“Real stories” to enrich learning: AS and A2 Psychopathology

Young Minds

Thanks to the website of mental health charity Young Minds you can access real stories from a range of young people who have experienced mental health issues. These individuals felt motivated to share their stories to raise awareness of a range of mental health issues and reach out to other young people in similar situations.

For A Level Psychology students these stories could help to bring to life the disorders that students usually read about in textbooks in a clinical manner that tends to result in discussions about a detached “they” rather than a rather more personal “us”.

AS Psychology Unit 2: Psychopathology (abnormality)

Students could use these stories to apply their knowledge of the definitions of abnormality (AQA A) looking for indicators that the individuals behaviour may deviate from social norms, or that they may be failing to function adequately or lacking the criteria required for so-called “ideal” mental health. This could be set as a task to complete outside of the lesson through the website (making sure each student accesses the site will have the added benefit of directing those that might need it to the support on offer). Students could also select stories that they think they could attempt to speculate as to the causes using the different approaches (biological and psychological) to explaining Psychopathology identified in the specification.

A2 Psychology Unit 4: Psychopathology

Schizophrenia, depression, OCD and phobic disorders

The website includes stories relating to depression, schizophrenia (there is a short film for this disorder) and various anxiety disorders on the website which could be used to introduce A2 study of the disorder, the issues with classification and diagnosis, explanations and treatments as per the A2 specification.

The stories contain information about the onset of disorders, diagnosis, treatments applied, as well as hinting at the assumptions made regarding the causes of the disorders by those concerned. The stories also demonstrate the reality that many individuals with mental health issues experience clinical characteristics of more than one disorder which is worth discussing in the context of co-morbidity and making valid and reliable diagnoses.

Analysing and applying

Ask students who are used to analysing the semantics of written text (e.g. English Language students) to model this process, drawing on their knowledge of Psychology, and make clear that analysis is a transferable skill. For example, “Indy’s” story contains this extract:

“One thing the nurse did say that stuck with me though was “depression is like a broken arm; if you break it, you go to a doctor to fix it and then sooner or later it starts working again.”” [http://www.youngminds.org.uk/for_children_young_people/real_stories/434_indys_story]

Students might suggest that the nurse was taking a biological stance suggesting that a medical doctor would cure or “fix” the depression just as a physical disorder would be treated. Students might consider that the inclusion of this comment indicates that the girl found this poignant and perhaps comforting in some way. This is relevant because the biological approach often is regarded as patient-friendly as it attributes no blame to the patient or their family, and may to an extent reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorders.

“I used to describe my depression as constant rain in my head and now the sun has come back. It’s not that it won’t rain again, it’s just that next time I know how to protect myself.” [http://www.youngminds.org.uk/for_children_young_people/real_stories/434_indys_story]

Although the treatment referred to in the story is biological (anti-depressants) the final paragraph (quoted above) in the story suggests that the individual employed other coping methods. The idea that she can “protect” herself and identify early signs are consistent with a cognitive approach to the disorder.


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