Category: Mental Health

Mental Health Issues Rise Alongside Global Temperatures

It’s no secret that the impacts of climate change extend far beyond our surrounding environment. Numerous sources have shown that our changing climate is associated with a variety of health issues: infectious disease, heatstroke, hyperthermia, respiratory problems, and natural disaster-related injury. However, new literature is beginning to dive deeper on these issues, and how they can affect more complicated outcomes, such as mental health.

Recently, a study conducted by MIT’s Nick Obradovich examined how rising temperatures may be responsible for both direct and indirect causes of mental health issues. The report evaluated 2 million randomly-sampled individuals in the U.S. for mental health issues, which included anything falling in the range of stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues. Obradovich roughly defined these issues as “basically means things that are less extreme than hospitalization and suicide but more significant than like grumpiness or day-to-day emotional [agitation]”.

Following this, his team linked these reports with weather data from their respective cities. The team examined how different climate-change weather events (rising temperatures, excessive precipitation, lack of precipitation, extreme temperature changes, and hurricanes) might be associated with the mental health reports for that region. The team found that most of these weather or climate characteristics were linked to a higher likelihood of mental health cases.

Despite this critical new findings, there’s still much to be understood regarding the mechanisms underlying these outcomes. Most of the current hypotheses consider stress a huge mediator. Not only do these events cause stress, but they often disproportionately affect people living in poverty. Researchers are trying to understand these relationships, so that better preventative measures and interventions can be made going forward.

 

https://health2016.globalchange.gov/

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1801528115

https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/08/health/climate-change-mental-health-study/index.html

 

Student Develops Jelly Drops to Support Dementia Patients Like his Grandmother

As we age, we naturally lose our sense of thirst, increasing our risk of dehydration. This risk is even greater among older individuals living with dementia. Individuals with dementia may experience trouble swallowing thin liquids as well as memory loss. This was true for Lewis Hornsby’s grandmother, Pat, who struggled with dehydration. After an unexpected rush to the hospital, Lewis found his grandmother had been severely dehydrated, and it took 24 hours on IV fluids for her to return to her normal state.

Recognizing his grandmother’s struggle with dehydration, Lewis, an innovative engineering student at the Imperial College of London, developed “Jelly Drops.” These colorful, jelly-like treats contain over 90% water as well as other ingredients that give it its solid state. This solid state allows the body to slowly break down the Jelly Drop, maximizing hydration. But Lewis’  innovation does not end with the Jelly Drop alone. The Jelly Drops are stored in a clear box so that you can see the colorful treats. The box also contains a booklet with talking points to encourage social interaction between care home residents and their caretakers. Lewis’ innovative Jelly Drops is a result of thoughtful research. Some of this research involved living in his grandmother’s care home and observing the behaviors of residents as well as meeting with dementia psychologists and doctors.

Lewis has already received two awards for his Jelly Drops invention: the Helen Hamlyn Design Award – Snowdon Award for Disability as well as the Dyson School of Design Engineering DESIRE Award for Social Impact. According to his Facebook page, Jelly Drops are not available for purchase at this time as he is conducting further research and trials using the product.

What an exciting, real-life example of public health innovation! – To read more about Lewis’ Jelly Drops project, visit his project page on The James Dyson Award website.

References

Nelson, Elizabeth. (N.d.). Young Man Invents “Water You Can Eat” to Help Dementia Patients Like His Grandma Stay Hydrated. Retrieved from https://blog.thealzheimerssite.com/jelly-drops/

Royal College of Art. (N.d.). Lewis Hornsby. Retrieved from https://www.rca.ac.uk/students/lewis-hornby/

The James Dyson Foundation. (2018). Jelly Drops. Retrieved from https://www.jamesdysonaward.org/2018/project/jelly-drops/

Tuchtan, Vicki. (2016). Dehydration: how it affects the elderly and what to do about it. Retrieved from http://www.sageagedcare.edu.au/blog/dehydration-how-it-affects-the-elderly-and-what-to-do-about-it/

Quicksand

The school year’s end tends to be accompanied with deadline crunches and stress. So as with the closing of last semester, I would like to end on a reflective note. The concept of quicksand was brought up in casual conversation and I got to thinking about how my mental schematic was entirely informed by action films of the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s (and today!). This couldn’t be rooted in science, it’s too cinematic. So of course I Googled if quicksand is real, don’t judge me, and the kind I was imagining—that kind does not exist. Remember that scene in the Princess Bride? A total lie.

