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Will This Antidepressant Work for You? A Brain Scan May Reveal the Answer

A new study of more than 300 people with major depression found that brain wave patterns predicted which ones were most likely to respond to antidepressants, in this case the drug sertraline also known as Zoloft.

This small step toward understanding treatment for depression was reported on Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology. If the approach pans out, it could offer better care for the millions of people in the U.S. with major depression.

“This is definitely a step forward,” said Michele Ferrante, who directs the computational psychiatry and computational neuroscience programs at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Right now, “one of our great frustrations is that when a patient comes in with depression we have very little idea what the right treatment for them is,” said Dr. Amit Etkin, an author of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. “Essentially, the medications are chosen by trial and error.”


See also: Dr. Sherry Benton on Mental Health Support at College


Side effects of antidepressants

Trial and error can be a harrowing way to select an antidepressant for patients. The drugs can cause a wide range of unpleasant side effects, including nausea, weight gain and increased appetite, loss of sex drive, fatigue and drowsiness, insomnia, dry mouth, blurred vision and constipation.

And for patients suffering from these side effects, it’s not as simple as stopping taking the antidepressants. “Don’t do it,” advises Mayo Clinic. Without antidepressants, depression symptoms will return, but this time with withdrawal-like symptoms.


See also: Your Seven Day Break on the Pill is Bogus—Here’s Why


Antidepressants study

In the study, researchers used artificial intelligence to analyze the brainwave patterns in more than 300 patients who had been diagnosed with major depression. Then they looked to see what happened when these same patients started treatment with sertraline.

And one pattern of electrical activity seemed to predict how well a patient would do. “If the person scores particularly high on that, the recommendation would be to get sertraline,” Etkin said.

Also, people whose brain waves showed they wouldn’t do well with the drug, were more likely to respond to a non-drug therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The results suggest depression treatment doesn’t have to rely on trial and error. “By finding people who are particularly sensitive to an antidepressant, we can find those people for whom the drug is very effective,” Etkin said.

Putting it into practice

Most psychiatrists and psychologists already have the EEG equipment needed to collect brainwave data, although they would need to upload that data to be analyzed.

The study shows that scientists are finally getting closer to understanding how to pick the best treatment for someone with depression.

“We are certainly pushing in that direction,” Ferrante said.

See also: Study Reveals Troubling Link Between Marijuana and False Memories
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Study Reveals Troubling Link Between Marijuana and False Memories

It’s common understanding that our brain does not operate like a filing cabinet, accessing memories in a simple recall of truth. Memory is more like a restructuring of what one may think is the truth, and every time we access a memory, what we remember is dependent on context, social expectations and subjective wishes. It is an especially complex system of thought that can lead to the formation of false memories. And so, it is difficult enough to remember things correctly under the best of circumstance—it’s especially so when you throw in some marijuana.

According to a new study, researchers found that marijuana consistently increases a person’s susceptibility to false memories. This is especially problematic in the context of a crime, and cannabis-intoxicated witnesses and suspects.

Marijuana and memory

Marijuana and its main psychoactive ingredient have been found to impair memory before, but the recently published study raises the stakes as the first to link using weed to false memories.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that people who took just one hit of weed doubled their number of “false memories” in a virtual reality scenario compared to those who puffed on a placebo, said study author Johannes Ramaekers, a professor of psychopharmacology at Maastricht University in The Netherlands.

“We are all prone to the formation of false memories, independent of cannabis use,” Ramaekers said. “The susceptibility for false memory, however, increases with cannabis. Under cannabis, users can easily accept fake truths for true memory.”

Why does this matter?

With some 11 states, as well as Washington D.C., having legalized marijuana, a rise in false memories could begin to play a larger role in criminal matters, said study co-author Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychological science in the department of criminology at the University of California, Irvine.

“This new work is suggesting authorities need to be extra careful when interviewing somebody,” Loftus said. They should consider removing “them from a situation where they might be exposed to suggestive information that could contaminate their memory.”

If witnesses and suspects are stoned, whatever questioning that needs to happen should take place as soon as the person has sobered up, the study suggests. Ideally, the questioning would occur between false memory susceptibility and expected memory decay.

