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Mental Health

How Technology Is Improving Brain Health



In the modern age, excessive use of technology is seen to have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health. Critics ask the question: ‘If computers, and other media, do mental work for people, when are people thinking?’

Healthy brain function is extremely important for living fully. If used purposefully, technology can help boost brain activity.

Market place of better-brain function


During the past decade, in the therapeutic void created by over 20 failed Alzheimer’s disease drugs, a new technological marketplace for ‘brain fitness’ products has emerged. From mobile apps to video games, these products aim to enhance memory, visual and spatial skills, verbal recall, concentration and executive functioning of users.

Back in October 2015, Chicago gathered over 30,000 scientists and professionals for the annual Neuroscience conference proving that there’s a growing interest in the field. With the recent boost in tech-commercialization, scientists have studied the widespread landscape of Pervasive Neurotechnology patents, helping us answer the aforementioned question.

Data-enhanced diagnostics and treatment


Today, brain health systems are leveraging a larger population-measurement than ever before. An analysis by CNSResp helps understand precisely how individual reading pattern changes overtime, allowing better understanding of diagnoses based on the effectiveness of treatments.

Companies like Advanced Brain Monitoring and CNS Response are already deploying systems that utilize the power of big data, as shown by neurometrics-driven report systems in the image above.

Solution for aging’s varied issues


As we advance further into the 21st century, it is fast becoming clear that we need new ways to think about healthcare, especially aging. Perhaps, we need to ask the question, ‘How can we help you live a better life?’  

By addressing the everyday health concerns of our aging population, the strategic ‘brain’ movements rely on advances in technology to detect, treat and prevent multifarious health problems prevalent amongst older adults.

Novel approaches such as wearable technology, distributed networks embedded in the living environment and health services from remote locations target several pressing needs of aging adults, facilitating early diagnosis, adequate treatment as well as physical function and social interaction.

Their real value, at a population level, lies in helping compress morbidity and in keeping with the goal of healthy people to increase the quality and years of healthy life.  

A pan-Canadian network of researchers, non-profits, government, older adults and caregivers, AGE-WELL, is harnessing the power of modern technology to provide useful solutions for healthy aging.

At present day, AGE WELL research teams are developing humanoid robots that can assist older Canadian citizens with dementia by reminding people of tasks and routines at their homes, playing brain strengthening games with them, and even acting as remote avatars for healthcare professionals.

Another team is testing the vibration-damping technology of a smart glove that stabilizes buildings against earthquakes, and uses it to reduce hand tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. A new tablet software that detects and analyses speech of individuals with Alzheimer’s. The list goes on.

The prevention and cure to mental illness

The past few decades have seen incredible progress in medical science; cures have been found for several incurable diseases and remarkable advances have been made in repairing and even replacing parts of the human body. In fact, the first human head transplant is due to take place in December 2017.  

The advances in mental health medicine may seem moderate in comparison, but new ways of thinking and technologies are set to revolutionise both the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and could have life-changing ramifications for patients.

Traditional approaches towards helping people with mental illness include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), medication, counselling, exercise and a healthy diet. New technology can be used in conjunction with the aforementioned customary methods.

Virtual reality exposure

To treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Rizzo et al. have used virtual reality (VR) (simulated real environments through digital media). By offering a sense of realism in a safe environment, the VR system gradually exposes an individual to a virtual state of being, allowing them to face his or her fears. Once the patient understands the triggers, the problem ceases to exist.

This form of treatment has also been applied to other mental health problems, where anxiety is triggered by a certain situation such as the phobia of flying or closed spaces (claustrophobia).

Computer games are therapeutic for adolescents. Many young adults are unwilling to seek therapy, and a computer game is an anonymous, fun way to receive therapeutic advice. An example of such a computer game is SPARX, which has proven to be as effective as face-to-face therapy in a clinical trial.

Mobile devices

Mobile phones have also been used to help people with mental health problems by providing timely information. A computer application produced by David Haniff aimed to present media to patients with depression in an effort to uplift their mood, and designed a game to examine the triggers of the condition; for instance, the pictures or voice of the patient’s family. Another way to lift the mood of patients is subliminal, soothing music on a mpg file to get rid of surrounding noises.

A website was released by MyPsychTES in May 2013 to connect counsellors and therapists with smartphone-users to track their emotions and lifestyle. This website effectively streamlined therapist-client communication.

The system provides real time alerts, data and automated correspondence. Technology can also be used to combat intrusive thoughts; providing positive approaches to cognition such as text on mobile phone with optimistic affirmations.

Technology and memory

Memory and technology share a complex relationship, mainly because of the argument that excessive use of tech-devices like smartphones and tablets is actually resulting in brain disengagement; causing our memory functions to suffer.

For example, the smartphone-GPS programme has made it less important for us to know our way around the city, while Google answers every question before you can work up your brain to try and remember it naturally.

