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  • Sep 10 / 2015
  • 1
Current Affairs, Tiago Zortea

Suicide Prevention: From Illness and Risk Factors, to Thoughts and Actions

Photo by Austin Ban ©. Unsplash. Used with permission.

 

By Tiago Zortea

As a PhD student carrying out research in suicidality, I am recurrently asked why people take their own lives. The thing is, there is not an obvious, quick, or complete answer. Suicide is a complex phenomenon, and it involves biological, psychological and social factors that interact with each other, and these interactions vary across cultures, genders, and ages. The main reason why researchers have been working so hard to understand it and to develop effective interventions is the fact that there is no time to lose when the aim is saving lives; equivalently, someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world [1]. Continue Reading

  • May 06 / 2015
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Current Affairs

IHAWKES election special part III: Professor Rory O’Connor

Have the major Scottish political parties prioritised mental health in their manifestos?

Although nearly half of all ill-health among people under 65 years of age is attributable to mental ill-health, it is estimated that only about a quarter of those with mental health problems are in treatment (Centre for Economic Performance, 2012).   In addition, a recent analysis has revealed the historic and chronic under-funding of mental health research in the UK (MQ Research, 2015). Add to this the rising rates of suicide in the UK; there are approximately 6,000 deaths each year, with more than three quarters of all suicide deaths accounted for by men (ONS, 2015). The personal costs of suicide are devastatingly clear but many people do not know that the economic burden of suicide is also vast. Continue Reading

  • May 06 / 2015
  • 1
Current Affairs

IHAWKES election special part II: Professor Andy Gumley

£1 doesn’t mean the same thing to all:

One remarkable moment in the electoral campaign was David Cameron’s reassurance to the UK public that the proposed Conservative budget cuts amounted to a £1 reduction for every £100 – something that every family or business could cope with. I guess in a society where the principle of equality is cherished and where policies are geared towards improving equality and minimizing inequality then such reassurances are well grounded.

Equality is related to better physical health, greater feelings of trust and lower levels of violence. Inequality measured by how much richer the top 20 percent than the bottom 20 percent is in each country, is related to increased rates of mental illness (r=0.73) and drug problems (r=0.63). Continue Reading

  • May 06 / 2015
  • 0
Current Affairs

IHAWKES election special part I: Professor Kate O’Donnell

Health and wellbeing – for some, but not others:

Watch the news – any news – and you may have noticed that there is an election this week! Key battlegrounds have been the NHS, migration, austerity and welfare. Of course, these all get intertwined. We are told by some parties that migrants are coming to the UK – indeed “flooding” the UK – to reap the benefits of our NHS. This, despite the fact that a report commissioned by the Department of Health found evidence of health tourism at best limited. On the other hand, the NHS depends on migrant workers across all professional groups, and may become increasingly reliant on overseas workers to meet the many pledges of increased staff made by parties of all colours.

Continue Reading

  • Nov 05 / 2014
  • 1
Current Affairs, Uduak Ntuk

Ebola is a global affair

By Uduak Ntuk:

The 2014 Ebola epidemic has compelled the world to see the fragility of the overall global health system. It is the worst Ebola epidemic to date with nearly 5,000 deaths reported in west Africa’s Liberia Sierra Leone and Guinea, and the death toll keeps rising1,2. Sporadic cases in Mali and the USA have also been recorded. The recent case fatalities in the United States and Spain sadly bring home the truth that viruses do not respect national territories and that ‘when danger lurks somewhere then there is danger everywhere’. It is thus imperative that in dealing with issues like this, prompt proactive global measures are taken.

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is characterised by a constellation of signs and symptoms beginning with fever and progressing to diarrhea, vomiting and in a subgroup of patients, hemorrhage3. Human transmission of Ebola is through direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people and with surfaces and materials such as beddings, clothing contaminated with these fluids2.  In addition to its health impact on society, it has an overwhelming impact on the economies of the affected countries4.

Several research studies are underway to understand the clinical illness and epidemiological impact of Ebola. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)5 showed that in addition to clinical characteristics and demographic factors, age is an important determinant of disease mortality. Patients under 21 years have a lower case fatality rate than those over the age of 45 years. According to the WHO, trials of Ebola vaccines are to start in December this year following discussions at a high-level meeting on accelerating testing and production, with plans to dispense vaccines in 20156. This decision comes amid a growing realisation that vaccines could play an important part in halting the current epidemic in West Africa.

