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UK university students are increasingly seeking mental health support

30/10/2018

There’s been a worrying increase in the number of university students in the UK seeking mental health support over the past five years, a new analysis by the BBC has found. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of students seeking mental health support rose from 50,900 to 78,100 (an increase of 53.44%). This is despite the number of people going to university actually dropping slightly over this period. Furthermore, at the same time, budgets for student mental health support services actually increased by more than 40%. According to the National Union of Students (NUS), young people attending university are under increasing pressure to do well. Eva Crossan Jory, Vice-President of the NUS, said: “There is a growth in demand [for mental health services] over the last decade, in part, because the reality of studying in the UK has changed so much. “Many are balancing work, study and caring responsibilities. With fees so high, and the job market so competitive, students feel they have to continually push themselves, perhaps more so than before.” One university in the UK in particular, the University of Bristol, hit the headlines because of its high suicide rates. Since October 2016, 11 students have taken their own lives at the university. A spokesperson for the university said it had adopted an institution-wide approach to help identify vulnerable students as early as possible and get them the right support.

Diabetics significantly more likely to die from alcoholism and by suicide, study finds

18/10/2018

The physical health problems associated with diabetes are well understood and publicised. For example, diabetics have an increased risk of developing cancer, kidney disorders and cardiovascular disease. But what about the mental impact of living with diabetes? It’s not something that gets a lot of attention, but the findings of a new study could see it thrust under the spotlight. That’s because the study by researchers from Finland found a worrying connection between diabetes and the risk of someone dying by suicide or alcoholism. According to the study, diabetics are more than 10 times more likely to die as a result of alcoholism – predominantly cirrhosis of the liver – and 110% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. The highest risk was seen among diabetes patients who rely on regular insulin injections to avoid serious health complications. Professor Leo Niskanen, of the University of Helsinki, who led the study, said diabetes patients who have to monitor their glucose levels and administer insulin frequently suffer tremendous mental strain. “This strain combined with the anxiety of developing serious complications like heart or kidney disease may also take their toll on psychological well-being,” he said. Is it time we started talking about the mental health implications of living with diabetes? [Related reading: Type-2 diabetes could actually be detected up to 20 years in advance, researchers say]

Mental Health Should Be At The Top Of Every Workplace Agenda

11/10/2018

Did you know that yesterday was World Mental Health Day? If not, why not? It’s celebrated every year, on October 10, yet lots of people still aren’t aware of it and that’s such a shame – especially when you consider that one in four people will be affected by a mental health issue at some point in their lives [source: WHO]. In fact, while it is obviously fantastic that there is a dedicated day for spreading awareness about mental health, shouldn’t conversations surrounding this extremely important issue be happening all year round? Unfortunately, mental health issues have always had a stigma associated. As a result, they are not frequently and openly discussed – especially in places of work. But the reality is that workplaces are definitely somewhere mental health should be being discussed. That’s because mental health issues not only impact the individual experiencing them, but also the people around them – their colleagues. The bottom line is workplaces that promote good wellbeing and provide support to individuals with mental health issues stand a greater chance of reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity. Plus, by being seen to be an employer that holds mental health in high regard, the company will also promote itself as one that people want to work for. So why wait until October 10 next year to start a conversation around mental health issues. Let’s put this important topic at the top of every agenda, especially in the workplace.

Mental health apps could be contributing to overdiagnosis

04/09/2018

There’s a mobile application (app) for just about everything nowadays, including helping us deal with our wellbeing. These so-called mental health apps often provide help and comfort for the people who use them, but new research suggests they could be missing the mark by quite some way. According to researchers from The University of Sydney and The University of Adelaide, both in Australia, there could be some major problems with how mental health apps frame mental illness (diagnose it) and the advice they give for dealing with it. For the research, a qualitative content analysis of 61 mental health apps from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia was conducted. The main problem that was identified was a tendency to promote medicalization of normal mental health states, leading to overdiagnosis. Furthermore, the apps encouraged people to use them frequently and promoted “personal responsibility” for improvement of conditions. While any form of medical self-help, including apps, can be useful, they should only form part of an overall plan for coping with mental illness. The bottom line is that people should never rely solely on apps and seek help from a therapist if they are concerned about their mental health. Relying on technology, unfortunately, does have its limitations.

