Monday June 12, 2023

By Don Sapatkin

Good Monday morning! Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told Congress last week he’d like to see social media companies required to display cigarette-type warnings about the dangers they pose to children.

In other news: The class of drugs that includes Ozempic offers tantalizing, if unproven, possibilities for a different kind of opioid addiction treatment. A school-based program for teen girls successfully reduced trauma-related distress. That wildfire smoke that blanketed the northeastern seaboard and left people wheezing can also harm your mental health. And a detailed infographic explores ways to address the behavioral health workforce shortage.    

A school-based program for traumatized teen girls shows promise

Numerous studies have found that teen girls are disproportionately affected by trauma. So, when researchers offered a school-based counseling program for adolescent girls as part of a randomized trial in Chicago, there was strong demand at 10 public high schools where it was offered – even before the pandemic. The intervention appears to be successful and cost-effective, HealthDay News reported.

The study, of 3,749 girls in the 9th, 10th and 11th grades, offered two options. Half received weekly group counseling for four months from a program called Working on Womanhood (WOW) that emphasized themes like self-awareness, emotional intelligence and leadership. The others attended the school’s usual elective classes and got routine services. Each girl had suffered, on average, two serious traumatic experiences in her lifetime, and nearly 30% had witnessed someone being attacked, hurt badly, or killed.

The program led to a 22% decrease in the severity of PTSD symptom scores, a 10% drop in anxiety and a 14% decline in depression, according to findings published in Science Advances. And the cost per participant: just $1,500, according to the authors.

What Ozempic reveals about desire − and its potential for use against drug addiction

Ozempic has become a household word due not to its approved use for Type 2 diabetes but because of its weight-loss effects. So many dieters have jumped on the bandwagon that some people with diabetes are having trouble filling prescriptions. In a New York Times opinion piece, “What Ozempic Reveals About Desire,” journalist Maia Szalavitz notes that because this new class of drugs – GLP-1 receptor agonists – works differently than others, they might theoretically also dampen addiction to drugs like opioids. She’s also the author of Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction (which Julia Landau reviewed last year for MindSite News)

Much is unknown about how they work in the brain‘s pleasure centers – but the mechanism is different from current treatments for drug addiction. Opioid agonists (methadone and buprenorphine) replace a harmful drug with a much safer one in the same class but are sometimes mischaracterized as “crutches” for “weak” people or another form of addiction. Opioid antagonists (naltrexone) prevent opioids from attaching to receptors in the brain but can interfere with other pleasures, like socializing, that are mediated by the same receptors.

The few clinical trials of GLP-1 receptor agonists for drug addiction have produced mixed results, but research continues on how these medications actually work in the brain and “offer new insight into the nature of pleasure and addictions,” Szalavitz wrote in The Times. “Adjusting brain systems that regulate desire may also affect the stigma that society pins on people with conditions that can lead to loss of control. When drugs can significantly ease weight loss or addiction recovery, it’s hard to argue that the problem is moral rather than medical.”

There are also reasons for concern: Some experts caution that the drugs could contribute to eating disorders as even thin people use them to shed imagined excess weight. A writer for Vogue worries that hard-won gains around fat acceptance are being quickly reversed. “Despite a new drug that offers the quickest of fixes, I hope you’re able to resist another pull toward being thinner, this slide backward toward smallness,” writes Raven Smith. “Taking Ozempic doesn’t help us to work on our societal prejudice against obesity and the scrutiny of a person’s looks.”

Infographic: How to grow the behavioral health workforce

Mental health professionals are in short supply throughout the United States, making it a struggle for many people to access mental health care. An impressive set of infographics from the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) Foundation takes us through the numbers, causes, impacts and barriers to improvement − and offers some strategies to address it. Here’s the first part of it:

View the full infographic here.

Vienna housing envy

Big American cities host so many people struggling with mental illness, chronic homelessness, or both that some leaders are now hatching policies to force people off the street and into treatment. Many more face constant stress over unaffordable housing costs or unlivable conditions.

But what if you could rent a modern, two-bedroom apartment with a balcony for 4% of your annual income? Attractive housing, some with rooftop pools or landscaped yards? Vienna began building what it calls social housing in 1919. Today, 80% of city residents are eligible. Waiting lists for Vienna’s Gemeindebauten can be two years, far shorter than many U.S. cities’ versions of subsidized apartments.

We took a first look at Vienna’s housing in last Thursday’s parenting edition but felt The New York Times Sunday Magazine story − “Imagine a Renter’s Utopia. It Might Look Like Vienna” − was so striking it was worth another mention just for the pictures.

In other news…

Wildfire smoke can be harmful to mental as well as physical health. Studies show increased levels of PTSD, depression and anxiety after wildfires, Gaurab Basu, a physician and health equity fellow at Harvard, told ABC News. A 2022 research report noted people exposed to persistent smoke events expressed “worry, stress, guilt, depression, lack of motivation, hopelessness, and helplessness.” (A MindSite News story by Kate Ruder last summer looked at how one community addressed mental health after the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.)

College mental health services are increasingly important to prospective students, according to Inside Higher Ed. The publication cited its own survey of 3,000 undergraduates that asked which wellness-related services and facilities mattered most to them when deciding to enroll. Mental health ranked first (29%), compared with dining (21%), fitness (15%), and physical health (7%).

Meta was ordered by a court to provide psychiatric and other help to about 260 content moderators in Facebook’s Nairobi offices. The workers allege they were laid off partly to suppress growing complaints about lack of mental health support in jobs that could be traumatic on a daily basis, the Guardian reported. “I remember my first experience witnessing manslaughter on a live video,” one worker told the court in written testimony. “I unconsciously stood up and screamed. For a minute, I almost forgot where I was and who I was.”

The FDA approved an extended-release version of buprenorphine to treat moderate to severe opioid use disorder, JAMA Network Medical News reported. The drug will be sold as Brixadi. It must be administered by a medical provider in a health-care setting and will provide “a new option for people in recovery who may benefit from a weekly injection to maintain treatment adherence,” the FDA said in a press release.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Don Sapatkin is an independent journalist who reports on science and health care. His primary focus for nearly two decades has been public health, especially policy, access to care, health disparities...