There is hope that the fight against Ebola can be won. First Senegal and then Nigeria have been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation1. As a Nigerian I feel proud to hear such compliments. Apart from the global respect Nigeria has won for herself in fighting Ebola, it also shows the brave leadership, commitment to ingenuity, courage and sacrifice in the line of duty of the Nigerian people. Such success helps to overcome criticisms of corruption and incompetence that West African governments are often labelled with. But the fight against Ebola in Nigeria wasn’t won with conferences or public relations talks; it took massive efforts to quarantine those infected, and monitor all of their contacts, until the spread of the virus was contained. What then are the other West African countries not doing right to combat Ebola? Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have very weak health systems, lacking human and infrastructural resources and call for support has been given high priority.

The bulk of the human and financial resources being deployed across the epicentre of this outbreak come from Western nations and very few resources have been deployed from sister African countries, which is very disheartening.

The recent issue of whether to quarantine health care workers, returning to their home countries has also been a topic of huge debate. From a public health perspective, the idea of placing primary contacts under relaxed medical surveillance that depends on self-reporting and individual cooperation may comply with respect for individual rights but it appears to be difficult to manage. Perhaps it may be necessary to still adhere strictly to full quarantine even in instances where the primary contacts of index cases are minimal and manageable, and Individuals may be encouraged with different forms of incentives and remuneration for them for the period of their confinement. This may turn out to be be far cheaper and easier than frantically searching for contacts, such as passengers on flights, when a primary contact breaks self surveillance.

How do you think we can handle quarantine in a different way?  Do you think treatment given to health care workers with primary contact with cases is an infringement of their human rights?  I would love to hear your opinion!

References:

  1. World Health Organisation. Ebola response roadmap situation report. Available from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/137424/1/roadmapsitrep_31Oct2014_eng.pdf?ua=1 .Accessed 4 November 2014
  2. Breman JG, Johnson KM. Ebola Then and Now. N Engl J Med 2014; 371:1663-1666.DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1410540
  3. World Health Organisation. Ebola virus disearse. Available from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/. Accessed 29 October, 2014
  4. BBC . Ebola crisis: The economic impact. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28865434. Accessed 27 October, 2014
  5. Schieffelin JS, Jeffery GS, Goba A, Gbakie M, Gire SK, Colubri A , et al . Clinical illness and outcome in patients with Ebola in Sierra Leone. N Engl J Med; October 29, 2014. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1411680
  6. World Health Organisation. WHO convenes industry leaders and key partners to discuss trials and production of Ebola vaccine. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/ebola-vaccines-production/en/. Accessed 29 October, 2014.
  • Sep 10 / 2014
  • 2
Current Affairs, Olivia Kirtley

Suicide Prevention: We Need Everyone

By Olivia Kirtley

 

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) released the first ever World Suicide Report, showing that around 800,000 people die by suicide each year.  In fact, around the world, one person will die by suicide every 40 seconds, which means in the time it’s taken me to write these few sentences, around 14 people have taken their own lives.  Every mortality statistic in suicide research represents many personal tragedies.  Sometimes I find the sheer scale of the task in front of us, as suicide researchers, overwhelming.  But all around the world, people are doing something to try and reduce suicide.

The sad death of Robin Williams last month prompted an outpouring of tributes and stories of people’s favourite memories of him.  One of the things I remember Robin Williams for the most, is his role as inspirational teacher Mr Keating in the Dead Poets Society.  In one scene, he stands on his desk and asks his students why he is doing this.  He says: “I stand on my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”  I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote recently and how if we’re going to reduce suicides, we need to look at suicide in a different way.

A different way of looking at suicide is something highlighted in several recent journal articles (Glenn & Nock, 2014; Klonsky & May, 2014; O’Connor & Nock, 2014): we need to become better at working out what’s different between people who think about suicide, without acting, and those who actually translate those thoughts into actions.  This is one of the main aims of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory (SBRL) here at the University of Glasgow.  We do research using experimental and self-report methods to try and work out what some of these differences may be, because once we know, we can develop interventions to try and stop suicidal thoughts from becoming suicide attempts.  But we know that one size does not fit all, so we also need to think about which risk factors are specific to the individual.