Too much exercise can negatively impact mental health - study

14/08/2018

A large-scale study has found that just 45 minutes of physical exercise three to five times a week can improve mental wellbeing. [Related reading: People who abstain from alcohol in middle age may have higher risk of dementia] According to the US study of 1.2 million people, people who exercised regularly had fewer “bad days” a month than their non-exercising counterparts. Furthermore, while activities such as cycling, aerobics and team sports had the greatest positive impact, all types of physical activity, including things like doing household chores and looking after kids, were found to improve mental health. Moreover, people who had previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition like depression were found to afford the greatest benefits. The optimal routine identified by the researchers was being physically active for 30 to 60 minutes every second day. More interesting is the researchers’ finding that too much exercise can have a negative impact. Dr Adam Chekroud, study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, said: "Previously, people have believed that the more exercise you do, the better your mental health, but our study suggests that this is not the case. "Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90-minute sessions is associated with worse mental health." The findings of the study are published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal.

WHO classifies video game addiction as a mental health disorder

19/06/2018

Do your kids spend a lot of time playing video games? If so, have you ever thought they might be addicted to them? A new World Health Organisation (WHO) classification recognises that video game addiction as a mental health disorder and it’s not just kids who are at risk. According to the WHO, the new classification of “gaming disorder” has three main characteristics: Impaired control when gaming Prioritising gaming over other interests Continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences The diagnosable condition will be set out this month in the organisation's reference work of recognised and diagnosable diseases, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). However, many psychiatrists, including the American Psychiatric Association, disagree, saying there is insufficient evidence to consider gaming addiction as a unique mental disorder. As a result, a veil of confusion has been cast over how to approach so-called video game addiction. The mental health disorder classification gives mental health professionals a basis for setting up bespoke treatment plans and identifying risks. But some mental health professionals are concerned that the classification is grounded more in moral concerns rather than science. Speaking about the WHO’s decision, Richard Graham, a specialist psychiatrist in technology addiction at Nightingale Hospital, London, said there was a very important difference between enthusiastic gaming and the new disorder. "What we're talking about - and what the World Health Organisation is talking about - is the people who can no longer stop, no longer control their use. "They're prioritising their gaming above pretty much everything else in their life”.

Some cinema drinks contain ‘unacceptable’ levels of bacteria

10/05/2018

If you’re a regular cinema-goer, chances are you purchase some snacks and fizzy drinks to accompany each movie you watch. But our blog post today might make you think twice about ordering that fizzy drink on your next visit. That’s because an investigation by a UK TV programme has revealed that a startling number of cinema drinks in the country contain unacceptably high levels of bacteria. According to the investigation by BBC One’s Watchdog programme, fizzy drinks from seven out of 30 cinemas tested were found to have unacceptable bacteria levels. Even more concerning is that traces of the bacteria salmonella were discovered in two drinks served up by one of the cinema chains. Watchdog also says that ice containing unacceptable levels of bacteria was also found. Less than 1,000 units of bacteria per one millilitre of liquid is considered acceptable, but some of the ice tested in one particular cinema branch was found to contain a staggering 10 million bacteria in one millilitre of liquid. Speaking about the programme’s findings, Mr Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: "Ultimately, it's about people cutting corners and it's also about managers, owners of cinemas, managers of cinemas, not taking their responsibilities seriously and potentially keeping on top of the issues."

Community singing groups 'improve mental health and help recovery'

26/12/2017

Being part of a community singing group makes people feel valued, increases their confidence and can help them recover from a mental illness, new research suggests. According to the study conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK, individuals involved in free weekly singing workshops found benefits to mood and social skills. The researchers also found that the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project, which was started by Tracy Morefield more than 10 years ago in a psychiatric hospital, had even stopped some people from relapsing. The SYHO initiative is aimed at individuals with mental health conditions, as well as the general public, and regularly attracts hundreds of people to four weekly sing-alongs. Researchers from UEA's Norwich Medical School said a study of 20 SYHO group members over six months found singing and mixing socially had helped those who had suffered with serious mental health issues to function better in day-to-day life. Lead researcher prof Tom Shakespeare described it as a “low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community”. He said: “We found that singing as part of a group contributes to people’s recovery from mental health problems. “We heard the participants calling the initiative a life saver and that it saved their sanity. Others said they simply wouldn’t be here without it, they wouldn’t have managed – so we quickly began to see the massive impact it was having.” The research team are now encouraging other areas to consider running community singing groups.

