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Mental Health

$5.5 Million Study to Probe Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Use, Behavior, Mental Health

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Does legalizing recreational marijuana in a state lead its residents to use it, or other substances, more? How does legalization impact careers, family life, and mental health? Are some people more vulnerable to its negative impacts than others?

These are some of the questions University of Colorado researchers hope to help answer via a sweeping new $5.5-million study of 5,000 twins funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It is the first and only study of its kind in the nation.

“Increasing numbers of states are legalizing recreational marijuana, but we know almost nothing about the health and social consequences of this dramatic and rapid shift in public policy,” says John Hewitt, director of the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at CU Boulder and a co-principal investigator of the study. “There is clear need for solid scientific evidence and the experiment now unfolding in Colorado provides a rare opportunity to accumulate such evidence.”

For the study, Hewitt and co-principal investigator Christian Hopfer, MD, a professor of psychiatry at CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus, will collaborate with colleagues at the University of Minnesota to study 1,250 sets of twins ages 23 to 29 there, where recreational use remains prohibited, and 1,250 sets of twins in Colorado, where it has been legal since 2014.

As part of several ongoing longitudinal studies of twins, the researchers have already been following the participants for 15 to 20 years, collecting data on their use of marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs in adolescence as well as about their psychological health and social functioning.  Via phone and internet surveys over five years, they’ll now collect data from the twins again looking at changes in behavior from prior to legalization to after legalization in the Colorado cohort.

By including twins living in Minnesota, the researchers can control for factors – aside from legalization –  that might influence outcomes regardless of what state one lives in. In addition to looking at how frequently subjects are using marijuana, the researchers will also look at the methods by which people are using it (edibles, dabbing, smoking, etc.) and how potent – in terms of THC levels – it is.

“There is a big cultural change of how marijuana is being used as a result of legalization,” says Hewitt. “Dabbing is just as legal as smoking your grandmother’s grass but the consequences could be very different.”

They’ll also ask questions about whether participants – all at an important developmental window of life full of role transitions – are fulfilling their career goals, how their relationships with their family members are, and any legal or psychological challenges they may be facing.

By looking at pairs of twins, including identical twins (who are genetically identical) and fraternal twins (who are not genetically identical) they’ll also be able to explore what genetic or environmental factors may play a role in making some people more vulnerable than others to any negative impacts of legalization.

“Some people will be fine. Some people may benefit. But for a subset of people, we suspect there will be adverse consequences,” Hewitt says.

The researchers note that in the past 15 years the prevalence of past-year adult marijuana use has doubled in the United States, yet little is known about how much is too much and which populations should be advised to abstain.

“If you go to a doctor’s office, there are established guidelines for what you might call safe and appropriate use for alcohol. But doctors have no idea what they should be telling patients when it comes to marijuana use,” says Hopfer.

By pulling the data together, the researchers hope to ultimately paint a more accurate picture of how usage changes as a result of legalization and how those changes may impact health in the long run.

Minnesota department of psychology researchers Scott Vrieze, Matt McGue and Bill Iacono are also principal investigators on the project.

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Aging

Loneliness Found to Be High in Public Senior Housing Communities

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Older adults living in public senior housing communities experience a large degree of loneliness, finds a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Nevertheless, senior housing communities may be ideal locations for reducing that loneliness, the study finds.

“There are many studies on loneliness among community-dwelling older adults; however, there is limited research examining the extent and correlates of loneliness among older adults who reside in senior housing communities,” wrote Harry Chatters Taylor, doctoral student at the Brown School and lead author of “Loneliness in Senior Housing Communities,” published in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work.

The study was co-authored by Yi Wang, doctoral student at the Brown School, and Nancy Morrow-Howell, the Bettie Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy and the director of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging.

The study examines the extent of loneliness in three public senior housing communities in the St. Louis area. Two of the three complexes were in urban neighborhoods, and the last was located in a suburban neighborhood. All were publicly funded under Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program. Data for the project was collected with survey questionnaires with a total sample size of 148 respondents. Loneliness was measured using the Hughes 3-item loneliness scale. Additionally, the questionnaire contained measures on socio-demographics, health/mental health, social engagement and social support.

‘We believe that senior housing communities could become ideal locations for reducing loneliness among older adults.’

Results showed approximately 30.8 percent of the sample was not lonely; 42.7 percent was moderately lonely, and 26.6 percent was severely lonely. In analyzing the data, researchers found loneliness was primarily associated with depressive symptoms.

