Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Be careful next time you change the kitty litter -- cat poop can carry a nefarious parasite that may be much more widespread than thought, researchers say. Cats in the United States release about 2.6 billion pounds (1.2 million metric tons) of feces into the environment every year. Cat dung carries the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled organism that creates infectious agents called oocysts. These oocysts can infect pregnant women, causing congenital problems in the baby such as deafness, seizures, eye damage and mental retardation. The parasite also infects people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS. After reviewing past studies on the parasite, a team of researchers believes the Toxoplasma parasite may be a significant public health problem, infecting people who are otherwise healthy. Other studies have even linked the parasite to schizophrenia, depression, suicidal behavior and lower school achievement in children. [The 10 Most Diabolical and Disgusting Parasites] In the last five years, researchers have studied how long the Toxoplasmaoocysts remain viable. "What happens to these oocysts in children's play areas?" said study researcher E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Chevy Chase, Md. "I put together the data we have and found it disturbing." Troubling trend Torrey and his colleagues reviewed studies of the parasite. The number of cats in the United States is growing pet cats increased from 55 million to 80 million from 1989 to 2006, and the number of feral cats is estimated at between 25 million and 60 million. Studies show that approximately 1 percent of cats shed the infectious oocysts at any given time. These oocysts can survive for at least 18 months, and only a single one is needed to cause an infection, according to past research. Other animals, like sheep and cattle, can also acquire the parasite by ingesting the infected cat feces. Humans can acquire it by eating raw or undercooked animals that are infected. In countries like France of Ethiopia, where raw food is common, the incidence of infections is much higher, Torrey told LiveScience. People also become infected through contaminated water supplies. It has long been known that the parasite can survive in cat litter, where the oocysts become aerosolized after 24 to 48 hours, Torrey said. Similarly, children could acquire the infection from playing in sandboxes, and gardeners could acquire it from vegetable patches, because cats often relieve themselves in these areas. "It's a remarkably complex parasite. It's much more complicated than a virus, and has many more genes," Torrey said. The microbe is famously known to infect rats and change their behavior, causing them to be less afraid of the smell of cat urine. This makes it easier for the rats to be eaten by cats, returning the parasite to its host. Parasite prevention Treatments do exist, but none are very effective, Torrey said. Most people don't have long-term effects, but it's not clear why some do. Genetic predisposition or age at the time of infection could play a role, Torrey said. More research is needed to understand the risks posed by the Toxoplasma parasite. In the meantime, Torrey advocated controlling cat populations, especially feral ones. Children's sandboxes should be covered. Gardeners should wear gloves and wash their vegetables. And cat owners should dispose of cat litter properly in the trash, not down a toilet (and pregnant women shouldn't change it at all).
Monday, July 8, 2013
By Sally Spencer-Thomas, Co-Lead of the Action Alliance Workplace Task Force and CEO & Founder of the Carson J Spencer Foundation I had been in the field of mental health 16 years before my brother Carson took his life in 2004, and I would Sally Spencer-Thomas, CEO & Founder, Carson J Spencer Foundation say that since then I have learned much about the “gaps” that need to be filled in the field of suicide prevention. In the aftermath of his death, our family and his friends came together in our grief, as many people do, with a strong sense to “do something” and formed the Carson J Spencer Foundation (CJSF). From CJSF’s inception, what quickly became obvious was the huge “gap” between the target population of most suicide prevention efforts and population that most represented by those who were dying. We were shocked to learn that most people who took their lives were just like Carson: white, working-aged men. We made the commitment to be bold and try to fill this “gap” with innovative approaches in innovative places. Innovation is critical in the field of suicidology because it helps us engage untapped resources, explore new partnerships, and ultimately expand our capacity. Without innovation, we will just keep repackaging the same methods and will be limited in our ability to create the significant change we all envision. Innovation begins with an idea to take a radically different approach – especially if it’s difficult. In hindsight, we can usually see the benefits of innovation, but at first they are sometimes considered radical ideas. Where would