Tag: mental health

Politics Makes People Sick – Literally

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According to a new US study, all the political jockeying is harmful to our health, has been for some time, and even a change in party power didn’t help.

Political scientist Kevin Smith followed up a landmark 2017 survey study where he measured the effects of the political climate on Americans’ physical, social, mental and emotional health. Smith repeated the same 32-question survey twice in 2020 – two weeks prior to the election, and two weeks after. The 2020 findings mirrored the 2017 results, and again found that a large proportion of American adults blame politics for causing them stress, loss of sleep, fractured relationships and more.

Similar to the 2017 findings, the results of the 2020 surveys, published in PLOS One, showed that an estimated 40% of Americans identified politics as a significant source of stress. Between a fifth and a third of US adults also blamed politics for causing fatigue, feelings of anger, loss of temper and triggering compulsive behaviours. About a quarter of adults reported they’d given serious consideration to moving because of politics.

That the results remained mostly stable after nearly four years is cause for alarm, Smith said.

“This second round of surveys pretty conclusively demonstrates that the first survey was not out of left field – that what we found in that first survey really is indicative of what many Americans are experiencing,” Smith, chair and professor of political science, said. “It’s also unpleasant to think that in that span of time, nothing changed. A huge chunk of American adults genuinely perceive politics is exacting a serious toll on their social, their psychological and even their physical health.”

Smith repeated the survey with the same group of people both before and after the election to see if the election’s outcome would recast people’s perceptions.

“We wondered if a change in presidency, which indeed was the case, would shift attitudes, and the short answer is no,” Smith said. “If anything, the costs that people perceive politics is exacting on their health increased a little bit after the election.”

Smioth was most surprised at the repeated finding that 5% of Americans blame politics for having suicidal thoughts.

“One in 20 adults has contemplated suicide because of politics,” Smith said. “That showed up in the first survey in 2017, and we wondered if it was a statistical artifact. But in the two surveys since, we found exactly the same thing, so millions of American adults have contemplated suicide because of politics. That’s a serious health problem.”

Those most likely to be negatively affected by politics were younger, more often Democratic-leaning, more interested in politics and more politically engaged.

“If there’s a profile of a person who is more likely to experience these effects from politics, it’s people with those traits,” Smith said.

This could mean problems for democracy if this trend continued. Smith suggested investigating whether civic education had a positive effect, as those who were more knowledgeable about politics seemed to be less affected.

Source: University of Nebraska

Many Young People with Cancer Experiencing Distress in the Pandemic

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A new study has reported that many adolescents and young adults with cancer are suffering high psychological distress during the COVID pandemic. During the pandemic, adolescents and young adults with cancer had an 85% higher odds of experiencing psychological distress compared with a similar group surveyed in 2018.

For the study, which was published in Psycho-Oncology, 805 individuals in Canada who were diagnosed with cancer between 15 and 39 years of age completed an online survey.  

More than two‐thirds of the group (68.0%) experienced high psychological distress. Additionally, those whose employment had been disrupted during the pandemic and those with blood cancer were more likely to experience high psychological distress, while those who were older and those with a personal income in 2020 that was less than $40 000 tended to have lower distress.  

The survey revealed overarching themes of pandemic experiences that included inferior quality of life, impairment of cancer care, COVID–related concerns, and extreme social isolation.  

“The pandemic has adversely impacted the mental health of adolescents and young adults with cancer,” said senior author Sapna Oberoi, MBBS, MD, DM, of the University of Manitoba. “The findings of this study underscore the importance of providing enhanced and tailored interventions to combat psychological distress among these patients. Cancer organisations and policymakers must prioritise mental health supports for adolescents and young adults with cancer to optimise their health outcomes and quality of life.”

Source: Wiley

‘Switching Off’ Over The Holidays is a Good Idea

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Not properly ‘switching off’ and disconnecting from work-related electronic communications can be more than just annoying, it can damage your health, research shows.

Researchers from the University of South Australia surveyed more than 2200 academics and professional staff across 40 Australian universities, and found that employees who responded to work emails and texts out of hours had greater odds of experiencing burnout, psychological distress, and poor physical health.

