Study suggests video games can help mental health

Time spent playing video games can be good for mental health, according to a new study by researchers at Oxford University.

The finding comes as video game sales this year have boomed as more people are stuck at home because of the pandemic and many countries have once again imposed limits on public life.

The paper released Monday is based on survey responses from people who played two games, Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

In a first, the study used data provided by the game makers, Electronic Arts and Nintendo of America, on how much time the respondents spent playing, unlike previous research that relied on imprecise estimates from the players.

The researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute said they found the actual amount of time spent playing was a small but significant positive factor in people’s well-being.

The paper, which hasn’t been peer reviewed, said the level of enjoyment that players get from a game could be a more important factor for their well-being than mere playing time.

The results could cast doubt on long-held assumptions that gaming causes aggression or addiction, though the authors acknowledge they are only a snapshot.

“Our findings show video games aren’t necessarily bad for your health; there are other psychological factors which have a significant effect on a persons’ well-being,” said Andrew Przybylski, the institute’s director of research. “In fact, play can be an activity that relates positively to people’s mental health—and regulating video games could withhold those benefits from players.”

Some 2,756 players of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in the U.S., U.K. and Canada were surveyed along with 518 players of Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville. They were asked to fill out a survey on their experiences that was matched up against playing time logged by the game companies.

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Prospective parents’ mental health linked to premature births

Both a mother’s and father’s mental health are associated with increased risk that their baby will be born premature, a new study has found.

The research, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and published in EClinicalMedicine, found men with persistent mental health problems through adolescence and young adulthood were more likely to have a baby born premature. Women with anxiety and depression during pregnancy were more likely to have a preterm birth.

Study co-lead MCRI’S and Deakin University’s Dr. Elizabeth Spry said prior to this study the impact of maternal and paternal mental health history on offspring preterm birth and birth weight was unknown.

The study involved 398 women and 267 men from the Victorian Intergenerational Health Cohort Study (VIHCS), who were assessed over 15 years for anxiety and depressive symptoms from adolescence to young adulthood and during subsequent pregnancies.

Dr. Spry said that fathers were often neglected in research on children’s early growth and development.

“We found that men with persistent mental health symptoms in the decades leading up to pregnancy were more likely to have premature babies. Our study joins growing evidence of the important role that fathers play in the health and development of their children, and suggests that these links begin well before babies are conceived,” she said.

“Most research on children’s early development has focused on mums. This means that public health recommendations are also almost entirely focused on what mums should and shouldn’t do when planning pregnancy or having a child. In contrast, men receive very little guidance or support.”

Study co-lead, King’s College London’s Dr. Claire Wilson, said understanding how mental health problems starting in adolescence affect birth outcomes could open up new opportunities for the prevention of premature birth.

“Mental health may affect parental reproductive biology and antenatal pathways and can have an impact on genetic and environmental influences such as substance use and nutrition, which could be linked to a baby’s development,” she said.

“Pre-term birth is common and is a leading cause of infant deaths worldwide, but the underlying causes have been largely unknown. Early and mid-late preterm birth can carry lifelong effects on health and development such as visual and hearing impairments and poor health and growth.”

MCRI Professor George Patton said the findings further strengthened the need for expanding preconception mental health care to both men and women, prior to them becoming parents.

“The findings emphasize a need for coordinated care between child and adolescent, adult and specialist perinatal health services,” he said.

“Intervention in adolescence is likely to yield benefits not only for parents’ own continuing mental health, but also for their child’s development, both by reducing the risk of premature birth and promoting positive engagement and nurturing care across the early years of life.”

Professor Patton said prospective parent’s mental health had also suffered during COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns.

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Millions will need mental health help in the wake of coronavirus, experts warn

We’re on the brink of a major crisis of mental health, a new report warns.

Around 8.5 million adults and 1.5 million children in England will need mental health support in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, predicts new analysis from the Centre For Mental Health, which consulted experts from NHS England and NHS trusts.

They warn that many will have lost jobs, lost loved ones, or will be dealing with the long-term effects of having Covid-19.

Add in the general rise of issues such as health anxiety and agoraphobia due to Covid-19, and it’s clear to see that we’re heading for trouble.

The reports suggests that while two-thirds of people will already have existing mental illness and may be receiving support, others will need help for the first time, creating an even greater strain on mental health care by the NHS.

