News round-up (16 February 2024)

man looking at online news headlines
15th February 2024 about a 5 minute read

Exercise is twice as effective as antidepressants in treating depression, a new large-scale review of research has found. Scientists have developed a blood test that can predict an individual’s risk for schizophrenia as well as match patients to the most appropriate treatment. More patients and former patients have come forward to report being sexually assaulted on inpatient mental health wards, following a major investigation by the Independent and Sky News.

Exercise twice as effective as antidepressants, study finds

Exercise is twice as effective as antidepressants at treating depression, according to a new review of research.

Researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia, analysed 14,170 people with major depression disorder from 218 separate trials. They ranked different types of exercise by how effective they were at treating the condition compared with existing treatments.

They found that the best way to reduce symptoms of depression was to go walking or jogging at least two or three times a week.

While all forms of intervention were effective to some degree, taking antidepressants on their own was less effective than either exercise or therapy.

The study also found that yoga was as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy, both of which produced a “moderate” improvement in symptoms.

Blood test predicts schizophrenia and matches patients to treatments

A new blood test for schizophrenia has been developed by a team of researchers in the US.

The new test identifies biomarkers in the blood that can objectively measure the current severity of a person’s condition, along with their future risk for schizophrenia. It also matches them to the treatment most effective for their individual biology.

The researchers, led by Dr Alexander Niculescu of the Indiana University School of Medicine, tested psychiatric patients that they had followed for over a decade. They identified biomarkers that were predictive of high hallucinations and high delusions states, as well as future psychiatric hospitalisations related to hallucinations and delusions.

They also studied which biomarkers are targets of existing drugs, which makes it possible to match patients to the right treatments.

Dozens of new allegations of sexual assault in mental health wards

There have been dozens of new allegations of sexual abuse against patients in mental health wards, following an earlier investigation by Sky News and the Independent.

The original investigation revealed 20,000 complaints of sexual abuse, harassment and rape, involving patients and staff in more than 30 NHS England mental health trusts since 2019.

Since then, more than 40 patients have contacted the media outlets with claims of sexual assault and rape in psychiatric care facilities. One of the new cases is a former taxi driver who says she was raped by two staff members at the same time while she was a psychiatric patient in Doncaster in 2017.

The investigation also found that, out of more than 50 trusts contacted, only six demonstrated that they’re implementing the Sexual Safety Collaborative, a set of guidelines developed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to protect patients.

‘Seriously ill’ mental health patients told to attend job centre meetings

Mental health inpatients in Dorset have been told to attend jobcentre meetings or risk losing their benefit claims, the Observer has reported.

Three patients at Forston clinic, an NHS mental health inpatient service near Dorchester, were told to attend meetings or risk their benefits being cut, even though this contradicts national guidance from the Department of Work and Pensions. Although Citizens Advice Central Dorset has asked for a guarantee that no such requests will be made in future, the local jobcentre managers have refused to make such a guarantee.

After Citizens Advice intervened, two of the patients were told they did not have to attend. Staff at the clinic decided to send a third patient to a jobcentre, so as not to delay their universal credit claim.

Caroline Buxton, business and partnerships manager at Central Advice Central Dorset, said: “Surely the fact that he’s sectioned is enough to know this person is not at a stage in their claimant journey when they could come and discuss ‘Should I do an IT course?’ or whatever. This is just totally inappropriate.”

Mental health absences among police officers up 67% in four years, figures show

Mental health absences among police officers in Scotland have increased by nearly 70% in four years, new figures show.

The data, obtained using freedom of information legislation, show that between 2018-19 and 2022-23, the number of working days lost to mental health absences increased by 67% among police officers and 165% among police staff.

In total, 59,073 police officer working days and 22,828 police staff working days were lost to mental health absences in 2022/23.

Pauline McNeill, the Scottish Labour justice spokeswoman, said: “These shocking figures expose the immense pressure Police Scotland is under.” She added: “With police officer numbers at a 15-year low and more cuts looming, there is a real risk that stress levels will continue to rise among overstretched officers and staff.”

Promise of a four-week waiting time for children’s mental health services is on hold

An NHS promise to introduce a standard four-week waiting time for children seeking mental health help appears to be on hold after a consultation warned of possible unintended consequences of the policy.

In 2021, the NHS piloted a four-week waiting time for children to access specialist mental health services. It then proposed making the four-week wait a new national standard.

NHS data from 2021–22 showed that children and young people were waiting  an average of nearly six weeks between referral and treatment. Documents obtained by the publication Schools Week have now found that, in February 2022, NHS officials recommended that, instead of introducing a new standard wait time, it would  measure services on whether they managed to achieve a wait time of four weeks or under. The documents stated that the pilot data showed “very little difference” and “proved inconclusive in terms of establishing a clear correlation between inputs, costs and waits”.