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There's always something new to read about the Faculty, whether it's a new discovery by one of our academics, an award won by one of our students, or an upcoming event.

Most press releases will specify media contacts, but if in doubt, please get in touch with our Media Relations Officer, Michael Addelman, at michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk or on +44 (0)161 275 2111.

Latest news

Long term risks cast further doubt on the use of Viagra for foetal therapy
(17 January 2020)

University of Manchester scientists investigating a possible treatment for foetal growth restriction (FGR), a condition in which babies grow poorly in the womb, have urged further caution on the use of Viagra.

Pulling the plug on calcium pumps - potential new treatment strategy for pancreatic cancer
(16 January 2020)

UK scientists have identified a new way to kill pancreatic cancer cells by ‘pulling the plug’ on the energy generator that fuels calcium pumps on their cell surface. The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, reports how switching off the cancer’s energy supply causes the pancreatic cancer cells to become ‘poisoned’ by an irreversible build-up of calcium.

Re-Write cancer: £5m boost for new world-class cancer centre in Manchester
(13 January 2020)

The University of Manchester has been awarded a major £5million funding boost by The Wolfson Foundation that will help build a new world-class cancer research facility in Manchester.

Body clock affects how the immune system works – new findings
(8 January 2020)

Aaron Amat/Shutterstock

By David Ray, University of Oxford and Gareth Kitchen, University of Manchester

All life on Earth has evolved to cope with a rotating planet which results in the predictable transition between day and night. The details differ between plants, fungi, bacteria and animals, but the consistent feature is a biological “clock” that allows the organism to anticipate the change and prepare for it.

In animals, the central clock that keeps track of night and day is in the brain where it receives light from the retina to keep synchronised with the light or dark. But all cells in the body have their own clocks. Because these biological clocks have a cycle that is close to 24 hours they are termed circadian (circa means “about” and dies means “day”).

We now live with cheap, bright, artificial light, shift-work, sleep-deprivation and jet-lag – all major challenges to the ancient circadian control mechanisms in our bodies. All these circadian and sleep challenges are associated with disease. But in our latest study, using mice, we discovered that infections at different times of the day cause different severity of disease.

Surprisingly, we found that the clock ticking in the cells of the immune system was responsible for the change in response to bacterial infection. In particular, specialised cells called macrophages, which are big cells that engulf and kill bacteria.

An artist’s impression of a macrophage (blue) engulfing tuberculosis bacteria (red). Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

Macrophages, either growing in a dish or in a mouse, responded differently at different times of the day. And disabling the clock in these cells resulted in super macrophages, which moved faster and ate more bacteria than the normal macrophages.

We found that “clockless” macrophages protected mice from bacterial infection with many types of bacteria. A closer look at the macrophages revealed that the cells looked different, with a major change in the structural proteins that maintain the cell shape and are needed for cell movement and for eating bacteria. The change in the cell’s internal architecture, or cytoskeleton, became a focus of our studies.

We discovered that the macrophage circadian clock directly controlled the components of the cytoskeleton. We saw changes in the amount of cytoskeletal protein building blocks, and also in the activity of a master regulator of cytoskeletal change. This master regulator is a protein called RhoA.

RhoA is activated by bacterial contact and drives the macrophage to move and consume bacteria. We found that RhoA was active in the clockless macrophages even when no bacteria were present. When bacteria contacted the normal macrophages RhoA became active, but there was no further change in the clockless macrophages, as the RhoA was already active. So the clockless macrophages were always switched on, and so able to respond to bacterial attack more rapidly.

To find out how the clock was changing the behaviour of macrophages, we turned to the core clock mechanism. This comprises a small group of proteins that change in abundance through time, so allowing the cells to tell the time. We found that one of these clock factors, called BMAL1, was the essential link between the clock and the macrophage behaviour.

 

Reducing reliance on antibiotics

One of the major issues facing the modern world is the growing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics. There have been no new classes of antibiotics for 30 years. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics means that we have untreatable infections and face a future where surgery will become riskier.

Finding new ways to enhance defence against bacteria is a high priority. Discovery of a circuit linking the clock to bacterial defence opens up a new route to reduce our reliance of the limited range of existing antibiotics. It may be possible to enhance natural defences to bacterial infection by targeting the clock.

