They had to use their expert knowledge and experience to make a difficult decision. They had to discover which five people had mental problems - and which ones did not. They did not know anything about the ten people - except for what they saw on the film.
At the end of the week, the mental health experts finally met the people they had been watching. And, they told them what they had decided. They asked to see one of them - a young man called Dan. They told Dan that they believed he suffered from OCD - obsessive/compulsive disorder. This mental condition makes a person experience unwelcome thoughts and fears. It is hard for the person to control these thoughts. So someone with OCD may repeat a particular action many times during the day. This is to try and calm the fear. The experts had noticed that Dan spent a lot of time washing after one of the tests - cleaning a cow shed. He hated being dirty. Dan told the experts that they were right! But Dan did not feel any shame at having a mental health problem. He said:
"I am proud to have OCD. OCD is part of who I am. It is part of my character."
The health experts then explained their second choice - a woman called Alex. They had noticed her during another test. This test dealt with people's ideas about their body image. The group used a camera to take pictures of each other. They were all wearing close-fitting clothes. Later, they saw the same pictures on a computer. But the pictures had been changed to make each person's body look bigger. Each person then had to use the computer to correct the picture. Each had to estimate what was his or her correct body size. The result was that everyone over-estimated their size. But Alex over-estimated more than most. She thought that she was 30 percent bigger than she truly was. And this signalled something important to the mental health experts. They believed that Alex had experienced some kind of eating disorder in her life. They were right! Alex told them about suffering from anorexia:
"I was 14 when I think I had thoughts that I was too fat. I actually stopped eating. I lost nearly 30 kilogrammes in about a year and a half. I never stopped feeling hungry - everyone told me I was going to die."
Finally, Alex knew that if she did not try to improve her situation, then she would die. She agreed to go to the hospital. She accepted help to try and learn how to eat healthily. And since that time her health has greatly improved. She said:
"I like the fact that I do not show any signs of anorexia now. I think that shows that I am healthy in mind and body."
So, the mental health experts made two correct choices. This left them with three more people to find. But, they got it wrong! They chose two people who had never had any mental health problems. And the final person they guessed did have a mental condition - but not the one they thought. Finally, the three people with mental problems came forward. First, there was Yasmin. She had suffered from depression. Next, there was Kamili. He had social anxiety disorder. And third, Stuart. He suffered from Bipolar disorder. Yasmin, Kamili and Stuart were very happy! Their behaviour did not demonstrate the signs of having mental problems. Yasmin said:
"My worst fear was that people would notice immediately that I have some sort of disorder. But the point of the programme for me was to show people this: it is not easy for people to see that I have had mental health problems. It was amazing!"
Martin Hewlett was one of the experts. He said:
"We were very happy that we got it wrong. It makes a very important point to the public. It helps us to remember that even experts can make mistakes. But it makes a point to everyone else too. You cannot just look at someone and judge them without knowledge. Someone may have mental health problems. But it is not helpful to judge everything they do because of that."
The aim of the BBC's programme was important: to change people's ideas about mental health. It showed that people with mental problems can live normal lives. And it encourages the public to accept people for who they are. What are opinions about mental health like where you live? Write and tell us. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The writer and producer of today's programme was Ruby Jones. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. Our website - www.radioenglish.net - has all our programmes. This programme is called "How Mad Are You?"