Day 993

Ruth

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Broken glass

“You are well enough to safely go home now”, said the panel.
“But I can’t! I need one more day to complete my church!”, said Di, who was being treated at Bexley hospital for Postnatal Depression in 1966. She had a brilliant occupational therapist who took them to the swimming pool, organised hair-dressing days and helped patients to make things. Di made a church with bits of shattered wind-screen glass, put together with resin but the spire wasn’t on yet. This beautifully tactile piece of art was named ‘Faith’ by Ruth, her daughter.

Ruth

Ruth was a talented young lawyer. She was an actor and singer. She was kind, generous and gorgeous! She travelled extensively. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her late 20s. She coped well with the help of health services, her friends and family but tragically lost her battle at the age of 47.

Di is in her second year of missing Ruth terribly. She has created the most beautiful garden in her memory. Some of the plants there are from Ruth’s house. Her mediterranean wall is stunning.

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Being bereaved by suicide is a huge risk factor for suicide. Around 125 youth suicides a year occur soon after the person involved has experienced a bereavement. One in four (25%) of under-20s and 28% of 20 to 24-year-olds had lost a relative, partner, friend or acquaintance around a year or more beforehand. In 11% of suicides among under-20s, the person who those involved had lost had also taken their own life.

In a recent inquiry, bereavement was found to be an important theme in many deaths, said Prof Louis Appleby, the director.

People who have been bereaved need greater support to reduce the risk of them killing themselves. Agencies who are meant to help are not good at recognising this risk and need to improve.

This morning I caught up with Di over a cup of tea. We both believe that if Saagar and Ruth have met each other wherever they are, they must get on famously. The link below is a conversation with Di. She talks about her insights on mental health services over 5 decades. Thanks a lot Di!

Day 991

Light and day and night.

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The longest day of the year is behind us.

It’s well known that lack of sunlight has an adverse effect on our brains. It might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly:

  • Production of melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. The hypothalamus may produce it in higher than normal levels.
  • Production of serotonin – Serotonin is a hormone that affects our mood, appetite and sleep. Lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
  • Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – Our body uses sunlight to time various important functions such as the time we wake up. So, lower light levels may disrupt our body clock, mood and alertness.

A recent study by Klaus Martiny of the Psychiatric Centre in Copenhagen shows that people being treated for severe depression were discharged almost twice as quickly if their rooms faced south-west in comparison to those whose rooms had a north-west orientation. Depending on time of the year, the intensity of daylight in the south-west rooms was 17-20 times brighter. The results support findings in previous studies of the importance of architectural orientation providing natural daylight as a factor for improvement. “We don’t know the precise mechanism, but I think it’s to do with exposure to the morning light, which advances and stabilises their sleep-wake cycle,” says Martiny.

Light acts as a powerful reset switch, keeping the clocks in our brain synced with the outside world. This clock can weaken as part of ageing, Parkinson’s disease, strokes and depression. To tackle this problem several hospitals are installing dynamic ‘solid state’ lighting which changes like daylight over the course of the day : whitish-blue in the morning, growing warmer and dimmer through the day and turning orange or switching off at night.

Light can be a drug.

 

Day 989

Accidental findings

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In the mid 80s, Dr Vincent Felitti ran an Obesity clinic in America. Many people enrolled and hundreds of pounds were shed by them. But he found that the drop-out rate from his programme was as high as 50% despite good results. He did not understand this and went back to look closely at patient notes.

“I had assumed that people who were 400, 500, 600 pounds would be getting heavier and heavier year after year. In two thousand people, I did not see it once. When they gained weight, it was abrupt and then they stabilized. If they lost weight, they regained all of it or more over a very short time.”

The turning point in Felitti’s quest came by accident. He was running through yet another series of questions with yet another obesity program. How much did you weigh when you were born…when you were in first grade…when you were in high school…when you first became sexually active…

One female patient replied – “Forty pounds” and broke down in floods of tears, “I was four years old.” He found similar common themes emerging from various stories and went on researching this subject for the next 25 years.