The operation of the circadian clock can be altered by light exposure, by changing meal times, by genetic variability within human populations and by new drugs capable of regulating this system. One problem with targeting the clock with drugs is that the impact on other systems will be broad and the consequences hard to predict. But short-term intervention to boost immunity to infection may offer benefits, at low cost.

Similarly, reinforcing the circadian rhythm of high-risk people, in hospitals for example, by controlling lighting and meal times may boost immunity and prevent hospital-acquired infections.The Conversation

David Ray, Professor of Endocrinology, University of Oxford and Gareth Kitchen, Academic Clinical Lecturer and Anaesthetist, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Removing body clock gene protects mice against pneumonia
(6 January 2020)

Removing the clock gene BMAL1 makes bacteria-engulfing defence cells in the body more effective, a University of Manchester and University of Oxford study published in the journal PNAS has found.

Short or long sleep associated with Pulmonary Fibrosis
(31 December 2019)

Scientists have discovered that people who regularly sleep for more than 11 hours or less than 4 hours are 2-3 times more likely to have the incurable disease, pulmonary fibrosis, compared to those that sleep for 7 hours in a day. They attribute this association to the body clock.

Cheers! Scientists take big step towards making the perfect head of beer
(21 December 2019)

Drinkers will soon be cheering all the way to the bar thanks to a team of scientists who have taken a big step forward in solving the puzzle of how to make the perfect head of beer.

The 2019 review of the year
(20 December 2019)

We do say this every December but this year really was a momentous one for The University of Manchester. We’ve peered into the depths of space, developed technologies which will change our future, and championed cancer research across the region.

Your top ten stories of 2019
(20 December 2019)

Each year, stories from the University reach hundreds of thousands of people, and we’re always fascinated by what draws the most attention. From medicine to graphene, and astronomy to the ever-popular university rankings, here’s ten of our most-read stories from 2019.

Breakthrough research offers new hope to lupus patients
(19 December 2019)

A ‘life-changing’ potential new drug could be available to lupus patients in the future thanks to ‘breakthrough’ research.

Researchers discover when it’s good to get the blues
(16 December 2019)

Contrary to common belief, blue light may not be as disruptive to our sleep patterns as originally thought - according to University of Manchester scientists.

Air pollution is breaking our hearts: human and marine health is affected in similar ways
(16 December 2019)

Air pollution is associated with detrimental effects on human health, including increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Research published today in The Journal of Physiology by researchers at The University of Manchester shows that the knowledge we have about how pollution harms the hearts of marine species can be applied to humans, as the underlying mechanisms are similar. In other words, knowledge gained from the marine ecosystem might help protect the climate and health of our planet, whilst also helping human health.

One dose of radiotherapy as effective as five doses for cancer in the spine
(3 December 2019)

A single dose of radiotherapy is as “effective” as five doses for end-of-life cancer patients suffering with painful spinal canal compression, finds a large study conducted by UCL, including The University of Manchester

Pharmacy service will save NHS £651 million
(2 December 2019)

A research team from the Universities of Manchester, Nottingham, and UCL evaluating a service delivered by pharmacists since 2011 have calculated it will save the English NHS around £651 million.

£20m ‘Re-Write Cancer’ campaign launches to build a world-class cancer research facility in Manchester
(28 November 2019)

Legendary BBC broadcaster Mark Radcliffe unveiled an engraved park bench in the grounds of the University of Manchester where he studied in the late 1970s to laucnh ‘Re-Write Cancer’ fundraising campaign.

Lifting the lid on young people’s mental health
(27 November 2019)

Researchers at The University of Manchester have worked with Kooth, an online mental health service for young people, to produce a report on the impact the service has had, and improve mental health treatment across the country.

Children of abused mothers 50% more likely to have low IQ
(26 November 2019)

Children of women who reported domestic violence in pregnancy or during the first six years of the child’s life are almost 50% more likely to have a low IQ at age 8, research finds.

Obituary: Dr Mike Oglesby CBE 1939-2019
(22 November 2019)

It was with great sadness that we learnt of Mike’s death. He was a truly remarkable individual who achieved an incredible amount in his life and touched the hearts of so many people-particularly in the Manchester City region. Our thoughts are with Jean, Chris, Kate and the wider family at this difficult time.

