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The mind unravelling

Kirsty Wark with the evolutionary psychiatrist Randolph Nesse, neuropsychologist AK Benjamin and poet George Szirtes.

How far does evolution explain mental health? The psychiatrist Randolph Nesse tells Kirsty Wark that negative emotions make sense in certain situations but can become excessive. He argues that positioning disorders in light of natural selection helps explain the ubiquity of human suffering - and may help in finding new paths for relieving it.

The neuropsychologist AK Benjamin investigates the boundaries of sanity and madness in his book, Let Me Not Be Mad. Through a series of consultations with patients, he explores the mind unravelling at the seams. But the question remains whether this unravelling mind belongs to the doctor or the patient.

The poet George Szirtes looks at the damaging impact of international events on a single family, in his memoir of his mother Magda. The Photographer At Sixteen follows Magda from her teenage life in Hungary, through political uprisings, internment in two concentration camps and transition to life in England. He explores the effect of an unravelling world on a family's mental health.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Available now

42 minutes

Randolph Nesse

Randolph Nesse is a founder of the field of evolutionary medicine. He served for many years as Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology and Research Professor at the University of Michigan. He is currently the Founding Director of the Centre for Evolution & Medicine at Arizona State University.

Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry is published by Allen Lane

AK Benjamin

A K Benjamin is a Clinical Neuropsychologist, specialising in diagnostics and acute rehab. Previously he was a screenwriter, has spent two years as a contemplative monk and has worked at a number of NGOs, with homeless addicts, with gangs and with children with acquired and congenital neurological conditions.

Let Me Not Be Mad – A Story of Unravelling Minds is published by Vintage

George Szirtes

George Szirtes is a poet, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Man Booker International Prize-winning translator from Hungarian of works by László Krasznahorkai.

The Photographer at Sixteen is published by Quercus