News round-up (28 June 2024)

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27th June 2024 about a 6 minute read

Three of our stories this week feature children and young people, with one study showing that children who spend time in a natural environment experience better mental health than those who don’t. On a similar theme, a former children’s commissioner has called for a levy on mobile phone and social media companies to fund a mental health programme for children. A Canadian study, meanwhile, has found that the majority of young people diagnosed with psychosis already have a history of mental health or substance problems. We also highlight interesting new work showing how AI may help speed up the diagnosis of the fatal condition sepsis.

Main stories from the week

Two in five mentally ill people told by NHS they are not ill enough to receive care

Two in five people who have tried to access mental health support from the NHS have been told their illness wasn’t severe enough, while a third (35%) said they were denied support because their condition was considered too severe, according to a new report.

Perinatal depression linked to heart disease risk

Women diagnosed with depression either during pregnancy or after giving birth have a higher risk of heart problems later in life, a new study shows.

Doctors call for an end to children being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder

Thousands of children and young adults in the UK with serious mental illness are being denied the help they need because doctors label them as difficult and attention-seeking, according to a large group of leading doctors.

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.


And other stories from the week…

Gut biome may influence the way we handle stress

People who are highly resilient in the face of stressful events have a distinct biological makeup in their gut microbiome, a new study has found.

The study, published in Nature Mental Health, involved separating 116 adults without a mental health diagnosis into two groups based on how they scored on a scale of psychological resilience.

The researchers then looked at data from brain imaging, stool samples and psychological questionnaires, using a machine-learning model to identify patterns. The analysis found several associations in the high resilience group. In the brain, there were increased features related to improved emotion regulation and cognition. In the gut microbiome, they observed activity linked to reduced inflammation and to improved gut barrier integrity.

The lead researcher, Arpana Church of UCLA, said that the gut barrier absorbs nutrients and keeps toxins and pathogens from entering the bloodstream. When that becomes more permeable, the resulting inflammation acts as a stress signal to the brain that all is not well.

Children who spend time in nature have better mental health

Children who spend more time in natural environments have significantly better mental health, according to new research led by the University of Glasgow.

The study, which used GPS and accelerometer tracking, found that the benefits of spending time in nature were strongest for children from lower-income households.

Children who spent just 60 minutes daily in nature had a 50% lower risk of mental health problems, the researchers found.

The study, published in Environment International, found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular showed improved behaviour and social skills as a result of spending time in nature.

The researchers have called for collaboration between policymakers, local planners, community organisations, and health professionals to ensure people have access to safe, high-quality natural spaces in disadvantaged areas.

Mobile phone and social media companies should pay £1bn for children’s mental health support, says former children’s commissioner

Social media and mobile phone companies should be required to pay for a mental health programme for young people, according to Anne Longfield, a former children’s commissioner.

Longfield urged the next government to introduce a £1bn mental health recovery programme part-funded by a levy on social media and mobile phone companies.

She also called for an independent review into the impact of smartphones and social media on children’s health and development. Longfield said: “There is a children’s mental health epidemic affecting one in five children and young people. The impact of social media remains largely unknown, and policy is often motivated by headlines not evidence.”

Research suggests potential targets for identifying psychotic disorders

Nearly three-quarters of young people in Ontario with a psychotic disorder had at least one mental health service visit within the three years before their first diagnosis of the disorder, a study has found.

The study, carried out by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Canada, suggests that young people with a psychotic disorder are nearly four times as likely to have a previous mental health-related hospital admission, twice as likely to have a mental health-related emergency department visit, and more likely to have a past diagnosis of substance use disorder compared to youth diagnosed with a mood disorder.

Using data on health service use, the researchers identified more than 10,000 individuals with a first diagnosis of psychotic disorder and matched them with individuals who were diagnosed with a mood disorder. The researchers say the findings should guide further research into detecting and intervening earlier in the course of psychotic illness.

AI enables faster, more effective antibiotic treatment of sepsis

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been shown to be effective in predicting whether particular bacteria are susceptible to antibiotics, thus potentially improving treatment for sepsis.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition, and in order to treat it, fast diagnosis is essential. Currently, however, diagnosis is reliant on culture growth, which takes two or three days. While waiting for the result, doctors may use broad-spectrum antibiotics, but these may have limited efficacy.

The new system, Keynome gAST, or genomic Antimicrobial Susceptibility Test, bypasses the need for culture growth by analysing bacterial whole genomes extracted directly from patient blood samples. The machine-learning algorithms autonomously identify drivers of resistance and susceptibility based on data from a large-scale database of more than 75,000 bacterial genomes and 800,000 susceptibility test results. This allows for rapid and accurate predictions of antimicrobial resistance, potentially revolutionising sepsis diagnosis and treatment.

People over 50 with anxiety may have raised risk of Parkinson’s

People who develop anxiety after the age of 50 may have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study published in the British Journal of General Practice.

The researchers examined health data from GP practices for 109,435 people who developed anxiety after the age of 50. They compared the information to a control group 878,526 people without anxiety.

They then evaluated the data for Parkinson’s features, such as sleep problems, depression, tremors and balance impairment from the time of the anxiety diagnosis until one year before the Parkinson’s diagnosis.

People who were diagnosed with anxiety after the age of 50 were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s as those without anxiety, the study found.