Mike is perhaps best known as the founder of Bruntwood, a highly successful property development company, now with properties valued at over £1 billion, many of which are in Manchester. In his business leadership, as in so many aspects of his life, Mike was inspirational. In addition to his sharp intellect and proven business acumen, he has always been committed to building an ‘ethical business’ that cared about it’s people and the environment and gave back so much to local people.

The contributions that Mike made to our city region are just too many to list but include, chair or member of MIDAS (the inward investment arm of the region), Royal Northern College of Music, Cheetham’s Music School, the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership and many more. He was High Sheriff for Greater Manchester, awarded North-West businessman of the year and was awarded a CBE in 2011. His CBE was for his services to industry and charity; Mike and his family through the family trust donated very generously to the arts, health, education and social inequality.

Most notably for us was Mike’s enormous contribution to our University. He was generous not only in financial support but in giving so much of his time to us, as chair of our Manchester Cancer Research Centre since its inception in 2006, a member of our Global Leadership Board and more recently (indeed until just before his death) on the Board which is overseeing the development of the new building which will replace the Paterson building for cancer research which was badly damaged by fire. 

Recently we renamed our Manchester Cancer Research Centre building, ‘The Oglesby Cancer Research Building’ in his honour and in recognition of his tireless support and dedication to the development of cancer research in Manchester. His insight as a cancer patient, and indeed for many years as a cancer survivor, was powerful and invaluable. It was wonderful that Mike and his family attended that event. We awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2006, but he has done so much more since then.

Having worked with Mike closely on quite a number of committees and activities, I can attest to his incredible insight and intellect. Woe betide if you weren’t doing as well as he thought you should be. He would tell you with great clarity but would then always offer to help. He would so often deliver a tough message with a twinkle in his eye.

Mike’s family has always been closely involved in all of his activities. At the launch of the Oglesby Building he said ‘this is my future’, while pointing to his family, who all nodded firmly!

I consider it a great personal privilege to have worked with and known Mike. I gained so much from him. He will be sadly missed but never forgotten, and will be held by so many in huge respect and admiration and with great affection.

Nancy Rothwell

President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manchester

Musicians at serious risk of Tinnitus, researchers show
(21 November 2019)

People working in the music industry are nearly twice as likely to develop Tinnitus as people working in quieter occupations, according to a new study led by researchers at The University of Manchester.

Tinnitus: scale of hearing damage for music industry workers revealed
(21 November 2019)

Igor Bulgarin/Shutterstock 

Samuel Couth, Research Associate, Hearing Science, University of Manchester

Hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing, buzzing or whistling noises in the absence of any external sounds) are serious problems for music industry workers. The conditions can affect musical standards, limit employment and damage general wellbeing. Yet music industry workers’ susceptibility to hearing problems is not well understood, as it can take years before the damage becomes severe enough to be detected by conventional tests and many people in the industry don’t get their hearing tested.

At the Manchester Centre for Audiology and Deafness, we are trying to get a better understanding of the effects of noise exposure on musicians’ hearing. As part of this project, we recently analysed data on hearing difficulties and tinnitus in 23,000 people from the UK Biobank, an online database of medical and lifestyle records of half a million Britons. The most striking finding was that music industry workers were almost twice as likely to report tinnitus compared with people working in the finance industry.

To assess generalised hearing difficulties, we also analysed data from a test of speech recognition in a noisy environment. Difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments is one of the most commonly reported hearing complaints. But the results showed that music industry workers were no more likely to develop difficulties hearing in a noisy environment than people working in the finance industry.

That’s not to say that music industry workers are immune to noise-induced hearing loss. The relatively good hearing in this group was probably because they had developed strong auditory and cognitive skills through years of musical listening and training. This could mean that the hearing-in-noise test (a standardised test that measures sentence recognition in background noise) was easier for them, which could counteract any hearing loss that they have as a result of noise exposure.

Or conversely, hearing loss brought about by noise exposure could decrease musicians’ superior skills for being able to hear in noisy environments, so that their performance is similar to that of finance workers. Our ongoing investigation using sophisticated methods for measuring musicians’ hearing may provide some evidence to support this explanation.

We also found that health and lifestyle had little effect on tinnitus and hearing difficulties. Noise exposure was by far the biggest risk factor for tinnitus for people working in the music industry, including musicians, music directors and production staff for all genres of music.

