Science and Nature

Mysteries of Mental Illness

Mysteries of Mental Illness explores the story of mental illness in science and society. The four-part series traces the evolution of this complex topic from its earliest days to present times. It explores dramatic attempts across generations to unravel the mysteries of mental illness and gives voice to contemporary Americans across a spectrum of experiences.

Dr. Igda Martinez | Decolonizing Mental Health

3m 24s

Deconstructing stereotypes around homelessness lies at the core of Dr. Igda Martinez’s work at the Floating Hospital. For 150 years, the New York hospital has made psychiatric care available to unhoused populations who are among society’s most neglected. Shannette Champman, a mother of two, shares her experience of seeking care when she was in need of accessible mental health care.


  • New Frontiers: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    New Frontiers

    S2021 E4 - 54m

    Look at today’s most cutting-edge treatments for mental illness, and explore one of the most urgent fronts on the battle against mental illness: the fight for inclusion – a society more open to all kinds of minds and behavior, and free from stigma, based on the understanding that mental health exists on a spectrum.

  • The Rise and Fall of the Asylum: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Rise and Fall of the Asylum

    S2021 E3 - 54m

    Until a few decades ago, the United States relied on mass confinement in mental asylums, for the mentally ill, as well as extreme treatments, from lobotomy to coma therapy. Today, at Cook County Jail in Chicago, more than one-third of inmates have a mental health diagnosis. Meet the detainees whose lives hang in the balance and discover the harsh realities of care both in and out of jail.

  • Who’s Normal?: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Who’s Normal?

    S2021 E2 - 54m

    Learn how science and societal factors are deeply entwined with our ever-shifting definitions and diagnoses of mental health and illness. Follow the stories of Ryan Mains, an Iraq veteran struggling with PTSD, Mia Yamamoto, California’s first openly transgender lawyer, and Michael, a Harlem based pastor and healer living with depression.

  • Evil or Illness: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Evil or Illness

    S2021 E1 - 54m

    Treatment of mental illness over history has been trial and error and, today, doctors still search for answers. Follow the story of Cecilia McGough, who struggles with persistent hallucinations and delusions. Learn about Lorina Gutierrez's mysterious condition, referred to as 'Brain on Fire', and Virginia Fuchs, an Olympics-bound boxer living with OCD.

Extras + Features

  • Episode 3 Preview: The Rise and Fall of the Asylum: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Episode 3 Preview: The RIse and Fall of the Asylum


    Mass confinement in mental asylums and extreme treatments – from lobotomy to coma therapy – were the standard for treating mental illness in the United States until a few decades ago. Today, one of the largest de-facto mental health facilities in the United States is Cook County Jail in Chicago, where more than one-third of inmates have a mental health diagnosis.

  • The Kirkbride Asylum: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Kirkbride Asylum

    3m 8s

    Thomas Kirkbride's 'hospitals for the insane' were built for people who had nowhere else to go. They were intended to be a retreat from the world; a place to be cured. Kirkbride believed that the restorative atmosphere of his institutions would be therapeutic. The goal was to rehabilitate patients and send them back to society as productive citizens.

  • The Mass Incarceration of the Mentally Ill: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Mass Incarceration of the Mentally Ill

    2m 55s

    As asylums were deemed inhumane and closed down, the social commitment to community care disappeared, and monies were allocated elsewhere. So began the mass incarceration of the mentally ill as, with nowhere to go, they wound up homeless, or in nursing homes or jails. The irony is that they have not been deinstitutionalized, and their treatment resembles the punitive systems of the past.

  • Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery

    2m 55s

    Matthew Rosenberg is having deep brain stimulation surgery to help his debilitating OCD condition. In three weeks he'll have another electrode implanted in the other side of his brain, followed by a separate surgery to put batteries in his chest to power the device. Will the groundbreaking surgery help him to manage his severe OCD? Initial signs are promising.

  • A Debilitating Condition: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    A Debilitating Condition

    2m 13s

    For 8 years, Matthew Rosenberg has dealt with a debilitating form of OCD. He hyperventilates throughout the day and is in near-constant pain. having tried numerous therapies and medicines with no results, his last hope is the high-tech surgery he’s waiting for, where electrodes will be transplanted into his brain.

  • Episode 4 Preview: New Frontiers: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Episode 4 Preview: New Frontiers


    A look at today’s most cutting-edge treatments, based on the latest scientific understanding of the biological underpinnings of mental illness, with profiles of patients undergoing a variety of vanguard treatments. These include Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, modern electro-convulsive therapy, and MDMA-assisted therapy, also known as ecstasy or molly to treat PTSD.

  • Cook County Jail: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Cook County Jail


    Black men with mental health problems are more likely to be incarcerated than white men. 50,000 people pass through Cook County Jail each year and 90% are black. One inmate, Jeremiah Robinson, is diagnosed with schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar and PTSD, and has been arrested 15 times since high school. How did prisons and jails become a frontline treatment for the mentally ill?

  • The Asylum Hill Project: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Asylum Hill Project

    5m 21s

    Some 30,000 patients came through the Mississippi State Hospital for the Insane, and many never left. The asylum cemetery was recently discovered by construction workers, and approximately 7,000 burials were discovered. Not a single one has been identified, but records in the State archives reveal why many were admitted and how they died.

  • Cynthia Piltch and Electroconvulsive Therapy: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Cynthia Piltch and Electroconvulsive Therapy

    3m 54s

    Fear and misunderstanding have created a stigma around ECT or Electroconvulsive Therapy, but today it’s done with targeted current, anesthesia, and muscle relaxants, making it much safer with fewer side effects. Cynthia has been hospitalized for depression five times and tried many treatments, with little success, before turning to ECT.

  • Psychedelics and Mental Illness: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Psychedelics and Mental Illness

    3m 18s

    As psychedelic drugs became synonymous with the counter-culture of the 1960s, they were labeled as more dangerous than they actually are, delaying research into them. Recently we've learned more about the chemical makeup of these substances and how they can be helpful in alleviating addiction, anxiety, and depression.

  • The Lobotomy: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Lobotomy

    5m 28s

    In 1936, neurologist Walter Freeman performed the first lobotomy in the U.S. It was widely seen as a miraculous intervention and a solution to saving some of the half-million mentally ill patients languishing in asylum 'hell holes'. The procedure soon became widespread and was even used for a member of the Kennedy family. But many lobotomies were performed on patients against their will.

  • Experimental Treatments and the Rise of Eugenics: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Experimental Treatments and the Rise of Eugenics

    5m 47s

    By the early 20th century, mental asylums had become extremely overcrowded, and very little was known about how to treat these patients. Out of view from the public eye, desperate doctors experimented with new treatments. When treatments failed, patients were labeled biologically defective, fueling the Eugenics program, and the involuntary sterilization of thousands of patients.


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