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That’s without considering the mental impact of coronavirus on NHS staff, who the report suggests will need treatment for issues such as post-traumatic distress, high psychological distress, and burnout.

The report says: ‘Among people who have not experienced mental ill health prior to the pandemic, demand for services is forecast at 1.33 million people for moderate-severe anxiety and 1.82 million for moderate to severe depression.’

From the total number of people needing support, researchers estimate more than 230,000 NHS workers may need treatment, including for post-traumatic distress (36,996), high psychological distress (120,372) and burnout (81,499).

Among patients recovering from severe Covid-19, an estimated 630 will need mental health support for anxiety, 454 for depression and 354 for PTSD, according to the report.

Meanwhile, 36,000 people who lost loved ones will need treatment, with depression being the most common condition.

At present unemployment levels, which could rise, around 30,000 people who lost their job will need support for major depression.

And of the 1.5 million children estimated to need support, 458,922 will need help for depression and 407,623 for anxiety.

Children who have lost parents to Covid-19 will also require help, plus those who suffered other mental distress during lockdown.

Nick O’Shea, the chief economist at the Centre For Mental Health, who led the research, said: ‘The numbers are stark. Covid-19 is a disaster for every country that has been badly affected, and the consequences for our mental health are just as severe.

‘The challenge of meeting the mental health needs arising out of the pandemic may be as great as the many difficulties of responding to the virus.

‘So it must be taken as seriously. We must prepare now for what lies ahead.’

The team behind the report want to prepare us for the looming crisis ahead and make sure that plans are put in place to identify people who need mental health support and ensure they receive the right care quickly.

‘Unresolved mental health needs can escalate to crisis point without effective early help,’ Nick added.

‘We cannot afford to wait and see or to leave it until after the pandemic has subsided.’

Centre For Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said: ‘We have identified the risks and the unequal impacts of Covid-19 on both mental and physical health

‘The extent of the crisis is becoming clearer every day.

‘There is a rising tide of distress that will over time require effective and compassionate care and support.

‘The Government and the NHS must act now. We must not leave the nation’s mental health to chance.’

Need support? Contact the Samaritans

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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Mental Health Issues Double the Odds of Dying With COVID-19, Study Finds

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30, 2020 — People suffering from a psychiatric disorder could be more than twice as likely to die if they become infected with COVID-19, a new study suggests.

Folks diagnosed with any type of psychiatric problem — anxiety or depression, dementia, psychosis — were up to 2.3 times more likely to die in the hospital from COVID-19, researchers found.

“Those who had COVID who had a prior psychiatric diagnosis had a higher mortality,” said lead researcher Dr. Luming Li. She’s an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and medical director of clinical operations at the Yale New Haven Health System.

Li and her colleagues tracked the health of 1,685 patients hospitalized at Yale New Haven Health, a five-hospital system in Connecticut, between February and April. Of those patients, 28% had received a psychiatric diagnosis prior to hospitalization.

People who’d struggled with a mental problem were more likely to die, particularly early in their illness:

  • 36% of COVID-19 patients with a psychiatric diagnosis died within two weeks of hospitalization, compared with 15% of those with no such diagnosis.
  • 41% of patients with mental illness died within three weeks, compared with 22% of those without.
  • The four-week mortality rate was 45% for those with a diagnosed psychiatric condition and 32% for those without.

The findings were published online Sept. 30 in JAMA Network Open.

These results are “not entirely surprising, because we know individuals with psychiatric illness have shorter life expectancy and are more prone to illness in general,” said Brittany LeMonda, a senior neuropsychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Potential explanations for this difference include both the biological and the behavioral.

People with psychiatric problems have basic differences in their brain chemicals that can alter the way their bodies respond to an infection, Li said.

For example, they tend to have higher levels of stress hormones that promote inflammation and weaken the immune system.

“If there’s already differences in your biology because of the prior psychiatric diagnosis, that might make you more vulnerable to respond to the stress that’s being caused by COVID on multiple body organs,” Li said.

However, LeMonda added, it’s also true that people struggling with a mood disorder, Alzheimer’s or psychosis are less able to care for their health properly.

“Individuals with psychiatric illness tend to make poorer health decisions,” LeMonda said. “They’re more likely to have a poor diet, not exercise, have interrupted sleep. They’re more likely to engage in negative coping strategies like smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol, using drugs. All these things can not only increase inflammation, but also reduce our immune system and make us more prone to illness in general.”