Hearing protection

The permissible limit for occupational noise in the UK is an average of 85 decibels based on an eight-hour working day. The length of safe noise exposure is reduced by half for every three decibels increase in noise intensity. This equals four hours of daily exposure for 88 decibels of noise, two hours for 91 decibels, and so on. Most amplified concerts exceed 100 decibels, meaning that music industry workers shouldn’t be exposed to this level of noise for more than 15 minutes without proper hearing protection.

The findings from our study, published in Trends in Hearing, confirm the concerns that music industry workers have about the impact of their work on their hearing health. The list of high-profile musicians who reportedly suffer from tinnitus continues to grow, including Liam and Noel Gallagher, Chris Martin, Ozzy Osbourne and Bob Dylan.

Classical music players are at risk, too. Earlier this year, The Royal Opera House lost its legal appeal over the life-changing hearing damage caused to a viola player at a single rehearsal of Wagner’s Die Walküre.

While changes to the law have increased hearing protection use and reduced levels of hearing problems in the construction industry, the music industry lags behind. We know from previous research that only 6% of musicians consistently wear hearing protection. So another part of our research is to understand why so few musicians use hearing protection and to devise ways to encourage them to change their behaviour.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Arthritis drugs could be repurposed to help prevent breast cancer spreading to the bone, study suggests
(20 November 2019)

Drugs commonly used to treat arthritis may help to prevent breast cancer spreading to the bone, where it is incurable, new research suggests.

A global ‘toilet revolution’ is underway – but it’s polluting water and ignoring the urban poor
(19 November 2019)

Don’t take toilets for granted. Their connection to a managed sewage disposal system protects you from diseases and infections that can stunt your growth, harm your nutrition and even kill you.

For some 670 million people, this basic service is not provided. In rapidly growing cities in low and middle income countries, expensive serviced residential areas stand alongside makeshift settlements, whose poorer residents lack access to sanitation and suffer from preventable diseases and infections. In India, for instance, more than seven children per 10,000 residents die from diarrhoea resulting from lack of sanitation.

To address this, some governments have announced national drives to clean up their cities. But many cities are resorting to quick fixes that are polluting water sources and leaving countless urban communities by the wayside.

Take India. In 2014, its government announced a highly publicised mission to “Clean India”. Under this mission, the government surveys and ranks cities according to their cleanliness, and hands prestigious awards to those ranking highest. The mission’s main aim was to rid the country of open defecation, makeshift toilets and open sewers by October 2019.

This was music to the ears of residents of Siddharth Nagar, an informal settlement in Mumbai. Its 650 migrant families live in self-built shelters without access to functioning toilets.

For many years, they had to resort to open defecation – that is, going to the “toilet” outside in the open environment rather than using dedicated and safely managed facilities. Open defecation is not considered safe because it exposes people to contact with faeces and, in the case of more vulnerable populations, potential attackers.

Eventually, residents were able to pool their resources and construct six makeshift toilets for the community. The waste from the toilets was directed straight into an adjacent stream, which took it to the sea. In many cases, water from streams and rivers is used for washing, cooking and drinking, so flushing untreated sludge – potentially containing dangerous viruses, bacteria and parasite cysts – can cause serious problems downstream.

Self-constructed toilets in Siddharth Nagar, Mumbai. Purva DewoolkarAuthor provided

In May 2016, Siddharth Nagar residents requested proper toilets for their community. Two years later, following a long bureaucratic battle and committed campaigning, the municipality approved the construction of a managed community toilet block in the settlement.

However, what they actually got was a “moving” toilet – a trailer carrying several toilets and a bio-digester. Shortly after the trailer’s arrival, officials visited the area to assess its sanitary status. Following the visit, the moving toilet disappeared. The municipal government had achieved its aim of being declared open defecation free but the community was no better off.

In an attempt to pacify angry residents, the municipality eventually delivered four portable toilets later in 2018. But these were positioned out of reach of desludging vehicles, which were vital to the toilets’ proper functioning.

Consequently, sludge was not collected in septic tanks as intended but directed straight into the stream-sewer, polluting water and ecosystems that depended on it. Today, three out of the four portable toilets are defunct. Residents are once again resorting to open defecation and their self-built toilets.

Similar stories from all over India abound. Temporary fixes and cosmetic solutions offered by municipal governments are leaving countless communities empty handed in the long term. The particularly high risk of disease outbreak from water contamination in densely populated urban environments not only threatens lives but also reduces the time people can work, making it harder to escape poverty.

