New Report Finds Current Strategies Insufficient for Preventing the Most Preventable Cause of Mental Illness

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

Child Maltreatment.jpg

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Childhood maltreatment is recognized as the No. 1 preventable cause of mental illness – and some experts argue, of all stress-related diseases – yet science still has no clear answers for how to best prevent the spiral of neglect and abuse that threatens millions of infants and children in the U.S. alone.

In a report published this week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF), a U.S. Public Health Service committee charged with recommending action to thwart preventable health conditions, conceded that there was “insufficient data” to recommend any particular strategy that has been tested as a means of preventing childhood maltreatment, which encompasses neglect as well as physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. Preventive interventions initiated in primary care focus on preventing maltreatment before it occurs, as opposed to identifying children who are victims of abuse or neglect. Continue reading

Halloween Can Bring Out Our Phobias

Phobia - Halloween.jpg

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It’s Halloween, which means many of us will be using haunted houses and horror-movie marathons to intentionally tap into our deepest fears. We all experience fear, but what happens when those fears become unbearable and turn into phobias? It’s important to remember that fear and phobias are different things – according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, fear “is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat” whereas phobias are actually a form of anxiety disorder defined by “a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation.”

Where do phobias come from, and why do only some people experience them? There are three different types: social phobia, also known as social anxiety; agoraphobia, the fear of being in places where you will be trapped and unable to escape; and specific phobias, characterized as phobias to either animals, natural environments, blood-injection-injury, situational, or other. Specific phobias are the most common form, affecting approximately 8.7 percent of the United States population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Continue reading

Predicting Suicides—Beyond STARRS

News Story from dana.org

Suicide Prevention

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Over the past few years, America has lost several celebrities, including actor/comedian Robin Williams and fashion designer Kate Spade, to suicide. It’s not a surprise: Suicide rates have been increasing across the board in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1.3 million people in the US attempted suicide in 2016 – and nearly 45,000 died. This is nearly a 25 percent increase from the numbers posted in 2000.

To help combat what is being called a problem of epidemic proportions, the Mental Health Research Network, led by researchers at Kaiser Permanente, has developed a computer model based on data collected during outpatient visits to help identify which patients may be at the most risk for killing themselves.

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Testing Teenagers and Examining Stress

Headshot-BlakemoreExams can be nerve-wracking to even the most prepared. In England, a roller coaster of emotions has been on display as the nation’s series of grueling public exams, the General Certificate for Secondary Education (GCSE), were proctored earlier this summer. The highly anticipated test grades were finally made public last week, and while the unveiling of the results may have brought about much-needed relief for some, the pressure and preparation needed to do well for others branded the two-year journey with a relentless villain—stress.

The anxiety-inducing exam was the focus of a thought-provoking article in The Guardian that featured Dana Alliance member Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University College London and author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain. The self-described champion of teenagers touches on the rash timing and the dread of the exams endured by the 15- and 16-year-olds during a period that she says is critical in a developing brain. From the interview:

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Brain’s Unconscious Loss Processing May Support Grief Resolution

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

Animated GIF-source

A whole-brain representation of the neural signature associated with processing the loss of a loved one. Activation of this signature in the absence of a conscious thought of the loss correlated with less severe grieving. (GIF courtesy of Noam Schneck; adapted with permission from Biological Psychiatry: CNNI 2018 in press.)

What might grief look like in the brain? Is there a neural “fingerprint” associated with thoughts of a loved one, conscious or otherwise? Does the frequency with which that fingerprint shows up have anything to do with whether or not a bereaved person is able to move on from the death of a loved one and resume normal daily activities?

As psychiatry grapples with how to differentiate “normal” grief from bereavement-related depression and otherwise complicated or prolonged grief, one young scientist is tackling these questions from an altogether different angle, looking inside the brains of people recently bereaved due to suicide to identify grief-related patterns of neural activity and to track how those patterns might affect grief resolution.

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