Category Archives: General

How do you help someone who is suicidal?

Suicide is not an easy subject to talk about and many people who are having suicidal thoughts may try to hide it. So how do you know if someone close to you is at risk of taking their own life?

Some people are obviously more at risk than others. For example, people who are suffering from depression or any kind of mental illness, those who have been diagnosed with a severe health problem like cancer or HIV, those who are homeless, the elderly or disabled, the unemployed, those in prison, and those who have other family members who have been suicidal or those who have attempted suicide before. Men are also more at risk than women.

Although actual suicide is relatively rare, attempted suicide and suicidal thinking is believed to be quite common.

According to a number of studies, people who experience suicidal thoughts are struggling to find meaning in their lives, they may feel they have little or no control over what happens to them other than to make the decision to live or not to live.

According to the Mental Health Charity Mind, the warning signs you need to look out for include:

  • Feelings of failure, loss of self-esteem, isolation and hopelessness
  • Sleep problems, particularly waking up early
  • Feeling useless and worthless and that there is no point in life
  • Neglecting their physical appearance and personal hygiene
  • Not eating properly
  • Suddenly making out a will or taking out life insurance
  • Talking about suicide – Mind say it is a myth that people who talk about suicide don’t go through with it. In fact, most people who have taken their own lives have spoken about it to someone at some point
  • Any significant change in behaviour or mood

If you suspect that someone close to you is feeling suicidal then you need to encourage them to get help from a professional as soon as possible and the best place to start is their doctor.

Try to engage with the person and encourage them to talk about their feelings, and be there to listen to them, let them know they are cared for and loved.

It’s also a good idea to gather a list of phone numbers of people, organisations and help lines that you can contact in case of an emergency and keep it near the phone.

Depressed and anxious women give birth to smaller babies

A new study by researchers from Sweden and Bangladesh have found that women suffering from depression and anxiety during pregnancy give birth to smaller babies who are more likely to have health problems when they are born and are more likely to die in infancy.

This was the first study of its kind to look at a non Western population. The study focused on 720 pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy living in two rural areas of Bangladesh and was a joint study between the Karolinska Instituet in Sweden and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).

The mental health of the pregnant women was assessed before birth and up to 8 months after the birth using the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale and State Trait Anxiety Inventory.

Over 80 percent of the babies born were weighed within 48 hour of delivery and baseline data provided socio economic, obstetric, reproductive, social support and other information.

“18 percent of the women we studied in two rural areas of Bangladesh were diagnosed as having depression and one-quarter as having anxiety during pregnancy, and these women were much more likely to give birth to very small babies” said Hashima E Nasreen, leader of the study.

“This is a worrying problem, since low birth weight is strongly associated with infant death, which may in turn perpetuate the cycle of mental health problems and underdevelopment” said Nasreen.

Nasreen and colleagues found that a total of 19 percent of women gave birth to small babies weighing less than 2,500 grams.

Women who were suffering from depression and anxiety during pregnancy were twice as likely to give birth to smaller babies as those women who were in better mental health whilst carrying their baby.

The study highlighted how much of an influence depression and anxiety has on infant health and indeed that mental health would appear to play a greater role in infant health than the likes of poverty and lack of nutrition.

“The reduction of LBW (low birth weight) at term is an important indicator of the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals for reducing child mortality and is a key indicator of progress” the researchers concluded.

“Our study indicates that, in order to achieve this goal, maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy need to be addressed.”

The study has been published in the online journal BMC Public Health.

Being a perfectionist is bad for your mental and physical health

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be good at everything you do, that’s only natural, but if you are a bit over the top about being perfect then you aren’t doing your mental or your physical health any good and it could in fact increase the risk of death says a recent study.

Professor Gordon Flett from York University in Canada has identified three different types of perfectionists.

There are the ones who are self orientated perfections, the ones who are other-oriented perfectionists and then there are the socially prescribed perfectionists.

Basically you either demand perfection from yourself, from others, or think others expect it from you.

“Perfectionism is the need to be, or to appear to be, perfect” says Professor Flett who also said that perfectionists are persistent, organised, and very detailed.

“Perfectionists vary in their behaviours: some strive to conceal their imperfections; others attempt to project an image of perfection.

“But all perfectionists have in common extremely high standards for themselves or for others.”

Professor Flett reckons that perfectionism can be linked to depression and even suicide, however, perfectionism is not yet recognised as a psychiatric disorder although he thinks it should be.

“Extreme forms of perfectionism should be considered an illness similar to narcissism, obsessive compulsiveness, dependent-personality disorder and other personality disorders because of its links to distress and dysfunction” says Dr Flett.