Moving toilets brought to Siddarth Nagar. Purva DewoolkarAuthor provided

China’s ‘Toilet Revolution’

Further east, Chinese president Xi Jinping announced the country’s “Toilet Revolution” in 2015, targeting primarily the countryside and promising access to hygienic toilets for all. But this bold rhetoric is deepening existing stigma surrounding traditional sanitation practices, widening the rift between the urban rich and poor.

Prior to Xi’s announcement, sanitation infrastructure had not been considered a priority for several decades. Despite the country’s rapid economic development, the proportion of people relying on open defecation in cities had actually doubled between 1990 and 2008.

Although the Toilet Revolution has helped to greatly expand public sewer systems in recent years, in fragmented cities such as Shanghai, not everyone has access to proper sanitation. While entire swaths of land have been swiftly redeveloped, pockets of older neighbourhoods remain untouched.

Many of these dilapidated neighbourhoods are inhabited by China’s growing proportion of ageing citizens, who rely on traditional night pots and communal waste collection stations. Younger generations feel disdain and disgust for this way of life. For them, this is reason enough to stay away, leaving the old and frail isolated.

China’s 225 million rural-to-urban migrants are another marginalised group. Unable to afford the skyrocketing prices of newer accommodation, most are forced to live in sub-standard conditions without access to sanitation facilities. Already looked down upon by more affluent urban residents, they are often accused of dirtying the urban environment.

Self-installed flush toilets like this one in Shanghai often just empty into rainwater drains. Deljana IossifovaAuthor provided

The desire to adopt modern conveniences – or live up to others’ expectations – has led countless urban migrant households to install flush toilets themselves. In most cases, these are not connected to municipal sewers. Rather, human waste is flushed directly into the street.

The municipal government is now slowly taking steps to modernise its remaining older neighbourhoods. But even where toilets are formally connected to the sewer – including in newly built residential compounds – not all waste ends up at a treatment plant. As in India, much of it eventually pollutes surrounding bodies of water and linked ecosystems.

It’s great that countries are backing the global drive for universal access to sanitation. But at the heart of these aims must be a desire to protect the environment and improve the health and wellbeing of the people – not recognition and awards. Otherwise, those most in need get left behind.

Deljana IossifovaPurva Dewoolkar, and Youcao Ren, The University of Manchester. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Borderline Personality Disorder has strongest link to childhood trauma
(19 November 2019)

People with Borderline Personality Disorder are 13 times more likely to report childhood trauma than people without any mental health problems, according to University of Manchester research.

Unique specialist mental health service for students begins work in Greater Manchester
(18 November 2019)

A unique new specialist NHS service in Greater Manchester will allow university students to get the help they need to overcome significant mental illness, an event will be told today (18 November).

‘Like a fitbit in your heart’ – remote pacemaker study to help cardiac patients avoid hospital admissions
(11 November 2019)

A study at The University of Manchester will analyse heart patients’ activity levels through their pacemakers, to determine which people are at the highest risk of frailty and help them avoid long hospital stays.

Tiny transporters could deliver treatment to stroke patients
(7 November 2019)

Swarms of nanoparticles which are 15,000 times smaller than a pinhead may be able to deliver vital drugs to the brain, offering new hope to patients in the early stages of a stroke.

New assessment could identify risks of frailty
(5 November 2019)

Signs of frailty, and the risks it brings, could be identified in young and old people alike through a new assessment developed in a study by researchers at the Universities  of Strathclyde, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Yale.

Manchester scientists lead the way in next generation radiotherapy research
(4 November 2019)

Manchester scientists and clinicians have been awarded a major cash boost from Cancer Research UK to pioneer new radiotherapy technologies and techniques that could help more people survive cancer in the future.

Teen self-harm: rates have dramatically decreased in Denmark – here’s what other countries can learn
(31 October 2019)

Having better access to mental health support could be one reason for lower self-harm rates among Danish teens. Pressmaster/ Shutterstock

Concern has been growing over rising rates of self-harm in teenagers. In the UK and Ireland, increases began around the time of the 2008 economic crash and show no sign of slowing. One study of the UK found rates among teenage girls rose by two-thirds between 2011 and 2014.

