The heritability of mental illness

We know that some physical illnesses run in families; but what about mental illness? Are you likely to experience disorders like schizophrenia, depression, or anorexia if others in your family have? The heritability of mental illness is now a burgeoning scientific field, and we hear one man’s personal story of family depression, and what it’s meant for him.

Bringing words to heel

It seems that only twenty three words in the major language groups have remained without change for 15,000 years; they have managed to hang on while all the others have slipped away. Where do words come from—and where do they go? Evolution of
fers an answer, but also a further question: if evolution is random then are words too accidental? Princeton philosopher Daniel Cloud thinks it’s a bit like breeding dogs.

Combating the obesity epidemic – part one and part two

Australia is quickly becoming one of the fattest countries in the world. Almost two thirds of us are now overweight or obese, with poor diets and high BMIs the major causes of disease in this country. Experts are now calling it a crisis. But while some may argue for a ‘purer than thou’ approach of willpower and diets to tackle this problem; many in the medical profession say that it can only be fixed with surgery and drugs. In this two-part special feature we chart one man’s battle to fight the bulge, take a visit to Overeaters Anonymous and hear the uncomfortable realities the surgeons won’t tell you.

The tick-tock of the biological clock

Beyond the pill

It’s been over half a century since the pill was first introduced; lauded as a definitive example of women’s liberation.
But now – more than five decades on – there are a host of better options available.

Despite international studies finding them to be up to twenty times effective at preventing an unintended pregnancy – their rate of take-up in Australia remains dismal.

The Health Report investigates why.

Genotyping: 23andMe

23andme provided the cheapest, fastest way to get a quick DNA-read; helping people to “identify health areas that they need to keep an eye on.”

But the US Food and Drug Administration recently ordered the genomics company to stop—and after some to-ing and fro-ing—they conceded.

Health Report investigates what this means for the future of genetic testing and what a consumer needs to know.

Serious sea swimming

Every weekend in summer, bright and early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, thousands of people gather from Cottesloe to Curl Curl, don their swimmers and jump in the ocean.

They thrash and crash about, fighting to get to the front of their packs.

And – they love it.

Off Track gets in the water with a marathon swimmer and a newbie to find out why anyone would want to spend their weekend doing such a thing.

The long and the short of it

In a world designed for people who are of ‘average height’, what’s life like for those who fall outside of the norm?

Studies have demonstrated an unconscious bias against short men. Tall women say they’re uncomfortable standing out from the crowd.

What about the advantages of being shorter or taller than most?

Vulvar Lichen Sclerosus

Vulvar Lichen Sclerosus is a relatively common disorder that quite a number of post-menopausal women have a genetic predisposition to. It is a skin condition that mainly affects the vulva in women.

Marfan’s syndrome


FroFluro Fridaym bush to beach to beat the blues


Many of us use exercise to beat the blues.

But what’s less talked about is just how good it is for people with mental health issues.

This week Off Track goes from the bush to the surf with two very different organisations that are both using the healing power of nature to fight mental illness; one by organising bushwalking trips, the other – out behind the last breaker, on the hunt for that one perfect wave..


AAfter the fire, the armyfter the fire

When there’s a job to be done, the army moves in.

After the October bushfires in the Blue Mountains in NSW, the 6th Engineer Support Regiment joins local residents for the clean-up.

Ringtail possums cross a rope bridge

Nature in an unnatural world


It’s rare to find anywhere untouched by human influence – we live in, on, and around the natural world.

Sometimes this influence is good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes we just do whatever we can to manage life lived on the fringe of nature.

This week, Off Track explores how humans interact with the natural world.


The mind at rest imageThe mind at rest

The surprising science of sleep and daydreaming. Letting your mind wander involves complex brain activity and facilitates problem solving, creativity and even enhances our sense of identity.

Also, scientific sleep studies are showing that our memory can be enhanced and we can learn new things … all while we’re quietly snoozing. This program looks at the benefits of zoning out.

Girl resting on piano

Many of us use music as a form of self medication—but for some it’s therapeutic effect can be extraordinary.We meet a talented music therapist who is helping a man to regain his ability to speak after a severe stroke, and a young woman to come to terms with her trauma and brain injury after a car accident, through song writing.

Female DJThe music in your brain

Music has a universally powerful effect on human beings.

We explore how the human brain perceives music, how composers exploit our instinctive reaction to it and the relationship between music and emotion.

Meet a recording engineer turned neuroscientist and a gifted composer who inspired Oliver Sacks to investigate and write about music and our brains.

I also wrote the psychology of music series for online.

Born this way: gender identitytemp craig

For some people the sex they are born with doesn’t correspond to the way they feel. Researchers now know there are areas of the brain that differ among men and women and those who are transgender, and new psychiatric guidelines in the upcoming DSM V, due out in May 2013, are expected to acknowledge that. We hear the moving stories of Craig Andrews and Julie Peters and how their transition to the opposite sex has improved their mental wellbeing.

How language shapes thoughttemp boys

We explore how speaking more than one language influences our cognitive capacity. We meet a young Australian family who regularly speak with each other in three or four languages, and it may be that these children are developing distinct cognitive advantage – beyond the language they speak. Also, some Canadian research has found that being bilingual protects against Alzheimer’s disease.

The bilingual brain temp lera

It’s been controversial for centuries but new empirical research suggests that language has a powerful influence over the way we think and perceive the world. Lera Boroditsky from Stanford University suggests that Japanese and Spanish speakers have a different sense of blame, and some Indigenous Australians have a different sense of space—all because of the language they speak.

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