“We speculate that loneliness may be higher in senior housing communities for a few important reasons,” Taylor said. “The first is older adults residing in senior housing communities often have greater risk for loneliness. In order to qualify to live in these senior housing communities, older adults must have a low income, and having a lower income is a risk factor for loneliness.

“Additionally, most of the residents we interviewed identified their marital status as single, which is another risk factor for greater loneliness. Many older adults living in senior housing communities also have greater health and mental health vulnerabilities, which increases the likelihood that an older adult will experience loneliness.”

Despite all that, the study finds, senior housing communities may be better suited to combat loneliness than traditional residential homes.

“We believe that senior housing communities could become ideal locations for reducing loneliness among older adults,” Taylor said. “Senior housing communities are embedded in communities with peers who may have similar age and life experiences. There are occasional activities and support from senior housing management to encourage the building of friendships, bonds and social support among senior housing residents.

“Most senior housing communities also have a common space or multipurpose room available for use, which can also help facilitate building bonds between residents. Senior housing communities are frequently located close to public transportation, which provides access to transportation for residents without automobiles.”

Still, loneliness is frequently a stigmatized condition, he said.

“We often do not like to talk about our feelings of loneliness,” Taylor said. “For practitioners, it is important to be patient when working with older adults, and it could take a while for an older adult, regardless if they reside in a senior housing facility, to admit they are feeling lonely.

“Whether you are a child, relative or family member to an older adult, or provide services to older adults, be patient when discussing issues of loneliness and mental health with older adults.”

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Mental Health

Intimate Partner Violence Doesn’t End With the Relationship

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The violence that occurs between intimate partners does not end with the relationship’s conclusion, yet few resources exist to help survivors move beyond the betrayal of abusive relationships in order to begin new, healthy relationships.

The effects of intimate partner violence (IPV) are profound, painfully enduring and should command as much attention as providing victims with the help necessary to leave violent relationships, according to a new study by a University at Buffalo social work researcher.

“Once a victim leaves an abusive relationship we have to begin addressing the issues that stem from having been in that relationship,” says Noelle St. Vil, an assistant professor in UB’s School of Social Work. “You can carry the scars from IPV for a long time and those scars can create barriers to forming new relationships.”

St. Vil calls IPV a pervasive public health issue.

Nearly one in three women in the U.S. have experienced IPV.  One in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner.

IPV is a subtype of domestic violence.  While domestic violence can include violence occurring among any individuals living in a single household, IPV is at the level of an intimate relationship.

It’s one partner trying to gain power and control over another partner. IPV can involve many types of violent behavior, including physical, verbal, emotional and financial.

Looking at IPV from the perspective of betrayal trauma theory, a concept that explores when trusted individuals or institutions betray those they’re expected to protect and support, St. Vil’s research, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, explores how the long-lasting implications of IPV and the consequences of being in such a relationship should be addressed.

“We often use betrayal trauma theory to describe children who have experienced child abuse,” says St. Vil.  “But the same betrayal occurs with IPV: a partner who you trust, can be vulnerable with, who should be building you up, is in fact inflicting abuse. It’s a betrayal of what’s supposed to be a trusting relationship.”

With most help and support centered on keeping women safe in a relationship or providing them with the means to get out of an abusive relationship, St. Vil began thinking about the effects of the trauma.

“How do you move forward after leaving?” she asked. “What does that look like?”

Her interviews with nine survivors of IPV represent the initial steps to answer those questions and revealed four barriers to establishing new relationships.

  • Vulnerability/Fear: Women emerging from IPV often set up an emotional wall, hesitant to begin new relationships. Some victims said they entered into a physical relationship, but avoided becoming emotionally attached.
  • Relationship Expectations: Some women in the study opened themselves emotionally, but expected even what appeared to be a healthy relationship to decay into violence.
  • Shame/Low Self-Esteem: Participants in the study expressed how low self-esteem sabotaged new relationships. Part of gaining power and control in violent relationships involves breaking down self-esteem.  When things aren’t going well in new relationships, victims can return to the feelings experienced during IPV, asking, “Why would anyone love me?”
  • Communication Issues: St. Vil says communication is a major issue in new relationships as victims struggle to understand and explain to new partners what they experienced during IPV and its effects on their current behavior.  Women who were unable to communicate their experiences felt disconnected from their new relationships.

St. Vil says her one-on-one interviews capture critical aspects of IPV survivors’ experiences.

“This is a starting point,” she says. “We’re trying to understand the depth of the issue and can use the data from this research for a potentially larger study.”

For the time being, St. Vil is emphatic.