Researchers found that in 2021:

  • 26% of employees felt that they had to respond to work-related texts, calls, and emails from supervisors during their leisure time;
  • 57% said that they’d sent work-related digital communications to other colleagues in the evenings;
  • 50% reported that they often receive work-related texts, calls and emails from colleagues on the weekend;
  • 36% reported that it was the norm to respond immediately to digital communication in their organisation.

UniSA researcher Dr Amy Zadow says that the expectations for employees to be available 24-7 is putting pressure on workers.

“Since COVID, the digitalisation of work has really skyrocketed, blurring work boundaries, and paving the path for people to be contactable at all hours,” Dr Zadow said.

“But being available to work both day and night limits the opportunity for people to recover – doing things such as exercise and catching up with friends and family – and when there is no recovery period you can start to burn out.

“Our research shows that high levels of out-of-hours work digital communication can have a significant impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, affecting work-family relationships, causing psychological distress, and poor physical health.

“Conversely, workers who kept their work boundaries in check experienced less stress and pressure.”

The study found that those who were expected to respond to after-hours work communications on the weekends reported higher levels of psychological distress (56% vs 42%); emotional exhaustion (61% vs 42%); and poor physical health (28% compared to 10%).

UniSA’s Professor Kurt Lushington said that dealing with work-related stress is becoming increasingly important.

“Managing out-of-hours communications can be challenging, but organisations do have the power to discourage ‘work creep’,” Prof Lushington said.

“Setting up policies, practices and procedures to protect psychological health by developing a strong Psychosocial Safety Climate is likely to limit damaging out-of-hours digital communication. And, on a broader scale, this is already being considered in various Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and National Employment Standards.

“The starting place is measuring work demand so that an organisation can mitigate the risk in the first place. Once they do this, they can develop protective actions that can prevent the development or continuations of harmful workplace norms.

“At the end of the workday, everyone should have the right to disconnect.”

Source: University of South Australia

Use of Electronic Devices Linked to Depression and Anxiety

Photo by Tracy le Blanc from Pexels
Photo by Tracy le Blanc from Pexels

In a study published in Addiction Biology, researchers uncovered significant associations between use of electronic devices and signs of depression and anxiety, as well as cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking. The team also found certain genetic variants that were linked with these traits.

A review of studies on smartphone addiction found that anxiety and depression were commonly mediated mental health problems. A wide range of physical health sequelae was also associated with smartphone addiction. Furthermore, there was an association between smartphone addiction and neurological disorders.

The study included data on hundreds of thousands of individuals from the UK Biobank. Three indicators of use of electronic devices were included in the study: TV watching, computer using, and computer playing.

Their findings suggested that electronic devices use was associated with common mental traits and provided new clues for understanding genetic architecture of mental traits.

The authors wrote that the study’s findings suggest that reducing time spent using electronic devices may help reduce mental health burdens. 

Source: Wiley

Can Seven Questions Measure Wisdom and Resilience?

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In a new study published in International Psychogeriatrics, researchers report that a shortened, seven-item scale can help determine a person’s level of wisdom, a potentially modifiable personality trait shown to be strongly associated with well-being.

Previously, the researchers had developed the 28-item San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE-28), which has been used in large national and international studies, biological research and clinical trials to evaluate wisdom.

But researchers found that an abbreviated seven-item version (SD-WISE-7 or Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index), was comparable and reliable.

“Wisdom measures are increasingly being used to study factors that impact mental health and optimal aging. We wanted to test if a list of only seven items could provide valuable information to test wisdom,” said senior author Dilip V. Jeste, MD.

Past studies have shown that wisdom is comprised of seven components: self-reflection, pro-social behaviours (such as empathy, compassion and altruism), emotional regulation, acceptance of diverse perspectives, decisiveness, social advising (such as giving rational and helpful advice to others) and spirituality.

The latest study surveyed 2093 participants online, ages 20 to 82. The seven statements, selected from SD-WISE-28, relate to the seven components of wisdom and are rated on a 1 to 5 scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Examples of the statements include “I remain calm under pressure” and “I avoid situations where I know my help will be needed.”

“Shorter doesn’t mean less valid,” said Dr Jeste. “We selected the right type of questions to get important information that not only contributes to the advancement of science but also supports our previous data that wisdom correlates with health and longevity.”  

