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

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

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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

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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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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There’s No Brain in the World Like Yours

Guest post by Kayt Sukel 

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In the beloved children’s book, Happy Birthday to You!, Dr. Seuss writes, “Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true. There is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU.” Those who study the brain understand that the complex interplay of genetics and environment give rise to that “you-ness” of which Dr. Seuss spoke. And, as it turns out, it also makes for unique changes to brain anatomy—so much so that one can be uniquely identified by the brain, much like with fingerprints or the eye’s iris pattern.

Lutz Jäncke, a neuropsychologist at Switzerland’s University of Zurich, has spent his career studying individual differences. His work looking at brain differences in musicians, dancers, and chess players demonstrated that the human brain is profoundly shaped by experience.

“Thirty years ago, we didn’t anticipate that the human brain is so plastic,” he explains. “In learning that training and experience can have such a profound influence on the human brain, even in terms of anatomical and morphological aspects, we wondered if it was possible to identify individuals on the basis of anatomical features in the brain.”

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And All That Jazz: A Q&A with Michael Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D.

Guest post by Kayt Sukel 

Famed artist Barbara Januszkiewicz once said, “Jazz is the art of thinking out loud.” Is it any wonder then that jazz has made its way into a variety of neuroscience laboratories to help researchers investigate the neural underpinnings of creativity, communication, and timing?

In honor of International Jazz Day, a day designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate jazz’ ability to connect people from all over the globe, Michael Shadlen, M.D., Ph.D. , a neurologist at Columbia University (and jazz guitar player), shares his thoughts about jazz, timing, and the celebration of what our brains do each and every day in the service of cognition.

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Photo: Michael Shadlen

You are a jazz guitarist. What first got you interested in playing jazz music?

MS: I’ve always been interested in music. When I was younger, I played the violin. Later, I switched to guitar—mainly because my violin teacher wanted me to choose between basketball, girls, and violin. So I switched to guitar. I played in a rock band for a long time doing covers. We had the Bar Mitzvah circuit down!

But the drummer in our band was in the jazz band in high school. And he turned me on to it. We’d go to this amazing café called Amazing Grace in Evanston, Illinois. They had mostly folk music but also a lot of jazz acts. I remember seeing Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, and all kinds of amazing artists play there. It was pretty spectacular.

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