“The effects don’t end once a woman is out of the relationship.  We need to understand that and know there’s more work to be done.”

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Health

5 Trends Indicating a More Nature Loving Millennial Culture

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Every generation has certain hallmarks. For example, many people probably associate millennials with technology. Millennials always seem to be checking social media sites and trying to purchase the latest gadget. This may true, but you can find convincing evidence millennials may not be so into technology after all. However, did you know there is evidence to suggest that millennials are on track to be one of the most nature loving generations ever? It’s true! Check out the trends indicating this surprising finding below.

Sharing

Millennials are big on sharing. For example, millennials essentially created the social media landscape we know and use today. Millennials are also the drive behind companies that promote the sharing of vehicles and apartments through smartphone apps. Part of this obsession with sharing stems from economic necessity.

For example, millennials stuck paying off a bunch of student loans feel compelled to share mortgage payments, cars, and grocery bills. However, nature also provides an opportunity to share. Nature is also one of life’s least expensive pleasures. A group of millennials can take a hike or watch a sunset without even needing to even buy a ticket. Everybody can share the trail or sunset, and everybody can share the memory of it afterward.

Climate Change

The evidence shows that millennials are concerned about climate change. As a result, many millennials support environmentally conscious political candidates and strive to be environmentally aware. This awareness often translates into a greater love of nature. This makes sense. Why would millennials want to save the planet and not take the time to enjoy it? This means that millennials are all about being close to nature and the object of their generation’s political affection.

Communal Thinking

Millennials are understood to be a collective generation. This means that millennials often value the needs of a group over the needs of an individual. This helps explain why millennials love social media and sharing resources. However, this collective viewpoint translates well into nature.

Nature is the one thing we all share, and, depending on how we treat nature, it is the one thing that can either help or harm everybody. This collective thinking makes millennials feel attracted to nature more than other generations. Millennials see and understand how nature and humankind interact in a type of feedback loop. Millennials see themselves as a part of nature, and they enjoy doing the best they can to take care of nature.

Millennial Health

Millennials are one of the healthiest generations ever. For example, millennials are less likely to smoke than any previous generation. Millennials are also more likely to shun sugary drinks and embrace healthier diets. All of this focus on health often translates into physical activity. Interestingly, much of this physical activity takes place in the outdoors. Millennials love hiking, biking, and backpacking through nature. This also means that when things go wrong, millennials are also more likely to seek healing through wilderness therapy and other healthy lifestyle choices. Many millennials would rather hit the trails to feel better instead of laying on a therapist’s couch.

Being One

It’s true that millennials are often viewed as a somewhat self-centered and narcissistic generation. However, this intense focus on the self also drives millennials to nature. While outdoors, millennials feel the majesty of nature. For better or for worse, it can make some millennials feel the feelings of insignificance for the first time.

Massive mountains, ancient forests, and mighty waterfalls can trigger powerful emotions in millennials. After feeling these emotions, millennials often enjoy the feelings and decide to seek out more. Nature can then be seen as an escape route for millennials wishing to escape the stereotypes of their generation.

All of the above items demonstrate how millennials are on track to value nature more than any other generation. This is great news for the planet, and it is great news for people interested in capitalizing on these millennial trends.

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Mental Health

Conscious Service and The Role of Intuition

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I love talking about intuition and even more than that, I love connecting to my intuition. I find intuitive moments to be highly energizing and uniquely interesting ~ sometimes, even entertaining.

What do you think about intuition? Is it a function or our physiological brain? Is it a function of our spirit ~ our hearts? Maybe, it’s a combination of both?

I have always felt that intuitive guidance was spiritual in nature ~ that it involved my heart and soul and would express itself to me through feelings and sensations that I would experience in my body. Intuition would come to me through ideas and messages that I would think and hear. If the answer was no, it feels a certain way in my body. Yes, has it’s own vibration as well.

The Sixth Sense

They call intuition the “sixth sense” for a reason. We receive information from and about the world in us and around us through our senses. We see, hear, feel, taste, and smell ~ and we intuit. It is through our senses that we interpret our experiences.

Intuition works in much the same way as our other senses and also communicates to us through our senses. We all have the capacity to access intuitive guidance. Some of us are more naturally inclined intuitively and everyone can strengthen intuitive abilities. In that way, intuition is much like a muscle ~ the more we use it, the stronger it gets. The more we tune into it, the greater the likelihood is that we will receive its communication more readily. As you grow to trust your intuitive messages and follow your inner guidance more frequently, you will notice that there are greater stores of information available to you. It will become second nature to simply tune into to what you are picking up on through your intuition.

