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Preventing PTSD; Archaeology and mental health; Organophospates

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 11 December 2012

"Bob", the Armed Forces, the Police and PTSD

A former member of the armed forces and a policeman, "Bob", suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD following the shocking death of a young woman that he was spending the evening with. He tells Claudia Hammond that he's only recently received the help he needed to get his life back on track and admits that he believes many people in the emergency services have, like him, untreated PTSD.

The statistics confirm "Bob's" suspicions, which is why research at Kings College, London, and Oxford University is of such interest. Dr Jennifer Wild and her doctoral student, Rachel White, have discovered that by training people to concentrate on HOW the event is unfolding rather than WHY, significantly fewer PTSD-type symptoms are reported.

Researchers exposed volunteers to traumatic films with visuals of accidents and deaths, but whereas those in the WHY group were encouraged to focus on the abstract, on why such terrible things happen and what it would mean for the people involved and their families, the HOW group was prompted to focus on the specific and objective details of the event without straying into its greater meaning.

The results showed that the WHY group suffered from more intrusive memories, flashbacks and hyper-arousal than the HOW group, suggesting that if emergency workers could be trained to change their thinking, then psychological trauma could be reduced.

Past In Mind

A chance meeting on a train between archaeologist Ian Bapty and Herefordshire MIND worker, Jenny McMillan, led to an unusual collaboration: an archaeological dig to excavate a lost village. The Past In Mind project brought together archaeologists, historians and people recovering from mental health problems on the Lower Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire to search for the lost medieval settlement of Studmarsh. Volunteers made an audio diary for All in the Mind from the dig.


Government advisers on the Committee on Toxicity have been sent a new review on organophosphates which suggests that low level exposure causes damage to the brain and nervous system. Dr Sarah Mackenzie Ross, a neuropsychologist from University College London is one of the authors of the meta-analysis - a systematic review of the best available evidence - and she tells Claudia Hammond that the evidence suggests that people who have been exposed to low levels of organophosphates have impaired cognitive function.

Organophospate pesticides are the most widely used insecticides in the world in agriculture and horticulture. They're also used in industry as lubricants, plasticizers and flame-retardants and pest-control teams use them too.
But it's been known for some time, despite their importance in food production and disease prevention, that in high doses, they damage the brain and the nervous system. What's more controversial is whether there is a risk from low-level exposure to organophosphates, so this latest publication will be of interest to the Committee on Toxicity which is currently reviewing this subject.

Producer: Fiona Hill.



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