Monday, August 14, 2023

By Don Sapatkin

Good Monday morning! In today’s Daily: What makes for a good mental health break – if you’re not Simone Biles? The lasting effects of parental favoritism. Drinking more soda is linked to more depression. Fentanyl-related deaths fell sharply for California teens and young adults, while suicides rise nationwide. And the Supreme Court paused the Purdue Pharma opioid settlement.

Simone Biles is back, and winning. What can we learn from her mental health break?

Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles returned to gymnastics competition after a two-year mental health break and promptly won first place at the Core Hydration Classic on Aug. 5. The crowd cheered. “It means the world because after everything that kind of transpired in Tokyo and it took a lot,” Biles told CNBC, referring to her abrupt departure in the middle of the last summer Olympics in 2021. “I worked on myself a lot, I still do therapy weekly and it’s just been so exciting to come out here and have the confidence I had before.”

Biles’s time out appears to have been productive, and plenty of other athletes (and entertainers) have taken similar steps. But who among us plain folk should consider a mental health break, and why? CNN posed these questions to Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist in New York and author of “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety.

It’s important to “find the right balance,” Carmichael told CNN. Professional athletes have extreme work ethics and tend to be overdisciplined, so doing too much may suggest the need for a break. People who err the other way, toward a lack of self-discipline, “can be seduced by a fad around taking a mental health break.”

To figure out whether you need a mental health break, Carmichael, saidyou should first try to understand your bias. Does your history with work, school and relationships reflect someone who tends to drop out a bit early? Are you more likely to look back and say, “I wish I had not given up,” or do you tend to look back and say, “I really got a little obsessed with that?”

Interestingly, Carmichael isn’t quoted as mentioning therapy as a tool.

Drinking lots of soda may be bad for your mental health, too

Plenty of research has linked the consumption of sugary drinks to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and some cancers. Now a six-year study of nearly 90,000 adults in South Korea has found a clear relationship between consumption of soda and depression.

The more soda people drank per week, the higher their scores on a standard depression scale – compared with those who never drink the sugary stuff.  The increase in depression scores ranged from being 12% higher in those who drank occasionally but less than 1 serving per week to 45% higher in those who downed 5 or more servings a week.

The findings, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, were virtually identical for men and women and for people with and without pre-diabetes or diabetes and, according to the researchers, “support the hypothesis that high intake of SSCBs [sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages] provokes the development of depression.”

The impact in the U.S. may be even stronger. Fewer than a third of the South Korean participants consumed more than one 6.8 oz. serving a week, while, back in 2010 and 2015 – the most recent years for which CDC data is available – more than half of American adults were drinking at least one 12 oz. serving per day. Since overall soda consumption has been declining in the U.S., these numbers have almost certainly dropped. Still, the study offers one more reason to rethink your drink.

When parents pick favorites, the effects can last a lifetime

Were you the favorite child? Your older sibling? Plenty of families have one (or more), although most don’t talk about it and few parents admit to it, and may not even be aware of their favoritism. But the emotional consequences of watching someone else get all the family perks can last a lifetime, Debra Dennett writes in a well-researched piece for the BBC.

Psychologists consider parents picking favorites a big enough factor in a range of emotional problems that they have a name for it: “parental differential treatment” (PDT). Siblings’ perceptions that another is favored has been linked by researchers to low self-esteem in children, along with childhood anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems. The mental health impact may continue into adulthood, with higher depression scores associated with non-favored children. And while being the “golden child” is often a plus, it also can cause emotional distress as an adult − and sometimes the burden of elder care, when parents turn to their favorite to provide it.

Fentanyl-related overdose deaths plunge among young people in California

Good news on the overdose front, at least among young people in the country’s largest state. Drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl plummeted among teens and young adults in California last year. The San Francisco Chronicle focused on the youngest group – teenagers from 15 to 19, who experienced the sharpest decline – and pointed to years of efforts by the state and others to attack the crisis.

Provisional 2022 data from the CDC shows 160 deaths among 15-to-19-year-olds in California. In that group, the overdose rate, which is just above the national average, dropped substantially two years in a row: 10% in 2021 and then 30% in 2022 (for a two-year decline of 34%). There were single-year decreases among 20-to-24-year-olds (down 18% in 2022) and 25- to 29-year-olds (down 1%). Deaths involving fentanyl increased for all other age group except 70-to-74-year-olds (down 9%). Total deaths were up 6% in 2022 compared to 2021. (These estimates use federal data rather than the Chronicle’s slightly more dramatic numbers, which were released by the state but relied on the same original death certificates.)

Could this decline in California represent the beginning of a trend that will ripple up through older groups in the coming years? Perhaps, based on differences in trends: The 15 to 19 group declined the most, followed by 20 to 24 and then 25 to 29. New York also reported back-to-back annual decreases in deaths among people from 15 to 19. Whether the hopeful data in two large states may be a harbinger of what’s to come nationally is hard to say.

Total fentanyl-related deaths increased nationwide (up 4%) in 2022, according to provisional data, and in two-thirds of states. But trends vary widely from state to state depending on multiple factors, including when street fentanyl became widespread and whether medical examiners consistently test for its presence. Still, any good news in this area is worth noting.

In other news…

The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the huge opioid settlement with Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, after the Department of Justice objected to the plan, which would allow the billionaire Sackler family to limit their liability to $6 billion. The stay will almost certainly delay payment to thousands of plaintiffs who have sued the company for its role in igniting the opioid crisis, the New York Times reported.

U.S. suicide deaths ticked up in 2022 for a second consecutive year, making up for rare declines in 2018 and 2019 to reach a new high, the Associated Press reported. There were 49,449 suicides last year, according to  CDC provisional data, and the rate of 14.9 suicides per 100,000 population was up 2.8% over 2021. There were some snippets of better news. Suicide deaths among young people from 10 to 24 fell more than 8%, and suicides among American Indian and Alaska Native people, who have the highest suicides rates of any racial or ethnic group, dropped about 6%.

Washington, D.C. is planning to open the first of two sobering centers intended to help divert drug users from jail and emergency rooms, according to the Washington Post. The centers, which some other cities have sponsored for years, will be places to shower, put on clean clothes and begin treatment if desired. The District of Columbia has one of the highest opioid fatality rates in the nation. Harm reduction advocates have questioned why the sobering centers won’t be placed in neighborhoods with the most deaths − and want the city to plan safe injection sites, where users can inject illegal drugs under supervision.

Anxiety and depression may not boost the risk of cancer, according to a large new analysis covered by Politico’s Future Pulse newsletter. The meta-analysis published in Cancer included data from 18 studies involving 300,000 adults in the Netherlands, the U.K., Norway and Canada. It found no link between depression or anxiety and breast, prostate, colorectal and alcohol-related cancers, but a small link with lung and other smoking-related cancers. Previous studies had mixed results. Some scientists have theorized that people with depression or anxiety are more likely to have unhealthy behaviors like drinking or being sedentary, which are known risk factors for cancer, or that depression or anxiety might have a biological effect that raises cancer risk.

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...