In a study of 130,000 American adults, including 19,299 psychedelics users, researchers failed to find evidence that taking psychotropic substances results in serious mental health problems. Alcohol, on the other hand, continues to drive rates of depression and suicide higher because it easily aggravates smaller mental health issues into something larger.
Funded by the Research Council of Norway, scientists found that people often reported experiencing deep and meaningful events while under the influence of substances like LSD or psychedelic mushrooms. While those reports were subjective, the study also looked at clinical conditions like serious psychological distress, mental health treatment, suicidal thoughts and plans, depression, and anxiety.
“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances.”
Teri Krebs, a neuroscientist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who helped lead the study, concludes that it is difficult to seefrom a public health perspective any government’s justification for outlawing the use of psychedelic substances: “Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances.”
Popular author and Stanford philosophy graduate Sam Harris explains his own experience with psychedelic drugs during his Big Think interview. Early in the clip, Harris offers important caveats to taking hallucinogenic drugs because many are neurotoxins. For the serious inquirer, however, they are a way to further explore the nature of consciousness.
When it comes to mental health, technologies such as smartphones and social media networks are almost always discussed in terms of the dangers they pose. Alongside concerns expressed in the media, some experts believe that technology has a role in the rising rates of mental health problems. However, there is also evidence to suggest your smartphone could actually be good for your mental health.
The brain is a sensitive organ that reacts and adapts to stimulation. Researchers have looked into smartphone usage and the effects on the day-to-day plasticity of the human brain. They found that the finger movements used to control smartphones areenough to alter brain activity.
This ability of technology to change our brains has led to questions over whether screen-based activity is related to rising incidence of such conditions as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or an increased risk of depression and insomnia. Technology has also been blamed for cyber-bullying, isolation, communication issues and reduced self-esteem, all of which can potentially lead to mental ill health.
However, focusing only on the negative experiences of some people ignores technology’s potential as both a tool for treating mental health issues and for improving the quality of people’s lives and promoting emotional well-being. For example, there are programmes for depression and phobias, designed to help lift people’s moods, get them active and help them to overcome their difficulties. The programmes use guided self help-based cognitive behavioural principles and have proven to be very effective.
Computer games have been used to provide therapy for adolescents. Because computer games are fun and can be used anonymously, they offer an alternative to traditional therapy. For example, a fantasy-themed role-playing game called SPARXhas been found to be as effective as face-to-face therapy in clinical trials.
Researcher David Haniff has created apps aimed at lifting the mood of people suffering from depression by showing them pleasing pictures, video and audio, for example of their families. He has also developed a computer game that helps a person examine the triggers of their depression. Meanwhile, smartphone apps that play subliminal relaxing music in order to distract from the noise and worries of everyday living have been proven to be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety.
Technology can also provide greater access to mental health professionals through email, online chats or video calls. This enables individuals to work remotely and at their own pace, which can be particularly useful for those who are unable to regularly meet with a healthcare professional. Such an experience can be both empowering and enabling, encouraging the individual to take responsibility for their own mental well-being.
This kind of “telemedicine” has already found a role in child and adolescent mental health services in the form of online chats in family therapy, that can help to ensure each person has a chance to have their turn in the session. From our own practice experience, we have found young people who struggle to communicate during face-to-face sessions can be encouraged to text their therapist as an alternative way of expressing themselves, without the pressure of sitting opposite someone and making eye contact.
Conditions such as social anxiety can stop people seeking treatment in the first place. The use of telemedicine in this instance means people can begin combating their illness from the safety of their own home. It is also a good way to remind people about their appointments, thus improving attendance and reducing drop-out rates.
New routes to treatment
The internet in general can provide a gateway to asking for help, particularly for those who feel that stigma is attached to mental illness. Accessing information and watching videos about people with mental health issues, including high-profile personalities, helps to normalise conditions that are not otherwise talked about.
More generally, access to the internet and use of media devices can also be a lifeline to the outside world. They allow people to connect in ways that were not previously possible, encouraging communication. With improved social networks, people may be less likely to need professional help, thus reducing the burden on over stretched services.
Research into the potential dangers of technology and its affect on the brain is important for understanding the causes of modern mental health issues. But technology also creates an opportunity for innovative ways to promote engagement and well-being for those with mental health problems. Let’s embrace that.