Over a third of mothers experience mental health issues

30/11/2017

More than a third of mothers have experienced a mental health issue related to parenthood, an online survey has found. According to the YouGov poll of 1,800 British parents, in comparison, just 17% of fathers had experienced similar parenthood-related issues. Of the mothers who experienced a mental health issue, more than two-thirds sought professional help as a result. Their conditions included acute stress, severe anxiety and postpartum depression. One of the biggest factors that weighs on the minds of new mums is criticism. Of those surveyed, 26% said their parents were the most critical of their parenting skills, followed by 24% who cited their spouse/partner and 18% other family members. Quite shockingly, 14% said they had been criticised by complete strangers. In comparison, 5% of the 800 fathers said the same. Trouble at work is also not uncommon for new parents. About 30% of mothers who responded said they had felt discriminated against at work because they were a parent, compared with 14% of working fathers. In terms of emotional support, 60% of women said they had received it from their friends, 56% from their partner and 18% went online. However, 15% of mothers and 25% of fathers say they didn't receive any emotional support at all. If nothing else, the survey highlights the struggles many mothers and fathers go through following the birth of a child. Support is crucial in helping these parents get through such difficult times. 

Just a few nights of bad sleep can impact your mental health

02/11/2017

The benefits of a full night’s sleep are well known. Insomniacs across the world will tell you what sleep deprivation can do to your mind and body. But now it seems that just a few nights of bad sleep could impact your mental health too. A team of scientists from the University of Oxford in the UK ran a small experiment using four volunteers who normally sleep just fine. The volunteers were fitted with monitors to track their sleep. For the first three nights of the study, they were allowed to sleep normally. For the next three nights, their sleep was restricted to just four hours per night. Each day of the study, the volunteers filled out questionnaires about how they were feeling and kept video diaries. Three out of the four volunteers said the experience was unpleasant, while one said he was largely unaffected. However, tests showed that his mood was significantly impacted, with positive emotions falling and negative emotions rising. Doctoral student Sarah Reeve, one of the scientists who ran the experiment, was surprised by how quickly the volunteers’ moods changed. "There were increases in anxiety, depression and stress, also increases in paranoia and feelings of mistrust about other people", she said. "Given that this happened after only three nights of sleep deprivation, that is pretty impressive."

Even one hour of exercise per week could prevent depression

03/10/2017

Depression affects around 6.7% of US adults every year. On a global level, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people are currently living with the disorder. When it comes to treatment, medication, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or a combination of these approaches is usually used. But new research adds weight to the argument for regular exercise as a depression treatment. Australia-based non-profit group Black Dog Institute conducted an analysis of data collected from 33,908 Norwegian adults who were followed over an 11-year period. Publishing their results in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the team, led by Prof. Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute, found that not only does a little exercise bring substantial benefits, but a lack of exercise actually contributes to depression. Individuals who didn’t undertake any physical activity were found to be 44% more likely to develop depression than those who did just 1 or 2 hours per week. As a result, the authors concluded that approximately 12% of depression cases could have been prevented if the individual did at least 1 hour of exercise per week. "We've known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventive potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression,” said Prof. Harvey.

Always connected individuals more stressed than their counterparts

10/07/2017

While it’s impossible to deny that technology has transformed the way in which we live our lives, not all of the effects are always positive. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey 2017, a staggering proportion (99%) of adults own electronic devices. In fact, the survey shows that around 86% of adults own a computer; 74% own a smartphone; and 55% own a tablet. As you would expect with figures such as these, the percentage of adults using social media has also significantly increased. In 2005, 7% of adults were active on social media. By 2015, that number had skyrocketed to 65% (90% for adults aged between 18 and 29). However, the survey also found that 43% of American adults had become what is known as “constant checkers” – people who constantly (almost obsessively) check their emails, text and social media accounts The problem is that stress levels for constant checkers are considerably higher than they are for “normal” people. For example, 42% of constant checkers worry about how social media affects their physical and mental health. In comparison, only 27% of non-constant checkers have the same worry. Are you a constant checker? If you are, perhaps it’s time you put your smartphone down and underwent a digital detox.

