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The science of the mind: investigating mental health

To what extent can we understand mental wellbeing and treat mental health conditions such as depression and dementia by focusing on the brain and its functioning? This module presents and challenges the medical model of mental health with its reliance on drug treatment, contrasting it with ideas in the field of health psychology. You will learn from case reports of those who have a mental health condition and those who care for them, as well as from relevant research studies. The module has an emphasis on understanding different approaches within psychology, as well as the nature of evidence for and against these approaches.

If you are considering progressing to Preparing for graduate practice (KYN317), you must have normally completed Principles and skills for nursing practice (KYN237) and Exploring perspectives on health and illness (KYN238), and either this module or Human biology (SKYN277 or SK277).

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

The module is structured as one introductory block, plus three additional topic blocks covering material as described below. Each block comprises of a book and associated multimedia in the form of video and audio excerpts, animations and activities with the assessment linked throughout. All blocks contain case reports illustrating the mental health or ill-health phenomena being studied, and all present evidence enabling you to compare and contrast ways of thinking about mental health, mental ill-health and mental health interventions.

In the introductory block you’ll explore the relationship between mind and body and the idea that mental phenomena have a physiological basis in the brain. You will be introduced to two models of studying and explaining mental health conditions. The first is the biomedical model of mental health. Here, an understanding of brain function is considered to be sufficient for understanding mental health conditions. The second model, the biopsychosocial model, is where the functioning of the brain is considered necessary but only as a factor that interacts with other psychological and social factors.

The over-arching aim of the module is to illustrate how, and why, the biopsychosocial model has emerged as a reaction to the limitations of the biomedical approach with the development of the field of health psychology. Therefore all blocks demonstrate how the biopsychosocial model can be applied to enhance our understanding of mental health and ill-health, both in theory and in mental health care. Throughout all blocks the role of preventive measures to guard against mental ill-health is discussed, as well as the promotion of well-being. Consequently the module aims to achieve a balance between a positive and a negative focus. 

Block 1: Core concepts in mental health

This block introduces the concepts of mental health and ill-health, and develops your understanding of the link between mind and body (or brain). A study of the biological basis of psychological health and ill-health informs our understanding of the way that drug treatments can be successful at alleviating symptoms. This requires some knowledge of the brain and the way in which different parts of the brain and nervous system communicate with one another. However, the block also presents the idea that a full understanding can only be gained by a parallel consideration of subjective and objective evidence. So both personal narratives and objective evidence are used to gain insight into behavioural distress. At the beginning of the block a number of people are introduced and aspects of their life stories are followed through the block. Theoretical considerations are further augmented by consideration of how diagnoses are made and the range of treatments – both chemical (drugs) and psychological – that are available to those who seek the help of external agencies for treatment for their distress. 

Block 2: Mood and wellbeing

Stress, anxiety and depression are commonly experienced conditions that impact on general well-being. They are frequently treated by biological (drug) forms of therapy, which raises crucial issues on the nature of brain-mind interdependence. This block explores this issue as well as discussing research into the factors that make us happy and may protect against the development of mood disorders. Our moods vary daily but some people seem to have a naturally sunny disposition while others find it much harder to see the positives that life offers. ‘Life is unfair’, but social and psychological inequalities do not explain every case where an individual moves down the continuum from unhappiness to disabling depression. How might a biopsychosocial approach inform our decision-making for preventing and treating these forms of mental distress?

Block 3: Addictions

This block asks what we mean by the term ’addiction‘ and whether we can truly consider it as a mental health condition. It explores the many forms that addiction can take and asks if we could potentially become addicted to anything that is pleasurable and why we classify certain substances as illegal and not others. The biological basis of addiction illustrates that all forms of addiction activate similar brain pathways. What is the link between the activation of these pathways and altered states of mind? If the activated pathways are the same, why is the subjective experience of smoking tobacco different from taking cocaine? Not everyone who takes addictive substances or indulges in potentially addictive behaviour becomes an addict.