The obese people that Felitti was interviewing were 100, 200, 300, 400 overweight, but they didn’t see their weight as a problem. To them, eating was a fix, a solution like IV drug user calls a dose a “fix”.

Eating made them feel better. Eating soothed their anxiety, fear, anger or depression – it worked like alcohol or tobacco or methamphetamines. Not eating increased their anxiety, depression, and fear to levels that were intolerable. For many people, just being obese solved a problem. In the case of the woman who’d been raped, she felt as if she were invisible to men.

Felitti went on to further explore the  impact of childhood trauma on people and coined the term – ACE, Adverse Chilhood Experience. He found a strong co-relation between the number of ACEs and early death.

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Film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3A_HexLxDY

 

Day 988

Transition is the cliff edge.

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Alas, poor Yorick…

Eighteenth birthday! Yay! No more a child. You are mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physiologically an adult. That’s it. Over to Adult services now. Easy.  The number ‘18’ is completely arbitrary. It is designed for the convenience of the service providers, not in the best interest of children. There is a strong case being made now for raising the ‘transition’ age to 25 and rightly so. The recent publication “State of Child Health 2017” has recognised that the transition from Paediatric to Adult services is poorly organised and unsafe for mental and physical health conditions.

This is how one of the parents felt: “In my experience the teams did not work together. They each did their separate thing. When Rebecca left school, she was left with without regular support or advice. When she turned 18 we just stopped receiving information. Emails and phone calls didn’t get answered.”

Chronic conditions such as Epilepsy, Asthma, Diabetes, Juvenile Arthritis and Childhood Obesity are often associated with significant mental health problems. The budget for kids was 6% of the Adult MH services until recently. The government promised an increase and guess what! It has gone up to 7% now. Hurrah! Considering that mental illness most often begins in adolescence and early intervention is of paramount importance, the allocation of funds is highly disproportionate.

Piet Jansen, Director of International Relations, Yes We Can Youth Clinics, Netherlands, commented:

‘There was a lot of talk at the CAMHS congress about the Green Paper, but in my view the only green thing that matters here are dollar bills (in this case pounds). Without sound financial and genuine political commitment, structural changes are not to happen.’

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Day 978

Primum non nocere- First do no harm.

Doctors could save lives by breaking rules on privacy.

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This is a point worth making again and again and again and again and as many times as it takes. Few excerpts:

Hamish Elvidge, father of Mathew – “Before my son took his own life, he had only just been discharged as a low-risk patient, despite coming in as a high-risk patient that very same day after a suicide attempt. At no point were his family involved in any part of the process. There is a chance that, had the hospital decided to share information with his family, our son would still be here today.”

“Confidentiality is far too embedded within the medical profession. The default position has to be one where you have to explain why you haven’t involved the family.”

Prof. Appleby said: “Psychiatrists should feel able to use their clinical judgment on where the balance of patient safety and confidentiality lies. Families are devastated when they discover too late that their loved ones had been talking to professionals about suicide.”

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “In my experience, if doctors make well- justified, well-recorded decisions to share information in the best interest of a patient who is in suicidal crisis, consistent with their professional codes of practice, this will be understood, respected and upheld in courts of law.”

 (Source: The Herald_Congress17_suicide story.pdf)

 

Day 975

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Ben 

In conversation with a retired Paediatric surgeon today, the topic of premature babies came up. He said that the commonest type of surgery in new-borns has changed over the years. Unlike a couple of decades ago, the commonest operation now is for dead gut, essentially due to the rise in our ability to provide better care for premature babies. He thought that the incidence of premature births was almost double in London than anywhere else in the UK because of high stress levels.

According to one of the largest reviews of evidence, children born very prematurely are at greater risk of developing mental health and social problems that can persist well into adulthood. Children who weighed less than a kilogram at birth are about four times as likely as those born at term to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and significant emotional problems. This may be due to weakened connections in brain networks linked to attention, communication and the processing of emotions.