Living Near Busy Roads Could Increase Risk of Dementia

10/01/2017

People who live near busy roads have higher rates of dementia, suggesting that traffic can have an impact on our mental health, according to research recently published in the Lancet. In fact, the research suggests that as many as 11% of dementia cases in people living within 50 metres of a busy road could be down to traffic. For the study, the researchers followed 2 million people in the Canadian province of Ontario over an 11-year period. They found that both noisy traffic and air pollution could be contributing to people's brain decline. UK dementia experts have called the findings "plausible", but also said more research is needed to further investigate any potential link. Over the course of the study, 243,611 cases of dementia were diagnosed. However, the risk was greater for those living near major roads. Compared with people living 300m away from a major road the risk was: 7% higher within 50m 4% higher between 50-100m 2% higher between 101-200m Dr Hong Chen, from Public Health Ontario and one of the report authors, said: "Increasing population growth and urbanisation have placed many people close to heavy traffic, and with widespread exposure to traffic and growing rates of dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure could pose a large public health burden." Dementia is thought to affect around 50 million people worldwide. However, its causes are still not understood.

Being a Scout or Guide Benefits Kids Mentally Later in Life

10/11/2016

Being a scout or guide as a child could improve your mental health in later life, a study has found. According to the analysis of some 10,000 people conducted by researchers from the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, ex-scouts and guides were 15% less likely to suffer anxiety or mood disorders at the age of 50. It's thought that the lessons learned in resilience and resolve that organisations like the scouts and guides offer could have a lasting positive impact. The findings indicate that programmes which help children develop self-reliance and teamwork skills, and encourage outdoor activity, may have benefits for life. Talking about the findings of the research, Prof Chris Dibben, lead researcher, from the University of Edinburgh's School of Geosciences, said: "It is quite startling that this benefit is found in people so many years after they have attended guides or scouts. "We expect the same principles would apply to the scouts and guides of today and so, given the high costs of mental ill-health to individuals and society, a focus on voluntary youth programmes such as the guides and scouts might be very sensible." Chief Scout and TV survival specialist Bear Grylls said: "I am really proud that scouting provides young people with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be resilient and deal with what life throws at them."

Laughter Boosts Seniors' Motivation to Exercise

20/09/2016

Researchers have found that laughter may really be the best medicine when it comes to a person's health in later life. And, according to the study led by Georgia State University, when laughter is combined with moderate exercise, not only is the mental health of older individuals improved, but also their motivation to undertake physical activity. Prior to their research, lead author Celeste Greene, from Georgia State, and colleagues noted that many seniors are reluctant to carry out physical activity because they lack motivation due mainly to the fact they don't find exercise enjoyable. That's why Greene's team set out to investigate whether combining laughter with physical activity would increase the amount of enjoyment older people get while exercising, thus increasing the likelihood of them doing more and reaping the associated health benefits. For older people, regular physical activity can improve heart health; reduce the risk of diabetes; aid weight control; improve bone health; and maintain and boost muscle strength. Greene and her team created LaughActive, a unique laughter-based exercise programme, which combines moderate-intensity physical activity with simulated laughter techniques. The research team enrolled 27 older adults in the LaughActive programme, who were all required to attend two 45-minute sessions every week for a period of 6 weeks. What they found at the end of the 6-week programme was that 96.2% of participants said that laughter was an enjoyable addition to physical activity and boosted their motivation to take part. In addition, the programme was associated with significant improvements in the mental health and aerobic endurance of the participants.

Study: Mental Health Conditions Common Before Bariatric Surgery, but Fall Afterwards

20/01/2016

Patients who are seeking and undergoing bariatric surgery commonly suffer from mental health conditions, such as depression and binge eating disorders. However, following successful bariatric surgery, the rates of these conditions fall, according to a study published in JAMA. Bariatric surgery is a highly accepted method of promoting weight loss in obese individuals and can also serve to reduce their risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain kinds of cancer. Dr. Aaron J. Dawes, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, led a research team which wanted to discover how common mental health conditions were in people seeking and undergoing bariatric surgery. The findings of their research show that 23% of bariatric surgery patients were affected by a current mental health disorder, with depression (19%); a binge-eating disorder (17%); and anxiety (12%) the most common. Following surgery, a fall in the rate of depression was observed. Of the 27 studies analysed by the research team, seven revealed an 8-74% drop in the rate of depression after surgery, while six reflected a 40-70% reduction in the rate of depressive symptoms. The report authors noted: "Previous reviews have suggested that self-esteem, mental image, cognitive function, temperament, support networks and socioeconomic stability play major roles in determining outcomes after bariatric surgery." They suggest incorporating these factors into future studies, which would help form part of "an optimal strategy for evaluating patients' mental health prior to bariatric surgery."   Photo via: Bassett Healthcare Network 

