Suicide prevention efforts shift towards improving mental health of everyone
Renowned chef Anthony Bourdain has been found dead in France while working on CNN program. He’s part of an age cohort with rising suicide rates in the U.S. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
The deaths this week of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade come at at a time when new numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show suicide is on the rise.
The CDC said suicide rates in the U.S. increased more than 30 per cent between 1999 and 2016. The reasons for the rise are complicated and multidimensional.
“Suicide is more than a mental health issue,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, told reporters on Thursday.
“We don’t think we can just leave this to the mental health system to manage.”
Bourdain took his own life, CNN said Friday. New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled that Spade’s death earlier this week was also a suicide.
Spade’s husband and business partner, Andy Spade, said she suffered from depression and anxiety for many years, but was seeing a doctor regularly and taking medication.
In its Vital Signs report, the CDC said that nearly 45,000 Americans died by their own hand in 2016. The latest U.S. data suggests in 54 per cent of completed suicides, there were no known mental health conditions.
In a sampling of 27 states, relationship problems were considered a contributing factor in 42 per cent of all suicides in 2015. “Problematic substance use” was listed in 28 per cent of cases.
Even so, the CDC acknowledges that poor mental health isn’t always easy to detect. The agency said there could be a number of reasons why the reported level of mental illness could underestimate its actual effect, including:
- Not all illnesses are formally diagnosed.
- Stigma still surrounds a diagnosis.
- Loved ones might not have been aware of a mental health condition.
‘Disturbing’ age findings
Bourdain and Spade died at 61 and 55, respectively — an age cohort with strikingly high suicide rates in the U.S., according to the CDC.
“Middle-aged adults had the largest number of suicides and a particularly high increase in suicide rates. These findings are disturbing,” said Schuchat.
Patrick Smith, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto, said he isn’t aware of a similar increase among that age group in Canada. But he said Bourdain and Spade’s deaths show that high-profile status is no bulwark against depression and other mental illnesses.
“Someone doesn’t say, ‘Wow, they had everything. I can’t believe they got cancer.’ But we still say that about suicide or depression,” said Smith.
“That’s really the societal challenge — to try to understand that depression and other mental illnesses can be found in every postal code and every income bracket.”
In the U.S., middle-aged adults also have higher rates of drug overdoses, Schuchat said. She pointed to emerging social science research suggesting increases in suicide correlate with “deaths of despair” among middle-age populations who may be harder hit by economic downturns.
The need for intervention
Suicide ranked as the ninth-leading cause of death in Canada in 2009, the last year for which numbers are available, and is the 10th-leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
In both countries, suicide prevention efforts are shifting toward meeting people’s needs before they reach crisis. Just as doctors don’t wait until cancer reaches stage 4 to intervene, Smith said experience in the U.K. shows that after community-based programs to provide support to people in workplaces and schools were introduced, prison populations were reduced and there was a dramatic drop in emergency room visits.
In countries with more community support, rates of feeling suicidal will be similar, Smith said, but there’s a better chance of having lower suicide rates.
Everyone has to take care of their mental health and the goal is to normalize conversations to improve and enhance it, Smith said.
Bourdain spoke to CBC last year about some of the psychological challenges he faced separating from his second wife and missing his daughter while travelling the globe for his show Parts Unknown. He’d also talked about his struggles with mental health and a history of drug use.
The CDC recommends teaching children, teens and adults coping and problem-solving skills, building social connections and maintaining dialogue. The agency also encourages safe storage of pills and guns.
Where to get help:
In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre
If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
Here are some warning signs:
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Substance abuse.
- Feeling trapped.
- Hopelessness and helplessness.
- Mood changes.
There’s a link between your emotional health and your physical well-being, so take time to nurture both.
To be completely healthy, you should take care not only of your physical health, but your emotional health, too. If one is neglected, the other will suffer.
What’s the Connection Between Emotional and Physical Health?
There’s a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind [can influence] the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect control much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr. Goodstein.
