Post Of The Week – Sunday 5th April 2015

1) John Oliver On The Lottery

In our last week of lessons on addiction, we watched John Oliver talking about tobacco. Here he is talking about state lotteries.

A bit sweary, but he makes some important points about how adverts for lotteries distort perceptions of what lotteries are and what they do.

2) Mindchangers

These programmes appear on our course at various points. Here is the homepage with links to all of the programmes which have been made.

3) Electrified

This article starts with Transcranial Direct-Current Stimulation but moves on to explore how people have used electricity through the ages to change the way their brains work.

4) Thomas Insel – Targeting Suicide

In the TED talk we use as part of the AS course, Thomas Insel talks about how the suicide rate remains stubbornly high while death rates from other disorders are coming down rapidly.

As we have seen when looking at evidence about antidepressants and suicide, suicide itself, as opposed to conditions associated with it such as schizophrenia and depression, remains relatively understudied. The challenge is to find good ways of intervening so that people who have tried suicide once and survived do not try it again.

5) E-cigarettes

The two problems with e-cigarettes are that they deliver a substance, nicotine, which is both addictive and harmful and that they may draw people into smoking who would otherwise not try it. The second of these concerns was reinforced by a piece of research which was published last week and is reported here.

5% of teenagers who had never smoked reported trying e-cigarettes. The critical question is whether these teenagers would have tried smoking anyway. Children who drank alcohol or whose parents smoked were disproportionately represented among those who used e-cigarettes. This takes us into personality factors associated with addiction and the importance of parents as role models in addictive behaviour, both of which we cover as part of our course.

6) Autism As An Umbrella Term

In the A2 course, we consider the idea that people labelled as autistic may be suffering from different but related underlying conditions.

This article serves the illustrate the point. The performance of people with autism with and without speech delay was compared on a number of motor tasks. There were differences, suggesting that there is something different about the underlying conditions of these people.

7) Adolescent Mental Health

Later in the summer, the Year 12 groups will be working on a self-report study of attitudes to mental illness. These often involve people questioning their peers about their attitudes.

This article is about improving mental health through improving services to young people. The suggestion is that there are some simple things we can put right so that people can access services which will actually help them. If people see that there are services available to them and their peers which can help, their attitude becomes more positive. If people have a more positive attitude, they are more likely to access services if they feel unwell.

8) Just How Plastic Is The Brain

We are used to the idea of neuroplasticity, abandoning the idea that there are particular parts of the brain programmed to do particular things and moving towards the idea that the brain can adapt when it needs to, with different parts of the brain picking up new functions.

This article suggests that we may have overstated the argument. It focuses on a case of someone whose corneas were repaired after years of near blindness but whose brain was unable to cope with new streams of information.

9) Adolescent drinking affects adult behavior through long-lasting changes in genes

The adolescents in this case are rats but it is still an interesting story. Prolonged exposure to alcohol affects the switching on and off of genes which in turn affects the development of the amygdala. Lack of development of connections within the amygdala might explain to some extent the impulsive behaviour of people who become addicted to alcohol. The good news is that, as well as identifying a mechanism which might cause addiction to alcohol, these researchers have identified a way of reversing it using a drug which is normally used to treat cancer.

It’s only non-human animals at the moment but this research takes us inside what happens in the brain when people become addicted.

10) Which fats make you healthy?

Here is a BBC iWonder page on fats.

It follows on from a documentary programme looking at fats. This illustrates the current debate surrounding fats and might remind us that a calorie is not just a calorie.

11) Depression Isn’t What You Think It Is

Here’s a useful summary of the debate surrounding the classification of mental disorders.

This explains the approach favoured by Thomas Insel in defining psychological disorders as brain disorders but also explains some of the problems with this approach.

12) Digital Mental Health

We have been interested in our course in how people can access psychological therapy online. Beyond this, researchers are interested in what social media might tell us about people’s mental health and how social media might be used to help people get better. Helen Christensen of the Black Dog Institute explains some of the details here.


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