BAP had, for the third year running, a strong presence at the premier British Science Festival in Cheltenham last June. We supported two events, each of which was sold out to capacity audiences: one on depression and one addressing the roles of genes and environment in mental illness. These events are both challenging and hugely rewarding for speakers: challenging in the need for each speaker to condense often very complex topics into about 10 minutes, rewarding in the enthusiastic response and feedback that comes from the audience. The majority of the hour or so of each session is given over to open discussion, and this often carries on with audience members and speakers for long after the end of the event, as it did for the BAP sessions.
The event on “The Depressed Brain” involved Catherine Harmer (Oxford) and Carmine Pariante (London) demonstrating how psychological, neuroimaging, molecular and pharmacological approaches have informed us about the the brain in depression and how drug treatments can, for many, ameliorate the symptoms of the disease. They were supported by Ruby Wax who, in her inimitable style, drew on her personal experiences of depression.
The session entitled “Mental health: genetics or environment” was chaired by Sir Robert Winston. Jeremy Hall (Edinburgh) introducing the role of genetics in schizophrenia, while Gavin Reynolds (Sheffield) discussed the effects of drugs on mental illness and their interaction with genetic factors. Sir Robert encouraged a lively and often emotional discussion; in both sessions sufferers and relatives of those with mental illness talked about their own experiences with mental illness and its drug treatment.