But some surprising new findings suggest that stress caused by recession and financial uncertainty does not necessarily lead to rises in suicidal behaviour. My colleagues and I examined rates of teenagers treated in hospital for self-harm in Denmark. Contrary to expectations, we found that rates of self-harm in Danish teenagers actually fell between 2008 and 2016. Although Denmark experienced an economic recession, why didn’t rates of self-harm among teenagers see a similar spike as in other countries?

Our study analysed Danish national patient registers, which contain data on individuals treated in hospitals and outpatient departments in Denmark. Such population-level registers are unique to Scandinavian countries. The registers allowed us to look at the numbers of young people attending hospital or outpatient clinics after having self-harmed and compare them against all teenagers of the same age in Denmark.

We found that the rates of self-harm in young people living in Denmark aged between ten and 19 decreased each year between 2008 and 2016. The rate decreased by more than 40% from the beginning to the end of the study period. This pattern was seen in younger and older teenagers and in both girls and boys.

It has long been accepted that economic recession is associated with increases in suicide rates. Suicidal behaviour is undoubtedly a highly personal experience, but the way that society can influence it has been recognised as early as the late 19th century. Following the most recent global recession in 2008, increased rates of suicide and self-harm were seen across Europe and North America.

In Ireland, rates of self-harm among teenagers increased by 22% between 2007 and 2016. In the UK, the government’s response to the recession was to impose austerity measures. This resulted in cuts to government spending on healthcare, unemployment benefits and social services, all of which have a proven negative impact on mental health and well-being.

But free universal healthcare, widespread access to unemployment programmes and increased welfare spending during recession can soften the blow of financial hardship. In line with findings from the UK, we found that the highest rates of self-harm were among teenagers from the poorest households. But our research found that, even for these teenagers, rates fell between 2008 and 2016. While we can only speculate about the causes of the fall in rates, Denmark appears to have protected its most vulnerable young people from rises experienced by other countries.

Of course, adolescents will be affected by economic recession – but, being less directly affected by the job market, they’re unlikely to experience it in the same way as adults. However, there are a number of other factors that are likely to exacerbate self-harming behaviours, such as pressure at school, difficulties at home, or mental health issues such as depression or anxiety – but certain measures can also protect teenagers’ mental health, which may be especially important during economic upheaval when populations are more vulnerable.

Social media pressures

While social media pressure may be particularly intense for teenagers, frequently voiced concerns that it might cause harm to mental health and well-being may be overstated. One study found that most social media content concerning self-harm was positive. The study found that social media was mostly used as a platform to process difficult emotions creatively and share stories of recovery – rather than to promote self-harming behaviours. Social media also has the potential to increase awareness about seeking help for mental health problems – but this would only reduce self-harm rates if mental health support was available and accessible for young people.

Social media might actually provide much-needed support for teens. Grzegorz Placzek/ Shutterstock

More availability and better access to mental health support might be one reason for lower rates of self-harm in Denmark. Since 2007, suicide prevention clinics have been offering psychosocial therapy across Denmark for people at risk of suicide. The program was introduced gradually from 1992 and expanded to cover the whole country. These clinics have been found to have positive effects on reducing self-harm and suicide.

Yet, in many parts of the world, adolescents struggle to access mental health services. Evidence from the UK shows that teenagers from the most deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to self-harm yet are less likely to receive mental health treatment.

Denmark has also taken steps to regulate sales of common painkillers to under-18s. In many parts of the world, including the UK, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of young adults who have overdosed on painkillers and antidepressants. Tougher regulations of these common painkillers might help to delay access – and research has shown that even a small delay in accessing a suicide method can be enough to halt the act.

Having access to health and welfare services, alongside good social connections within societies, can help reduce the prevalence of self-harm – especially during difficult economic times. Places that young people spend time in – such as schools, colleges, universities and health services – can also offer opportunities for social connection.

Social media that encourages social connections could also help young people build more resilience and better manage uncertainties such as a poor job market and financial insecurity. Better funding for mental health services may also be able to help protect younger populations from the harmful effects of economic turmoil and other stresses.The Conversation

Sarah Steeg, Presidential Research Fellow, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Teen self-harm: rates have decreased in Denmark – here’s what other countries can learn
(31 October 2019)

Concern has been growing over rising rates of self-harm in teenagers. In the UK and Ireland, increases began around the time of the 2008 economic crash and show no sign of slowing. One study of the UK found rates among teenage girls rose by two-thirds between 2011 and 2014.

