News round-up (7 June 2024)

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7th June 2024 about a 6 minute read

This week we highlight promising research into potential new treatments for mental disorder. One study has found that electrical brain stimulation can help reduce episodes of binge eating, while another has found an association between poor diet and mental illness, suggesting that improved diet could also improve mental wellbeing. More surprisingly, some counter-intuitive research shows that people who stay up late, even when that is their preference, have worse mental health than those who go to bed early.


Main stories from the week

Non-invasive deep brain stimulation may help to treat depression and addiction

A new technique known as non-invasive deep brain stimulation may be able to treat mental health conditions such as depression, OCD and addiction, according to a group of Swiss researchers.


Virtual reality can improve teenagers’ mental wellbeing, study finds

Spending time in a soothing virtual reality (VR) environment can reduce stress and improve mood among teenagers, a study has found.


AI tools rule out heart attacks and diagnoses lung cancer early

Two new artificial intelligence (AI) tools have been shown to speed up diagnoses and improve care.


Record numbers of patients kept in mental health units longer than necessary

The number of patients kept in psychiatric units in England, despite being ready for discharge, is at its highest level in eight years.


And other stories from the week…

Electrical brain stimulation can treat eating disorder

Electrical brain stimulation at home can help reduce episodes of binge-eating, a study has found.

The research from King’s College London found that in people who received a combination of brain stimulation and brain training, binge episodes were reduced from about 20 times a month on average to six times a month six weeks later. The technique used, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), targets patterns of behaviour that might be contributing to the loss of control in relation to food.

The study looked at 82 people who were overweight and engaging in binge eating. They were split into four groups, one of which – the study group – self-administered tDCS at home, while undergoing attention bias modification training.

Participants in the study group also reported that they lost between 3.5kg and 4kg from the start of the study to the six-week follow-up.


Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms experienced by 15% of users, study finds

Just under one in seven people who stop taking antidepressants will experience withdrawal symptoms, a study has found.

The research review, co-authored by Christopher Baethge, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cologne, involved analysing data in 79 studies covering 21,000 patients. It found that 15% of people experienced one or more withdrawal symptoms directly caused by coming off antidepressants, while about 3% experienced severe symptoms.

The findings, published in the Lancet Psychiatry, show that the most common symptoms were dizziness, headache, nausea, insomnia and irritability. The symptoms can last from a couple of days to more than six months. The drugs with the lowest risk of withdrawal symptoms were citalopram, sertraline and fluoxetine – the most commonly used antidepressants in the UK.


Late Bedtimes Harm Mental Health

Staying up late harms mental health, regardless of one’s natural sleep preference, research has found.

The survey of nearly 75,000 adults showed that people who stayed up late had a higher rate of mental disorders, even if the late bedtime was their own choice. The adults, who were middle-aged or older, were asked about their sleep, including their morning or evening preference. They were sent a sleep-tracking device, worn over seven days. The participants’ mental health was determined through their health records.

The researchers found that people who went to bed early had better mental health than those who went to bed late. The night owls – those who preferred staying up late – were the group most likely to have poor mental health, worse than those who preferred getting up early but nonetheless had a late bedtime. Morning larks – those who rose with the sun – tended to have the best mental health of all.

The research found that sleep duration and consistency of sleep timing could not account for the differences in mental health.


NHS charities benefit from green social prescribing funding

Eight initiatives will benefit from more than £1m of green social prescribing investment, as part of the Greener Communities Fund distributed by NHS Charities Together.

The eight charities will be awarded grants between £25,000 and £200,000 over a two-year period.

The programme, a collaboration between the environmental charity Hubbub and NHS Charities Together, is in its second year. So far it has benefitted more than 52,000 people.

Projects that will benefit from the new funding round include a sensory garden in Dorset children with additional health needs, an exploratory garden in Haringey with a vegetable patch, wildflower meadow and disability friendly play equipment for children and a garden in Bristol to help nature-based rehabilitation for patients recovering from injuries.


NHS England appoints first medical director for mental health and neurodiversity

NHS England has appointed Dr Adrian James to a new role supporting the transformation of services for people with mental health needs, autism and learning disabilities.

Dr James was president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists from 2020 to 2023 and is currently a board member of the NHS Race and Health Observatory and a member of the NHS Assembly.

During his time as president, Dr James led the college through the Covid-19 pandemic and oversaw quality improvement initiatives for workforce wellbeing and equality, diversity and inclusion.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said the appointment was “excellent news for people with mental health needs, autism, learning disability and those who are neurodiverse as we continue to transform services and improve outcomes.”


Poor diet may lead to brain changes associated with depression

Eating a poor quality diet might lead to brain changes that are associated with depression and anxiety, research has found.

The study, published in Nutritional Neuroscience, looked into the brain chemistry and diet quality of 30 volunteers.

Brain scans showed changes in neurotransmitters and grey matter volume in people with a poor diet, compared to those who adhere to a healthy Mediterranean-style diet. The study was carried out by the University of Reading, Roehampton University, FrieslandCampina and Kings College London

Dr Piril Hepsomali of the University of Reading said: “We can eat ourselves well! Ultimately, we see that people who have an unhealthy diet – high in sugar and saturated fat – have imbalanced excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission, as well as reduced volume of grey matter in the frontal part of the brain. This part of the brain is involved in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.”