News round-up (5 April 2024)

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5th April 2024 about a 6 minute read

Some positive news this week, as the government launches a campaign helping parents to build a strong bond with their babies that will have a positive impact on future mental health. King’s College London has received £7m funding to investigate policies that can improve mental health at a population level. There are also some intriguing research findings showing the link between mind and body, with one study finding that treating depression can improve heart health, and another finding that a ketogenic diet leads to better mental health outcomes.

Government launches campaign to help parents bond with their babies

The UK government has launched a campaign to help parents build secure bonds with their babies, to encourage good mental wellbeing.

The campaign, Start for Life – If They Could Tell You, explains that baby’s cries, noises, expressions, and reactions are their way of communicating their needs and feelings. Learning to interpret these cues is key to meeting a baby’s needs and fostering a strong bond.

The emphasis on cultivating a strong bond is based on the idea that the first two years of life are crucial for a baby’s development. Neural connections are being formed constantly through a baby’s interactions with its parents, and these lay the groundwork for their physical and emotional health, both now and in the future. Secure relationships with parents and caregivers have a positive impact on a child’s development and can reduce the likelihood of mental health challenges later in life.

Parents will be able to access support and advice via family hubs and on the Start for Life website. There will also be guidance for frontline practitioners, aimed at helping them to start conversations with parents about building their relationship with their baby.

Research project receives £7M to investigate population-based improvement of mental health

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has awarded £7m funding to King’s College London to identify policy changes that will improve mental health in the UK.

The university will use the funding to establish a research theme in Population Mental Health, as part of a new national research network, Population Health Improvement UK (PHI-UK).

PHI-UK aims to innovative ways to improve the health of people and communities and reduce health inequalities by developing environmentally sustainable interventions.

Population Mental Health will be one of four initial research themes in the network. The theme is underpinned by three challenge areas: children and young people’s mental health, prevention of suicide and self-harm, and multiple long term health conditions, with a central focus on tackling mental health inequalities.

Number of RAF children seeking mental health help is on the rise

The number of RAF children seeking help for mental health problems caused by moving house repeatedly is on the rise, according to a new study.

Research conducted by the RAF Benevolent Fund, a charity, shows that the main worry of children within RAF families is the frequent home moves, which entail having to leave friends behind and experiencing disruption to their education.

Children in military families experience the unique challenges of often being separated from their serving parent, and having to move school frequently.

Figures published by the charity showed a 131% increase in children and young people receiving support for depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation between 2020 and last year.

The charity said that 64 children accessed its listening and counselling service in 2020, and that by 2023 this had increased to 148.

There was also a 93% increase in the use of the Fund’s family counselling programme, which uses trained counsellors to work on strengthening relationships and communication between family members.

Health and wellbeing platform reduces GP appointments and drives up strong health outcomes

Primary care networks using the Holly Health digital health and wellbeing coaching tool have seen a reduction in GP appointments, according to new data.

For each eight-week period, 0.22 fewer appointments were required in people who use the service for eight weeks or more, the company said. Over a one-year period, this is equivalent to 1.4 fewer appointments per user.

Holly Health provides personalised health support to patients via an app, with the aim of reducing the burden on clinical teams. To date, it has supported more than 35,000 people in180 NHS primary care partnerships.

The data from Holly Health shows that the most significant appointment reductions are in higher patient risk groups. Based on the eight-week data, type 2 diabetes patients have experienced an estimated average reduction of 6.5 fewer appointments per year.

Treating depression can improve heart disease outcomes, study finds

People who have experienced severe heart problems and receive treatment for mental health problems are 75% less likely to have to stay in hospital again, and 74% less likely to have to visit the emergency room, a study has found.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at how medication or therapy for anxiety and depression impacted heart health outcomes in 1,500 people. Participants had coronary heart disease or heart failure and they also had anxiety or depression. They had also experienced their first hospital admission related to heart failure or ischemic heart diseases.

Researchers looked at treatment for anxiety and depression and how this related to hospital readmission, emergency room visits for heart failure and coronary artery disease, all-cause mortality and heart disease mortality. They also looked at whether participants received psychotherapy and if they were taking antidepressant medication.

The analysis found that people who received both psychotherapy and medication for depression or anxiety experienced the most benefits and the most risk reductions.

Pilot study shows ketogenic diet improves severe mental illness

A pilot study conducted Stanford Medicine researchers has found that a ketogenic diet not only restores metabolic health, but also improves psychiatric conditions.

The findings, published in Psychiatry Research, suggest that a dietary intervention can be effective in treating mental illness.

The four-month trial followed 21 adult participants who were diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, taking antipsychotic medications, and also had a metabolic abnormality,  such as weight gain, insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance.

The participants were instructed to follow a ketogenic diet, in which approximately 10% of calories came from carbohydrates, 30% from protein and 60% from fat. They were not told to count calories.

The research team tracked how well the participants followed the diet through weekly measures of blood ketone levels. (Ketones are acids produced when the body breaks down fat, instead of glucose, for energy.) By the end of the trial, 14 patients had been fully adherent, six were semi-adherent and only one was non-adherent.

As well as seeing an improvement in their physical health, participants saw an average improvement of 31% on a psychiatrist rating of mental illness known as the clinical global impressions scale, with three-quarters of the group showing clinically meaningful improvement. The participants also reported better sleep and greater life satisfaction.