“As a matter of fact, it’s very probable that many patients who go to their physician’s office with physical complaints have underlying depression,” he says. People who visit their doctors reporting symptoms of headache, lethargy, weakness, or vague abdominal symptoms often end up being diagnosed with depression, even though they do not report feelings of depression to their doctors, says Goodstein.
While unhappy or stressed-out thoughts may not directly cause poor physical health, they may be a contributing factor and may explain why one person is suffering physically while someone else is not, Goodstein adds.
How Exactly Does the Mind Affect the Body?
There are many ways in which the mind has a significant impact on the body. Here are a few:
- Chronic illness and depression Depression has been shown to increase the risk for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, according to an article published in 2013 in the Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. A review of studies on diabetes and depression, published in August 2015 in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, found that depression put people at a 41 percent higher risk for the condition. Researchers aren’t yet clear on how mental health influences physical health, but according to a study published in September 2017 in the journal Psychiatria Danubina, it may be that depression affects the immune system, and that habits associated with depression, such as poor diet or lack of physical activity, may create conditions for illness to occur.
- Depression and longevity According to a review published in June 2014 in World Psychiatry, many major mental illnesses are associated with higher rates of death. Another study, published in October 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests that those with depression may have life spans from about 7 to 18 years shorter than the general population.
- Physical symptoms of emotional health distress People who are clinically depressed often have physical symptoms, such as constipation, lack of appetite, insomnia, or lethargy, among others.
- White-coat syndrome This is a condition in which a person’s blood pressure increases the minute they step into a doctor’s office. In white-coat syndrome, anxiety is directly related to physical function — blood pressure. “If you extrapolate from that, you can say, what other kinds of anxieties are these people having that are producing jumps in blood pressure? What is the consequence of repeated stress?” asks Goodstein.
And on the other hand: “Those individuals who have achieved a level of mental health where they can manage better the inevitable conflicts of human life are more likely to prevail in certain kinds of physical illness,” says Goodstein.
How Should You Care for Your Emotional and Physical Well-Being?
It’s hard to do, but slowing down and simplifying routines can go a long way to strengthening your mental and physical health.
- Eat right. A healthy, regular diet is good for the body and mind.
- Go to bed on time. Losing sleep is hard on your heart, may increase weight, and definitely cranks up the crankiness meter.
- If you fall down, get back up. Resilience in the face of adversity is a gift that will keep on giving both mentally and physically.
- Go out and play. Strike a balance between work and play. Yes, work is a good thing: It pays the bills. However, taking time out for relaxation and socializing is good for your emotional health and your physical health.
- Exercise. A study published in October 2017 in Reviews in the Neurosciences shows that exercise improves your mood and has comprehensive benefits for your physical health.
- See the right doctor, regularly. Going to the right doctor can make all the difference in your overall health, especially if you have a complicated condition that requires a specialist. But if your emotions are suffering, be open to seeing a mental health professional, too.
Total health depends on a healthy mind and body. Take time to nurture both.
It seems unconditional love from a fluffy, drooling canine is one key to a healthier life — as many people already expected.
A study of more than 3.4-million people revealed that having a dog in the house is linked to living a longer life. The research, published in Scientific Reports by Uppsala University in Sweden, reviewed a national registry of people aged 40 to 80 for up to 12 years. Just over 13 per cent were dog owners.
By evaluating health records, it found that registered dog owners had a lower risk of having heart attacks and other life-threatening conditions. It said owning a dog cuts down the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36 per cent for people that live alone.
There is a slightly lower benefit to owning a canine for those who don’t live alone — the risk was cut by only 15 per cent. Researchers even considered other factors such as smoking and body weight to make sure the results were as accurate as possible.
While the study stops short of determining a direct “causal effect” between dog ownership and lower heart disease, it indicates that dog owners may have better health because they stay active by walking their pets, even in bad weather.
|A new study says owning a dog can lower chances of developing heart problems.|
It adds that having a fluffy friend could also help ease feelings of isolation, depression and stress.
“Dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in single households and with a reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death in the general population,” the study concludes.
And it’s just one of many studies that have come to a similar conclusion about the health benefits of owning a dog.
