News round-up (5 July 2024)

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4th July 2024 about a 7 minute read

In a week that sees us all go to the polls, there is a mixed bag of stories this week: one study of mental health resources on the websites of leading health organisations has found that most give misleading information about depression, portraying it as a cause of symptoms, rather than simply a description of them. A report in Guernsey has found that one in four adults admitted to a psychiatric unit have mental health problems linked to cannabis use, while a research study has identified a missing gene on the X chromosome as a cause of some cases of depression and obesity. Finally, the Health Foundation has set out six priorities that policymakers and healthcare leaders need to address when developing an AI strategy.


Main stories from the week

Staff to be trained in using AI to diagnose lung disease

A project has been launched in Lewisham to develop educational resources to train health care professionals in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


VR helps train nursing students and autistic people practise real-life skills

Virtual reality (VR) software is being used to help improve the training of student nurses at the University of Lincoln.


Ministry of Defence offering yoga and ‘lived experience’ workshops to improve mental health

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is offering staff activities to improve their mental wellbeing – including menopause yoga and lived experience workshops.


Ketamine can help prevent depression relapses, study finds

Slow-release ketamine pills can prevent people relapsing into depression, a study has found.


Other stories from the week

Adolescents with social anxiety disorder at higher risk of suicidal ideation

Adolescents with a social anxiety disorder are at a higher risk of experiencing depression and suicidal ideation two years after they first develop social anxiety symptoms, according to a new study.

The research, published in JCPP Advances, recruited 2,397 young people between the ages of 14 and 24 and living in the UK. Participants completed questionnaires about their mental health and whether they were experiencing depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, social anxiety symptoms, or generalized anxiety. In a two-year follow up, researchers  found that social anxiety was a “significant predictor” of suicidal ideation.

Argyris Stringaris, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at University College London and co-author on the study, said: “Our findings suggest addressing social anxiety early could be crucial in preventing the development of suicidal thoughts and other depressive symptoms.”


People commonly given incorrect information about depression, study finds

People are commonly given misleading information about depression by mental health professionals, according to a new Finnish study.

Most psychiatric diagnoses are descriptive – a diagnosis of depression is a description of psychological symptoms, not the cause of those symptoms. Yet depression is often talked about as a disorder that causes low mood and other symptoms.

The study, carried out by the University of Turku and the University of Arts Helsinki, found that this misconception is even perpetuated by mental health professionals. The researchers analysed publicly available information on depression provided by leading health organisations such as the NHS and the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

They found that most of these organisations’ websites portrayed depression as a disorder that causes symptoms, although this is not the case. None of the organisations accurately presented the diagnosis as a pure description of symptoms.

“Presenting depression as a uniform disorder that causes depressive symptoms is circular reasoning that blurs our understanding of the nature of mental health problems and makes it harder for people to understand their distress,” said Jani Kajanoja, postdoctoral researcher who carried out the research.


One in four adult mental health cases in Guernsey linked to cannabis

One in four admissions to Guernsey’s adult mental health ward in 2023 were likely to be linked to cannabis use, a report has found.

This compares with only 4% of cases in 2019, when medicinal cannabis prescriptions were introduced.

The figures are based on clinical judgement, which means that while there could be other contributing factors, doctors think the illness is more likely to be linked to cannabis than not.

The report revealed that in 2023 of the admissions to Guernsey’s in-patient mental health facility, 25% of the total admissions were related to cannabis use.

It added that admissions associated with cannabis were “not definitively and solely caused” by its use, but given the degree of increase, “the case for it being at least partially responsible, is compelling.” The report said this “matches international experiences” and was having an impact on individuals, carers, and the mental health service.


No strategy for AI being adopted in the NHS, says Health Foundation

The Health Foundation has said that the NHS lacks a concrete strategy for adopting AI

In its report, Priorities for an AI in healthcare strategy, the Health Foundation calls for the government and NHS leaders to develop a dedicated strategy for AI in healthcare.

“Despite a range of important work on AI underway within the NHS, government and a wide array of other organisations, current efforts to harness AI in health care risk being hampered by the lack of an overarching strategy and lack of coordination among the various actors,” the report says.

It adds that the existing ethics frameworks and guidance are “insufficient” to ensure that AI works for the greater social good. A strategy is particularly needed “to ensure the benefits of AI can be realised at scale across the NHS rather than just in a few pockets of excellence,” the report says.

The Health Foundation sets out six key priorities it believes policymakers and healthcare leaders need to address through an AI strategy: meaningful public and staff engagement; effective priority setting; data and digital infrastructure that’s fit for purpose; high-quality testing and evaluation; clear and consistent regulation; and the right workforce skills and capabilities.


Scientists identify genetic cause of obesity and depression

Researchers have found a possible genetic cause for some cases of obesity and depression.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Baylor College of Medicine in Texas looked at the genes of two boys from different families who had severe obesity and also suffered from anxiety, autism, and behavioural problems triggered by sounds or smells. The researchers found that the boys were both missing a single gene known as TRPC5, which sits on the X chromosome. Further work found that their mothers were also missing the gene on one of their X chromosomes. Both mothers were living with obesity and both had suffered postnatal depression.

The researchers then carried out studies of mice, genetically modified to have a defective version of the gene, and found that male mice with this defective gene displayed the same problems as the boys, including weight gain, anxiety, a dislike of social interactions and aggressive behaviour.

The TRPC5 gene acts on the nerve cells that produce the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that promotes positive feelings. The researchers believe that restoring oxytocin could help treat people with missing or defective TRPC5 genes – which could potentially lead to new treatments for obesity and postnatal depression.


Mental health resources launched to support children in care

A series of activity videos to support the mental health of children in care has been launched by Stormbreak, a charity that promotes mentally healthy movement in children.

The video series, called “Voices Through the Storm”, has been developed for primary school children growing up away from their birth families, whether in foster care, kinship or with adoptive families.

The videos were written, directed and presented by six children with lived experience of growing up in care, and share tips to promote positive mental health. They will be shared for free for young people to use and engage with in support of their mental health.

Stormbreak founder and CEO Martin Yelling said at the launch event: “We want to help children and young people face their futures with hope, optimism, excitement, courage and confidence and have the skills to emotionally and physically flourish. We know that children and young people are the experts of their own experiences and we’re really thankful to these young people for stepping up and allowing us into their minds and worlds.”