Cognitive training video-games


Software applications accessible via mobile devices and online include gaming systems that target emotional and cognitive makeup of the brain. Companies like Lumos Labs and Posit Science have secured neuro-tech patent protection on products in this area.

Getting inside the head

A certain type of technology has been developed to enhance memory, although it is primarily designed for individuals who suffered head trauma or injury and are facing memory-related challenges.

The research, which was funded by the US military, calls for implanting electrodes in the brain as a form of ‘neuroprosthetic’, allowing artificial parroting of the complex electric patterns in the brain.

These electrodes can bridge the gaps in memory, especially for individuals with brain damage or memory loss, and help recapture lost memories.

Since, there is still limited treatment for many brain-related conditions, this could be a hugely important treatment option for millions of people.

A futuristic drive

Fulfilling the promise of these rising tech-advancements depends heavily on on-going research and funding. Continued projects such as the Brain Initiative, Allen Institute Brain Atlas and Cell Types and the Blue Brain, are all paving the way for discovering new technologies and a deeper understanding of how the human brain functions.

Evie Harrison is a blogger by choice, and she likes to share her discoveries, experiences and express herself through her blogs.

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Self Help Tips and Advice For Social Workers



There is no denying the positive impact social workers have on hundreds of families and individuals throughout their career. They will tell you about the rewarding experiences they have helping others in need. Unfortunately, for every success, there is at least one case in which they could not help. Social workers see the best and the worst of society every day, and even the strongest among us can crack under the pressure. That is why self-care is so important. Being mindfully aware of your needs as well as the needs of those around you can keep you healthy and able to be there when you’re needed.

What is Self Care and How Can You Do It Every day?

Self-care is a practice that becomes a lifestyle. Understand and commit to the idea that it is not something you do once, it is something you do every day. The key is to be mindful and aware.

It is important to be mindful of where you are and what you are doing as you go about your day. Whether you are in a meeting or at the grocery store, notice how you are feeling in the moment. This can range from listening to your body and noticing your state of health to recognizing an emotional situation in your life.

Become aware of your breathing. When we are feeling stressed, emotional, or run down, we forget how to breathe. Our breath can become fast and shallow which deprives our bodies of the oxygen it needs. Pay attention to your breathing and focus on slowing it down. Allow the air to fill your abdomen, not just your lungs. You will find that mindful breathing exercises calms your thoughts, allows for greater clarity, and lessens your anxiety.

Now That You Are Aware, How Do You Improve?

It’s one thing to be mindful and aware of how you are feeling, but doing something about it is another matter. Improving your physical and emotional state requires some life changes as well.

Many social workers have the stress relieving habit of smoking or grabbing an unhealthy snack from the vending machine. It makes us feel like we’re taking a moment for ourselves. Instead of grabbing a cigarette or a bag of chips, try an e-cigarette starter kit or grab a granola bar. This gives you a moment away while making healthier choices through controlling the nicotine and sugar you intake. The idea is not to deprive yourself but to make small changes that will make you feel better over time.

Changing the way you approach daily tasks is another life change that will give you some added peace of mind. For decades we have been taught to multitask but all we’ve learned is how to start tasks but not finish them in a timely manner. By focusing on one task at a time you’ll allow yourself to finish a job before moving onto something else. This creates a sense of accomplishment and boosts your confidence at the job you are doing.

Maintaining Your New Found Awareness

Creating a support system is important when attempting to care for yourself. By relying on your friends and family you are willingly accepting love and nurturing that you simply cannot give to yourself. When meditating on an issue in your life doesn’t result in answers, one of the best things we can do is turn to our support system for help. It’s not necessary to face every challenge alone and often times, they can see from a perspective that you cannot. You may also find that the more willing you are to receive care from others, the easier it becomes for you to provide care for the people you’re working to help.

Self-care is difficult for those who spend their lives taking care of others. By allowing yourself the care you need you will find that it not only feeds your soul but it will improve your ability to care for the people around you.

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Mental Health

National Survey Reveals the Scope of Behavioral Health Across the Nation




The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report provides the latest estimates on substance use and mental health in the nation, including the misuse of opioids across the nation. Opioids include heroin use and pain reliever misuse. In 2016, there were 11.8 million people aged 12 or older who misused opioids in the past year and the majority of that use is pain reliever misuse rather than heroin use—there were 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users.

“Gathering, analyzing, and sharing data is one of the key roles the federal government can play in addressing two of the Department of Health and Human Services’ top clinical priorities: serious mental illness and the opioid crisis,” said HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D. “This year’s survey underscores the challenges we face on both fronts and why the Trump Administration is committed to empowering those on the frontlines of the battle against substance abuse and mental illness.”

Nationally, nearly a quarter (21.1percent) of persons 12 years or older with an opioid use disorder received treatment for their illicit drug use at a specialty facility in the past year. Receipt of treatment for illicit drug use at a specialty facility was higher among people with a heroin use disorder (37.5 percent) than among those with a prescription pain reliever use disorder (17.5 percent).

