Four Stories to Read This Morning
> 6/7/2006 8:46:09 AM

There have been a flurry of news stories related to mental health in the last couple of days. These four, from the last two days, are all worth a read.
  1. Yesterday's New York Times reports that the number of antipsychotics prescribed to children and adolescents rose dramatically over the course of a study that ran from 1993 to 2002. Over this time antipsychotic scripts jumped from 275 per 100,000 in the two-year period from 1993 to 1995 to 1,438 per 100,000 children and adolescents in 2002. This rise is completely separate, although related to, the rise in use of antidepressants and stimulants for children and adolescents.

    Researchers and doctors attribute this rise to physicians' increased comfort level with the drugs as well as a growing number of children and adolescents whose health problems are being labeled as psychiatric in nature. Reduced access to long-term mental health care is also cited.

    Of course this news has been met with no small amount of criticism, as many doctors worry that there is little to no evidence about how these drugs will effect younger users in the long run. The report also found that 40% of children on antipsychotics were also taking another psychiatric medication, a disturbingly high number. The article does a nice job of representing both sides of the argument, but in the end, the worries remain, as one doctor is quotes as saying, when a kid is run through several antipsychotics, "How do you even know who the kid is anymore?"

  2. The second article comes from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and discusses how some U.S. residents who are suffering from treatment resistant depression are traveling north to Canada to try a newer treatment that has not been approved in the States. In the story we meet Laura Schulman, a pediatrician whose depression was so bad she was forced to give up her practice. Dr. Schulman did not respond to standard treatments and so she decided to travel to Canada to see if repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) could work for her.

    rTMS, which stimulates, via magnetic coils, areas of the brain thought to be linked to depression, has been around for some time, but has yet to receive FDA approval in the U.S. Electroconvulsive therapy, and the recently approved, vagus nerve stimulation remain the only non-drug treatments for depression. Several doctors in the article are optimistic about rTMS's chances of being approved for treatment of major depression, as early trials have returned positive results, but without FDA approval there are no real standards of practice, which concerns some.

  3. A couple of news wires carried this third story, but the website Medical News Today has one of the best write-ups:

    Adolescents with negative body image concerns are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal than those without intense dissatisfaction over their appearance, even when compared to adolescents with other psychiatric illnesses, according to a new study by researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital and Brown Medical School.

    Researchers came to these conclusions after assessing adolescent psychiatric inpatients at Bradley Hospital. Not only were one third of all patients afflicted with either body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, and other clinically significant body image concerns, but those who were tended to be more severely ill than other adolescent patients. Barring contradictory research, this could provide doctors with valuable information in working with patients who suffer deal with significant body image issues.

  4. This morning's final story comes from WebMD. According to their story, researchers from Australia have found that caffeine may effect how persuaded we are by an argument. In an experiment using both male and female college students researchers found that those who drank caffeine laced orange juice were more likely to be persuaded to change their starting opinions by reading an article. The catch however, was that students who drank caffeine but were asked to perform a "distracting" task (in this case, crossing out all the "o"s in the article) were not nearly as likely to change their starting opinions.

    We all know that caffeine has many, often powerful, effects on our behavior, and this research points to another. It is unlikely however, that drinking coffee will turn us all into pushovers, so further research is necessary to determine what the causes this increase in persuasiveness (increased attentiveness and elevated mood are both possibilities).

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