News round-up (14 June 2024)

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13th June 2024 about a 6 minute read

This week’s round-up showcases several examples of interesting new research into the causes of mental illness. One study has found a link between bartonella (a flea-borne bacterium) and psychotic disorder, while another has found that one in 200 users of cannabis are likely to experience a psychotic episode. There is some good news too: one in four people diagnosed with bipolar disorder go on to achieve complete mental health, while positive educational and behavioural messages sent via WhatsApp can help to lift depressive symptoms.


Main stories from the week

Depression is linked to memory decline, study finds

Depressive symptoms are linked to subsequent memory decline in older people, a new study has found.


Looking at trees can improve mental wellbeing, study finds

Simply looking at elements of the natural world, such as trees, can improve people’s wellbeing, an innovative study has found.


Suicide risks found in nearly half of A&E and mental health wards

Nearly half of Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection reports into A&E departments and mental health wards have raised concerns over ligature risks for vulnerable patients, according to an analysis by the publication HSJ.


NHS to launch physiotherapy clinic run by AI

The NHS’s first AI-run physiotherapy clinic is to launch later this year. The new service will enable patients to access an appointment with a digital physiotherapist via an app, Flok Health, which responds to information provided by a patient in real time.


And other stories from the week…

Study shows cannabis triggers psychotic episodes in 1 in 200 users

Approximately one in 200 (0.5%) of cannabis users may experience a psychotic episode, which can involve hallucinations, delusions and paranoia, a new study has found.

A team led by Tabea Schoeler, a statistical geneticist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, selected 162 high-quality studies for their analysis.

Most of the studies, which covered 201,283 users, were designed to assess the experiences of recreational cannabis users, and to look for links to demographic, social, and genetic factors. About 15% had participated in studies testing medicinal cannabis products and documenting their side effects, while 1% had been involved in experimental studies studying the effects of THC in healthy volunteers.

Although the studies found varying rates of cannabis-associated psychosis, the rate of acute cannabis-associated psychotic symptoms (CAPS), or a full-blown psychotic episode, was only 0.5% across the different types of study.


Bartonella DNA found in blood of patients with psychosis 

Patients diagnosed with schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder are three times more likely to have Bartonella DNA in their blood than adults without these disorders, a study has found.

The research lends support to the idea that pathogens could play a role in mental illness.

Bartonella are a group of vector-borne bacteria transmitted primarily via arthropods such as fleas, lice and y ticks, and also by the animals that harbour them. There are at least 45 different known Bartonella species, of which 18 have been found to infect humans.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, involved analysing the blood of 116 people for evidence of Bartonella DNA and Bartonella specific antibodies. In a previous study the same patients had been tested for increased inflammation and found that patients with psychosis were more likely to have increased inflammatory markers in the blood.

The new study found that 43% of participants diagnosed with psychosis had Bartonella DNA in their blood compared to 14% in the control population.


Mind survey shows public concern over lack of spending on mental health

Two-thirds (67%) of the public are “very” or “somewhat concerned” about NHS mental health services, a survey conducted by More in Common has found.

A significant proportion of the public are also concerned about access to mental health services. Nearly half (49%) think mental health support through the NHS is difficult to access, and most people aren’t confident that they could access support through the NHS if they needed it.

Mental health services ranked in the top five of the public’s priorities for increased spending, alongside healthcare, hospital services, GP services, police and emergency services, the survey found.


One in four people with bipolar disorder achieve complete mental health

Among people previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, 43% were free of all bipolar symptoms, while one in four had achieved complete mental health, research has found.

The study, conducted by the University of Toronto and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, also found that people  with a history of bipolar disorder were much less likely to be flourishing than their peers. Three-quarters of those without a history of bipolar disorders were in complete mental health.

The researchers analysed data from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health, and compared 555 Canadians with a history of bipolar disorder to 20,530 respondents without such a history.

Melanie Katz, a University of Toronto researcher and study author, said: “Even after accounting for various sociodemographic and health factors, individuals with a history of bipolar disorder still face significant challenges in achieving complete mental health compared to those without such a diagnosis.”


WhatsApp messages are effective for treating depression in older people, study finds

WhatsApp can be a highly effective tool to help older people overcome loneliness and depression, according to a new study.

The researchers carried out a randomised controlled trial with 603 participants older than 50, and registered at 24 primary care clinics in Brazil. Participants, who had all displayed significant symptoms of depression, were randomly divided into two groups.

The intervention group, with 298 participants, received WhatsApp messages via the Viva Vida program twice a day, four days a week, for six weeks, with educational content on depression and behavioural activation. The control group, with 305 participants, received a single message with educational content.

Symptoms of depression improved in 42.4% of the intervention group, compared with 32.2% in the control group.

The lead researcher, Marcia Scazufca of the University of São Paulo’s Medical School, said: “This suggests that intervention in the form of mobile phone messages was an effective short-term treatment of depression for older people in areas with limited health services.”


Link between low-levels of omega-3s and symptoms of psychosis, study finds

Children with persistently higher levels of omega-6 compared to omega-3 fatty acids in their blood, as well as consistently low DHA levels, had more psychotic experiences at age 24, a study has found.

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast tracked the participants, who are part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) from childhood into adulthood.

The fatty acid levels were measured in the blood tests collected from the participants throughout their lives, at the specific ages of 7, 15, 17 and 24 years old.

As well as having more psychotic experiences, the group with low levels of omega-3 also showed greater negative symptoms of psychosis. These include experiencing a loss of interest in activities, flattening of emotions and social withdrawal.

Dr David Mongan, academic clinical lecturer at Queen’s University, said: “This inaugural study is important because the results suggest that optimising fatty acid status during crucial stages of development, whether through diet or supplementation, warrants further investigation in relation to reducing psychotic symptoms in early adulthood.”