There are six different types of obese people, both young and old, according to a new study.
In an effort to better understand the disease as well as potential treatments, researchers have decided that obesity can be categorized into one of six different labels. They hope that being able to recognize each “type” of obese person would allow doctors to treat them more effectively, and with a more individualized approach.
The researchers examined data on over 4,144 obese adults from the Yorkshire Health Study cohort; all of the people had a body mass index (BMI) over 30 and an average age of 56 years. Most of the participants were female, at 58 percent, and the average BMI was around 34. The study was published in the Journal of Public Health and concluded that BMI could not be the only way to measure or identify obesity.
The six different types of obese people identified in the study are those below:
Obese but young, healthy females who have not yet developed obesity-related complications were more likely to take positive weight loss steps.
Men who drink heavily (drinking at least 12 drinks per week) were less likely to manage their weight well.
Unhappy, anxious middle-aged people, in particular women who have mental health issues, reported more depression, anxiety, and fatigue although they engaged in physical activity.
Wealthy and healthy elderly people drink more alcohol and have higher blood pressure than average.
Elderly individuals who are physically ill (suffering from chronic conditions like arthritis) but are happy and have good mental health reported a higher sense of well-being.
People with the worst health, who have more chronic conditions than the other groups, were also more likely to be poorer. This category had the highest mean BMI and reported more levels of pain and fatigue.
Of course, the risk factors of obesity are wide and varied — they can involve eating disorders, behavioral problems, mental illness like depression or anxiety; they can also involve physical disorders or disabilities, lack of physical activity, alcoholism or drug abuse, or even economic problems. Being able to identify each person as have their own unique set of risk factors could help doctors target better treatments for individuals.
“Policies designed to tackle obesity and encourage healthier lifestyles often target individuals just because they are obese,” Mark Green of Sheffield University’s school of health and social research, as well as an author of the study, told The Guardian. “We are all different and different health approaches work for different people. In the future, we hope that GPs will keep in mind these six groups when offering advice to their patients.”
Source: Green M, Strong M, Razak F, Subramanian S, Relton C, Bissell P. Who are the obese? A cluster analysis exploring subgroups of the obese. Journal of Public Health. 2015.
Concordia University research shows quitting cigarettes is a more complicated struggle when mental health is a factor
People diagnosed with depression need to step out for a cigarette twice as often as smokers who are not dealing with a mood disorder. And those who have the hardesttime shaking off the habit may have more mental health issues than they are actually aware of.
Those insights were among the collective findings recently published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research by a team of researchers based in part at Concordia University.
While nearly one in five North American adults are regular smokers, a figure that continues to steadily decline, about 40 per cent of depressed people are in need of a regular drag. The statistic motivated the researchers to investigate what was behind that higher percentage.
The findings revealed that those who struggle with mental illness simply have a tougher time quitting, no matter how much they want to. The anxiety, cravings or lack of sleepthat accompany typical attempts to quit cold turkey will have them scrambling for the smokes they might have sworn off earlier that evening. A person without clinical depression is better equipped to ride things out.
Yet a bit more exercise has been shown to reduce the compulsion to reach for a cigarette — even if it is not enough to alleviate the symptoms of the depression itself.
Based on an 18-month study, quitting was found to be easier in the midst of even the most basic workouts, since withdrawal symptoms were reduced in the aftermath of regular walks.
“The review should be seen as a call to arms,” says study co-author Grégory Moullec, a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with Concordia’s Department of Exercise Science. “Our hope is that this study will continue to sensitize researchers and clinicians on the promising role of exercise in the treatment of both depression and smoking cessation,” adds first author Paquito Bernard of the University of Montpellier in France.
As well, for those who are having a hard time giving up cigarettes, the research sheds light on how that struggle can reveal depression that has not been adequately diagnosed.
Overall, investigations into how exercise can play a role in helping to quit smoking continue. Most people eager to break the habit would no doubt leap at the chance to shed their cravings through physical activity alone.
“We still need stronger evidence to convince policymakers,” explains Moullec. “Unfortunately there is still skepticism about exercise compared to pharmacological strategies. But if we continue to conduct ambitious trials, using high-standard methodology, we will get to know which interventions are the most effective of all.”