Intuitive Messages

I often experience my intuition through messages in the outer world. I have found myself asking questions or pondering a challenge in my life and suddenly I’ll drive past a billboard and the message is loud and clear. I’ll turn on the radio to receive my guidance through the lyrics of a song. I open a book and my eyes land on a passage that illuminates a deeper insight or affirms what my heart already knows.

Your intuition will communicate with you through symbols and images, thoughts and feelings that are familiar to you ~ that already have meaning for you. Your intuition is there to enlighten you ~ not to trick you.

Setting the intention to hear your intuitive guidance is a simple and yet powerful way to open yourself and set the stage to receive. You can engage in centering practices in the morning to do this and you can also simply take any moment in time to extend the invitation and indicate your readiness and willingness to listen.

I find that it is also imperative to detach ~ to let go ~ of the outcome, my hoped for message, and the way that the intuitive information comes through. And, of course, the timing of the message. If I stay attached to a particular response, I will likely misinterpret the voice of my ego for the wisdom of my intuition and this is potentially dangerous or at the very least painful in some way. If I cannot find the patience to sit quietly within until the answer arrives, I will likely jump the gun and attempt to control situations in my life just to make something happen.

The reality is that our intuitive guidance is always there and available to us and quite often speaks to us very quickly. When it feels like it’s taking too long, it is usually because we don’t want to hear what we already know. And we always know. Part of the beauty of our humanity is that we are wired to survive and some aspect of ourselves will protect us from truths we aren’t quite ready to acknowledge.

Enter courage and curiosity. Enter trust and faith. When you can become courageous enough to get really curious about the mysterious nature of your existence, you can come face to face with the unknown and know that you are safe and that you will be led and protected when you listen closely to your internal guidance system.

Quiet your mind. Still your heart. Take a deep breath. And listen.

You have everything you need.

Interview with Lucca Hallex

In an interview with Lucca Hallex, I explore this topic of Intuition and the role it has in Conscious Service for the Consciously Serving podcast.

Lucca Hallex

Lucca Hallex works with the process of empowerment and remembering who you are – what you came to our little blue planet to passionately experience, share and create.

She coaches clients to find the source of their power at the very deepest level by using her intuition and encouraging them to use theirs, including running a unique Intuition Incubator to help people learn how to ‘speak intuition’.

Her work is not about ‘business as usual’. She engages at the edge of the current wisdom about ‘work’, where the present and future leaders of the emerging new paradigm are exploring what ‘new’ means for their professional lives and the communities in which they thrive.

Lucca co-creates with change-makers who are pushing boundaries and challenging themselves, who foster change by ‘working at the edge’ of what they know about themselves, how they want to move through the world and what impact they want to have. She builds on their experience and passion, to create a future that is inspiring to get up to each day.

Her clients say that the work truly changes their lives:

  • ‘Working with Lucca has softened my doubt and shored up my courage’
  • ‘Working with her has definitely strengthened my ‘intuitive muscles’. It’s putting a spotlight on a specific situation and gradually pulling it further away to light up the bigger picture’
  • ‘She has a deep respect for her client’s free will without pushing one to do anything’
  • ‘…most precious to me is a deeper listening to what I know to be true’
  • ‘I finally feel like my chess pieces are all on the board aligned properly and the game is ready to commence’

Lucca calls herself a Power Sourcerer – pun intended! This has evolved out her career in both business and personal development, as a facilitator, coach, counselor and psychic. In her free time, she co-hosts a weekly community radio program called Essencetial Conversations – conversations with change-makers about their essence and passion. She believes we are all one and that our differences are what unite and empower us and not what divides or diminish us.

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Health

Women Sleep Less than Men, New Survey Finds

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When it comes to quality of sleep among Americans, men seem to outperform women, a new survey from the Better Sleep Council has found. The male participants of the survey often bragged about getting adequate amounts of sleep, while the women were considerably less likely to get a good night’s rest.

The Sleep Gap between the Sexes

The survey found that a vast majority—84 percent—of female participants found that sleep is important to their health. However, compared to men, the women fell short of getting recommended amounts of sleep each night. The male participants earned a positive 72 percent score for sleeping well at night. This is only slightly above the 70 percent score average American adults of both sexes received from the researchers. Overall, both men and women were lacking enough sleep.

The researchers found that men got better sleep because they tended to engage in more positive sleep habits. More than a third of the male participants slept alone, thus reducing distractions. More men minimized stress levels, followed strict bedtime rituals including on weekends, and didn’t consume caffeinated drinks after lunchtime, leading to overall better sleep than the women.