Earlier this year, a study found that seniors who own a dog spend an average of 22 more minutes per day staying active and take an additional 2,760 steps per day.
Dogs have also been found to improve mental health in children, and help soothe stress for travellers nervous about their flight and students during exams.
— With files from Global News reporter Tania Kohut
Over-parenting doesn’t make for more successful kids, it leads to children who grow up unable to function at their best.
We’re in the middle of a youth mental-health crisis that’s going to have implications for everyone, in the near and distant future. These young people are the future workers and leaders of our society, and if they’re struggling, and not functioning optimally, it bodes ill for the rest of us.
According to an article by Kristin Rushowy in the Toronto Star, a new report released in Ontario shows that the mental health of our college and university students is at an all-time low.
Linda Franklin, president of Colleges Ontario, warns in the Star story that “we are seeing the acceleration of these challenges beyond what we might have expected to see.” This means that the size of this problem is worse than what we might expect under ordinary circumstances.
CBC recently reported on the dire situation in East Coast universities in Canada, where young people are committing suicide at an alarming rate.
The article quotes Elizabeth Cawley, the regional mental health coordinator with the Association of Atlantic Universities, who states that it’s “absolutely urgent that we begin tackling student mental health.”
In both of the above stories, a variety of possible solutions to the problem is discussed, but there’s no mention in either article of the possible causes. I suggest that helicopter parenting, which has become more and more common these days, could be in part what’s at fault.
We’re living in extremely challenging times due to a variety of political, social and economic reasons. Because of this, it’s essential that our youth are raised to be independent thinkers, good problem-solvers, self-sufficient and resilient in dealing with the ups and downs of young adulthood.
Helicopter parents, while having the best of intentions, inadvertently cripple their children by doing too much for them. Their hovering and smothering leaves their kids unable to cope with the typical challenges they might face when they arrive at college or university.
The more parents bubble-wrap their children, the less confident, independent and self-sufficient these kids will be. The more the parents solve their kids’ problems, the less these young people are equipped to deal with their own difficulties, if and when they should arise.
Helicopter parenting is, to some extent, a backlash against the previous, harsher and more negligent parenting styles, as well as an over-reaction to perceived (but non-existent) threats, such as “stranger-danger.”
Many parents these days are overly-invested in the progress of their children, doing everything they can, including their kids’ homework, to ensure that their children are accepted into the best schools and receive the best grades.
Unfortunately, over-parenting doesn’t make for more successful kids, it leads to children who grow up unable to function at their best. I believe that this is one reason why we’re seeing a disproportionately large number of young people suffering from anxiety disorders today.
The more parents bubble-wrap their children, the less confident, independent and self-sufficient these kids will be.
We can throw more money into treatment, but this will only be a drop in an ever-expanding bucket. I think that it will be a lot more cost-effective and more importantly, beneficial to our young people, to address the root cause of the problem.
That’s why I believe that it’s time we start teaching parents that helicoptering is the worst thing they can do for their kids. We have to show parents that hovering over their kids, over-protecting them, fighting all their battles and doing too much for them is setting these kids up for mental health problems in the future.
When parents learn to back off from their hovering and instead, raise their children to stand on their own two feet and solve their own problems, we’re going to see more young people with good coping strategies, confidence and resilience.
When parents begin to instill qualities like autonomy and self-sufficiency into their children, I’m convinced that we’ll start to see a significant decrease in mental health problems in our college-aged youth.
New research has found that treating insomnia with online cognitive behavioral therapy could in turn help treat mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and paranoia.
Carried out by researchers at the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford, the team set out to try to improve sleep in a group of university students with insomnia to look at sleep’s effect on paranoia (excessive mistrust), anxiety, and depression.
The study, which involved 3,755 participants, is thought to be the largest ever randomized controlled trial of a psychological treatment for mental health and the first study large enough to determine the effects of treating insomnia on psychotic experiences.
Participants were randomly split into two groups, with one group receiving online cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for insomnia while the other group received access to standard treatments.
The six sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy included behavioral, cognitive and educational components, such as learning to associate bed with sleep, encouraging people to put time aside to reflect on their day before going to bed, and facilitating a pro-sleep environment.
