News round-up (21 June 2024)

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20th June 2024 about a 6 minute read

An intriguing new study that has used brain scans to identify six different types of brain activity relating to depression and anxiety – and offers potential for more individualised treatments. Another study, meanwhile, has shown a correlation between loneliness and mental health problems – though the direction of causality is not clear. This week also sees positive news from Scotland, where a bill has been passed allowing a pause on debt recovery action for people with mental health problems.


Main stories from the week

Mental ill health is main reason for pupil absences, survey shows

Poor mental health and anxiety are the main reasons for the increase in pupil absences since the Covid pandemic, according to a new survey of headteachers and other school leaders.


VR helps pain management and relaxation in labour and MRI scans

Virtual reality (VR) can help women manage pain in labour, a study has shown.


Almost one million people have claimed mental health benefits since the lockdown

Almost a million people have begun claiming universal credit (UC) for mental health problems since the end of lockdown in January 2022, the Telegraph has reported.


Reaping the benefits of AI innovations – from ingestible capsules to home monitoring

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools are helping with the diagnosis and treatment of health problems in a variety of innovative ways.


And other stories from the week…

Correlation between loneliness and mental health problems

Lonely people are more likely to take medication for depression, psychosis and other mental health disorders, a study has found.

The research, published in BJPsych Open, looked at approximately 2,600 people who participated in Young in Norway, a longitudinal study that has been running since 1992. The study follows thousands of people who were teenagers in the 1990s.

The researchers also collected data on medication use from the Norwegian Prescription Database.

Rubén Rodríguez-Cano, associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU’s), said that although the correlation was clear, it was impossible to say whether loneliness caused mental health problems, or the other way around. “People who are in the early stages of mental illness during their adolescence may experience problems with their social relationships. This can result in them feeling more alone, and this worsens their psychopathology,” he said.


Scotland passes new Bill on debt recovery

The Scottish government has approved new legislation that will enable a pause on debt recovery action for people with mental ill health.

The Bankruptcy and Diligence (Scotland) Bill means that eligible people will be able to apply for a moratorium on debt if they are receiving mental health crisis care, or if a mental health professional has confirmed that their debt is exacerbating their mental illness and lengthening the recovery process.

The bill also includes the power to halt debt recovery action until six months after a person has finished their treatment.

The Scottish public finance minister, Ivan McKee, said: “Mental health problems can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to manage their finances.

“This legislation will give them breathing space during which creditors cannot contact them, enabling them to complete their mental health treatment and access money advice services.”


Northern Ireland assembly urged to give greater priority to mental health

The Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland has been urged to give greater priority to mental health services by the public accounts committee (PAC).

The PAC also said that the funding for key services should increase.

The recommendation followed the committee’s inquiry into mental health services published by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) last year. The report found “significantly less” is spent on mental health in Northern Ireland per capita than in the rest of the UK.

The new report from the PAC has 16 recommendations, including that the department of health “sets out a target and timeframe over which it will grow mental health funding towards 10-11% of the total health budget”.

The NI department of health told the BBC that it “acknowledges the NIAO’s report and fully agrees that mental health services require additional funding”.


Six distinct types of depression and anxiety identified by brain scans

Researchers have identified six types of brain activity patterns relating to depression and anxiety.

The team from the US and Australia studied 801 participants who had been diagnosed with anxiety- or depression-related mental disorders. They also included 137 people without the conditions as controls.

Using fMRI scans, the researchers analysed brain activity during rest and while undertaking specific tasks. They derived 41 activation and connectivity measures for each participant, and grouped those with depression and anxiety into six types based on specific brain pathways that are overactive or underactive.

The team then randomly assigned 250 participants to receive one of three antidepressants or engage in talk therapy, and found that certain treatments worked better on people with particular subtypes. In future, this could enable doctors to match patients with the best therapies based on how their brains function.


Essex mental health inquiry will hear evidence in September

An inquiry looking into mental health deaths in Essex will begin hearing evidence on 9 September.

The Lampard Inquiry will investigate the deaths of more than 2,000 patients in the care of NHS trusts in Essex between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2023.

Evidence will be heard in public in Essex and live-streamed online over a three-week period.

The first hearings are expected to include opening statements as well as evidence from those impacted by mental health deaths.

The inquiry has been launched in response to a damning report into the deaths of two men in Essex. It will look at the deaths of patients under the care of both Essex Partnership University NHS Trust and two former trusts that it replaced, as well as patients in the care of North East London NHS Foundation Trust in Essex.


Gap widening in mental health support among UK companies, research finds

The gap is widening between the biggest UK companies that best support employees’ mental health and the majority that are slow to act, according to a benchmarking study, the CCLA Corporate Mental Health Benchmark – UK 100.

However, 96% of all these companies now invest in some level of mental health support services for employees, the research found.

The annual benchmark rates companies according to how they manage and report on mental health, placing them in one of five performance tiers. Positive indicators include the provision of multiple mental health support services, mental health training to line managers and the publication of a chief executive officer commitment to workplace mental health.

The best companies for offering mental health support included BT Group and Sainsbury.