Researchers are not the only ones trying to look at suicide in a different way.  New York photographer Dese’Rae L. Stage is working on a remarkable project called Live Through This, which pairs the stories of suicide survivors along with a photographic portrait of the person and for a topic such as suicide, this is completely groundbreaking.  Suicide is too often the stigmatising preserve of hushed voices and side-ways glances and those who have attempted suicide face that stigma also.  Live Through This is a quantum leap in the fight against stigma and shows that people who attempt to end their lives are regular people like you and me.

Why is this important?  Because sometimes for a really big task, like trying to reduce suicides, research is not enough on its own.  We need people to give faces and voices to those who have thought about and attempted suicide, to research potential causes and interventions for suicidal behaviour, to translate that research into policy change, to implement these changes into our healthcare and education services and to share their own stories and experiences of survivorship and bereavement.  The theme for this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day is “Suicide Prevention: One World Connected”, so carpe diem!  Do something today to help prevent suicide.  We need all the help that we can get.  We need everyone.

How do you think we can look at suicide in a different way?  Do you feel like your research area requires a global “group effort”?  IHAWKES would love to hear from you.  Please leave comments below.

  • Jul 30 / 2014
  • 0
Adele Warrilow, Current Affairs

Promoting equality: what can we do?

By Adele Warrilow:

As I write, the 2014 Commonwealth Games are well underway in Glasgow – there is a fabulous atmosphere across the city and there has been a good haul of medals for Scotland and the other UK teams! Although the opening ceremony received varying reviews across social media, the collaboration with UNICEF was something that everyone could show their support for. During the ceremony they showed videos of the work that UNICEF is doing to promote the rights of children: the right to an education, to be healthy, to a childhood, to be treated fairly and to be heard.

The UNICEF Children First campaign is a magnificent idea and to date, Glasgow and the Commonwealth have raised a staggering £3.5 million! (You can still donate online or by text: click here to find out more )

There are numerous ways that researchers at all career stages can work to reduce inequality. These include: supporting others with similar goals, being aware of and contributing to university/institute policies, conducting research that seeks to understand or reduce inequality, considering whether your research is inclusive, presenting science careers and your research in accessible ways and being a good role model – taking action when you see practices that promote inequality.

Equal access to educational opportunities is something that I have felt strongly about ever since visiting the David Livingstone centre as a child and being struck at how motivated and committed this young boy was to his studies and ambition to become a doctor – propping his books on the loom to read as he worked at the mill. Without the opportunities, role models and support that I have had there is no way I would be training as a medical academic today. Sadly, there are children around the world with the talent to become leading scientists who will never fulfil their potential without access to education.

We are incredibly privileged to have the opportunities for education in the UK that we do. There are still inequalities however, particularly in the number of women reaching senior positions in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) academia. Raising awareness of the importance of equal opportunities is important throughout our research careers and this is highlighted in the Researcher Development Framework (Section D1:8 for anyone completing their Postgraduate Review Paperwork!). The Institute of Health and Wellbeing, together with the University of Glasgow recognises the importance of equality in academia and their commitment to tackling inequality through the Athena Swan Charter and awards which promote the importance of gender equality in academic careers.

Gender inequalities in the encouragement to pursue certain interests begin early. In the toy department of a local shop, I was shocked to find educational fridge magnets labelled – “girl’s words” and “boy’s words” [sic]. The “girls’ words” included “make-up, sparkle, hairband, cooking, butterfly, love, friends” whereas the “boys’ words” included “money, climbing, aeroplane, skeleton, dinosaur”. Such products promote inequality and in particular may discourage girls from STEMM subjects from a young age. I contacted the shop regarding this and I am pleased to report that the shop in question had similar feedback from other customers and no longer stocks these products.

In choosing a PhD topic I was keen to choose a field of study that could raise awareness of the inequalities faced by children with neurodevelopmental problems throughout their lives. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, my research interests include the epidemiology of children with neurodevelopmental difficulties who despite having multiple problems, do not meet the criteria for a specific psychiatric diagnosis and, I suspect, subsequently face multiple health and social inequalities. This is challenging as until now, much of the scientific research has focussed on single disorders but it is an important field of study and clinical practice that requires a scientific evidence base. Anna Isaacs’ IHAWKES blog, PhD research with marginalised communities: a few questions about ethics, discussed some of the dilemmas and challenges faced by students working to reduce health inequalities.

IHAWKES would love to hear from you! Tell us about how your research could help to reduce inequalities. Has considering potential inequalities had an impact on your research?  Have you been involved in any projects to promote equal access to STEMM subjects? Any good ideas? What encouraged you to work in academic science?  Please leave your comments below.

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