Then I began thinking about the metaphoric possibility that is quicksand. This passage is pulled from the BBC article “Can quicksand really sink you to your death?” and not only is it educational, it’s actually really beautiful and strangely reassuring:

Quicksand usually consists of sand or clay and salt that’s become waterlogged, often in river deltas. The ground looks solid, but when you step on it the sand begins to liquefy. But then the water and sand separate, leaving a layer of densely packed wet sand which can trap it. The friction between the sand particles is much-reduced, meaning it can’t support your weight anymore and at first you do sink. It is true that struggling can make you sink in further, but would you actually sink far enough to drown?

Beautiful and reassuring—because the answer is no. The quicksand itself won’t fully cover you because you’re buoyant. What can kill you is staying in there too long (tides, the elements, pressure making it difficult to breathe). With dry quicksand, you’ll need help from someone on solid ground. In the sludge that is wet quicksand, stay calm and allow your buoyant self to float back up to the surface.

Have a wonderful summer.

California: The Robin Hood of Mental Health

This week’s blog post was inspired by a reading from my health policy and management course about California’s tax on the wealthy and using the revenue to fund community based services for mental health. The state of California is acting as Robin Hood for mental health to take from the wealthy to help those who need the most. According to the article published by Kaiser Family Foundation, The Mental Health Services Act (or formerly known as Proposition 63) taxes 1% of California citizens whose annual income exceeds $1 million. It was passed into law in January 2005. Annually, this tax generates around $2 billion and since its inception has raised around $16.53 billion. The two major initiatives that are funded by this endeavor include prevention and early intervention for young adults and outcome improvement in individuals with severe mental health conditions. Results have shown that this tax has had a positive effect on the outcomes of individuals with mental health conditions. Hopefully we start to see more results come out of California and the positive outcomes that may encourage other states to adopt similar policies and move towards a culture of prevention instead of treatment of mental health.

To learn more about the law here is a link to the bill: http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/mh/Pages/MH_Prop63.aspx

References

https://khn.org/news/californias-tax-on-millionaires-yields-big-benefits-for-people-with-mental-illness-study-finds/

 

Discrimination and Health Part I: LGBTQ+ Americans

Past research has suggested that discrimination can impact health outcomes – perhaps through vehicles such as stress of daily interactions and negative experiences with the healthcare system. One group whose experiences with discrimination can be linked to negative health outcomes is LGBTQ+ Americans. A study found that over half of LGBTQ people have experience slurs and offensive comments, and over half have been sexually harassed or experienced violence, or had an LGBTQ friend or family member experience such trauma.

We can make the connection between discrimination and trauma through various factors. One is through microaggressions –  seemingly harmless daily interactions with others who express, in this case, homophobic or transphobic views. These have been found to negatively impact health. Another is through discrimination within the healthcare system that lead LGBTQ Americans to seek healthcare less frequently. 18% of this population has avoided necessary medical care. Various forms of discrimination they face at the hands of medical professionals, police, and community members are much worse for those of color and those who are transgender.

Unfortunately, we can already see the health outcomes of discrimination to this population – they have higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance dependence (including higher tobacco use), and suicide; lesbian women are less likely to get preventative services for cancer, and gay men are at higher risk for certain STIs.

How can we work to eliminate these gaps, even when interpersonal discrimination may take longer to tackle as our culture continues to evolve? HealthyPeople2020 provides several recommendations. First, healthcare providers should discuss sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) respectfully with patients, and collect data on it. Medical students should be trained in LGBTQ culturally-responsive care. In addition, we must be spokespeople against legal discrimination of this population in social services such as employment, housing, and health insurance.

Sources:

https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-health

https://www.npr.org/documents/2017/nov/npr-discrimination-lgbtq-final.pdf

https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2017/11/08/how-racism-and-microaggressions-lead-worse-health

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race

http://www.apa.org/topics/health-disparities/fact-sheet-stress.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2747726/pdf/nihms134591.pdf

Khat: Dangerous drug, cultural pastime, or self-medication?

Khat is made from young leaves from the khat tree that are commonly chewed in the Horn of Africa and the Arab Peninsula. The drug produces stimulating effects and is said to make the chewer animated, energized, and social. Chewing can be done individually or as a social activity – in these gatherings, a communal tobacco pipe is placed at the center of the circle and passed around in addition to the khat. Khat chewing has become an extremely popular practice in the Horn of Africa – an estimated 90 percent of Somali men partake. Research suggests that this practice is associated with physical, psychological, and social risks, and the Somali diaspora is already one that faces high rates of PTSD and other mental health issues. Khat chewing may worsen these issues in the long run, but can also serve as a source of self-medication for those without resources for dealing with trauma.