we be if that first crisis call center had never emerged or if the Air Force had decided, like so many others had before, that there was nothing that could be done to prevent suicides? Often, because innovation challenges convention of how things get done, initial backlash and doubt ensue. Inevitably, trial and error cycle as the innovative idea evolves. Sustained change comes as the context of discovery moves into the context of justification, and rigorous evaluation helps us better understand the cause and effect cycle of change. Since my brother Carson was a gifted entrepreneur and not afraid of risk-taking, the founders of CJSF not only dedicated our mission to preventing what happened to him from happening to others, but also to celebrating his gifts as a dynamic and bold visionary. When taking an inventory of existing suicide prevention efforts, we noted that very few people were addressing suicide prevention in the workplace, and this gap became ours to fill. In 2007 CJSF launched the Working Minds program (www.WorkingMinds.org) and in 2009 we published the Working Minds Toolkit, which was accepted to the National Best Practice Registry in 2010. The goal of these efforts is to build capacity in workplaces, so that they are better able to implement comprehensive and sustained suicide prevention programs. Today, with the help of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force, workplace suicide prevention efforts are better able to leverage the influence of leaders from across the country and create a “tipping point” of change. We are bringing together executives and industry leaders to be spokespeople for the cause; we are pulling together resources to outline a blueprint for change; and we are partnering with the Public Education and Awareness Task Force to “Change the Conversation.” The Workplace Task Force, in partnership with CJSF and others, has launched three new innovative resources for workplaces: A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide A Comprehensive Blueprint for Workplace Suicide Prevention VIDEO: Firefighters Coping with the Aftermath of Suicide In addition, we need innovation to reach those at highest risk for suicide – men of working age with multiple risk factors, who are also least likely to seek care. For years, the same message – “if you are depressed, seek help” – was repackaged with little success in reaching this demographic. What the effort needed was a brand that was compelling to high-risk men. In 2007, the Carson J Spencer Foundation, Cactus Marketing and Colorado’s Office of Suicide Prevention – a public-private-nonprofit partnership – came together to find a new way to reach high-risk men by using “manspeak” and humor. On July 9, 2012, after four years of research, development, and planning, the partnership launched the one-of-a-kind Man Therapy™ campaign (www.ManTherapy.org) with an article in the New York Times. While the unconventional approach raised a few eyebrows, our initial results look promising so far – the campaign seems to be reaching the target audience and having the intended effect. In just nine short months, the website has experienced over 200,000 unique visitors averaging over 6 minutes per visit. More than 60,000 people have completed the 18-point head inspection (a self-screening tool) and 15,000-plus have accessed information on crisis services. The qualitative feedback we have received from men and therapists alike is that men’s thinking about mental health shifts during their interaction with www.ManTherapy.org and they are more likely to do something different about their problems as a result. While innovation is particularly unnerving in a profession where lives are at stake, we must “be visible, be vocal, be visionary. There is no shame in stepping forward, but there is great risk in holding back and just hoping for the best.” (Higher Education Center)
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
One of the largest studies of its kind supports the theory that kids are more likely to consider suicide when those around them have committed the act. (PHOTO: SHAWN HYNE/SHUTTERSTOCK) July 2, 2013 • By Kathryn Doyle • No Comments Teens who have a classmate die of suicide are more likely to consider taking, or attempt to take, their own lives, according to a new study. The idea that suicide might be “contagious” has been around for centuries, senior author Dr. Ian Colman, who studies mental health at the University of Ottawa, told Reuters Health. Past studies supported the idea, but none had looked at such a large body of students, he said. “There were a lot of surprising things about this study, we were surprised that the effect lasted so long and just how strong it was,” Colman said. “Sometimes the closest friends are not the ones that are most likely to harm themselves because they’re so up close and aware of the painful fallout with the family of the deceased.” Colman and his colleagues used data from a long-running national survey of more than 8,000 Canadian kids aged 12 to 17 years old. Students were asked about suicides of schoolmates, friends, and their own thoughts of suicide, and