The mentally ill are also more likely to be homeless or living in a shelter, which increases their risk of contracting COVID-19, LeMonda added.

When the researchers controlled for other factors that influence COVID’s death risk — health problems like obesity or diabetes, hospital location, and demographics — people with psychiatric problems still had a 50% increased risk of dying from their coronavirus infection.

Because people with mental illness don’t care for themselves in normal times, it’s also much less likely that they will adhere to practices like wearing masks and social distancing in the age of COVID-19, LeMonda noted.

Public health officials face a dual challenge with these folks — both treating their mental illness and impressing upon them the need to avoid COVID-19 infection.

“It’s a larger public health issue to try not only to educate, but also provide mental health treatment that would theoretically help to reduce the rate of illness,” LeMonda said.

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Why we must decolonise mental health

In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur Dr. Dainius Pūras noted that mental healthcare services around the world were in a crisis and rightly called for a ‘revolution’ in mental healthcare. He identified problems of power asymmetries, an over-reliance on psychotropic drugs, and a system that revolves around profits for experts and the pharmaceutical industry. These issues have culminated in a coercive and largely biomedical approach to mental health.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s report on the breaching of human rights in mental health facilities highlights the serious failings of this approach. Of particular concern is the use of exclusion zones for accommodating residents.

Similar issues were also highlighted in “He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction” in 2018, which reiterated that the system is under pressure and unsustainable in its current form. This earlier report found the system was also less equitable for Māori, who were more likely to experience compulsory treatment and seclusion, and that the current system reinforced trauma because Māori felt culturally alienated. After nearly four decades of deinstitutionalisation, human rights violations continue in our mental health system.

The issue here is that while Aotearoa New Zealand deinstitutionalised mental health, it failed to decolonise it. To begin the decolonisation process an acknowledgement of historical trauma in the mental health system needs to be incorporated. Unless this trauma is recognised, new approaches that are holistic, rights-based and kaupapa Māori-centred cannot be developed.

Indigenous forms of mental health care also need to be mainstreamed rather than presented as alternative approaches. During colonial times, indigenous knowledge and treatment approaches across Britain’s colonies were labelled as superstitious and local practitioners were accused of quackery.

The establishment of asylums in the 19th century led to the marginalisation of local practitioners like the tohunga,and also to the spread of a narrative that indigenous approaches were superstitious. Tohunga were referred to as ‘quacks’ and accused of ‘degenerating into tricky humbugs’. Doctors even urged the government to put an end to the tohunga. This disruption of indigenous mental health care is another form of historical trauma that eventually led to the sidelining of traditional approaches.

A purely biomedical psychiatric approach excludes social and cultural narratives that are crucial in the healing process, and interdisciplinary voices are essential to further the process of decolonisation.

The example of recent stories about Māori finally experiencing healing through using mātauranga Māori services after years in the mental health system highlight the importance of these other voices, and should influence our research into new approaches to mental healthcare.

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To safeguard children’s mental health during COVID-19, parents must look after their own

The negative mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are clear, but there is particular concern children will be most affected in the long run.

By the end of March school closures were impacting 91% of the world’s student population and are still affecting more than 60%. These closures limit children’s opportunities for important social interactions, which can harm their mental health.

In particular, home confinement, fears of infection, family stress and financial loss may have negative effects on the mental health of young people. And research carried out earlier in the pandemic suggested these effects may be most pronounced for children with pre-existing mental health problems.

Which children are most at risk?

Parents have an important role to play in safeguarding children’s mental health during COVID-19.

Research shows family relationships are more influential during situations that cause stress over an extended period of time than during acute periods of stress. This means family factors are likely to be even more important to childrens’ mental health during COVID-19 than during more fleeting traumatic experiences such as exposure to a natural disaster.

In our recent study, we found 81% of children aged 5-17 had experienced at least one trauma symptom during the early phase of COVID-19. For instance, some children had trouble sleeping alone, or acted unusually young or old for their age.

Our unpublished research relied on reports from parents from Australia and the United Kingdom. We also found increases in emotional problems were common. For instance, according to their parents 29% of children were more unhappy than they were before COVID-19.

Importantly, our study found several parent and family factors that were important in predicting changes in children’s mental health problems.

Here are four of our main findings.

1. Parents’ distress matters

Increased personal distress reported by parents was related to increases in their child’s mental health problems during COVID-19. This distress refers to both general stress in addition to COVID-specific worry and distress. It also includes anxiety related to problems that existed before COVID-19.