So how do you know if you or someone you know is overdoing it in the perfectionist arena? According to Dr Flett, perfectionists show their true colours in three ways. Firstly they might do it by bragging about themselves and this type is easy to spot because they often irritate other people says Dr Flett. The second is by avoiding situations where there is a possibility that they might be shown up. Or finally by not admitting failure to others and therefore may have a tendency to keep their problems to themselves.

Dr Flett and his colleagues followed 450 adults over the age of 65 for a period of 6 years to try and identify the effect of perfectionism. At the beginning of the study the researchers used a questionnaire to determine which of the participants had traits of perfectionism. At the end of the study the researchers found that those who did had a 50 percent higher risk of dying than those who were not considered perfectionists.

So, being perfect is not always a good thing.

US Veterans suffering from PTSD benefit from Canine Therapy

We’ve all heard that keeping a pet can be good for your health and that caring for an animal can help lower blood pressure and improve heart health but it’s not just physical health that can benefit, it can be good for mental health too.

Now the US army are increasing the use of animal therapy, particularly dogs, in a new approach to treat soldiers recovering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) says the Army Surgeon General’s special assistant for mental health, Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie MD

Dr Ritchie spoke about the programme at the 2010 National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Convention Symposium titled “Veterans and Military Mental Health”.

An earlier report by NAMI titled “Depression: Gaps and Guideposts” stated that 20 percent of people who have experienced depression have used animal therapy as part of their treatment and more than half of these (54 percent) found it extremely or quite a bit useful in aiding their recovery.

Chris Goehner, a 25 year old Iraq war veteran recently told the New York Times that after he got his dog he was able to cut his dose of anxiety pills as well as other medication for PTSD by half. His night terrors and suicidal thoughts stopped too.

Another Iraq Veteran, 29 year old Aaron Ellis said he was able to scrap his medication altogether not long after he got his dog adding that he was able to visit a supermarket for the first time in 3 years.

However, these dogs were not just ordinary dogs, they were specially trained psychiatric service dogs trained to help the veterans after they return from war torn areas to recover from the horror and atrocities they experienced on their tour of duty.

These two are not the only ones to benefit from the canine therapy; many others have too, so much so that the federal government is prepared to spend millions of dollars studying whether the scientific research backs up these individual stories.

The New York Times article reported that the veterans rely on their dogs to gauge the safety of their surroundings without having to be on alert for snipers, bombs and other hidden dangers.

In the past it was quite common for a dog to be given to a soldier who had perhaps lost his sight but only recently has giving a dog to a soldier suffering from emotional trauma been considered.

New study finds EPA fish oil effective for depressed people

A study carried out by Canadian researchers from Universite de Montreal, McGill, Queen’s and the Universite Laval has found that Omega 3 fatty acid supplements high in EPA can effectively treat depression, provided the depressed person isn’t also suffering from an anxiety disorder.

The study was exploring whether it was possible to use Omega 3 supplements to fight depression instead of using anti depressant drugs like Prozac or Paxil, which also carry some unpleasant side effects.

“Many of these (alternative) treatments have not been adequately evaluated” said Francois Lesperance, director of the study and head of psychiatry at the Universite de Montreal hospital centre, reported The Montreal Gazette.

The study involved a total of 432 people from Quebec and Ontario. Over a period of 8 weeks, half of the participants took 3 capsules of Omega 3 fish oil a day. The Omega 3 fish oil that was used in the study had a high concentration of Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, which is an Omega 3 fatty acid that can be found in oily fish like Salmon, Tuna, Herring, Sardines and Mackerel.

The other half of the participants took 3 capsules of a placebo which contained just sunflower oil that had been flavoured with fish oil.

Throughout the 8 week period all of the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire which evaluated their symptoms of depression.

The results showed that although there was an overall improvement in the group using the Omega 3 fish oil capsules, there was quite a significant improvement in a sub group of the study where the individuals were suffering from depression but did not also suffer from an anxiety disorder.

There have been numerous studies to date which have revealed that a lack of Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet could contribute towards depression, however, the researchers noted that if someone is depressed, they won’t necessarily find relief from eating large quantities of fish as the high concentration of Omega 3 fatty acid used in the study would not be available in an average diet.

The researchers are advising people to speak to their doctor if they are depressed and want to try a course of fish oil supplements.

The Montreal study was published in June 2010 in the online Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Beano is getting flack for stigmatizing people with mental health problems

Some mental health campaigners are outraged that a new character in the Beano comic is stigmatizing children with mental health problems.

