Am I Normal?

Vivienne Parry explores what's normal.

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The Sex Lives Of Us2007091820070919

Vivienne Parry asks is there such a thing as a normal sex life.

Although attitudes towards sexual behaviour have become much more liberal, it seems that many of us are still anxious.

The nation's obsession with sex is putting extra pressure on us to perform well in the bedroom and to question whether we measure up.


How do doctors decide what's a normal weight and what's overweight or obese? And it's not as definitive as you might think.


Is being short a medical problem? Hundreds of thousands of children now receive growth hormone treatment, even though, in the US, some are otherwise healthy.

Could the same happen in this country?


Vivienne Parry gets her blood checked to see if her heart is in good working order.

Is her cholesterol too high, or her blood pressure too low? It is confusing as these readings can change depending on what time of day you have your test, and where you get your test done.

But at what point should we start to worry?

0104 LASTDepression2006091220060913

How do doctors decide if what's going on inside someone's head is normal?


Is it normal for us to have cancer?

Public opinion might be that cancer is abnormal, but medical professionals disagree.

Is this because testing and screening is becoming more sensitive, picking up abnormal cancerous cells that may never develop into a life threatening disease? Or is it because we?re all living longer and cancer is a normal part of the ageing process?

Vivienne explores whether cancer is a normal state of human health.


One third of people who have a brief psychotic or mad episode never experience anything like it again.

In other words, it is quite possible and indeed quite common to have a bout of madness.


Vivienne Parry looks at how GPs determine whether a patient's thyroid is working properly and explores what happens if it isn't.

0204Autism And Aspergers Syndrome2006120520061206

Recent research suggests that one in 100 children have an autism spectrum disorder.

That's ten times more than there were just 40 years ago.

Is this because we are now better at diagnosing it, or because the category has been widened to cover more indications? Vivienne Parry investigates.


Britain is a nation of drinkers.

We now drink twice as much as 50 years ago, with scant regard to the recommended intake.

Should we be worried?


She finds out how fit or unfit she is and how much exercise or activity is necessary to keep in shape.


As more and more children in the UK are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Vivienne explores how the condition is defined.

Is the decision made on medical grounds or is it based on how society and schools in particular expect children to behave?


She investigates how health professionals define the average age for beginning puberty and under what circumstances medical intervention may be appropriate.

She finds that normal puberty in Blackpool is quite different to that in Bangladesh.


This programme looks at Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and asks when repetitive actions or intrusive thoughts no longer become normal.


She investigates social anxiety and asks if shyness is being rebranded as a mental illness.


She looks at dyslexia and questions the value of tests to identify children at risk.

Geneticist Robert Plomin argues that dyslexia is not a disorder but a variant of normal learning ability.


She investigates mathematical ability and the condition known as dyscalculia, a type of number blindness which makes learning maths very difficult.


She asks what is the right amount of sleep and when disturbed sleep becomes insomnia.


She investigates a recent claim that anger should be viewed and treated as a mental health problem.


Fifty percent of fertilised eggs are lost, but as home tests allow women to detect pregnancy six days before their period is due, will this increase the miscarriage rate and what are the psychological implications?


Vivienne Parry continues her quest to find out what is normal.

She discovers what doctors think is normal blood pressure and considers whether the food industry has a role to play in helping us reduce our chances of having a heart attack or stroke.


Vivienne Parry continues her quest to find out what is normal.

She investigates a new test to be used in schools to screen infant children for 'working memory impairment', and asks if this is helpful or just another label to single out children as not 'normal'.

0601Lung Function2009022420090225

Vivienne Parry continues her quest to find out what is normal.

She asks what is 'normal' lung function? Many factors include age, weight, height, fitness, gender, ethnic origin and smoking.

Healthy lungs help us run faster, laugh louder and live longer, but do we take them for granted?

Vivienne Parry asks what is 'normal' lung function?

0602Post-natal Depression2009030320090304

Vivienne Parry continues her quest to find out what is normal.

She investigates post-natal depression.

More women than ever are being diagnosed with the condition, so does motherhood make women miserable or are we turning a normal, if difficult, psychological transition into an illness?

If you ask a woman who has just had a baby if she has felt sad or miserable in the last seven days, there is a fair chance that she will say yes.

You might get a similar answer if you ask if she has felt scared or panicky for no good reason.

These are questions on the Edinburgh Post Natal Depression Scale, a self reporting tool developed in 1987 to help identify women with post-natal depression.