For this reason it’s important parents look after their own mental health and stress levels. Seeking psychological help is a good option for parents who are struggling to cope.

Through a GP referral, Australians can receive ten sessions of psychological care per year through Medicare. Victorians who are currently subjected to further restrictions can now receive up to 20 sessions.

2. Good family relationships help

Higher levels of parental warmth and family cohesion were associated with fewer trauma symptoms in children. “Parental warmth” refers to being interested in what your child does, or encouraging them to talk to you about what they think; “family cohesion” relates to family members helping and supporting each other.

In other research these factors have consistently been found to relate to children’s adjustment to stress and trauma.

Fortunately, there is a range of resources parents can use to help improve relationships with their children.

Some parents may also find taking part in a parenting course helpful. Partners in Parenting, Triple P and Tuning into Kids are available online.

3. Parents’ optimism can be contagious

While COVID-19 is having many negative impacts, some parents in our study also identified unexpected positive impacts, such as being able to spend more time with family. Children of these parents were less likely to experience an increase in some problems—particularly problems with peers such as being bullied.

Children observe parents’ behaviors and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during difficult times. Trying to stay positive, or focus on the bright side as much as possible is likely to benefit children.

4. Some effects are greatest for vulnerable families

We found parents’ behavior was particularly influential in lower socioeconomic backgrounds and single-parent families. In poorer families, parental warmth was particularly important in buffering children’s trauma symptoms. And in single-parent families, parental stress was more likely to predict behavioral problems in children.

This may be because poorer and single-parent families already face more stress, which can negatively impact children. Parental warmth can counteract the effects of these stresses, whereas high parental stress levels can increase them.

Research has already shown the pandemic will have greater negative impacts on those who have less resources available to them. This points to a need for extra psychological and financial support for these families. Governments and other organizations will need to take this into account when targeting their support packages.

It’s important to keep in mind child-parent relationships are a two-way street. Our research examined relationships at only one point in time, so we don’t know the extent to which our findings reflect a) parents causing changes in their children’s mental health, or b) changes in children’s mental health impacting parents, or the way a family functions. Research needs to follow children and their families over time to tease apart these possibilities.

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What weakens the mental power, already in the middle ages

High blood pressure, Diabetes and Smoking: a new study in the journal "Neurology" according to the main risk factors that can lead to a sharp decline in thinking skills in middle age. At the same time, researchers from California observed that some of the other risk factor had a surprisingly, in this age, hardly.

The study is 2,675 people attended, with an average age of 50 years, who had no dementia. All of them had one or more cardiovascular risk factors, such as Obesity, high blood pressure, Diabetes, or elevated cholesterol. Many of them were smokers. Thinking and memory tests at the beginning of the study and five years later, showed that five percent of the participants in an accelerated decline in Thinking and memory performed services.

Depending on the risk factors, difference in the proportion of Affected: 7.5 percent of the patients with high blood pressure, a weaker mental performance &ndash showed; without high blood pressure it was only 4.3 percent. Among diabetic patients was 10.3 percent, compared with 4.7 per cent of the people without Diabetes. 7.7 percent of the smokers sections in the Tests was significantly worse than previously, in contrast to 4.3 percent of those who have never smoked. "Surprisingly, it had, obese people and people with a high cholesterol level is no higher risk for a rapid decline in the Denkfähigkeit"Kristine Yaffe of the University of California in San Francisco said.

Taking into account the age, education level and other factors, the researchers noted the bottom line is that smokers had a 65 percent higher likelihood of an accelerated decline in their mental abilities, people with high blood pressure to 87 percent more likely, and people with Diabetes, almost three times as often. One or two of the risk factors occurred at the same time, doubling the probability, that the mental skills wane in comparison to people without risk factors. In the case of persons with three or more risk factors, the probability was even almost three times as high.

Yaffe considers it useful, people in middle age, more the fact that Smoking, high blood pressure and Diabetes, have already in this age, and even within five years, a negative impact on the mental abilities.

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How does the brain link events to form a memory? Study reveals unexpected mental processes

A woman walking down the street hears a bang. Several moments later she discovers her boyfriend, who had been walking ahead of her, has been shot. A month later, the woman checks into the emergency room. The noises made by garbage trucks, she says, are causing panic attacks. Her brain had formed a deep, lasting connection between loud sounds and the devastating sight she witnessed.