In addition, the SD-WISE-7 was found to strongly and positively correlate with resilience, happiness and mental well-being and strongly and negatively correlate with loneliness, depression and anxiety.

“There are evidence-based interventions to increase levels of specific components of wisdom, which would help reduce loneliness and promote overall well-being,” said Dr Jeste.

“Like the COVID vaccine protects us from the novel coronavirus, wisdom can aid in protecting us from loneliness. Thus, we can potentially help end a behavioural pandemic of loneliness, suicides and opioid abuse that has been going on for the last 20 years.”

Next steps include genetic, biological, psychosocial and cultural studies of large numbers of diverse populations to assess wisdom, as well as various factors related to mental, physical and cognitive health in people across the lifespan.

“We need wisdom for surviving and thriving in life. Now, we have a list of questions that take less than a couple of minutes to answer that can be put into clinical practice to try to help individuals,” said Dr Jeste. 

Source: University of California San Diego School of Medicine

Psychedelic Treatments for Mental Illness a Step Closer

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To find better solutions to mental illness, a Virginia Tech researcher has found that long-banned psychedelic drugs can treat several forms of mental illness and, in mice, have achieved long-lasting results from just one dose.

Using a process his lab developed in 2015, Professor Chang Lu is helping his collaborators study the epigenomic effects of serotonergic hallucinogens, commonly known as psychedelics.

Their findings, published in Cell Reports, give insight into how psychedelic substances like psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, and similar drugs may relieve symptoms of addiction, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The drugs seem to work faster and last longer than current medications, all with fewer side effects.

Prof Lu’s genomic analysis allows researchers to use very small samples of tissue, down to hundreds to thousands of cells, and draw meaningful conclusions from them. Older processes require much larger sample sizes, so Prof Lu’s approach enables the studies using just a small quantity of material from a specific region of a mouse brain.

And looking at the effects of psychedelics on brain tissues is especially important.

While researchers can do human clinical trials with them, taking blood and urine samples and observing behaviours, Prof Lu said. “But the thing is, the behavioural data will tell you the result, but it doesn’t tell you why it works in a certain way,” he said.

But looking at molecular changes in animal models, such as the brains of mice, allows scientists to peer into what Prof Lu calls the black box of neuroscience to understand the biological processes at work. While the brains of mice are very different from human brains, Prof Lu said there are enough similarities to make valid comparisons between the two.

VCU pharmacologist Javier González-Maeso has made a career of studying psychedelics, which had previously been banned since the 1960s.
Other research, primarily on psilocybin, a substance found in more than 200 species of fungi, González-Maeso said psychedelics have shown promise in alleviating major depression and anxiety disorders. “They induce profound effects in perception,” he said. “But I was interested in how these drugs actually induce behavioral effects in mice.”

To explore the genomic basis of those effects, he teamed up with Prof Lu.

In the joint study, González-Maeso’s team used 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine, or DOI, a drug similar to LSD, administering it to mice that had been trained to fear certain triggers. Prof Lu’s lab then analysed brain samples. They discovered that the epigenomic variations were generally more long-lasting than the changes in gene expression, thus more likely to link with the long-term effects of a psychedelic.

After one dose of DOI, the mice that had reacted to fear triggers no longer responded to them with anxious behaviours. Their brains also showed effects, even after the substance was no longer detectable in the tissues, Prof Lu said.

As well as the science, it’s personal for him too, saying: “My older brother has had schizophrenia for the last 30 years, basically. So I’ve always been intrigued by mental health,” Lu said. “And then once I found that our approach can be applied to look at processes like that – that’s why I decided to do research in the field of brain neuroscience.”

González-Maeso said research on psychedelics is still in its early stages, and there’s much work to be done before treatments derived from them could be widely available.

Source: Virginia Tech

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

Instead of being negatively impacted when looking in the mirror, it may in fact help positively alter behaviour in individuals with obesity, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

The analysis examined the results of five studies that included 16 to 941 participants each. The results indicated that the mirror can be used to decrease anxiety and body dissatisfaction. Furthermore, investigators noted that when individuals spend a few minutes gazing at themselves in a therapeutic environment, they may attain self‐awareness that will elicit a positive change in their behaviour.

