News round-up (24 May 2024)

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23rd May 2024 about a 7 minute read

In the week that a general election is called, there is concern about the pressures on politicians, as new data shows that in a single year more than 10% of MPs sought out mental health help from parliament’s wellbeing service. The demand for mental health services shows no sign of abating, as recently-published figures show that referrals of under-18s to crisis mental health teams reached a five-year high in March. More positively, innovative uses for AI continue to emerge, as a new collaboration seeks to use the technology to accelerate discovery in childhood cancers.


Main stories from the week

Mentally unwell children subject to a “form of torture” by being put on wrong wards

Children with mental illness are being forced to stay on wards that are not fit to care for them, the Health Services Safety Investigation Body (HSSIB), a health regulator, has warned in a report.


Pre-pandemic brain scans predicted mental health outcomes during pandemic

An examination of brain scans of adolescents taken before the pandemic was able to predict mental health outcomes during the pandemic, a study has found.


College uses AI mannequins to train health and care practitioners

Darlington College, a further education college in County Durham, is to use mannequins powered by artificial intelligence to train students in health and social care.


Poor staff mental health costs employers £51bn a year, report finds

The cost to employers of poor mental health is £51bn per year, according to a new report from consultancy firm Deloitte.


And other stories from the week…

One in 10 MPs seek help for mental health problems

In a single year, more than one in ten MPs sought help for mental health problems, new figures show.

The data, obtained under a freedom of information request (FOI), found that in the 2021-22 financial year, 69 MPs out of a total of 650 made an appointment with the psychological wellbeing practitioner provided by the parliamentary health and wellbeing service. Another 50 MPs asked the service for help in 2022-23, with 39 doing so in 2023-24.

Some MPs spoke to the BBC about the impact of social media on their mental health.  Carolyn Harris MP said: “You cannot say anything because the minute you try to justify what happened or put up a defence out, it gives it legs. My mental health was absolutely shot after that.”


AI to accelerate discoveries in rare childhood cancers 

A new collaboration aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) to speed up the discovery of treatments for childhood cancers.

The partnership, between the Bardo Foundation, and the European Innovation Council (EIC), will integrate’s natural language processing and machine learning technologies into the research workflow at Oslo University Hospital, with an initial focus on osteosarcoma.

The project includes improved access for patients, caregivers, doctors, and researchers to data from, a site that contains information about clinical trials worldwide. Researchers will be able to use’s suite of AI research tools, which are designed to efficiently navigate and analyse vast volumes of academic literature and clinical data.


Teens who use marijuana are more likely to suffer psychotic disorders, study finds

Teenagers who have used cannabis within the last year have a dramatically higher chance of developing a psychotic disorder, according to a new Canadian study.

The research team at the University of Toronto found an 11 times higher risk of developing a psychotic disorder among teenagers who used cannabis compared with those who did not. When the analysis was limited to just emergency room visits and hospitalisations, there was a 27-fold increase in psychotic disorders in teenagers who had used the drug.

“When I see youths with psychotic symptoms, they’re almost always using lots of cannabis,” said Dr. Leslie Hulvershorn, a child psychiatrist and chair of the psychiatry department at Indiana University who was not involved with the study. “It would be unusual to see someone present with psychotic symptoms to a hospital and not have smoked cannabis.”

There was, however, no association between cannabis use and psychotic disorders in people ages 20 to 33.


Mental health charity offers a library of trusted apps for young people

Papyrus, the national charity supporting young people at risk of suicide, has worked with the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA) to develop a library of trusted mental health apps for young people.

All the apps included within the library have been reviewed, and are designed to support young people in feeling safe to use them, and in locating those that best suit their needs.

The library, which can be browsed by keyword or condition, covers topics such as self-harm, anxiety, suicide prevention, depression and supporting others. The apps include Tellmi: Better Mental Health, which helps users manage their mental health and access support; distrACT, an app to help users manage feelings relating to self-harm or suicide; and Stay Alive, a “pocket suicide prevention resource” offering information and tools for those in crisis.


Under-18 referrals to crisis care teams reaches five-year high

There were 4,073 urgent referrals of under-18s to crisis care teams in March this year, a five-year high, according to new data from NHS Digital.

The data also shows that, at the end of March, 1,521,324 million adults and 541,230 children were in contact with mental health services. At the same time, 21,527 people were subject to the Mental Health Act, while 825 inappropriate Out of Area Placements were active. Both of these were also five-year highs.

During the same period, there were 33,800 urgent adult referrals to crisis care teams

Gemma Byrne, policy and campaigns manager at mental health charity Mind, said: “Behind every number is a person navigating the bleak reality of trying to access mental health support in 2024. NHS staff are working tirelessly to support people, but there is a limit to what they can do when faced with decades of underinvestment and a surge in demand.”


Ancient Viruses Linked to Mental Illness

Ancient viral DNA sequences, once thought of as “junk DNA,” contribute to the risk of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, a new study has found.

About 8% of our genome consists of sequences called Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs), which are products of ancient viral infections that occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago. Until recently, it was assumed that HERVs were simply junk DNA, with no important function in the body.

The new study, carried out by researchers at King’s College London, is the first to show that a set of specific HERVs expressed in the human brain make someone more susceptible to experiencing a psychiatric disorder susceptibility.

The researchers analysed data from large genetic studies involving tens of thousands of people, both with and without mental health conditions. It also looked at data from autopsy brain samples from 800 individuals, to explore how DNA variations linked to psychiatric disorders affect the expression of HERVs.


Discrimination against people with mental illness is cutting lives short, says top psychiatrist

Outcomes for people with severe mental illness will only get worse unless society champions their right to acceptance, the president of the Royal Collage of Psychiatrists has warned.

Dr Lade Smith said: “People with severe mental illness are discriminated against every day. They face outdated and old-fashioned stereotypes and tropes, which are simply wrong. Discriminatory attitudes have us believe that an SMI is somehow a negative character flaw, intrinsic to who people are, that can never be changed, rather than an illness that can be treated.”

She noted that people with severe mental illness are “also significantly more likely to die by suicide, and have a life expectancy that is 15-20 years lower than the population, because of avoidable physical health conditions.”

Smith called for everyone to take a moment to reflect on their own attitudes towards severe mental illness and strive for a more compassionate point of view.