But if a person is under the influence when an event happens, they may still display a “yes” bias toward new information later, the researchers say. This means cannabis-intoxicated people may need to be treated as a “vulnerable” group in the context of crimes, similar to a child or the elderly, they say. If so, that could dramatically change both how we investigate and prosecute crimes.

And it’s not just the integrity of police investigations that may be potentially influenced by false memories, most human interaction relies on an accurate recall of previous information and experiences.

“There are lots of situations where somebody’s memory matters,” Loftus said. “For example, a family dispute such as two siblings arguing about what happened in the past over a Thanksgiving table.”

Just what are false memories anyway?

There are two kinds of false memories: They are either spontaneous—a result of internal cognitive processes—or suggestion-based—occurring because of external suggestions. The study looked at the effects of marijuana on the ability to form both. It turns out that elevated false memories are the norm when THC affects memory retrieval.

The most important takeaway from the study is that cannabis exerted a general impact on memory by increasing various types of recollective errors, the researchers say. There is a debate over how different types of false memories relate to each other, but the current study shows that intoxicated individuals may be at higher risk of forming “all kinds of memory errors, which can be perilous in investigative interview settings.”

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What Are the Booziest Holiday Destinations?

According to a recent study by Alcohol.org, seven out of the 10 booziest travel destinations in the world are in America.

The organization, which provides information about treatment for alcohol and substance addiction, studied 1,000 Instagram posts tagged with #vacationmode or #vacay from travelers in 143 cities around the world in an attempt to understand the influence of alcohol in people’s vacations.

The social media analysis found that the majority of the top destinations are in the U.S., with the top five—Portland, Denver, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Austin—exclusively American cities.

Infographic provided by Alcohol.org

Oregon’s largest city topped the list, with one in ten of the pictures taken featuring alcohol. Portland is known as a destination for beer and music, perhaps explaining its first place.

After Portland was Denver, Colorado, where over eight percent of the pictures featured alcohol. Denver, aside from being a boozy holiday destination, is also frequented for its marijuana tourism.

NOLA ranked third on the list, with over eight percent of photos featuring alcohol. New Orleans draws tourists every year for Mardi Gras—last year 1.2 million people attended the festivities in the Big Easy, which is also famous for its jazz scene, theater district and historically acclaimed bars and clubs.

Other interesting stats from the study? The most photographed drinks were cocktails, with over one-third of photos showing the colourful drinks. The research also revealed that posts featuring alcohol gained about half as many likes as pictures that showed something else.

Vacation is a time to escape from the pressures of a rigorous semester or an overwhelming job, so it can be tempting to let loose with drinking. However, it’s crucial to exercise caution. College students in particular are more likely to binge drink, which can give rise to risky situations including injury and assault.

“No one wants to be unwell on vacation so it’s important to monitor your alcohol intake, especially when you’re away from home or in unfamiliar surroundings,” said a spokesperson for Alcohol.org, which conducted the research.

See also: Is Your Drinking Dangerous?
Dr. Sherry Benton on Mental Health Support at College
Period Pain Linked to Nine Days of Lost Productivity for Women in a Year

Study Shows Correlation Between Phone Use and Number of Sexual Partners

Overuse of smartphones by university students may be linked to unproductive behaviour such as lower grades, drinking problems and more sexual partners, according to a new study.

In a survey of more than 3,400 people seeking university degrees in the U.S., those who said they had problems with the amount of time they spent on their phones also reported having more sexual partners. They were also more likely to report anxiety of depression.

One psychiatrist said the findings were “concerning.”

Researchers from the University of Chicago, University of Cambridge, and the University of Minnesota developed the Health and Addictive Behaviours Survey.

Its aim was to assess mental health and wellbeing among university students and to see what impact mobile phones had on them.

To establish whether mobile phone use was excessive, students were asked a variety of questions, including:

  • do friends or relatives complain about excessive use?
  • do you have problems concentrating in class or at work due to smartphone use?
  • do you feel fretful or impatient without your smartphone?
  • do you feel the amount of time you are on it has increased over time?
  • are you missing work due to smartphone use?
  • are you experiencing physical consequences of excessive use, such as light-headedness or blurred vision?

One in five students answered yes to enough questions to be deemed as overusing their phones, with more than 60 percent of these being female.