Women experienced considerable barriers to uninterrupted sleep—mainly their loved ones. Women were more likely than men to let kids or pets sleep in their beds. Such distraction-causing bedtime habits caused women to miss sleep more. Women were also considerably more likely to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Mounting Evidence for a Sleep Epidemic among Women

Other surveys have also found women to lack more sleep than men. A 2007 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that women are more likely than men to suffer from sleep disorders. Women with children are often the last to go to bed at night, resulting in less sleep.

Both men and women require at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, according to guidelines set by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of adverse health conditions among both sexes, including increased risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and mood disorders like anxiety.

A study of 71,000 female nurses who regularly got less than 5 hours of sleep at night found that the sleep-deprived women were more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular problems compared to those who slept 8 hours a night. Women who are most likely to lose sleep were corporate women, who worked long hours at the office and commuted a lot, often losing out on sleep in the process. It’s estimated that more than a third of American working women are seriously sleep-deprived.

Why Women Sleep Less

Scientific research indicates several reasons why women lack sleep compared to men. As mentioned above, lifestyle is a major contributing factor. Women often work long hours and when they come home, they are tasked with looking after children. Working mothers don’t go to sleep until their children are asleep and the school bags for the following day are packed. Women prioritize the needs of the family over their individual need to sleep well.

Other biological factors may also play a role. Female sex hormones tune body clocks to wake up earlier compared to men. The menstrual cycle can also play a role, particularly menopause. Pregnant women experience sleep disturbances, which can continue even after the baby is born (mostly because of the crying baby).

Certain diseases, such as restless leg syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and obstructive sleep apnea, can keep women awake at night as well. Another factor is the bed partner, which is likely to be a male who snores and moves around a lot in their sleep.

Medical professionals recommend that women address this issue head-on and actively sleep at least 20 minutes more than the healthy 7 hours a night. Developing good sleeping habits is at the forefront of tackling this particular gender-oriented problem.

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Mental Health

Age-Related Racial Disparities in Suicide Rates Among Youth Ages 5 to 17 Years

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Suicide rates in the United States have traditionally been higher among whites than blacks across all age groups. However, a new study from researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and collaborators published today in JAMA Pediatrics shows that racial disparities in suicide rates are age-related. Specifically, suicide rates for black children aged 5-12 were roughly two times higher than those of similarly-aged white children.

“Our findings provide further evidence of a significant age-related racial disparity in childhood suicide rates and rebut the long-held perception that suicide rates are uniformly higher in whites than blacks in the United States,” says Jeff Bridge, PhD, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s and lead author of the publication. “The large age-related racial difference in suicide rates did not change during the study period, suggesting that this disparity is not explained by recent events such as the economic recession.”

For older children, the trend reverses back to the national average. For youth aged 13-17 years, suicide was roughly 50 percent lower in black children than in white children.

Researchers obtained data for cases in which suicide was listed as the underlying cause of death among persons aged 5-17 years from 2001-2015 from the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARSTM) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 2001-2015, for American youth aged 5-17 years, 1,661 suicide deaths in black youths and 13,341 suicide deaths in white youths occurred. During this period, the overall suicide rate was about 42 percent lower in black youth (1.26 per 100,000) than in white youth (2.16 per 100,000). However, age strongly influenced this racial difference, as seen when suicide rates among 5- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 17-year-olds were analyzed.

“The existing literature does not adequately describe the extent of age-related racial disparities in youth suicide, and understanding these differences is essential to creating targeted prevention efforts,” says Dr. Bridge, also a professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

While the findings highlight an important opportunity for more targeted intervention, these data are limited and cannot point to the potential reasons for the observed differences.

“We lacked information on key factors that may underlie racial differences in suicide, including access to culturally acceptable behavioral health care or the potential role of death due to homicide among older black youth as a competing risk for suicide in this subgroup,” Dr. Bridge elaborates. “Future studies should try to find out whether risk and protective factors identified in studies of primarily white adolescent suicides are associated with suicide in black youth and how these factors change throughout childhood and adolescence.”

“Parents and health providers should be aware of the importance of asking children directly about suicide if there is a concern about a child,” added Dr. Bridge. “Asking children directly about thoughts of suicide will not put the idea in a child’s head or trigger subsequent suicidal behavior.”

Responsible reporting on suicide and the inclusion of stories of hope and resilience can prevent more suicides. You can find more information on safe messaging about suicide here.  If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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