So this block considers the evidence for viewing addiction as a disease, examines the effectiveness of pharmacological treatment strategies for addiction and looks at the alternatives available. It then moves towards a more balanced view of factors impacting on addictive behaviour and how a biopsychosocial viewpoint on addiction (and its treatment strategies) may better inform public health practitioners and policymakers.

Block 4:  Dementias

Dementias are a growing problem in our society as people live to a greater age. What changes occur in our cognitive function and capacity as we get older? How can we effectively distinguish normal ageing from the development of dementia? How can we link degeneration of brain structures to cognitive and behavioural changes that occur in various forms of dementia? How much is known about the causes of dementias and, perhaps more importantly, about how to prevent or at least delay their onset? What are the treatment possibilities and what are their theoretical rationales? This block explores the efficacy of emerging psychological and social therapies for dementia and draws direct contrasts with biological treatments, asking whether a biopsychosocial viewpoint brings significant advantages compared to a biomedical viewpoint.

This block also completes the module by returning to our initial idea that the mind has a physiological basis. We ask you to reflect on where this thinking has lead in our perception (and treatment) of mental health. In particular, we ask you to decide what your answers would be to the following two questions:

  • What more can we achieve in terms of mental well-being and the treatment of mental distress if we think also of psychological and social factors in addition to those that are biological?
  • What evidence do we have that a biopsychosocial approach is critical?

This module will appeal to anyone who is curious about the link between mind and brain. In particular to anyone who supports and cares for people with mental distress, whether professionally or as family or a friend.

Vocational relevance

This module will be attractive to anyone interested in a career in health care, particularly those professions associated with mental health.

Professional recognition

This is a compulsory module in the Foundation Degree and Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) in Paramedic Sciences, which are expected to become a route to professional recognition in a number of subjects allied to medicine.

Although this module is available for study by all OU students, if you are interested in studying it as part of one of these qualifications, they are at present restricted to students who are employed within a healthcare setting and are being supported in their practice learning by their employer.

For further information, you or your employer should contact us.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.  

Some activities will involve collaborative work among the students in your tutor group, conducted online via the forum network with support from your tutor. Participation in these activities will be essential in enabling you to complete some of the assessed work for this module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have study skills appropriate for this level of study, obtained through OU level 1 study or by doing equivalent work at another university.

If you are new to study at a higher education level, we recommend that you study one of the following 60-credit OU level 1 modules – Exploring science (S104), Introducing the social sciences (DD102), Introduction to health and social care (K101) or the 60-credit OU level 1 module Science and health: and evidence based approach (SDK100) – before SDK228. OU level 1 study will provide you with the appropriate skills for studying this OU level 2 module.

It is not essential to have a scientific background to study this module, although clearly some knowledge of basic biology would be very useful.

The booklet Are You Ready For SDK228? can help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you need a little extra preparation. Students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

Because of the multidisciplinary nature of this module and the wide range of students likely to be studying it, it is difficult to suggest preparatory work that will be appropriate for all students. However, the following publications would provide some sound background reading for the module. These are by no means compulsory and the module does not assume prior knowledge in these areas.

Pilgrim, D. (2009) Key Concepts in Mental Health, 2nd edn, Sage.

Johnstone, L. and Rowe, D. (2000) Users and Abusers of Psychiatry: A Critical Look at Psychiatric Practice, Routledge

Toates, F. (ed.) (2007) Pain, Oxford University Press, Oxford.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £1350.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 30/07/2015.

What's included

Four printed module books; study guide, glossary, assignments, forums and other resources all provided via a dedicated website.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

Please note that this module makes use of some complex visual material in the texts and includes interactive multimedia activities. You will need to spend some time in most study weeks using a personal computer to access module resources supplied on DVD-ROMs or via a website or other internet sites. Some assessment tasks are conducted collaboratively within your tutor group and require you to communicate with your tutor and other students via a computer-based forum. If you use special hardware or software to assist you in using a personal computer or the internet and have any concerns about accessing these types of materials you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs. Students with severe visual impairments may find they are more able to achieve the learning outcomes if they make use of a sighted assistant.

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific or diagrammatic materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.