Simon Coe or ‘Si Co’ (psycho) suffers from violent mood swings and from an involuntary Tourette like condition. Simon is shunned by his classmates.

In the comic strip Si Co throws a boy into a rubbish bin after he sees him drop litter on the street, and he also kicks the door of a newsagent after his comic wasn’t delivered on time.

The comic strip seems to be suggesting that Si Co’s condition is inherited as you can also see Simon’s mum trashing the kitchen and throwing a plate of food into Simon’s face when he forgets to say please. There’s also a family photo of a screaming man with the caption “Calm Uncle Clive”.

Every time Simon has an outburst the other kids start running and shout “uh oh! Si Co!”

Mental health organisations are worried that kids might think its ok to bully children with behaviour problems.

The situation really came to light after the News of the World ran a story on it. Suzie Vestri of campaign group ‘See Me’ told the Sunday Newspaper “We’re very disappointed to see such a popular children’s comic insinuating that it’s OK to mock or poke fun at children with behavioural problems”.

“Our campaign has worked hard to combat stigmatising name calling and this story sends out the wrong message that it’s okay to make fun of people with mental problems” she said.

Lucie Russell of YoungMinds charity told the News of the World “The message appears to be that behavioural and mental health problems are funny and that those who have them are psychos.”

The Sunday tabloid also quotes Marjorie Wallace of the mental health charity SANE as saying “Laughing at people who behave in a strange way which is not their fault, may cause incredible hurt.”

And there’s even a quote from Green MSP Robin Harper, who is Vice Convenor of Holyrood’s Mental Health Group.

“This could leave a generation of young people – including those with real mental health problems – stigmatised as ‘Si Cos’, I urge the Beano to think again” he said.

In defence of the comic and their latest character Simon Coe, a Beano spokesman said “he is just a guy who over-reacts dramatically to the annoyances in life that niggle us all.”

Psychological therapies will continue across the NHS

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley whilst visiting a psychological therapies service in Berkshire West, along with Care Services Minister Paul Burstow, outlined the government’s commitment to increase access to psychological therapies in the UK by pledging £70 million over the coming year to be spent on new and existing therapies to treat mental health conditions like depression and anxiety disorders.

The psychological therapies are not intended to replace medication but can be used as an alternative option to medication or in conjunction with medication to optimise the treatment for individuals.

At the moment access to psychological therapies can vary from region to region but the government want to make psychological therapies available to more geographical areas across the UK.

“Our Coalition Programme set out our intention to ensure greater access to talking therapies. We want to offer long-term solutions to people with mental health problems and psychological therapies do that” said Lansley

“Working through issues gives people the skills to manage them and deal with them more effectively if they recur.

“Depression affects up to one in six people at some point in their life and good mental health services are a key part of a preventative and patient-centred NHS. We will broaden the geographical coverage of services and also the range of therapies available. This will help us to deliver more choice and give people better access to the right psychological support”

Care Minister Paul Burstow who accompanied Lansley on his visit to Berkshire West said “it is early days for the programme, but we know we need to do more to increase the number of trained therapists and reduce waiting times. It means that by 2011, we will have trained over 3,600 therapists, with services up and running in every part of the country.”

Charles Waddicor, NHS Berkshire West Chief Executive welcomes the news that psychological therapies will be expanded.

“The announcement that psychological therapies will be expanded is good news for patients. In Berkshire West we are developing a successful Talking Therapies service which is delivering positive results helping to improve the health and wellbeing of patients.  We welcome the fact that this service had a good outcome: since 1st April 2010 it has helped get 64 people off benefits and back to work which has contributed to improving their health” said Waddicor.

Work Can Aid Recovery Of People With Depression And Anxiety

We often hear about people who are signed off from their work because of depression and anxiety related disorders, sometimes for months or even years, however that may not be the best thing to aid recovery according to a new report.

A research review carried out by The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health with support from the British Occupational Health Foundation (BOHRF) reports that people don’t have to be fully recovered from their depression before making a return to work as going back to work could actually help them to recover.

According to the review, people who are suffering from depression and anxiety should be offered specialist help and support in order to return to work as well as psychological therapy.

Common Mental Health Problems by Linda Seymour examined recent international research evidence on how to help people with depression and anxiety stay in work or return to work after a period of absence as a result of their mental health problems.

The research revealed not only that going back to work can help people recover from depression and anxiety, but also that specialist advice can be as important as psychological therapy and both are needed to help people with common mental health problems stay in work or get back to work. Line managers and other members of staff can also make a difference.

