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In brief: Psychedelics for PTSD, armed forces, and gambling clinics


An image of some psychedelic mushrooms
Christopher Ott | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

Australia becomes the first country to prescribe psychedelics for depression and PTSD


Australia has made history by becoming the first country to permit psychiatrists to prescribe specific psychedelic substances for patients suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.


Among the psychedelics that Australian doctors are now authorised to prescribe are MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, for individuals with PTSD, and – the psychoactive compound found in psychedelic mushrooms – which can be prescribed for patients with treatment-resistant depression.


While “there's excitement about ... the prospect of being able to offer patients more suitable and tailored treatment without the constraints imposed by clinical trials and rigid protocols,” said head of Monash University’s Clinical Psychedelic Lab Dr Paul Liknaitzky, some concerns have been raised, such as the cost of the treatment which stands at roughly £5,200 per patient.


“There are concerns that evidence remains inadequate and moving to clinical service is premature," added Dr Liknaitzky, "that incompetent or poorly-equipped clinicians could flood the space; that treatment will be unaffordable for most; that formal oversight of training, treatment, and patient outcomes will be minimal or ill-informed.”



Record demand for gambling clinics


NHS England is expanding its gambling addiction clinics in response to a surge in referrals.


The health service plans to open seven new facilities this summer, in addition to the existing eight clinics across the country.


The decision comes after a record number of patients – 1,389 – were referred for gambling support in the 2022/23 period, compared with 775 referrals two years earlier.


The announcement coincided with a recent coroner's ruling that a betting firm could have done more to assist a gambler who tragically took his own life.


The expanded network of clinics aims to provide treatment for up to 3,000 patients once all 15 facilities are operational.




Social media passive scrolling can lead to anxiety and depression


A recent study conducted by researchers at Bournemouth University has found that young adults who primarily use social media to passively browse content posted by others are more prone to experiencing anxiety, depression, and stress compared with those who actively engage by sharing their own content.


The study involved surveying 288 individuals between the ages of 18 and 34 to examine how different patterns of social media usage influenced feelings of loneliness and psychological distress.


Three types of social media were examined: passive, where users solely browse content posted by others; active non-social, where users post their own content without engaging directly with other users; and active social, where users both create and share their own content and interact with posts from other users.


The study found that increased passive social media use was associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.


In contrast, engaging in active non-social behaviour, which involves posting content without direct interaction, had a positive impact on stress levels.


Senior lecturer in developmental psychology, Dr Constantina Panourgia said:


“Passive social media use does not provide opportunities for communication and self-disclosure which are known to promote connectedness and social support. So, users may feel isolated and excluded, leading to exacerbated feelings of loneliness and consequently to increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression.”




NHS England sees record number of staff sickness levels, with mental health issues the most common cause


Mental health problems are now the main reason for staff absences in the NHS in England, accounting for nearly a quarter of all absences.


The rate of staff absences due to mental health issues has seen a sharp rise since the start of the pandemic – in 2022, the NHS recorded a total of 27 million sick days, equivalent to approximately 75,000 full-time staff.


This represents a 29% increase compared with 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.


Mental health issues emerged as the leading cause of absence, followed by colds, coughs, respiratory problems, and the return of flu, which also saw significant rises.


Throughout 2022, a total of six million working days were lost due to mental health and well-being reasons.


The North West had the highest reported sickness rate of 7.4% in hospital and community services, surpassing the national average, while London reported a rate of 5.4%.


The analysis, which was conducted by Nuffield Trust using NHS data for the BBC, revealed regional disparities in sickness absence rates, comes just before the government is due to publish its long-anticipated NHS workforce plan.




Swim England announces ban on weighing children


Swim England has made the decision to ban the weighing of children at its clubs in response to concerns raised by swimmers who have experienced eating disorders and mental health issues.


The move has been welcomed by Olympic medallist Cassie Patten, who has spoken out about the negative impact of comments made by coaches on her well-being.


Other swimmers have also come forward to share their experiences of being harmed by weighing regimes and coaches who focus excessively on body image.


While Swim England had previously introduced guidelines on weighing in November 2021, it has now elevated them to the status of a mandatory policy that all "all affiliated clubs and coaches must comply with".


"There have been too many instances in the past of unacceptable behaviour around weighing athletes and this policy sets out the parameters to prevent that inappropriate conduct happening in the future," said Patten.


"Performance is a key part of an athlete's development but we also need to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing.”




More Armed Forces personnel seeking mental health support


The government has released its annual statistics and report on mental health in the armed forces.


The data shows that the rate of UK Armed Forces personnel seeking mental health support in military healthcare settings has increased over the last 11 years, with 1 in 8 personnel (13.2%) now seeking help for mental health reasons.


The percentage of UK Armed Forces personnel requiring specialist mental health services remained stable at 1 in 45 (2.2%) during the same period.


Overall, the rate of personnel seeking mental health support in any capacity was similar to that of the general population in the UK.


However, the rate of personnel needing specialised mental health treatment was lower in the armed forces compared with the general population.


Among those requiring specialised mental health care, adjustment disorder and depressive episodes were the most commonly diagnosed disorders.


The rate of PTSD remained relatively low at 0.2%.


The statistics also show significantly more female military personnel seeking mental health support, approximately twice as many.


More findings are available in the full report below.


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