For over a decade now, public health education has been addressed very effectively by content displayed on charity websites. They may not all be peer-reviewed,but they can provide excellent and accessible information – often written by appropriate specialists. In regards to biology, here is a list of UK charity websites that are likely to be of most use to RMNs and their service users.
A shining example of how a charity can provide public health information. Their ‘about dementia‘ section covers biological aspects like disease classification, symptomology, aetiology, pathophysiology and treatment options. They cover an impressive number of neurodegenerative conditions, and it strikes a great balance between informative and accessible. Alzheimer’s Society has a superb array of factsheets which complement the webpages nicely. Especially useful if you need to print off information for a service user or their carers.
In a report from 2010, 37% of people with mental illness smoke tobacco. This was around twice the rate seen in the general population. For this reason, it’s worth mentioning the information provided by Ash. As well as information on smoking cessation, they provide detailed information on the links between smoking, physical illness and mental illness in their fact sheet section.
One in 11 people in England are currently receiving treatment for Asthma. There is also a biderectional link between acute exacerbation of asthma symptoms and mental illness. Asthma UK provides accessible information about different variants of asthma and various triggers. I feel their most valuable resource is their section on inhalers and spacers. It could potentially help you manage asthma in your service users much more effectively.
There are strong links between mental illness and cardiovascular conditions. Medications can induce metabolic syndrome and acquired long QT syndrome, and both mental health and cardiovascular disease share contributing factors, such as stress and chronic inflamation. For a gentle introduction to cardiovascular conditions, the British Heart Foundation provides information here. Equally gentle is their information on various cardiovascular medications (it’s considerably more lay-friendly than results from the BNF). Information about nonpharmacological treatments can be found here.
The manifestation of type 2 diabetes mellitus is another feature of metabolic syndrome, so many mental health service users are likely to develop it. Diabetes UK provides simple lay-friendly information about different types of diabetes, and how best to self-manage. The biological detail behind both diabetes and their related therapies are generally in short supply, but there is a nice section on glucose monitoring and non-insulin medications like metformin.
Diabetes.co.uk aren’t actually a charity. You’ll notice very quickly that they promote their services on every webpage. However, they provide much more detailed information than Diabetes UK. Links within the main body of text allow you to flow from topic to topic as well – have a browse starting at their page on causes of type 2 diabetes and see where it takes you! There is also a great section that explains the properties of different types of insulin.
If you work with service users that have underlying neurological conditions, brain injury, substance dependence, or take clozapine, there is the chance that you will have to manage epilepsy. Epilepsy Action has an advice and information section that provides easy-to-read info around what epilepsy is, different types of epilepsy, and how best to manage epilepsy. Although it’s directed towards service users, you may benefit from its content. For any RMNs that work in Primary Care, Epilepsy Action offer a free online epilepsy training course here.
Epilepsy Society have an incredible array of written and audiovisual resources. Within the ‘About Epilepsy’ section, there is an encyclopedic A-Z for quick reference, as well as detailed explanations of what epilepsy is. This section also provides links to a number of videos, catering to service users, carers and healthcare professionals alike. In the ‘What We Do’ section, there is a set of resources specifically for healthcare professionals if you’re looking for information that is more advanced or specialised.
Headway may be of most use to RMNs working in brain injury practice areas. The section for individuals details and explains the different types of brain injury. There is also a section that details the effects of brain injury, although this doesn’t really draw aupon any biology to explain these effects. The About the Brain page is likely to be of use to all RMNs. It provides a gentle introduction to what the different functions of different areas of the brain are.
US-based website. Information about all aspects of mental health for service users and carers. One part of their website provides info in conjunction with Harvard Medical School and has pages like The Biology of Sleep.
Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a rare inherited condition that affects around 12 people per 100,000 in the UK. It’s a neurodegenerative disease that can cause many different mental health, cognitive and physical disturbances. RMNs working regularly with HD service users and their families should have an understanding of the genetic basis of the condition, as it can have a profound effects on family dynamics. RMNs who are less familiar with HD serive users may benefit from finding out more about the particular cognitive, behavioural and mental health disturbances associated with the condition. The HDA’s fact sheet page contains detailed information that covers these topics, as well as many non-medical topics. Be sure to also browse the fact sheets for professionals underneath the alternative language factsheets.
Mind have a very broad array of resources. In regards to accessible information about medications, it really is in a league of its own. Because of this I’ve provideda lot if links to Mind’s information about medication categories in my other resource pages (e.g. antidepressants and antipsychotics). Their information about the biology behind mental illnesses is very light on detail however, so I can’t really recommend it as a pathophysiology resource.
The Parkinson’s UK website is very well-produced. It has two areas of interest for RMNs wanting to know more about the condition and how it’s managed. For lay-friendly information, the What is Parkinson’s? page is a good place to start. Of most clinical use is the section for healthcare professionals, where you can apply filters to find the right resources for you. Follow this link to see their resources from filters I’ve already selected. Resources across the site are a slick mixture of text and video.
There are many UK-based charities that provide information and support around substance addiction. However, Release provides uniquely detailed levels of biological explanation on how different substances effect the body and brain. These explanations can be found in their Drugs A-Z section. From there, choose any of their full reports and look for the pharmacology subsection. As a good example, here is their page on cannabis pharmacology. Frustratingly, there is a lack of consistency between substances – regarding both the focus of the pharmacology and the terminology used. There are also occasional inaccuracies (e.g. alcohol is thought to work by inhibiting NMDA receptors; Release state it activates the receptor).
Although cerebrovascular events are not mental illnesses, there are strong bidirectional links between the two categories of disease. Stroke Association provides a broad range of information written specifically for stroke survivors, their families and carers. Explanations are given about risk factors, what the different types of stroke are, what the short- and long-term symptoms of these are, and how they can be managed. Information is conveyed exclusively in lay-terms, and is available as webpages or fact sheets. Content varies slightly between the two but not significantly. Some content is also available in audio format.
Some of these websites bears the logo of The Information Standard. This means that the NHS has vetted the information provided on the site and has judged it to be clear, evidence-based and accurate. Of the links above, the NHS has awarded the following The Information Standard:
Alzheimer’s Society, Asthma UK, Epilepsy Action, Mind, and Parkinson’s UK.
Stroke Association’s factsheets have also earnt the right to bear the Information Standard logo.
This isn’t to say that the other websites listed on this page don’t reach the Information Standard’s requirements. It could mean that they haven’t undergone the Information Standard vetting process yet.
All logos included on this page are under copyright. The logos displayed here have been subject to permission from the copyright holders.