“Self-assessment and reflection are key to overall wellbeing. Our review hopes to introduce the mirror as a healthcare tool to combat obesity,” said lead author Harriet Omondi, MSN, FNP-C, of Texas Woman’s University.

Source: Wiley

Social Media Overuse Impacts Easily Distracted People Harder

Photo by Tracy le Blanc from Pexels
Photo by Tracy le Blanc from Pexels

People who are easily distracted are more susceptible to psychological distress and mental health issues from high levels of social media use, according to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. The study tracked the phone data of 69 participants ranging from 18 to 58 year-olds to see their usage of popular apps including Instagram and Reddit over a week period.

Using an eye gaze test, the researchers tracked participants’ levels of distraction and inattention. The Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, a well-known psychological scale, was used to measure and quantify measures of distress.

Lead researcher Tamsin Mahalingham, Master’s student at Curtin University, said that the results showed a strong connection with low levels of attention control and high social media use negatively impacting mental health.

“Past research has flagged concerns about the negative mental health effects from high levels of social media use, but there isn’t clear evidence about why this is, or who might be most at risk,” Miss Mahalingham said.

“Our findings suggest that if you are a very distractable person, high levels of social media use may be particularly bad for your mental health. Study results revealed that those who showed lower levels of attention control were particularly at risk of negative mental health effects of heavy social media use.”

“This inability to stay focussed may lead to exposure to more irrelevant and distracting information and potentially longer durations of social media use. On the other hand, those with higher levels of attention control may be able to more easily ignore irrelevant and potentially damaging information in news feeds such as advertising.”

Supervising researcher, Dr Patrick Clarke, said that the increased follow-on effects of greater social media use that could negatively impact emotional wellbeing.

“Social media apps are designed to draw us in and keep us engaged and the longer we spend on social media, the more we can be exposed to including negative content, or content leading to self-comparison to unattainable ideals, like those often illustrated by influencers,” Dr. Clarke said.

“More time on social media also means less time doing other, possibly more important or more productive tasks, which can also increase feelings of depression and anxiety.

“Our research helps to understand who is most at risk from the adverse mental health effects of social media use and suggests that improving attention may minimize those risks.”

Source: Curtin University

Menstrual Cycles May Impact PTSD Symptoms in Women

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New research has found that post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in women may vary over the course of the menstrual cycle, with more symptoms during the cycle’s first few days when the hormone oestradiol is low and fewer symptoms close to ovulation, when oestradiol is high.

The results could have implications for PTSD diagnosis and treatment, said lead author Jenna Rieder, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. “When in the cycle you assess women might actually affect whether they meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD, especially for people who are right on the border. And that can have real practical implications, say, for someone who is a veteran and entitled to benefits or for health insurance purposes.”

The research was published in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy.

Oestradiol is a form of oestrogen that regulates the menstrual cycle. During the follicular phase, rising oestradiol levels trigger a cascade of events that result in ovulation. Studies have linked low-oestradiol portions of the cycle to greater activation in the limbic areas of the brain, which are related to emotion, and to lower activation in the prefrontal cortex when viewing emotional content. Low oestradiol has also been linked to greater stress and anxiety as well as increased fear responses.

To find out whether those links were related to traua response, researchers studied 40 women, aged 18 to 33, all of whom had experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as a serious injury or sexual violence. In the lab, researchers measured the participants’ level of oestradiol in their saliva, then asked them to describe the trauma that had happened to them and the PTSD symptoms they’d experienced in the past month. They found that lower oestradiol was associated with greater self-reported symptom severity in the participants.

The researchers also measured two stress biomarkers in participants’ saliva, the hormone cortisol and the enzyme salivary alpha-amylase, before and after the participants described their trauma. Salivary alpha-amylase is related to the “fight-or-flight” stress response, and cortisol is related to the body’s slower, more sustained stress response.

“In a healthy system we want a moderate, coordinated response of both of these biomarkers,” Prof Rieder said. In the women in the low-oestradiol portions of their menstrual cycles, the researchers instead found low cortisol and high salivary alpha-amylase levels resulting from recounting their trauma stories – a pattern that’s been linked in previous studies with maladaptive stress responses.

