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Defining mental illness

Suzanne O’Sullivan, Lucy Foulkes and Sally Holland explore where to draw the line between suffering and illness, with Andrew Marr

Reports of a mental health epidemic among young people both leading up to and during the pandemic are now widespread. Sally Holland is the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and a former social worker. She tells Andrew Marr that mental health services in Wales, and the rest of the UK, need a serious rethink, because too many children are waiting too long for help.

But the health researcher and psychologist Lucy Foulkes asks whether we have become fixated with labelling the stresses and challenges of human experience as a mental disorder. In Losing Our Minds she explains what is known about mental health problems, and why they so often appear during adolescence. But she argues that it’s vitally important to distinguish between ‘normal’ suffering and actual illness.

Defining what is and isn’t an illness is also the subject of Suzanne O’Sullivan’s latest book The Sleeping Beauties – And Other Stories of Mystery Illness. Here the neurologist looks at startling cases of what appear to be psychosomatic illnesses which have infected groups of people – from refugee children in Sweden unable to wake up, to American high school students having seizures, to mass headaches and memory loss in the US embassy in Cuba. O’Sullivan looks at how far these disorders are influenced by societal forces and human biology.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Available now

42 minutes


  • Mon 5 Apr 2021 09:00
  • Mon 5 Apr 2021 21:30