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January 06, 2012

Seasonal Ineffective Disorder

Dr Bart Sheehan is Associate Clinical Professor of Old Age Psychiatry within the Divsion of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Warwick Medical School. Here he gives his take on those New Year's resolutions...

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of winter depression that affects an estimated 7% of the population every winter between September and April; in particular during December, January and February - so says SADA, the UKs only charity for this disorder.

Note the key months: December, January and February. These are the months when a majority of the population plan, declare and then fail at a New Year’s resolution. If we are more likely to be depressed, isn’t it surely the worst time to try?

But maybe not. A non-systematic review, i.e. a quick survey of the ethersphere, found me no evidence that resolve (the human characteristic of bravery), persistence and dedication, have seasonal variations. SAD itself might also be NAD - 'nothing abnormal detected' (more medical abreviations).

The whole concept is controversial, many dispute its reality and it isn’t an accepted diagnosis in the main classifications. Trials of the most popular therapy using Heath Robinson-esque light boxes, are inconclusive. Indeed, the only really established association between season and mood is that suicide peaks in April/May/June - and intriguingly also in the Antipodean spring/summer.

The one certainty though is the new year's resolution will usually fail. Our capacity for self-deception is endearing - we strive, mess up, and try all over again. An acquaintance has a good solution, he succeeds in giving up his particular vice for the month of January then has a planned relapse on 1 February, lasting the rest of the calendar year. No failure there.

Happy New Year!

March 07, 2011

It’s okay to talk about mental health – honest

Model of brain with mental health related headlines behind

By Dr. Matthew Broome, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Warwick Medical School

Last week the Psychology Society hosted ‘mental health awareness week’ on campus and I was delighted to see mental health being discussed and debated out in the open. So often, issues such as sectioning, depression or schizophrenia are things which are never mentioned – even among close family members.

The area of mental health in which I work both clinically and academically is Early Intervention and I look at ways of delivering services for young people with early psychosis.

Psychosis is the term given to certain signs and symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. There are many ways to be ‘psychotic’ including mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder, but other causes such as dementia, drug intoxication or withdrawal, and neurological illnesses such as epilepsy can also present to health professionals with these symptoms.

In addition to my academic post at Warwick Medical School, I am Consultant Psychiatrist to the Coventry Early Intervention Team and as such see all young people who develop a psychotic illness in Coventry. The tricky part is that there is no sharp divide between psychosis and non-psychosis; many people who would be considered to be functioning well, are not distressed, may too have psychotic experiences, albeit less intense and frequently, and not accompanied by depression and anxiety. Schizophrenia, by contrast, is defined by a certain combination of psychotic symptoms, but with a level of intensity that persists for at least one month, and is accompanied by functional impairment.

The aims of Early Intervention services nationally, and one we are particularly passionate about in our team in Coventry, is to be flexible in our approach and to see young people in non-stigmatising settings at times that suit them. The hope is that with rapid recognition of psychosis and early treatment, using both pharmacological and psychological interventions, that the outcome and prognosis improves markedly.

Data over the last 10 years has shown that Early Intervention is not only effective clinically but also is highly cost-effective, saving the NHS about £5,000 per patient per year compared with having to treat someone whose illness has been allowed to develop unchecked, and access standard services at a later date.

Psychosis and schizophrenia, despite the advances made, continue to be disorders that hit young people at crucial times of their lives: late adolescence and early adulthood, when exams are taken, they start university and make a transition to independence. At this crucial time, recognising the earliest signs of potentially serious mental illness is crucial as, if effective treatment is given early, a lifetime of suffering may be averted.

So my advice would always be: don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek help. One in four of us is likely to suffer from some form of mental health issue in our lifetime, so do not merely brush symptoms aside – there are people who can help and make a difference.

For more information see:

February 23, 2011

Calling new mums

greyscale holding hands

Researchers at Warwick Medical School are looking for new mums to take part in the Mums 4 Mums study about postnatal depression.

The study is based on a sucessful programme developed and evaluated in Canada and will explore whether using support staff who have personally experienced postnatal depression and recovered, is more helpful to new mums.

Sukhi Sembi from WMS explained "If you live in the Coventry and Warwickshire area, have a baby under the agae of two years old and are feeling low, overwhelmed or suspect you have symptoms of postnatal depression, please contact us."

For more information, please see the Mums 4 Mums webpages

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