The interactive program also used information from the participants’ daily sleep diaries to tailor the advice.
Participants’ mental health was also monitored through a series of online questionnaires at 0, 3, 10 and 22 weeks from the start of the treatment.
After analyzing the results the team found that participants who received the CBT sleep treatment showed large reductions in insomnia, as well as small, sustained reductions in paranoia and hallucinatory experiences.
CBT treatment also helped improve other mental health problems including depression, anxiety, nightmares, and psychological well-being, as well as daytime work and home functioning.
“Sleep problems are very common in people with mental health disorders, but for too long insomnia has been trivialized as merely a symptom, rather than a cause, of psychological difficulties. This study turns that old idea on its head, showing that insomnia may actually be a contributory cause of mental health problems,” commented the study’s lead author Daniel Freeman.
“A good night’s sleep really can make a difference to people’s psychological health. Helping people get better sleep could be an important first step in tackling many psychological and emotional problems,” he concluded.
The results can be found published online in The Lancet Psychiatry.
Loneliness Even Unhealthier Than Obesity, Should Be A Public Health Priority: Psychologist
Loneliness should be a major public health concern, according to an American psychologist.
Loneliness is a major health risk, like obesity or smoking, and public health programs should address it in the same way, says a psychologist.
New research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that social isolation contributes as strongly to mortality as does smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“This is something that we should all be taking seriously for our health,” she said.
Holt-Lunstad’s research, presented at a conference of the American Psychological Association, analyzed studies on mortality risk to find out how feelings of social isolation and loneliness compared to other risk factors. She found that it has a greater effect than obesity or exercise.
Having few social connections is associated with various health effects, she said, such as cardiovascular problems, immune response, cognitive decline, and cellular aging, she said. But having other people around helps in other ways too: people are more likely to take their medication, to exercise, and to visit the doctor with encouragement from others.
“Our relationships help provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life. And that can translate to better self-care as well as less risk-taking,” said Holt-Lunstad.
It’s an important message at a time when more Canadians than ever are living alone – one of the risk factors examined by Holt-Lunstad in her research.
Census data shows that 28.2 per cent of Canadian adults lived alone in 2016 – the highest proportion since Confederation. And, for the first time, this was the most common household type in the country.
This is partly due to Canada’s aging population, according to Statistics Canada, though more than one-in-10 Canadians under 60 also lives alone.
But everyone can feel the effects of loneliness, said Holt-Lunstad.
“We tend to assume that this is an issue that may be specific to older adults or the elderly, and while of course, that population is important to consider, it’s not isolated to that group,” she said.
“When we look across the data, this affects both men and women. We don’t see any effect in terms of it being stronger in older age and in fact, we have some evidence to suggest that it may be stronger in those under 65.”
Until the age of 60, men are more likely than women to live by themselves. This reverses after 60, likely due to men’s lower average life span, meaning there are lots of widowed women. More than half of women over 85 are living alone, according to census data.
A recent survey of seniors by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons found that more than 16 per cent of respondents reported lacking companionship. Fourteen per cent said they have nobody to talk to.
And another survey by the Vancouver Foundation in 2012 found that 25 per cent of residents of that city said they were alone more often than they would like to be.
Public health programs
Holt-Lunstad would like to see information about the effects of loneliness be included in public health programs in the same way information about the dangers of smoking or obesity is.
“I’ve heard people say things like, ‘You can’t put good relationships in the water.’ Or, ‘We can’t legislate that like we may be able to do with a Clean Air Act,’” she said. While that’s true, she believes people should prioritize their relationships in the same way that many have started to do with regular exercise.
“If we approach it as we can all be working on nurturing and fostering our own relationships, this may have a much broader population-wide impact.”
She also believes that research about the health impacts of loneliness should be included in medical training so that doctors can screen their patients for social isolation and provide information when needed. Kids should also learn about relationships the same way that they learn about nutrition, as a way to prevent future problems.
Holt-Lunstad’s research will be published next month in the journal The American Psychologist.
By Leslie Young National Online Journalist, Investigative Global News