There is controversy over khat in the countries where Somali refugees are resettling. Abukhar Awale, a Somali TV talk show host, suffered khat addiction himself and became a proponent of the ban. He called khat “the biggest barrier to our integration…segregating Somali youngsters from wider society…they do not contribute, they don’t speak English, they don’t feel they are part of the society.” On the other side, many argue that khat itself is not the problem, but the symptom of a society ravaged by war and trauma. They point to over-policing of people of color and the fact that the ban was associated very little support for those who were made to quit.

Sources:

http://www.itv.com/news/wales/2015-06-24/communities-criticise-lack-of-support-in-year-since-herbal-stimulant-khat-was-banned/

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/03/somaliland-abuzz-ethiopia-khat-convoys-150325100843701.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4075009/

Image retrieved from: TripSavvy

Are you processing or are you ruminating?

I am a self-described over-thinker.  From a young age, my family often complained that I over analyzed everything.  While this has served me well in many pursuits, I recently read that it may not be so great for my health.

According to a recent article by U.S. News and World Report, rumination over stressful or negative events may lead to prolonged psychological recovery time along with increased blood pressure and heart rate (1).  While I’m still an advocate for processing difficult situations, rumination is different.  Rumination typically leads to repeatedly and cyclically thinking about the same situation while creating moods that spiral downward (1).   People often end up ruminating without realizing it; they think they’re attempting to problem-solve instead (1).  I know this speaks to the analytical “Ms. Fix-it” in me.

According to the article, people can identify if they’re in rumination mode by asking themselves if their thoughts are unproductive, creating feelings of being overwhelmed, or causing distractions from their surroundings (1).  Suggestions to get past this include distraction by taking a walk or enjoying a hobby (1).

Now, all of this is said with a giant caveat-  if you feel like you need mental health help, get it.  Rumination often happens when people are dealing with something traumatic in their lives.  I am by no means telling you to shove your feelings down and avoid them.  What I am encouraging you to do is stop and ask yourself if you’re having the same negative thoughts over and over again.  If you feel like it’s something minor, you may want to stop and distract yourself to break the cycle.  If it’s something that’s a big deal to you, then you may need to enlist the help of a mental health professional.

Thinking about situations is helpful, but if three days have passed, and you’re still thinking about how the coffee-shop barista spelled your name wrong, you may be ruminating and hurting your health in the process.

 

Reference

  1. Colino, Stacey. The Hazards of Rumination for Your Mental and Physical Health. U. S. News and World Report. [Online] March 14, 2018. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/2018-03-14/the-hazards-of-rumination-for-your-mental-and-physical-health.

 

Study confirms grad students have higher rates of anxiety and depression

I’m currently in my second semester of grad school, and I have heard many people talking positively about mental healthcare since I’ve been here.  Within the first few days of classes in August, we were informed where and how to get mental health help on campus.  I know plenty of people who have sought assistance with their mental health, and they speak about it without any sort of stigma.  All of this talk got me wondering, what’s behind this positivity?  Is it:

A) My department is super supportive

B) We’re a bunch of public health enthusiasts who want to dismantle stigma in every way we can

C) There’s a huge need for mental healthcare among graduate students

It turns out that the answer is likely: D) all of the above.

According to a recent study published in Nature Biotechnology the prevalence of both moderate to severe and anxiety and moderate to severe depression is over six times higher in graduate students than in the general population (1).  The good news is that the study also found that a good work-life balance helps improve mental health (1).  This means the next time someone tells you to take care of yourself, they’re not just repeating trite advice.  It really is important.

If you’re one of the many grad students (or anyone for that matter) who feels overwhelmed, know that you’re not alone.  Many of us are there with you, and it’s OK if you need to enlist the help of a professional.  Personally, I view this as a sign of strength instead of weakness.

 

Reference

(1) Pain, Elisabeth. Graduate students need more mental health support, new study highlights. ScienceMag.org. [Online] March 6, 2018. http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2018/03/graduate-students-need-more-mental-health-support-new-study-highlights.