“Our review has shown that people with common mental health problems can return successfully to work before they are completely recovered. But many need support from expert employment advisers as well as timely access to psychological therapy and a good GP” said Linda Seymour who is head of policy at the Sainsbury Centre.

“Existing research has shown that work is good for our health and that too many people lose their jobs as a result of mental ill health. We need to ensure that alongside the new ‘fit note’ that enables GPs to comment on what people can do as well as what they can’t, and the new Government’s continuing commitment to improving access to psychological therapy, good quality employment advice is provided to both employees and employers.”

Back in 2005, BOHRF published a systematic evidence review of published evidence for effective interventions that help people with mental health problems return to work and this latest Sainsbury Centre review is an update of the review by BOHRF.

Male menopause is real but rare says study

When we think of the menopause, most of us probably imagine a middle aged woman suffering from mood swings and hot flushes and yes we may joke about a male menopause but most people really believe that to be a myth. Wrong!

Just days after the concept of the male menopause was dismissed, a new study has revealed that the male menopause is not a myth, ok so it’s quite rare, affecting only about 2 percent of middle aged men, but for them the experience is very real.

The researchers from the University of Manchester assessed the sexual, physical and mental health of over 3,369 men aged between 40 and 79 from 8 different European Centres.

A total of nine symptoms of the male menopause were identified the three most of important of which included poor morning erection, low libido and erectile dysfunction which are all related to low testosterone levels.

However, depression and fatigue and an inability to indulge in sexual activity were also linked to low testosterone levels.

Other symptoms that were not linked to low testosterone levels included anxiety, changes in sleeping patterns, poor concentration and feelings of worthlessness.

The condition known as late-onset hypogonadism, is a condition where the testes don’t work properly and affect hormone levels and this is linked to poor health and weight gain.

Professor Fred Wu, from the University of Manchester’s school of biomedicine, who led the study, said late-onset hypogonadism wasn’t like classical hypogonadism where similar symptoms were accompanied by a diagnosable condition, reported the BBC.

“This well-practised diagnostic approach is frequently found wanting when dealing with the age-related decline of testosterone in elderly men who are prone to have a significant background of non-hormone-related complaints” said Professor Wu.

“Our findings have for the first time identified the key symptoms of late-onset hypogonadism and suggest that testosterone treatment may only be useful in a relatively small number of cases” added Wu.

According to Professor Wu, sexual symptoms weren’t confined to men with low testosterone levels, but occurred even in men with normal testosterone levels.

“It is therefore important to specify the presence of all three sexual symptoms of the nine testosterone-related symptoms we identified, together with low testosterone, in order to increase the probability of correctly diagnosing late-onset hypogonadism.

“The application of these new criteria should guard against the excessive diagnosis of hypogonadism and curb the unwise use of testosterone therapy in older men” said Wu.

‘Getting it Right’ for people with learning disabilities

According to the Charity Mencap, almost half the doctors and nurses in a poll of 1,084 think that people with learning disabilities receive worse health care than the rest of the population reported the BBC.

Consequently, the charity is asking for health trusts to sign a charter which will set out the rights of people with learning disabilities and the responsibilities of hospitals to provide them with the proper care.

Mencap’s research, which was carried out by ICM also revealed that nearly half of the doctors and a third of the nurses had witnesses a person with a learning disability being neglected or denied their dignity reports the BBC.

The reason for the inadequate care was in a large part because the health professionals had not had the appropriate training and didn’t have specific guidance on how to meet the needs of learning disabled patients.

“Healthcare professionals have recognised they need more support to get it right when treating people with a learning disability,” said Mencap Chief Executive, Mark Goldring.

The charity is launching their “Getting it Right” charter this week.

“Our charter sets out a standard of practice and will make health trusts accountable to people with a learning disability, their families and carers” said Goldring.

So what does the Getting It Right charter require of health professionals?

The Charter states that:

All people with a learning disability have an equal right to healthcare.

All health care professionals have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the treatment they provide to people with a learning disability.

All health care professionals should provide a high standard of care and treatment and value the lives of people with a learning disability.

By signing the Charter hospitals pledge to:

  • Make sure that hospital passports are available and used
  • Make sure that all staff understand and apply the principles of mental capacity laws
  • Appoint a learning disability liaison nurse in hospitals
  • Make sure every eligible person with a learning disability can have an annual health check
  • Provide ongoing learning disability awareness training for all staff
  • Listen to, respect and involve families and carers
  • Provide practical support and information to families and carers
  • Provide information that is accessible for people with a learning disability
  • Display the ‘Getting it Right’ principles for everyone to see