The scale is now widely used by health professionals as part of efforts to help women who are struggling psychologically to access the help and support they need.

However, critics claim that the scale picks up too many women who are indeed having a hard time but who are not depressed and still fails to spot women at the more severe end of the depression spectrum.

So are we now better at identifying and helping women who are depressed post natally?

Vivienne Parry talks to psychiatrists Roch Cantwell and Paul Ramchandani, novelist Rachel Cusk, sociologist Ellie Lee and several mothers about what they think is normal in the post-natal period.

Vivienne Parry investigates post-natal depression.

0603Early Menopause2009031020090311

As increasing numbers of women delay trying for a baby, will early menopause be recognised more? Vivienne explores the stigma that has surrounded the menopause, from the Greeks to Virginia Woolf, and asks if it still exists today.

0604 LASTGifted And Talented2009031720090318

Vivienne finds out how 'gifted' children are measured and by whom.

If a child is in the top five to 10 per cent of their school in an academic subject, they may have been identified as 'gifted' and put on the government's new national register of gifted and talented children.

Vivienne discovers that it depends on the discretion of each school to decide this status and talks to pupils and teachers about whether being marked out as different - even in a positive way - just makes children want to be normal.

0701Bullying * *2010030220100303

Vivienne Parry investigates when anger or teasing becomes bullying and who decides.

When does anger or teasing become bullying and who decides? Vivienne asks if the definition of bullying is now so wide that it has become meaningless.

Did the overuse of the term lead to Gordon Brown hitting the headlines?


Vivienne Parry explores what is 'normal' ageing.

Am I normal for my age? Vivienne Parry examines our perceptions and the realities of what happens to us as we get older.

She unpicks the differences between ageing and disease and asks if there is such a thing as normal ageing.

It happens to us all; nothing can hold back the tide of time.

The natural process of ageing not only affects our appearance and how our bodies respond to general wear and tear, but also how we succumb to and are affected by illness.

Yet it seems, no one ages in the same way.

Middle age for some of us doesn't end until we're well into our 70s, whereas some people feel old before their time.

The programme asks what will happen to us when we age normally? And indeed is there such a thing as a normal ageing process? Genes, lifestyle choices, environment and even social class all play a part.

So what was normal 20 or 30 years ago is not normal now.

The average age of the world's population is increasing at an unprecedented rate.

It's been estimated that the number of people worldwide who are 65 and older now will double by 2040 (from seven to fourteen per cent).

How we are ageing is changing too.

We are living longer and dying quicker.

Professor of geriatric medicine Raymond Tallis says that, 'Despite the fact that we're living longer, the period of chronic illness or disability before death is shrinking.' Advances in modern medicine have postponed many diseases of old age to such an extent that we live longer, healthier lives before succumbing when we are really old and frail and therefore die relatively quickly.

But not everyone is still running marathons at 75 or constantly feels 15 years younger than their actual age.

And the phrase 'you're only as old as you feel' can be pretty depressing to some people.

So what is normal for a certain age? How can we measure it? And does it really matter?

0703Health Anxiety2010031620100317

At what point does a reasonable concern about our wellbeing become an anxiety that actually affects our health? If you discover a bruise on your arm and become convinced you have leukaemia.

Or you're a woman who's breast examinations are so frequent, you make them tender and then decide that the soreness means you have breast cancer.

You make frequent doctor's appointments, demand unnecessary tests and never seem satisfied with a diagnosis, then it's likely you have some form of severe and persistent health anxiety.

Health anxiety in its most severe form, the diagnosis hypochondriasis, has been recognised for centuries.

It's a fear or belief that real or imagined symptoms are signs of a serious illness, despite medical reassurance and other evidence to the contrary.

The anxiety can take over your life, drive your family - and your GP - to distraction and can cause a great deal of distress.

But is it an illness in itself? Many psychiatrists and psychologists now prefer to describe hypochondriasis as a health anxiety.

It is similar to both obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorders.

It's starting to be recognised as a serious psychological problem that can be helped with cognitive behaviour therapy.

Almost everyone has health worries from time to time, triggered by variations in their body, inexplicable physical symptoms and health information from doctors, health screening programmes and the mass media, and many people experience a moment of worry that their odd rashes, bumps or pains are signs of real trouble.

But an official diagnosis of hypochondria, according to the psychiatric authorities, is reserved for patients whose fears that they have a serious disease persist for at least six months and continue even after doctors have reassured them that they are healthy.

In patients with hypochondria, ordinary discomforts are paid much more attention and appear to register more intensely than they do for other people.

