September 28, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In this edition: Regular nightmares in middle age may signal a higher risk of dementia (and the need for strategies to slow the onset of disease). Twenty-five percent of Flint, Michigan residents have PTSD five years after a lengthy public health crisis involving poisoned water. Research finds expressing gratitude is good for your mental health. Plus: A new study finds Black Britons are discriminated against by both doctors and nurses.

Nightmares in middle age linked to dementia risk 

via Twitter

Could frequent nightmares indicate a greater risk for dementia? New research from England’s University of Birmingham suggests this may be so. The study, published earlier this month in The Lancet, examined data that was collected from 2002 to 2012. It included more than 600 adult men and women aged 35 to 64 and 2,600 adults aged 79 and older. All participants were dementia-free at the onset of the study. Researchers followed up with younger participants for an average of nine years and five years for the older participants. 

The results found that adults aged 35 to 64 reporting weekly nightmares are four times more likely to experience cognitive decline within the next decade, while adults aged 79 and older experiencing regular nightmares are twice as likely to develop dementia. The link was much stronger in men than women. Although the researchers are more excited about this finding than, say, those of us who suffer from nightmares, they have good reason to be. “This is important because there are very few risk indicators for dementia that can be identified as early as middle age,” said Abidemi Otaiku, lead study author and a researcher at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health. “While more work needs to be done to confirm these links, we believe bad dreams could be a useful way to identify individuals at high risk of developing dementia, and put in place strategies to slow down the onset of disease.”

One in 4 residents of Flint, Michigan has PTSD five years after poisoned water crisis

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Anyone who has seen the documentary Roger and Me knows that Flint, Michigan has been through a lot of trauma. Filmmaker Michael Moore chronicled the shutdown of General Motors plants in his hometown, which threw countless people out of work and out of their homes. The images of an unhappy sheriff evicting families just before Christmas and dragging out the forlorn baubled trees is indelible.

And as if being abandoned by its major industry wasn’t enough, Flint has had to cope with undrinkable water. In 2014, struggling Flint officials decided to switch the city’s water supply to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure. Unfortunately, they unknowingly introduced lead-poisoned water into homes in what turned into a massive public-health crisis – one that has now become a mental health crisis. 

According to a survey of nearly 2,000 Flint residents, alarming numbers of people affected by the Flint Water Crisis show signs of major depression and PTSD. The study, conducted in late 2019 and early 2020 and published last week in JAMA Network Open, showed that 20% of respondents showed signs of major depression, 25% of PTSD, and 10% appeared to have both conditions. (The conditions were classified as “presumptive” because respondents met the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for the disorders, but were not individually diagnosed by a licensed clinician.) Well + Good reports that these rates for depression are more than twice that of the national population and five times more than the national rate for PTSD.

“They’re still dealing with the psychological impact of being potentially exposed to something toxic, where they don’t know how much exposure they got, how deadly it was, how long it’ll take for the effects to show up,” said Dean Kilpatrick, a Medical University of South Carolina professor and lead author on the study. 

The extended psychological fallout of the crisis is not unusual. The article cites research published earlier this year that found environmental disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, and wildfires often trigger mental distress that can become depression, PTSD, anxiety or substance abuse. Looking to the future, the study’s authors argue that communities need more accessible mental health treatment and governments should err on the side of truth and transparency in a budding crisis. The survey found that Flint residents leery of the local government’s honesty fared worse mentally than those who trusted officials in the beginning.

A little-known reason to write thank-you notes

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Expressing gratitude for the gifts you’ve been given can have a positive impact on your mental health, Yes! Magazine reports. Not only do studies show that gift recipients consistently underestimate the appreciation that gift givers would feel to get a thank you note, they’re also unaware of the power of thank you notes to benefit their own wellness. 

A 2012 study on letters of gratitude found that writing just three thank you notes per week over the course of three weeks reduced symptoms of depression and boosted life satisfaction and happy feelings in the senders. And while the researchers are not advocating for Pollyannas, more and more evidence supports the practice of counting your blessings for better mental health. People who practice consistent “gratitude activities,” such as gratitude meditations or writing in gratitude journals, exhibit better physical health and show greater satisfaction in their relationships.

In other news…

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Black Britons overwhelmingly face discrimination by doctors and nurses, according to new research from the Black Equity Organisation. This includes being subject to more invasive treatments for mental health, including injectable antipsychotics, and not being offered talk therapy as often for severe mental illness, according to reporting from The Independent. “This research and our other report, Brick Wall After Brick Wall, provides a clear picture of what Black communities experience daily and will help shape our work and campaigns moving forward,” said Dame Vivian Hunt of BEO. “In particular, BEO will focus on improving maternity care statistics and supporting healthcare providers to ensure that people with special educational needs and mental health issues are being cared for appropriately without suffering a detriment because of their race.”

You’ve heard of PTSD, but what about post- traumatic growth? It’s all about healing after trauma, and the number one item on Forbes list of ways to work your way to better health is practicing physical and mental self-care through healthy nutrition and exercise habits – as well as enlisting the help of a mental health professional.

A Texas-based nonprofit whose focus is serving workers in the food and service industry looks to expand to other states. KSAT-San Antonio reports that Saint City Culinary Foundation currently reaches 400 people across Texas, with plans to expand to Louisiana next. The organization offers therapy and telehealth support, in addition to educational programs for service industry workers. “We want people to get balance in their life and that looks different for everybody, but addressing mental health concerns is a great step in that direction,” says founder Joel Rivas.

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.

MindSite News Psychedelics and Mental Health Live Conversation Series

MindSite News is excited to launch a conversation series on psychedelic research and therapies that begins on October 3, 2022 with author and journalist Michael Pollan.

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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.