These findings are important because mental health issues that occur in childhood are a strong predictor of psychiatric disorders in adulthood. “There is a strong case for assessing, on a regular basis, the mental health status of these children, so that early intervention approaches might be implemented sooner rather than later, with a view to minimising future mental health problems,” said Prof Smith from Glasgow.

Sarah is a Registered General Nurse with 25 years’ experience. She worked as a Neonatal Nurse over the last 17 years prior to moving to The University of Salford where she is now a Neonatal Lecturer within the Midwifery Team.

Sarah became involved with PAPYRUS in 2013 after the loss of her 14-year-old son Ben to suicide. Ben was a premature baby.

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Day 963

Wysa

A young couple, committed to making a difference used their love and  intellect to create Touchkin, Artificial Intelligence for proactive care, integrating behavioural health into medical practice.

Tom Insel, a psychiatrist from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the world’s largest mental-health research institution, spoke frankly about how MH services and research were failing to help the mentally ill. He openly dismissed the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). At any given moment, roughly one in seven of the world’s 7.5 billion people is struggling with mental illness. “We’re not going to reach all those people by hiring more psychiatrists,” says Insel. But we might reach them with smartphones.

In one of his talks, Insel was sharing the intricacies of the delicate workings of the brain.   Someone interrupted him and said, “You don’t get it. The house is on fire, and you are discussing the chemistry of the paint”

Jo Aggarwal, one of the developers of Touchkin says:

“This line from the article resonated deeply with me. It’s a familiar sentiment – one many of us in development have had in conferences on employment, education, conflict. They are all at some level connected to the base fire that engulfs our world today – that of mental health. Until this fire is brought under control, we don’t have a hope for any of the rest of it.

His dramatic move lends credibility behind the idea that phones may be the answer. Identifying issues using smartphone behavior is powerful, though it can feel creepy. But detection is not enough. In our trials at Touchkin, phone sensors were able to predict depression in people with diabetes to a 90% accuracy, and went a long way in getting the physicians convinced to integrate mental health into their regimen. But only 1 in 30 people diagnosed went on to take treatment for the depression.

It said to us – “The house is on fire, the fire brigade is missing, and here we are saying how accurate our fire alarms are”

Wysa the emotionally intelligent penguin willed itself into existence somewhere along the way. It was a side feature created between ‘formal’ projects to improve accuracy. Taken by how people reacted to the prototype, we all kept working on making it better… in three months it crossed a threshold. It started changing lives. Last month, 3 people wrote in to say it saved their life, it is what is keeping them from suicide. Over 50,000 people talked to it anonymously, and thousands of them wrote in to us to say how much it meant to them.

Unlike the Stanford psychologists creating Woebot- we have no hypotheses around Wysa. It is evolving entirely based on what works for its users. It has evidence-based techniques, but everytime we add more tools or advice or tips we get users telling us to just let them talk to Wysa, and not to underestimate how much of a difference that makes.

“The fire in the house, is in our brains. The fuel is the language of the conversations we have inside our head. “

We started out, like Insel, trying to detect the fires… Wysa is leading us to try and put a fire extinguisher in everyone’s pocket. Any pretence of our own hypothesis went out of the window when the first person wrote in to say it saved their life. Now we are following it to see where it goes.

Like us, like Tim, there are many unwitting recruits to this fight.

Rick Little started fighting it as soon as he graduated college. So many of my friends… Sangeeta Mahajan who lost her son to suicide and has dedicated her life to preventing it for others. Anjana Ajay who is changing others lives after healing her own Stage 4 cancer by focusing on healing her mind. Bhavana Issar who is doing amazing work at Caregiver Saathi.Pooja Goyal who is creating resilience in pre-school children and their parents, bravely facing all the storms that come her way. Archana Aggarwal Sarda has made emotional support a way to get intl level diabetes outcomes in rural children, long before she realised that she was doing it.

None of them are psychologists. They each have options of more comfortable, lucrative ways to spend their time. They are all powerless to not do this. “The house is on fire. Once you see it, and you realise that you can stop it spreading, it is hard to do anything else.”

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