Friday, 28 March 2014

The spirit of our times

How many people do you know who claim to be 'spiritual but not religious'? Anecdotally at least, it would seem this category accounts for an increasing proportion among our number, with membership derived from those who formerly belonged to (or at least whose families formerly belonged to) religious denominations.

I recently came across a fascinating piece of research, entitled 'Religion, spirituality and mental health: results from a national study of English households', conducted by Michael King and his colleagues at the University College London Medical School, the aim of which was to examine associations between a spiritual or religious understanding of life and psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses.

Data was analysed from interviews with 7,403 individuals who participated in the third National Psychiatric Morbidity Study in England, and were questioned about their spiritual beliefs, religious affiliations and mental state.

Of the participants, almost half (46%) described themselves as neither spiritual nor religious, 35% described themselves as religious (which meant that they regularly attended a church, synagogue or mosque) and the remaining 19% described themselves as holding spiritual beliefs, but not adhering to any particular religion.

Remarkably, members of this latter group, the 'spiritual but not religious', were 77% more likely than all other participants to be dependent on drugs, 72% more likely to suffer from a phobia and 50% more likely to have generalised anxiety disorder. They were also 40% more likely to be taking psychotropic drugs and at a 37% higher risk of neurotic disorder.

Those in the 'religious' group were similar to those with no religion and no spirituality in terms of prevalence of mental disorders, but those who were religious were less likely to have ever used drugs or to be hazardous drinkers.

What does all this tell us? In the Christian understanding, at least, we are warned of the dangers of being so-called 'lukewarm' in our faith - with just cause it would appear - consider Matthew 12:30 'Whoever is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters' or Revelation 3:15-16 'Because you are lukewarm I will spit you out of my mouth'. In other words, fence-sitting is not an option - or rather, it is, but it comes at a price. Mental ill health, if the results of this study are to be believed.

The authors conclude starkly "People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder." So sayeth the bible and so sayeth the secular scientists. Where do you sit?

Written by Jacqui Hogan

Friday, 21 March 2014

Don't be fooled by the DSM-V

We can pretty much take it as read - indeed many of us may know first hand - that as we get older our brains start to slow down a little. Losing a name here and there, being a little slower to pick up on a complicated idea - this is known as par for the course. It has ever been thus.

So it is interesting, is it not, that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) the American Psychiatric Association's (APA's) definitive and globally adopted 'bible' which decrees what mental illness is and isn't, has introduced Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) as a formal diagnosis.

What this means, of course, in dollars and cents, is that MCI (the acronym serves to legitimise the notion of disorder and obfuscate the natural phenomenon of age-related forgetfulness) can be MEDICATED - that is to say, a drug can now be legitimately prescribed to treat this 'mental condition'.

Which makes the findings of a recent piece of research - the German Study on Aging, Cognition and Dementia in Primary Care Patients - all the more important. What it reveals offers encouragement to those who may be labelled with MCI as part of the fear-mongering, revenue-harvesting agenda.

The researchers analysed three years of follow-up data from 357 primary care patients, aged 75 years or older, with a diagnosis of MCI and found that 42% experienced a remission of symptoms and normal cognitive function at one-and-a-half and three years, 21% experienced a fluctuating course, with their status changing between MCI and normal cognitive function, 15% experienced a stable course with no change in symptoms and 22% experienced a progressive course, moving towards a diagnosis of dementia.

As one might expect, patients were at greater risk of progressing from one course to the next along this spectrum if they had symptoms of depression, impairment in more than one cognitive domain, or were older.

So according to this study, in patients over 75 with normal, age-related 'slowing down' (henceforth to be known as the 'mental disorder', MCI), only a little over one-fifth of individuals actually progress on to dementia - or, to put it in positive terms, almost 80%, four in five, experience an improvement in cognitive symptoms or remain stable. In other words, MOST people. That's good news.

Of course, it remains to be seen how things will pan out once people with such normal cognitive profiles start being labelled MCI and being medicated - will the drugs induce dementia? Only time will tell. My suggestion is, if you notice you're becoming a bit forgetful, don't, whatever you do, tell your doctor - you may wind up on medication.