The researchers then asked the participants to answer five daily questionnaires for 10 days spanning the high- and low-oestradiol portions of their menstrual cycles. The questionnaires measured how participants were feeling at each time (from “extremely unpleasant” to “extremely pleasant” and “extremely nonstimulated or activated” to “extremely stimulated or activated”). Participants also completed a PTSD symptom checklist each evening.

Participants were found to have greater variability in their daily moods during the low-oestradiol days of their cycle and reported more severe PTSD symptoms on those days.

This could have implications for diagnosis and treatment of PTSD in women, who have long been underrepresented in PTSD research. “PTSD for a long time was mostly studied in men, in part because it was mainly studied in veterans, who were mostly men,” Prof Rieder said.

As well as its relevance to diagnosis, knowing how the menstrual cycle affects PTSD symptoms could be useful for both clinicians and patients, according to Prof Rieder. “I think this is something that clinicians would want to know, so they can impart this knowledge as part of psychoeducation,” she said. “For women who are naturally cycling, it may be useful to understand how the menstrual cycle affects their symptoms. When you can explain what’s happening biologically, it often becomes less threatening.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Violence in the ED: A Critical Issue in Healthcare

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A study by the Mayo Clinic found that most healthcare workers experience violence in emergency departments (EDs), but they seldomly report it to anyone.

Over six months prior to being surveyed, 72% of healthcare workers and other ED staff said they had personally experienced violence (71% verbal abuse and 31% physical assault), Sarayna McGuire, MD, chief resident of Mayo Emergency Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, reported in a series of three studies at the American College of Emergency Physicians annual meeting.

Nurses and clinicians, along with security personnel, bore the brunt of the attacks: 94% of nurses and 90% of clinicians reported experiencing verbal abuse, and 54% of nurses and 36% of clinicians reported instances of physical assault.

“The whole team is impacted by workplace violence,” Dr McGuire said to MedPage Today. “Even people coming in to draw blood are being assaulted physically and verbally abused.”

Despite this prevalent violence and 58% reporting at least moderate awareness of reporting policies, 77% of all respondents said they never or rarely report violence, while only 10% said they often or always do.

A possible explanation could be that only 7% of non-security staff said they were “extremely familiar” with the procedures. And when participants were asked why ED abuse is not usually reported, the top four reasons given were:

  • No physical injury was sustained (53% of respondents)
  • “It comes with the job” (47%)
  • Staff are too busy (47%)
  • Reporting is inconvenient (41%)

The violence is not without consequences; 18% of respondents said they are considering leaving their position due to the violence, and 48% said violence has changed the way they view or interact with patients.

Men and more experienced staff reported feeling significantly better prepared compared with women. When asked which factors staff thought were most responsible for the violence, the following feature in at least 70% of responses: alcohol, illicit drugs, and significant mental illness.

A total of 86% of respondents said they felt at least moderately prepared to handle verbal abuse, while 68% said they felt prepared to handle physical assault.

“Everyone’s feeling right now that violence has increased in healthcare [during the pandemic], and our data have showed that,” Dr McGuire said. “How is this sustainable? …There is a critical issue in healthcare.”

She added that since reporting of violence is so low, true exposure to violence is probably much higher than the study found.

Study co-author Casey M. Clements, MD, PhD, also of Mayo Emergency Medicine, added that “we know this isn’t isolated to emergency departments.”

He explained that while the study encompassed the pandemic era, violence “has been a problem for some time in healthcare” – violence is a major threat to the healthcare workforce, Dr Clements said. He added that another problem is that physicians typically do not receive any training in de-escalation — “we learn this on the job.”

For the study, the researchers sent an anonymous survey to ED staff at 20 EDs. Also included were social workers, management, and security staff. Women made up 73% of the 833 respondents. Nursing staff (31%) made up the largest medical discipline, and 16% were clinicians.

Dr McGuire suggested that a centralised reporting system would help augment reporting of violence.

“We need to change the mindset that it’s anybody’s job to be assaulted at work,” Dr Clements said. “We cannot go on having our emergency department workers being abused and assaulted on a daily basis.”

Source: MedPage Today