This story, relayed by clinical psychiatrist and co-author of a new study Mohsin Ahmed, MD, Ph.D., is a powerful example of the brain’s powerful ability to remember and connect events separated in time. And now, in that new study in mice published today in Neuron, scientists at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute have shed light on how the brain can form such enduring links.

The scientists uncovered a surprising mechanism by which the hippocampus, a brain region critical for memory, builds bridges across time: by firing off bursts of activity that seem random, but in fact make up a complex pattern that, over time, help the brain learn associations. By revealing the underlying circuitry behind associative learning, the findings lay the foundation for a better understanding of anxiety and trauma- and stressor-related disorders, such as panic and post-traumatic stress disorders, in which a seemingly neutral event can elicit a negative response.

“We know that the hippocampus is important in forms of learning that involve linking two events that happen even up to 10 to 30 seconds apart,” said Attila Losonczy, MD, Ph.D., a principal investigator at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and the paper’s co-senior author. “This ability is a key to survival, but the mechanisms behind it have proven elusive. With today’s study in mice, we have mapped the complex calculations the brain undertakes in order to link distinct events that are separated in time.”

The hippocampus—a small, seahorse-shaped region buried deep in the brain—is an important headquarters for learning and memory. Previous experiments in mice showed that disruption to the hippocampus leaves the animals with trouble learning to associate two events separated by tens of seconds.

“The prevailing view has been that cells in the hippocampus keep up a level of persistent activity to associate such events,” said Dr. Ahmed, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and co-first author of today’s study. “Turning these cells off would thus disrupt learning.”

To test this traditional view, the researchers imaged parts of the hippocampus of mice as the animals were exposed to two different stimuli: a neutral sound followed by a small but unpleasant puff of air. A fifteen-second delay separated the two events. The scientists repeated this experiment across several trials. Over time, the mice learned to associate the tone with the soon-to-follow puff of air. Using advanced two-photon microscopy and functional calcium imaging, they recorded the activity of thousands of neurons, a type of brain cell, in the animals’ hippocampus simultaneously over the course of each trial for many days.

“With this approach, we could mimic, albeit in a simpler way, the process our own brains undergo when we learn to connect two events,” said Dr. Losonczy, who is also a professor of neuroscience at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

To make sense of the information they collected, the researchers teamed up with computational neuroscientists who develop powerful mathematical tools to analyze vast amounts of experimental data.

“We expected to see repetitive, continuous neural activity that persisted during the fifteen-second gap, an indication of the hippocampus at work linking the auditory tone and the air puff,” said computational neuroscientist Stefano Fusi, Ph.D., a principal investigator at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute and the paper’s co-senior author. “But when we began to analyze the data, we saw no such activity.”

Instead, the neural activity recorded during the fifteen-second time gap was sparse. Only a small number of neurons fired, and they did so seemingly at random. This sporadic activity looked distinctly different from the continuous activity that the brain displays during other learning and memory tasks, like memorizing a phone number.

“The activity appears to come in fits and bursts at intermittent and random time periods throughout the task,” said James Priestley, a doctoral candidate co-mentored by Drs. Losonczy and Fusi at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute and the paper’s co-first author. “To understand activity, we had to shift the way we analyzed data and use tools designed to make sense of random processes.”

Ultimately, the researchers discovered a pattern in the randomness: a style of mental computing that seems to be a remarkably efficient way that neurons store information. Instead of communicating with each other constantly, the neurons save energy—perhaps by encoding information in the connections between cells, called synapses, rather than through the electrical activity of the cells.

“We were happy to see that the brain doesn’t maintain ongoing activity over all these seconds because, metabolically, that’s not the most efficient way to store information,” said Dr. Fusi, who is also a professor of neuroscience at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “The brain seems to have a more efficient way to build this bridge, which we suspect may involve changing the strength of the synapses.”

In addition to helping to map the circuitry involved in associative learning, these findings also provide a starting point to more deeply explore disorders involving dysfunctions in associative memory, such as panic and pos-ttraumatic stress disorder.

“While our study does not explicitly model the clinical syndromes of either of these disorders, it can be immensely informative,” said Dr. Ahmed, who is also a member of the Losonczy lab at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute. “For example, it can help us to model some aspects of what may be happening in the brain when patients experience a fearful association between two events that would, to someone else, not elicit fright or panic.”

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