Celebrities, Social Media, and Mental Illness

By Jacob Rohde

Earlier this month, Selena Gomez opened up to Harper’s Bazaar magazine about her struggles with mental illness [1]. When asked about her upcoming plans for the new year, Gomez responded:

“I will always start with my health and my wellbeing. I’ve had a lot of issues with depression and anxiety, and I’ve been very vocal about it, but it’s not something I feel I’ll ever overcome… I think it’s a battle I’m gonna have to face for the rest of my life…”

Gomez is joined by several other celebrities, from Gina Rodriguez to Kid Cudi, who have spoken out about the realities of their mental illnesses and have used social media to publicly vocalize their related experiences [2]. For example, Gomez recently used Instagram to talk about her lupus diagnosis, which she has linked to her depression and anxiety [3]. All too often, celebrities are viewed as immune to such circumstances when, in reality, they share many of our own battles with mental illness. Social media allows celebrities, like Gomez, to connect with their audiences who may also struggle from mental illness, or to those who do not fully understand the complexity of mental illness symptoms.

Fifty percent of Americans will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime [4], yet public perceptions about mental illness remain highly stigmatized, especially among young adults and college students [5]. In my own experiences, I have witnessed several students express their reluctance to seek mental health services as to avoid being “outed” by peers and stereotyped.

Efforts to reduce mental illness stigma can benefit from the stories and experiences shared by celebrities through their social media accounts. Indeed, a recent study found that college students exposed to celebrity narratives about mental disorders were far less likely to stigmatize mental illness overall and had fewer negative perceptions about those who seek help for mental illness than students in control conditions [6]. Given this, celebrity use of social media as a platform to talk about mental illness may have a positive effect on how the public perceives mental illness.

Of course, I am not advocating for celebrities to share deeply personal experiences. However, if they choose to address certain issues pertaining to their mental health, it may serve to reduce the taboo culture currently surrounding depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. At minimum, doing so shows that celebrities, like Gomez, are not so different than ourselves.


Mental illness is a serious concern. If you are struggling, please seek professional help or reach out to the 24/7 suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255

If you are a UNC student, free support is available through the Counseling and Psychological Services program (CAPS). Information available here: https://caps.unc.edu/


References:

  1. Langford, K. (2018). Selena Gomez’s Wild Ride. Harper’s Bazaar. Retrieved from http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a15895669/selena-gomez-intervi ew/
  2. Yang, L. (2017). 23 celebrities who have opened up about their struggles with mental illness. Retrieved from http://www.thisisinsider.com/celebrities-depression-anxiety-mental-health-awaren ess-2017-11#cara-delevingne-struggled-with-depression-as-a-teenager-8
  3. Chiu, M. (2016). Selena gomez taking time off after dealing with ‘anxiety, panic attacks and depression’ due to her lupus diagnosis. People Magazine. Retrieved from http://people.com/celebrity/selena-gomez-taking-a-break-after-lupus-complication s/
  4. Kessler, R. C., Angermeyer, M., Anthony, J. C., De Graaf, R. O. N., Demyttenaere, K., Gasquet, I., … & Kawakami, N. (2007). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of mental disorders in the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative. World Psychiatry, 6(3), 168.
  5. Eisenberg, D., Downs, M. F., Golberstein, E., & Zivin, K. (2009). Stigma and help seeking for mental health among college students. Medical Care Research and Review, 66(5), 522-541.
  6. Ferrari, A. (2016). Using celebrities in abnormal psychology as teaching tools to decrease stigma and increase help seeking. Teaching of Psychology, 43(4), 329-333.

Teens for Gun Reform Make Their White House Appearance

The events that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkside, Florida last week have sparked the gun control debate yet again in the United States. To me the past week has felt a little like déjà vu: Sandy Hook, Route 91 Festival and Pulse nightclub shootings. Thinking even farther back to Columbine shooting in 1997 when a school shooting seemed unthinkable and how that has changed to be almost a predictable occurrence today. Each shooting seems to spark the same cycle of outcry among our nation with folks pressuring change from policymakers. Yet each time there is no change from the people in power. A few weeks go by and there is another story that captives our attention and it is pushed to the back of our minds until the next shooting occurs and the cycle begins again. However one group is attempting to stop this hopeless cycle: Teens for Gun Reform.

Teens for Gun Reform is a student run group that appeared in front of the White House on Monday. They prepared a “silent lie-in” demonstration of 17 members lying down for three minutes in the streets in front of the White House (the amount of time it took the gunman to take the lives of the students and teachers). Around a hundred students and other advocates rallied and protested following the demonstration. These students are standing up for what they believe needs to be changed since policymakers aren’t listening to anyone else. It’s their lives that are in danger and hopefully protests and pressures from this group will lead to change regarding gun control.

To learn more about this group and the protest visit the following sites:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/gun-control-lie-in-white-house-parkland-florida-shooting-donald-trump-protest-students-a8218686.html

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587089773/teens-lie-in-at-white-house-to-protest-for-stronger-gun-control