researchers checked in with the kids two years later. By the age of 17, one in four kids had a schoolmate who had committed suicide, and one in five knew the deceased personally, according to results published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. For the 12- and 13-year-old adolescents exposed to a schoolmate’s suicide, 15 percent reported thinking seriously about killing themselves and seven percent actually made an attempt, compared to three percent and two percent of unexposed kids, respectively. The effect persisted even if the schoolmate had died more than a year earlier. Results were similar for 14- and 15-year-olds and 16- and 17-year-olds, but older kids who had not been exposed to suicide were more likely to have thought of or attempted it. “For 12- and 13-year-olds, they were approximately five times more likely to report thinking about suicide,” Colman said. “That’s a huge effect.” They found no difference between kids who personally knew the deceased and those who didn’t. In the U.S., about 4,600 people aged 10 to 25 years old commit suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. NEW POLICIES? Based on the results, school “post-vention” programs should encompass the whole school, not just those closest to the deceased, and should perhaps revisit parts of the intervention months and years down the line, Colman said. It may make sense that kids who knew the deceased and those who didn’t seemed to have no difference in risk, Frank Zenere, a school psychologist at the Miami-Dade County public school system, told Reuters Health. “Sometimes the closest friends are not the ones that are most likely to harm themselves because they’re so up close and aware of the painful fallout with the family of the deceased, which can actually be a protective factor,” Zenere said. The younger kids tend to be most vulnerable and impressionable, he said. “There’s a lot more drama in middle school grade levels, they tend to have much more of an emotional outpouring, early teens versus late teens,” he said. Though the current study indicates the effect persists for at least two years, Zenere believes it may go on even longer. Some school districts may rewrite policies and procedures in light of these results, but those at most, including his own, are probably already designed to take relevant factors into account. “It’s really important for parents to talk to their kids about mental health and to help them get professional help if needed,” Colman said.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
July 1, 2013 by Marjorie Antus In a May, 2013, press release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that in recent years, the number of annual suicide deaths in the United States has surpassed the number of people dying yearly in automobile accidents. In 2010, for example, 33,687 people died by automobile and 38,364 by suicide. “Suicide is a tragedy that is far too common,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D. “[We] . . . need to expand our knowledge of risk factors so we can build on prevention programs. . .” (www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0502-suicide-rates.html) Fortunately, Harvard psychologist Matthew Nock is attempting to do just that. In 2003, Nock and a colleague began developing a series of tests they consider potentially capable of detecting suicide risk. The tests are modeled on the Implicit Association Test originated in the late 1990s which uses word associations to reveal biases about race, sexuality, gender and age that people either don’t wish to acknowledge or cannot even recognize in themselves. In short, Nock and his Harvard colleague have devised a series of tests to measure a person’s bias for and against being alive or dead. On a computer screen, “life” and “me” appear on one side and “death” and “not me” on the other. A person is asked to rapidly categorize a series of words such as “thrive,” “breathing,” and “funeral,” under one of those headings. Though complex in the execution, the tests basically detect how quickly a person identifies with either “life” or “death.” Hesitation in responding to the “life” heading, for example, might signal an association with dying that reveals a risk factor for suicide. “Doctors of all kinds, including psychologists, do no better than pure chance at predicting who will attempt suicide and who won’t” writes Kim Tingley in a recent article in The New York Times. “Their patients often lie about their feelings to avoid hospitalization. Many also appear to mislead by accident, not realizing they are a risk to themselves or realizing but not knowing how so say so.” (www.nytimes.com/2013/06/30/magazine/the-suicide-detective.html) Along with the hope Nock’s system brings to the worrisome field of suicide prevention, it brings deeper appreciation of my daughter Mary who died by suicide in 1995 at the age of 17. Several months before her death, Mary’s psychiatrist asked her whether she was thinking about suicide and heard, “No, I would never do that.” But maybe Mary wasn’t simply lying; maybe she didn’t recognize her risk or know how to talk about it.