But where do you draw the line? When does healthy concern become a psychological problem, and what are the implications for the health industry?

With more and more people looking up symptoms and health advice on the internet, the result can be that you feel empowered and informed about your health.

But for others, will they develop what is being hyped as 'cyberchondria', where every twinge and symptom is searched online, leaving them convinced that they definitely have the rarest and deadliest of diseases?

Many experts think that terms like 'cyberchondria' and the book-related 'bibliochondria' are just catchy terms concocted by the media which only exacerbate the negative stigma and cruel humour associated with hypochondria.

It's a tricky issue to deal with; the patient sees physical illness, the doctor sees a psychological problem, and frustration rules on both sides of the examining room.

This programme asks how doctors assess levels of heath anxiety, how they decipher the sinister from the benign real through the imagined symptoms, and if they think increased access to health information is making the problem worse.

Vivienne Parry asks when a normal concern about our wellbeing turns into health anxiety.

0704 LASTEating Disorders2010032320100324

Most of us in the UK are overweight and many are constantly dieting.

How can we talk about what's normal when it comes to eating when the majority of us simply consume too much food?

Vivienne Parry sets forth on a mission to pin down what normal or healthy eating actually means.

She meets the evangelists from the raw food, pure food community, the health food junkies who say their diet is the natural, 'normal' way of eating, and hears from those who fear that an obessession with eating only the 'purest' of foods is giving rise to a new 'righteous eating' condition called orthorexia.

Vivienne speaks to those who believe extreme diets and restricting and controlling what we eat are worrying steps on a path towards a diagnosable eating disorder.

But others say that eccentric diets represent a rejection of the current food environment, a problem only when they seriously affect on someone's life, or offer inadequate nutrition.

With a staggering 60 per cent of us overweight or obese, one woman tells Vivienne how desperate she is to achieve a 'normal' weight, as she prepares for gastric surgery to reduce her 19 stone weight.

Obesity is the subject of a powerful struggle among medical professionals, who are currently deciding what should and shouldn't be considered to be a mental disorder.

A prominent neuroscientist tells Vivienne that obesity is a brain disorder, while others argue that handing out psychiatric labels to obese people risks labelling swathes of the population as 'abnormal'.

What does 'normal eating' mean when most of us are overweight or on a perpetual diet?


Attraction and feelings of desire drive our libidos, but Vivienne Parry asks what is "normal".

Sex drive is influenced by many things, such as stress, relationship problems, work and being overweight, not to mention having young children.

So it's not surprising that about 40% of the population report having a low libido at some time in their lives, while ten per cent of women and about five per cent of men report low sexual desire lasting over six months.

Whether this is a problem depends on the individual and their partner, if they have one.

Vivienne Parry discovers that "normal" is highly subjective, with some people who claim to be completely asexual and others who, like poet John Betjeman, regret not having had more sex in their lives.

So should we worry about a diminished love life or are we too influenced by a sexualised society?

How much do our libidos vary and what's normal? Vivienne Parry investigates.

0802Immune Systems2011072620110727

Over the winter, every other advert tells us that we need to boost our immune systems.

If we get a cold, it's proof that our immune system must be failing.

Two and it's not normal.

But how do you know what's normal? The immune system is incredibly complex and no two people are the same - even siblings.

Factors like aging - the older you are, the weaker your immune system is likely to be; stress; exposure to microbes - yes, being around dirt!; and genetics all play a part.

Vivienne Parry does her best to find out what's normal.

Is there such a thing as a normal immune system? Vivienne Parry investigates.


Vivienne Parry explores changing attitudes to giving birth and asks what is a normal birth.

The programme looks at how birth became increasingly medicalised from the 1940s, but also examines the current push for more midwife led care and the resurgence of home births.

We discuss the vast range of medical interventions which seem to have reduced mortality rates in childbirth, but ask have they also had a negative effect on the way birth is perceived ?

0804 LASTTiredness20110810

GPs regularly see patients with the complaint of feeling "tired all the time".

It's so common that the acronym TATT is used as shorthand.

But what levels of tiredness are normal and when should we seek help for fatigue and exhaustion? Many illnesses like anaemia, diabetes, cancer, infections or depression can all cause symptoms of tiredness and fatigue.

Growth spurts, pregnancy and sleep deprivation can too but what about when there's no obvious underlying illness and symptoms are of chronic fatigue? Vivienne Parry investigates.

What level of tiredness is normal and when should we seek help? Vivienne Parry finds out.