But some surprising new findings suggest that stress caused by recession and financial uncertainty does not necessarily lead to rises in suicidal behaviour. My colleagues and I examined rates of teenagers treated in hospital for self-harm in Denmark. Contrary to expectations, we found that rates of self-harm in Danish teenagers actually fell between 2008 and 2016. Although Denmark experienced an economic recession, why didn’t rates of self-harm among teenagers see a similar spike as in other countries?

Our study analysed Danish national patient registers, which contain data on individuals treated in hospitals and outpatient departments in Denmark. Such population-level registers are unique to Scandinavian countries. The registers allowed us to look at the numbers of young people attending hospital or outpatient clinics after having self-harmed and compare them against all teenagers of the same age in Denmark.

We found that the rates of self-harm in young people living in Denmark aged between ten and 19 decreased each year between 2008 and 2016. The rate decreased by more than 40% from the beginning to the end of the study period. This pattern was seen in younger and older teenagers and in both girls and boys.

It has long been accepted that economic recession is associated with increases in suicide rates. Suicidal behaviour is undoubtedly a highly personal experience, but the way that society can influence it has been recognised as early as the late 19th century. Following the most recent global recession in 2008, increased rates of suicide and self-harm were seen across Europe and North America.

In Ireland, rates of self-harm among teenagers increased by 22% between 2007 and 2016. In the UK, the government’s response to the recession was to impose austerity measures. This resulted in cuts to government spending on healthcare, unemployment benefits and social services, all of which have a proven negative impact on mental health and well-being.

But free universal healthcare, widespread access to unemployment programmes and increased welfare spending during recession can soften the blow of financial hardship. In line with findings from the UK, we found that the highest rates of self-harm were among teenagers from the poorest households. But our research found that, even for these teenagers, rates fell between 2008 and 2016. While we can only speculate about the causes of the fall in rates, Denmark appears to have protected its most vulnerable young people from rises experienced by other countries.

Social media might actually provide much-needed support for teens. - Grzegorz Placzek/ Shutterstock

Of course, adolescents will be affected by economic recession – but, being less directly affected by the job market, they’re unlikely to experience it in the same way as adults. However, there are a number of other factors that are likely to exacerbate self-harming behaviours, such as pressure at school, difficulties at home, or mental health issues such as depression or anxiety – but certain measures can also protect teenagers’ mental health, which may be especially important during economic upheaval when populations are more vulnerable.

While social media pressure may be particularly intense for teenagers, frequently voiced concerns that it might cause harm to mental health and well-being may be overstatedOne study found that most social media content concerning self-harm was positive. The study found that social media was mostly used as a platform to process difficult emotions creatively and share stories of recovery – rather than to promote self-harming behaviours. Social media also has the potential to increase awareness about seeking help for mental health problems – but this would only reduce self-harm rates if mental health support was available and accessible for young people.

More availability and better access to mental health support might be one reason for lower rates of self-harm in Denmark. Since 2007, suicide prevention clinics have been offering psychosocial therapy across Denmark for people at risk of suicide. The program was introduced gradually from 1992 and expanded to cover the whole country. These clinics have been found to have positive effects on reducing self-harm and suicide.

Yet, in many parts of the world, adolescents struggle to access mental health services. Evidence from the UK shows that teenagers from the most deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to self-harm yet are less likely to receive mental health treatment.

Denmark has also taken steps to regulate sales of common painkillers to under-18s. In many parts of the world, including the UK, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of young adults who have overdosed on painkillers and antidepressants. Tougher regulations of these common painkillers might help to delay access – and research has shown that even a small delay in accessing a suicide method can be enough to halt the act.

Having access to health and welfare services, alongside good social connections within societies, can help reduce the prevalence of self-harm – especially during difficult economic times. Places that young people spend time in – such as schools, colleges, universities and health services – can also offer opportunities for social connection.

Social media that encourages social connections could also help young people build more resilience and better manage uncertainties such as a poor job market and financial insecurity. Better funding for mental health services may also be able to help protect younger populations from the harmful effects of economic turmoil and other stresses.The Conversation

 

Sarah Steeg, Presidential Research Fellow, University of Manchester. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.