Neglecting normal relationships

The study found that the proportion of students reporting two or more sexual partners in the past 12 months was significantly higher among those also reporting overuse of mobile phones—37 percent compared with 27 percent who reported no problem use. The proportion with six or more sexual partners was more than double among those who said they overused their smartphones.

The reasons for this are difficult to pinpoint and are likely to be varied, said Dr. Sam Chamberlain, one of the authors of the study.

“It could be that people are using smartphones to date via apps, but they also might be neglecting more normal relationships because of overuse of their phones,” Chamberlain said. “The strongest finding was that people reporting problematic use of their phones were also more likely to have the trait of impulsiveness, and this could also play a part in the number of sexual partners they have.

“If this was a healthy thing we’d expect to see better self-esteem and less mental health issues but the opposite was the case,” Chamberlain added.

The researchers also found that excessive drinking was higher in those reporting problematic smartphone use, compared with those who felt their mobile use was normal. Notably, they found no significant link with any other form of substance abuse or addiction.

Smartphone studies

Previous studies have pointed to a link between excessive use of smartphones and lower academic achievement, and this report also found a connection.

“Although the effect of problematic smartphone use on grade point averages was relatively small, it’s worth noting that even a small negative impact could have a profound effect on an individual’s academic achievement and then on their employment opportunities in later life,” said University of Chicago’s Prof Jon Grant.

While there are an increasing number of studies into mobile phone use and its consequences, none have definitively proved that excessive use causes mental health issues—and there needs to be more funding for deeper research, thinks Chamberlain.

“We need studies that follow young people over a long period of time,” he said.

Dr. Abigael San, a member of the British Psychological Society, said of the study: “It is concerning and I’m glad the work is being done. All of these effects are very real and are problems discussed in therapy sessions. Often people don’t come with a smartphone issue—instead it is a mental health issue or a relationship break-up—but more than often smartphone usage plays a part.”

See also: Dogs Reduce Student Stress, Study Finds
Period Pain Linked to Nine Days of Lost Productivity for Women in a Year

Period Pain Linked to Nine Days of Lost Productivity for Women in a Year

New research suggests that the impact of menstruation is underestimate, and period pain is responsible for nearly nine days of lost productivity a year in workplaces and schools.

The study surveyed over 30,000 Dutch women between the ages of 15 and 45 to evaluate lost productivity associated with periods. They measure both time taken off because of feeling ill, as well as working or studying while feeling unwell (otherwise known as “playing through the pain,” something women have been doing for generations).

It was found that one in seven—or just under 14 percent of women—had taken time off from work or school during their period and 3.5 percent said that this happened during ever, or nearly every, menstrual cycle.

Over eighty percent of the women surveyed said they had been less productive as a result of their menstrual symptoms (to which we say, well, duh).

On average, the researchers calculated that women were absent from work or school 1.3 days per year because of their period and productivity loss was equivalent to 8.9 days per year.

“Women said that they weren’t as productive as they could be while at work—they needed to go to the toilet every hour or they had a headache and couldn’t concentrate,” said Theodoor Nieboer, an author of the report and a gynecologist at the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

Still a taboo

Although there’s been a lot of menstruation media in the last few years, including a popular video game called Tampon Run where you shoot tampons at villains, there’s still a lot of destigmatizing work to do, especially globally.

This recently published study also found that when women did call in sick because of period pain, only 20 percent told their employer or school the real reason for their absence. And nearly 70 percent of respondents said they wished they had the option of more flexible hours during their period.

The study is the largest of its kind, shining yet more light on the reality that women’s health is an understudied area that needs more attention.

Around the world, 1.8 billion women menstruate.

“Despite being almost two decades into the 21st century, discussions about [symptoms] may still be rather taboo,” Nieboer said. “There’s a need for greater openness about the impact of menstrual symptoms on work, and companies need to be more open about this with their female workers.”

Period leave

Period leave has been presented as a possible solution for the occasions when a woman might need to stay home, due to experiencing pain and discomfort from her period. However, this sort of systemic change comes up against long-held attitudes that menstruation should never be talked about.

We’ve all grown up with the same surround-sound messaging about this biological reality for half the planet. It’s embedded in tampon commercials that stress the discretion of their products and depict blue liquid instead of period blood. Even the name given to period products—feminine hygiene—subconsciously raises the question: Excuse me, are we all dirty?

