Image 1 (203) 270-4612

What’s New in Mental Health?


What’s New in Mental Health?

By: Jessica Plouffe

Research on mental health-related topics is constantly updating! While most of such research does not make it to mainstream media, it is still important and helpful to stay informed. Here, I will summarize and link several interesting mental health articles that I found this week that I think are interesting and important to share; I chose a variety of topics to cover in order to provide a wider range of research. All of the articles summarized here are based on published research articles.

Poor Mental Health Days May Cost the Economy Billions of Dollars

This is a concept that is not new. However, this study, originating from Penn State, provides concrete data in relatively current dollar amounts to demonstrate how large this concern actually is. In total, poor mental health days at work cost the United States approximately $53 billion per year. This does not refer to just days off, nor does it include actual diagnoses of workers – rather, it includes days at work when employees report that their mental health is bad. The cost is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, likely because urban areas tend to have more mental health resources readily available.

Now, this does NOT mean that people should not be taking mental health days, or that workers facing mental health concerns are irresponsible! Rather, it is a pretty strong indicator that our current mental health care system needs much improvement. Not only would our citizens be much happier and more productive, but our economy would dramatically increase. (Both the article and the original journal article can be accessed with this link).

Identifying Treatment-Resistant Depression

Another recent study, originating from Rockefeller University, discovered a molecule that is linked to resistant depression , referred to as LAC. LAC is naturally produced by our bodies, and is responsible for regulating energy and controlling glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter (chemical) in the brain that serves many important functions. A previous study showed that providing mice with LAC supplements reduced their depressive symptoms, and this study measured LAC levels in the blood of humans diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.The deficiency in LAC was present in all of the subjects, but was more severe in the subjects for whom antidepressant drugs did not work. Additionally, lower LAC was associated with childhood trauma and earlier-onset depression, especially in women. This study may help direct better treatments for people who do not respond to antidepressants and other standard depression treatments. (Both the article and the original journal article can be accessed with this link).

How Fiber and Gut Bacteria Reverse Stress Damage

There is substantial evidence of mind-body connections, particularly related to stress. Most psychologists and researchers agree that there is a strong link between stress and digestive health in particular – stress can impact the digestive system (specifically, the bacteria in the digestive system), and the digestive system can also impact stress. A perhaps disgusting-sounding phenomenon, “leaky gut,” occurs when stress hormones in the body cause the intestines to become more permeable, which means that particles and molecules that normally stay within the intestines enter the bloodstream. While this is not dangerous, it does cause chronic inflammation in the body.

This study indicates that a high-fiber diet can help to alleviate some of the negative impacts that stress has on the body. When the gut breaks down fiber, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are produced. These SCFAs have been demonstrated to reduce anxiety, and also to protect the gut from the impacts of stress, which means that leaky gut will be much less likely to occur. Thus, including more fiber in the diet (such as fruit and vegetables) may be helpful in managing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

The journal article can be accessed here:

Agitation in Dementia: Are Drugs the Best Treatment?

Agitation is one of many behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. While not every dementia patient becomes agitated, agitation is common, and probably one of the more difficult symptoms to deal with for most caretakers, especially if the person was formerly very calm and friendly. This study aimed to determine the best methods of alleviating the agitation symptoms – and found that the standard treatment regimen of a variety of psychiatric medications is not the most effective treatment, which is a good thing considering the side effects of such treatment. Instead, the top four treatments suggested by the authors are psychosocial – meaning that they are behavioral and therapeutic treatments that do not involve medication.

First, the authors suggest that it is important to identify and treat the underlying causes for the agitation. This is a factor that is probably often overlooked. And it is understandable why a person with dementia would become agitated, especially if they are fully aware that they are having trouble understanding basic conversation and activities. They also suggest education for the caregiver, and to adapt the dementia patient’s environment to lessen anxiety and confusion as much as possible. Only two drugs are recommended – citalopram for depression and risperidone for psychosis (hallucinations and delusions) – and these drugs are ranked 6th and 7th on the proposed treatment list. Other non-drug approaches, such as music therapy, also show more effects than the medications do. The authors are not against the use of psychiatric medications for dementia, but argue that the psychosocial treatment options should be attempted first.

The journal article can be accessed here:

About the Author: Jessica is a Senior at Western Connecticut State University studying Psychology as part of the Kathwari Honors Program. She is a Research Assistant at WCSU’s Cognition lab and President of the same university’s Psi Chi Chapter and a member of the Psychology Student Association.