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Brain, mind and mental health

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Through a scientific approach, learn to understand the brain, mind and mental health from childhood through early adulthood and into old age. You’ll study eight topics, including brain development, autism, mood disorders and dementia. You’ll also develop your science communication and numeracy skills and your understanding of research methods. This module is relevant for those interested in mental health or who work in health and social care or other profession allied to medicine.

What you will study

In this online module, you’ll study eight topics:

Topic 1: Core concepts
The starting point of this module is to look at the biology of the brain and how this links to our thoughts, actions and behaviours. Topic 1 introduces some different perspectives and viewpoints on ‘brain’, ‘mind’, and ‘mental health’. You’ll then study the basic brain biology that you’ll need to understand the rest of the module. You’ll be able to use our innovative multimedia to help you visualise and explore the relevant brain structures and pathways. You’ll also be introduced to some of the different research approaches that are used to provide scientific evidence that informs our understanding of mental health.

Topic 2: Brain development and mental health
This topic covers how the brain develops before birth and what can happen when this development follows an abnormal path. You’ll see how genes and environmental influences can interact to affect brain development. You’ll be introduced to some childhood developmental conditions and the implications of these for health. For this topic and the following topics, we use case studies to investigate the experience of different individuals with health conditions and the people who care for them.

Topic 3: Autism
This topic focuses on autism, a condition that typically becomes apparent in childhood, but also continues throughout life. You’ll study factors that affect development, including genetic and environmental factors, and the interplay between them. You’ll consider the value of different systems used for diagnosis and you’ll also develop your numeracy skills in the study of prevalence rates.

Topic 4: ADHD
This topic covers another condition that typically appears in childhood, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and discusses what it is like to experience the condition, the diagnostic process, and psychological and biological processes associated with the condition. You’ll explore the different ways that ADHD is managed, using medication and psychosocial treatments. You’ll also be introduced to the use of animal models for the study of mental health, and how relevant these are to the human condition.

Topic 5: Addiction
This topic moves into an area of mental health that, in common with many other mental health conditions, usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood. You’ll explore the risk factors for developing an addiction, cultural and social attitudes towards addiction, and ways of defining addiction. You’ll study the biological basis of addiction to illustrate that all forms of addiction activate similar brain pathways. The discussion then moves onto possible interventions for the prevention of addiction and treatments for addiction, including biological and psychological approaches.

Topic 6: Psychosis
Various types of psychosis, including schizophrenia, are explored in this topic. You’ll look at cultural attitudes and social stigma associated with psychosis, and discuss the risk factors, diagnosis and co-morbidities in relation to psychosis. You’ll study the biological basis of schizophrenia in particular, leading into a discussion of the treatment and management of schizophrenia using drug treatments or psychosocial interventions.

Topic 7: Depression
Stress, anxiety and depression are commonly experienced conditions at all ages, and impact on general wellbeing. This topic focuses on depression. In common with some of the previous topics, there are well-recognised risk factors associated with the development of depression, and various brain changes are implicated in the development of the condition. These biological changes have helped to explain the success of some drug treatments, including commonly used antidepressants. However, the topic also considers some psychosocial approaches to the treatment of mood disorders, such as cognitive therapy.

Topic 8: Dementia
Dementia is a growing problem in our society as people live to a greater age. Knowledge about how to diagnose dementia, the risk factors that contribute to its development, and the pathological changes associated with dementia, has increased substantially over the last few years. This knowledge has led to various theories about the prevention and treatment of dementia, which you’ll explore here. By the end of the topic, you’ll have gained an understanding of how new drug treatments are tested and how to analyse the results of a clinical trial. You’ll also consider the many emerging psychosocial approaches to dementia care.

You will learn

As well as studying key biological and psychological concepts relating to mental health, you’ll also develop your skills for further study in health and biological sciences, including evaluating evidence; handling and presenting data; communication skills; and using information technology.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need appropriate knowledge of biology or health obtained through:

  • OU level 1 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for SK298?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:

You’ll be able to access the module website 2–3 weeks before the module starts, so you can learn to navigate the website and organise your study plan. A module primer contains the basic concepts you should understand. You can use this primer to refresh your knowledge before starting your studies or as a resource throughout.

What's included

All of the study materials for this module are provided on the module website.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SK298 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Brain, mind and mental health (SK298) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
End-of-module assessment

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