News round-up: Play increases happiness, reduces mental health issues in children

Updated: May 30


Image of child playing with arts and crafts
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News round-up / by Conor D'Andrade


The top mental health news from the week, chosen by our News Editor.


'Exciting' play helps to reduce anxiety and depression in children


According to new research published by the University of Exeter, children that engage in ‘thrilling and exciting’ play are happier in general and experience less symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared with children who don’t.


The study surveyed 2500 parents of children aged 5–11 from across the UK and examined their child’s playing habits and general mental health before the pandemic and how the first lockdown impacted their mood.


The results found that children who played outside had significantly fewer ‘internalising problems’ that could be characterised as symptoms of anxiety or depression, alongside being more positive throughout the first lockdown.


As expected, these effects were small as there is a vast range of factors influencing children’s mood and mental health.


Even so, these results remained consistent when demographic variables, such as parent’s employment, parent’s mental health, age and sex, were factored in.


This also revealed the trend that this effect was exacerbated for children from lower-income families.


Head researcher and professor of Child Psychology at the University of Exeter, Helen Dodd, said:


“We’re more concerned than ever about children’s mental health, and our findings highlight that we might be able to help protect children’s mental health by ensuring they have plentiful opportunities for adventurous play.


"This is really positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available to everyone, and doesn’t require special skills. We now urgently need to invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks and adventure playgrounds, to support the mental health of our children.”


Read the full story here.



AI shows promise in predicting mental health crises before they occur


An artificial intelligence algorithm has been successful in accurately predicting mental health crises in a real-world NHS setting, showing promising potential for early intervention treatments that could improve outcomes for patients.


Developed by the private digital mental health company Koa Health, in partnership with Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, the AI model monitors digital anonymised health records to predict the likelihood a patient will experience a mental health crisis.


It was able to successfully predict over half of the crises patients experienced 28 days before they happened without a significant false-positive rate (incorrect predictions of crises occurring when they weren't).


Furthermore, in a 6-month follow up, the model was found to be clinically valuable for mitigating the risk of crisis or managing caseloads in up to 64% of cases.


Koa Health’s CEO Dr. Oliver Harrison said:


“Working as an NHS psychiatrist, I saw too many people arrive in our services through the Accident and Emergency Department. By the time we saw them, they were usually very sick, and had often experienced problems with their relationships, finances, employment and housing.


"Putting the pieces back together was almost always expensive, time-consuming, and painful for the people involved.”


Read the full story here.



Stories continue to emerge of cost of living impact


This week has seen the emergence of more heartbreaking stories highlighting the harrowing impact the cost of living crisis is having across the UK.


John Williams, whose anxiety has been worsened by rapidly increasing utility and fuel bills, has told Senedd's Equality and Social Justice Committee that he is doing everything he can to reduce his bills in a losing battle, saying:


"My heating's been off for a while, I'm trying not to use the kettle as much and I haven't used the tumble dryer in a couple of months. To be honest, if I can spend the day out of the house to save electricity, I will.


"My mental health and anxiety have gotten much worse recently. I can barely manage at the moment but if the prices go up again, I'm really going to be in trouble."


The same week this came to light, the BBC featured a story with Brian Turner, who became a carer in 2009 for his wife that tragically died of an undiagnosed heart condition in 2019, just months before the global pandemic began.


Understandably heartbroken, experiencing his own physical disabilities, and reliant on his dog for companionship, Brian often misses breakfast and lunch because he can only afford to eat in the evenings to be able to care for his dog and cover his bills.


"Since we came out of lockdown the costs have just tripled, and the cost of living has gone through the roof," says Brian. "I am having to ask neighbours, friends and family for help. I've used food banks quite a few times.


"When I go to Citizens Advice for food parcels, they are telling me they are limiting how many food parcels I get to make sure it is fair for everybody, so that it is not like a weekly shop for anybody.


“Sometimes I have to scrounge and scavenge."


Considering that inflation is continuing to rise and that the government’s current response has been to vote against a windfall tax for energy giants making record-breaking profits with the attitude that, according to Conservative MP Rachel MacLean, people can “protect themselves better… by taking on more hours or moving to a better-paid job,” these issues look likely to worsen.


Read the full story here.


 

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