In contrast to this instance, where we see the DSM labelling normal as abnormal, we also see the reverse happening - the abnormal being labelled as normal. So, for example, in this latest edition of the DSM, we also see paedophilia being declassified as a disorder and newly described as 'sexual interest' (you can read our post about this here). And, as I hope you'll agree, the day paedophilia is legitimised as a bona fide predilection, as has happened now with the APA, is a dark day indeed.

Have you noticed this trend? What are your thoughts on the DSM-V? Is it serving to help doctors in treating patients with mental difficulties or not? Is there, perhaps, a different agenda? Whose is it and what is it? We need answers to these questions.

Written by Jacqui Hogan

Friday, 14 March 2014

Mental health, global style

It can't have escaped anyone's notice that we are now living in a global world, driven by international directives, legislation and so-called 'thought leadership'. It does make me wonder, where exactly HQ is and, more importantly, who's the boss.

Mental health has now come under global scrutiny, with a new report published jointly by Mind and the McPin Foundation, which gathers together the collective experiences of mental health charities (NGOs) from around the world. Nineteen charities from Australia to Uganda have contributed to the report, entitled Driving Change, which highlights some great progress being made, especially in countries where astonishing practices, such as stoning, are still meted out to the mentally ill.

Interestingly, notwithstanding the vast differences between the countries - economically, socially and geographically - there were common concerns noted by the participating representatives. These can be summarised as:
  • Stigmatisation of the mentally ill, which often prevents individuals from seeking help
  • Lack of mental health funding, which translates to a shortfall in referral services and facilities
  • Lack of NGO funding, which hinders their ability to support the mentally ill
  • A shortage of trained mental health workers
In many countries, the report noted, mental health NGOs are effectively run by committed volunteers with personal experience of mental ill health, who are motivated to protect fellow sufferers from the difficulties with accessing help they have encountered. For these people, contact with the global community through collaboration on this project has been invaluable, enabling them to share ideas and diminish isolation.

Have you gained insight into the treatment of mental illness by experience in another country and/or collaboration with colleagues from other parts of the world? Are local factors more important than blanket observations made by organisations whose interests lie beyond individuals with mental illness? Either way, what is the answer to the mental health epidemic that is surely sweeping our nation and our world? Let us know what you think about this report, Driving Change - does it, in fact, move the conversation on?

Written by Jacqui Hogan

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The truth about workplace stress in Britain

Do you ever feel like your email inbox is your worst enemy?

Thesedays, it's almost the norm for organisations and individuals to engage the services of productivity consultants and enrol on courses that go by names like 'Getting your inbox back into shape'. How interesting that the technology that was supposed to simplify and streamline our lives is now showing its darker side, as all promises of free ease and comfort in life inevitably do.

A new survey by recruiters StepStone and Total Jobs shows that Britain is leading the way on the work stress stakes with 24% of British respondents (out of a total sample of over 2,500 which included employees from France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland) admitting they suffer from workplace stress.

Consistent with this trend was the number of British participants who said that they did not suffer from any stress at work - which was three times lower than the European average (13% for the Brits, 42% for our European neighbours).

It should come as no surprise, then, that the most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics in this area, reveal that absence from work as related to stress, anxiety and depression was up by almost 30% in 2013, compared with 2010.

This has to translate into more visits to counsellors, psychotherapists and skilled helpers or, if it doesn't, arguably it should. At the very least, we might expect it to become an increasing focus within counselling sessions, as technology assumes dominance where once simple men ruled the roost. Such a cultural shift also has implications for workplace security (or should I say insecurity) - you only have to look at initiatives like self-serve supermarket check-outs or the plans to replace London Underground station workers with machines to tap into the prevailing zeitgeist of jobs being under threat.

Like all psychological conditions for which people seek help, it's impossible to pin workplace stress down to any one cause, but for my money, one of the obvious potential culprits must be boundary failure - that is, a breakdown in the individual's ability or willingness to say 'no' to unreasonable work demands. This will, of course, be especially acute in an insecure work environment, further complicating the picture.

What it all boils down to, in my opinion, is the need to develop and cultivate that highly elusive and long-lost virtue in these resolutely secular times - that is, the virtue of faith. Because faith allows us to say 'no' when it's absolutely justified and be able to shoulder the consequences. And faith has us know that we are much, much more than our jobs and, in the end, all shall be well.

Written by Jacqui Hogan