Nip mental health problems in the bud

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A new assessment may help get mental health help to students. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia developed a student version of the Social, Academic and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS). They had middle and high school students complete the instrument to self-identify their mental state.

The student version is available through Fastbridge Learning, a software company that works with schools to offer online academic and behavioral screening, as well as other assessment services.

In lower grades, students have only one teacher, so it is easier to see problems developing. In higher grades, students have different teachers for each different subject, so changes in behavior can’t be observed as readily. While families may not have the resources to access preventative services, schools usually do.

I can see a few problems with this approach. Will the students answer the questions honestly? And if they do, will this somehow stigmatize them in the eyes of teachers and administrators?

Still, if even one potential tragedy is avoided, this seems worthwhile to me.

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Let’s get physical

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Given the mental health crisis in the US, it seems to me that any and all avenues that can alleviate people’s problems should be acted upon. Right now.

A study  done at Michigan State University asked patients with depression about physical exercise. A whopping 85% said they wanted to exercise more, and nearly that many said they believed exercise improved their moods much of the time. About half were at least interested in a one time discussion with many wanting ongoing advice about physical activity from their mental health provider.

The hitch is that most psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners don’t have expertise in exercise. They may mention it, but they don’t help the client set up a program or keep after them to be active. Marcia Valenstein, senior author and professor emeritus in psychiatry at U-M, suggests mental health clinics partner with personal trainers or community recreational facilities. She says once the effectiveness was established, maybe insurers would get on board.

But why wait? Surely even individual counselors and therapists can find a trainer or nearby YMCA to work with clients without charging prohibitive fees. How much is it costing society NOT to do this?

Conversing over cocktails

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Once upon a time, I took several semesters of noncredit Spanish classes. I did OK in reading, but in situations where I needed to speak to someone in Spanish I froze up. Maybe I should’ve had a cocktail first.

A study by the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University, and King’s College London found that people who drank a small amount of alcohol were judged to have better pronunciation in a foreign language. Alcohol impairs executive function including the ability to remember things, so it should hamper speaking a second language. But it also lessens social anxiety.

Interestingly, in this study, outside observers rated those who had consumed a low dose of alcohol significantly better speakers than the control group who had non-alcoholic beverages . The actual participants did not rate themselves higher.

So if you try this at home, stick to only one drink and don’t judge yourself. You’re conversing better than you think.

Go ahead and gossip

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A new study says gossiping is not a character flaw. It is instead a highly developed social skill and competitive tactic.

Women tend to comment on each others’ appearance. Men, on the other hand, gossip about each others’ wealth and athleticism.

The study’s author Adam Davis of the University of Ottawa doesn’t seem to regard the men’s gossip in the same light as that of women. He seems to think it is only women whose gossip is designed to undermine rivals for a potential mate’s attention.

Personally, it sounds the same to me. Women assume men are more interested in a more attractive mate, so they try to make other women seem less attractive. Men assume women want a rich partner or at least a physically fit one who can presumably protect them.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

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A new study by Rubin Naiman, PhD, a sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, warns that lack of dreams is leading to many health concerns.

When we fall asleep, we first experience the deep sleep that our bodies prioritize. Dreams, however, occur during REM, rapid eye movement, sleep that typically comes late at night or early morning. Naiman says health concerns are usually attributed to sleep loss might actually be  caused by dream loss.

Personally, I don’t usually remember my dreams. Does this mean I am not dreaming enough? Should I be worried?

Eat more amino acids to lose weight

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If you, like me and millions of others, are overweight, a new study offers a possible solution.

Researchers at the University of Warwick found that tanycytes, cells in the part of the brain that controls energy, detect nutrients in food such as  amino acids. Two amino acids, arginine and lysine, react the most with these tanycytes and thus make you feel more full. Large concentrations of arginine and lysine are found in pork shoulder beef sirloin steak, chicken, mackerel, plums, apricots, avocados, lentils, and almonds.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to add more of these foods to my diet ASAP.

Medical “arts”

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Now here is a study I can get behind.

A group of 36 first-year medical students from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia took a class in art observation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They looked at paintings and then discussed what they saw using creative questioning and reasoning. The six 90 minute sessions were taught by professional art educators using the “Artful Thinking” teaching approach, which emphasizes introspection and observation before interpretation.

As a result, the students became better observers with patients. Making a diagnosis when presented with complex visual clues is difficult. These students learned to use a structured approach that they began putting into practice immediately. This training is particularly applicable with ophthalmology, dermatology, and radiology, where diagnosis and treatments plans are based primarily on direct observation. The students also felt they had increased their empathy, although this was not verified by pre- and post -testing.

As a singer, I wonder if teaching music appreciation skills might have a similar effect. After all, doctors have to listen to patients as well as observe them. Just one more reason to support education in the arts.