The report also reveals that in 2016 while adolescents have stable levels of the initiation of marijuana, adults aged 18 to 25 have higher rates of initiation compared to 2002-2008, but the rates have been stable since 2008. In contrast, adults aged 26 and older have higher rates of marijuana initiation than prior years. In 2016, an estimated 21.0 million people aged 12 or older needed substance use treatment and of these 21.0 million people, about 2.2 million people received substance use treatment at a specialty facility in the past year.

Rates of serious mental illness among age groups 26 and older have remained constant since 2008. However, the prevalence of serious mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts has increased among young adults over recent years. Among adults aged 18 or older who had serious mental illness (SMI) in the past year, the percentage receiving treatment for mental health services in 2016 (64.8 percent) was similar to the estimates in all previous years.

“Although progress has been made in some areas, especially among young people, there are many challenges we need to meet in addressing the behavioral health issues facing our nation,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. “Fortunately there is effective action being taken by the Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with initiatives to reduce prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death, and dependence as well as many evidence-based early intervention programs to increase access to treatment and recovery for people with serious mental illness. We need to do everything possible to assure that those in need of treatment and recovery services can access them and we look forward to continuing work with federal and state partners on this goal.”

“Addiction does not have to be a death sentence – recovery is possible for most people when the right services and supports in place, including treatment, housing, employment, and peer recovery support,” said Richard Baum, Acting Director Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The truth is that there’s no one path to recovery because everyone is different. And frankly, it doesn’t matter how someone gets to recovery.  It just matters that they have every tool available to them, including peer recovery support and evidence-based treatment options like medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.”

NSDUH is a scientific annual survey of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older.  NSDUH is a primary source of information on the scope and nature of many substance use and mental health issues affecting the nation.

SAMHSA is issuing its 2016 NSDUH report on key substance use and mental health indicators as part of the 28th annual observance of National Recovery Month which began on September 1st. Recovery Month expands public awareness that behavioral health is essential to health, prevention works, treatment for substance use and mental disorders is effective, and people can and do recover from these disorders.

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Mental Health

Anxiety in Children: How Can You Help?




Mental health issues amongst children are becoming more and more common, and this is a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s a good idea to become familiar with signs of mental ill-health, and think about how you might be able to help.

The first step is to recognize the symptoms. While small experiences of anxiety are a natural part of life, it’s important to recognize when it’s becoming more prevalent, and when it’s having a negative impact on a child. Symptoms might include an irrational and ongoing sense of worry, an inability to relax, general uneasiness and irritability, as well as difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating or sudden, unprovoked feelings of panic. Anxiety and depression are not always obvious in children and symptoms can vary significantly depending on the child. Because of this, it’s really important to involve professional medical help if you’re worried about someone in your care.

The second step is to work out if and how to talk about it. Simply letting them know you care can make a big difference. You might like to share a story about times you’ve experienced anxiety. This can be an avenue into a discussion around anxiety, and can provide an opportunity to ask if they have similar worries.

If you’re going to try to help a child with anxiety, there are a few key things to avoid as they can end up being accidentally unhelpful. Avoid phrases like ‘just relax’, or ‘calm down’ as they can escalate the feelings of anxiety and make the child feel like they are doing something wrong. Also consider and be aware of situations that might exacerbate your child’s anxiousness, for example being in loud, crowded places could evoke feelings of uneasiness or panic. It’s important that you can find the balance between understanding and supporting what your child might be going through and acting as a self-assigned counsellor – don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need to.

The next thing you can think about is how to empower your child to deal with particular triggers. For example, if your child is feeling anxious about a certain event – an exam, public speaking at school, or an upcoming sports game, you may be able to talk with them about whether you can help them to practice or prepare in a way that they might find helpful.

Perhaps practicing a speech in front of you could help them to pinpoint what it is about the experience that’s making them feel anxious. You can’t promise that they’ll ace their presentation or win their sports day, but you can help them practice what they’re concerned about and provide them with tools to manage the anxiety they may feel in these situations. You don’t want to create further anxiety-inducing situations though, so make sure your child is happy to try this out, and mix it up with fun activities too. Revisiting things that they are familiar with and good at can help to develop a sense of capability and foster self-esteem.

When dealing with anxiety, this three-step breathing exercise can be used as a tool to interrupt anxiety as it builds, and it is something you can practice together.

  • Step 1: When you feel tension and anxiety building, stop and close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds.
  • Step 2: Hold it for 2 seconds, then slowly breathe out through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  • Step 3: Repeat this as many times as necessary, gently bringing your focus back to the breath.

If you’re worried about your child, or someone close to you, it’s important to get the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Anxiety and depression are illnesses that often benefit from a range of treatment options, and often professional support is key to management and recovery.

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