Legalized time off for menstruation actually exists already in a few countries. Women in Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan and China are allowed to request days off work. And although great on paper, it’s often an entitlement that women don’t take, particularly in male-dominated workplaces.

In other countries, period leave hasn’t even made it onto paper yet. Italy tried to pass legislation for menstrual leave in 2017, and it didn’t pass for all the usual objections. However, policies are emerging on a company-by-company basis in these other contexts. Coexist, for example, is a group based in the United Kingdom that hosts community space, and it allows employees who opt into its period policy to take time off, work from home, or consider other options such as altering their working hours during their periods. And in Australia, the Victorian Women’s Trust, an advocacy group, offers employees paid days off for painful periods.

Whether menstrual leave is the answer is unclear, but at least it puts periods and period pain on the political agenda.

See also: Your Seven Day Break on the Pill is Bogus—Here’s Why
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Women’s Health Watch: In Stirrups

Two Hours in Nature Could Be All You Need for a Happier Life

Just spending two hours a week in nature could significantly boost your health and wellbeing, research suggests. It counts even if you’re simply sitting in nature and enjoying the peace.

The physical and mental health benefits of exposure to parks, woods or the beach are nothing new—but this is the first major study into how long is needed to produce an effect on the body. If confirmed by future research, two hours in nature could fall alongside “five a day of fruit and vegetables” and “150 minutes of exercise per week” as official health advice.

The new study is based on interviews with 20,000 people in England about their activity in the previous week. Of those who spent little or no time in nature, a quarter reported poor health and almost half said they were not satisfied with their life, a standard measure of well-being. In contrast, just one-seventh of those who spent at least two hours in nature said their health was poor, while a third were not satisfied with their life.

“What really amazed us was this was true for just about every group we could think of,” said Dr. Mathew White, at the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study. The benefits of a two-hour dose were the same for both young and old, wealthy and poor, and urban and rural people, he said.

It also applied to those with long-term illnesses and disabilities, White said. “So, getting out in nature seemed to be good for just about everybody. It doesn’t have to be physical exercise—it could be just sitting on a bench.”

The researchers were also surprised that it did not matter whether the two hours in nature were taken in one go or in a series of shorter visits, or whether people went to an urban park, woodlands or the beach.

The study did not attempt to find out why being in nature was so beneficial, but White suggested a sense of tranquillity could be the key: “Most people are under multiple pressures at any given time. So, you go away in a natural setting, it is quiet, it is relaxing and it gives you time to start to process things.”

BRB, we’re putting “spend more time outside” on our summer to-do list now.

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Dangerous Selfies

259 Deaths Caused by Dangerous Selfies

A new global study, Selfies: A boon or bane?, published in the US National Library of Medicine found that 259 people were killed in the quest for ‘extreme’ selfies between 2011 and 2017. Researchers found that this number is also on the rise; the actual death toll may be much higher since ‘selfie death’ is not typically recorded as the cause of death.

News stories associated with death caused by dangerous selfies were analyzed by researchers to compile the data in the study. They found that selfie-related deaths were most prominent in India, Russia, the US and Pakistan. They also found that a high 75 percent of those reported were men.

“It is believed that selfie deaths are underreported and the true problem needs to be addressed,” says the report.

“Certain road accidents while posing for selfies are reported as death due to Road Traffic Accident.

“Thus, the true magnitude of the problem is underestimated. It is therefore important to assess the true burden, causes, and reasons for selfie deaths so that appropriate interventions can be made.”

Researchers at the US National Library of Medicine suggest that ‘no selfie zones’ should be introduced at tourist locations around the world considered dangerous to help reduce accidental deaths.

Tomer Frankfurter is among the number of those who died as a result of dangerous selfies. The Israeli teen fell 250 meters while trying to take a selfie in the Yosemite National Park in California this September.

In June 2018, Prabhu Bhatara tried to take a selfie next to a wounded bear in India, and was mauled to death as a result.

In November 2017, 20-year-old Toni Kelly died attempting to take a selfie near a second-storey window in London, UK. She suffered brain injuries as a result of the fall.

In 2015, a report published by Mashable claimed that more people died attempting dangerous selfies than from shark attacks.