Helping Others Can Reduce the Impact of Stress, says Study

15/12/2015

We will all encounter stress at some time in our lives and the natural tendency for many people is to reach out to friends and family for help during those times. However, it turns out that when life gets a bit too much for us, we’d be better off lending a helping hand than reaching out for help. That’s because a new study has shown that helping other people can reduce the impact that stress has on our lives, with something as simple as holding a door open for someone else holding the potential to give your mood a boost. Dr Emily Ansell, of the Yale University School of Medicine in Connecticut who led the research, said: “Our research shows that when we help others we can also help ourselves. “The holiday season can be a very stressful time, so think about giving directions, asking someone if they need help, or holding that elevator door over the next month. It may end up helping you feel just a little bit better.” For the research, 77 adults aged between 18 and 44 were asked to conduct daily assessments over a 14-day period and list any stressful events they encountered. Alongside this daily assessment the study group was asked to rate their mental health for that particular day, including any emotions they had felt and any helpful tasks they had performed. The results, which were published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, revealed that helping other people boosted the study participant’s daily wellbeing. And the more times the participant helped someone else, the better they felt. So the next time you’re feeling stressed, why not try giving someone a helping hand. It might just make you feel better.  

A Warped Sense of Humour Could Predict Dementia

12/11/2015

A sudden change in a person’s sense of humour, especially when they become increasingly perceptive to dark or twisted humour, could be an early warning sign of dementia, according to a new study. The results of the study, which was conducted by researchers at University College London, were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and show that a person’s sense of humour can be a good indicator of their mental health. Friend and family of the study subjects were asked to rate their friend or relative’s reaction to different kinds of comedy. Slapstick comedy, such as Mr. Bean, satirical comedy, such as Yes Minister and absurdist comedy, such as Monty Python, were all used for the study, as well as “inappropriate humour”. Dr Camilla Clark, who headed up the team responsible for the research, recruited 48 patients who had previously been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. The team found that dementia patients had a preference for slapstick humour, when compared against 21 healthy people of similar age. Almost all of the patients’ friends and family said they had noticed a change in the patient’s humour over the nine years prior to them being diagnosed. Most notable were preferences for dark humour and inappropriate laughing at tragic events. “These were marked changes – completely inappropriate humour well beyond the realms of even distasteful humour. For example, one man laughed when his wife badly scalded herself,” said Dr Clark. Dr Simon Ridley, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said changes in behaviour should be investigated by an individual’s GP. “While memory loss is often the first thing that springs to mind when we hear the word dementia, this study highlights the importance of looking at the myriad different symptoms that impact on daily life and relationships", he said.  

Hearing Aid Usage Linked to Slower Mental Decline, says French Study

10/11/2015

A French study, which followed thousands of seniors over a period of 25 years, has found that hearing aids may slow mental decline in hard-of-hearing elderly individuals. Previous studies have shown a link between hearing loss and steeper cognitive decline in later years, but only now has that relationship been tracked over such a long period. Helene Amieva, lead author of the study, said: "With a large sample size and 25 years of follow-up of participants, this study clearly confirms that hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline in older adults. Using hearing aids attenuates cognitive decline in elders presenting with hearing loss." Amieva, who is a researcher at the University of Bordeaux here in France, said that around 30% of people over 65 years old experience some degree of hearing loss. That percentage rises significantly to almost 90% for people aged 85 and older. The individuals who participated in the study were recruited back in 1989-1990 and were observed while living at home, rather than institutional settings. Over the 25-year period, the participants answered 12 questionnaires in total, as well as undergoing psychological examinations to better assess their cognitive skills. Participants who had hearing loss were more likely to score lower on the mental health screenings and experience greater cognitive decline over the 25-year period. However, those who used hearing aids suffered from the same rate of cognitive decline as those with no hearing loss, according to the study. "These results underline the importance of addressing the problem of under-diagnosis and under-treatment of hearing loss in elderly adults," Amieva told Reuters Health.  

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