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Sunday, 2 September 2012

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Teen love affairs lead to depression and suicides

The Sunday Observer spoke to Dr.Marcel Roos, a psychologist with a PhD from Holland who has been practising in Sri Lanka for three years. He explained why teenage depression leads to a disturbing trend of love affairs related to suicides and murders.

Q. Why is there a growing number of cases of depression among teenagers and young adults in Sri Lanka?

A. It seems that they have to cope with a lot of pressure. In Sri Lanka, much emphasis is placed upon education. It's not uncommon that children have a lot of tuition hours next to their regular school hours. The schooling system itself is geared upon achievements too. Getting high marks, participating in extracurricular activities, trying to get into the best schools, it's all very competitive.

Too much competition or not being able to accomplish high standards can cause depression. Parents play a role in this too because in many cases they promote the said high standards.

It is not only in schooling that high standards are placed. In relationships there is also a yearning for the “ideal” partner. It's in the culture, brought about by parents and enhanced by taking concepts as palm reading and horoscopes very seriously. When for some reason the relationship isn't as “fantastic” as the young adult had perceived it at the start, it can cause depression.

Another factor is that in Sri Lanka there is no tradition of talking about one's issues. On the contrary, there is a strong pervading notion that problems should be kept within the family. This also can cause depression.

The above factors have been for a long time prevalent in Sri Lankan society. Why depression amongst teenagers and young adults seems to be more than before could be attributed to a number of reasons:

- better recognition amongst the public. The internet, newspapers and other media give more information than before.

- better recognition in the health sector.

- inability to fulfill their dreams, for example forced to stay in the country for economic reasons and not go abroad. Or reading on the internet about possibilities and opportunities and not be able to achieve those.

Q. How depression, anger, pain and sorrow linked to love affairs gone awry?

A. Love affairs, especially in Sri Lanka (and in more Asian countries) are seen as very special. Much effort, energy, hopes and dreams are connected with them. Usually, Sri Lankan young people don't have much “relationship experience” before they get involved and think they are on a quest to find the “ultimate” one.

As a consequence, when they go through a relationship breakup, the pain is very deep and can easily transform into depression.

In Sri Lanka, this is enhanced because of the schooling system where most of the children attend boys or girls schools, so there is little opportunity to get familiar with the opposite sex in a natural way.

Q. Why do teenagers and young adults look to suicide as a form of escaping the depression and rejection by their lovers without solving it or moving on?

A. Probably because of the lack of a “talk” culture here. Problems, if they are talked about, are kept within the family. It is not done to talk with friends about your personal issues. When there is no safety valve to relieve the pressure by talking about it, then suicide seems to be a realistic option.

In the end, life seems to be a black tunnel with taking your life as the only possibility. This can be aggravated by feelings of shame or guilt associated with the breaking up.

Q. How do teenagers and young adults take it upon themselves to kill their own loved ones and commit suicide in the process?

A. Apart from mental illnesses, there can be all kinds of strong emotions leading to the conviction that this is the only “way out”.

Q. In what way can parents identify and tackle depression and love affair problems with their children?

A. There are a few tell-tale signals regarding depression. The two main symptoms are that people have a depressed mood and have no interest in activities for at least two weeks for most of the time almost every day.

Furthermore, they must have at least three more symptoms out of seven (for instance weight change, sleeping problems, thinking about death or suicide). The best way for parents to tackle depression with their child is to talk with it.

When your child trusts you enough the story will come out. Be aware that depression has nothing to do with the so called “chemical imbalance” in the brain. There is no medical scientific proof for this.Talking and venting your feelings about your moods is the best way.

Q. There is a significant number of teen depression cases especially in love affairs that often go unreported due to misconception or plain ignorance. Why is this so?

A. Perhaps the cause lies in the fact that parents don't take it that serious. “Oh it's just a broken love affair, is that all?”. Or that parents simply don't know what to do, or feel ashamed to talk about it.

Q. How can we educate the youth on combating depression and help them?

A. By informing them through the media. But information alone isn't enough. The existing culture with regard to parents being open-minded and talking with their children in Sri Lanka has to change. But changing a culture isn't an easy thing to do and it takes considerable time.

Q. What sort of trend do you see with modern love affairs and emotions relating to them?

A. Among the better educated, more affluent and assertive younger generation modern love affairs are more accepted. Still, on the emotional side there is a void. Rationally they can think things over, but emotionally factors such as the way they were brought up or cultural factors play a big role. In my psychology practice, I have to deal often with this dichotomy of emotion versus mind.

Q. What is the solution that would help the youth tackle pain, sorrow and rejection and deal with it without doing any harm?

A. The best way to deal with these emotions is to try to feel them. I am aware that in South East Asian culture, much attention is placed upon mind and behaviour; and emotions are usually disregarded.

In reality, emotions (and instincts) are the driving forces in our lives. Suppressing or disregarding them is a clear recipe for depression. If people find it difficult to deal with feelings then they should seek professional psychological help.

Q. Do you think that by reporting on depression and suicide in the media or reporting on deaths, causes a copy-cat suicidal trend among the youth?

A. Copy-cat suicidal trends are as old as the hills. For example the reactions on Goethes book “Die Leiden des jungen Werthers” (the sorrows of young Werther) in Germany in the late 18th century are partly to blame for copy-cat suicides.

But reporting on depression and suicide in the media usually has a significant preventive effect. Young people will become more aware of the problems and get informed about betters ways to deal with them.


Why some fats are worse than others

All dietary fats are not created equal. Some types of fats have been linked to ailments like heart disease and diabetes, while others, like those often found in plants and fish, have well documented health benefits.

So why do our bodies respond so destructively to some fats but not others? A new hypothesis described in latest issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology suggests the answer may lie in how different fats interact with the microbes in our guts.

According to researchers, some fats may encourage the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive system. Our bodies have evolved to recognise those fats and launch an immune response to preempt the impeding changes in harmful bacteria.

The result is low-level inflammation that, over the long term, causes chronic disease.

“Although the inflammatory effects of [fats] are well documented, it is less well appreciated that they also influence bacterial survival and proliferation in the gastrointestinal tract,” write the researchers.

Some fats - mostly unsaturated fats - actually have strong antimicrobial properties.

They react chemically with bacterial cell membranes, weakening them.

“If you expose unsaturated fats on bacteria, the bacteria have a tendency to lyse.

The combination of long chain unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, and innate host defenses like gastric acid and antimicrobial peptides, is particularly lethal to pathogenic bacteria,” Alcock said.

Saturated fats on the other hand generally lack those antimicrobial properties, and in fact can provide a carbon source that bacteria need to grow and flourish.

And it's these differing microbial effects, Alcock believes, that are at the root of why some fats are inflammatory and some aren't. To test that notion, the researchers poured through years of research on both the microbial effects of fats and their inflammatory effects. “We found a highly significant relationship between those fats that had antimicrobial properties and those that had anti-inflammatory properties,” Alcock said. “Fats that lack antimicrobial properties tended to be pro-inflammatory. It was a very, very strong relationship.”

In a sense, the researchers say, the presence of saturated fats sets off an “early warning system” in the body. When fats that encourage bacterial growth are present, the body prepares for unwelcome microbial guests with an inflammatory immune response. And while that response may help fend off infection in the short term, the constant presence of such fats could cause the body to spiral into diseases related to inflammation, like heart disease.

The researchers caution that while this hypothesis is well supported by current data, there's much more research to be done.

“We have a pretty good idea that eating fatty foods encourages the growth and invasiveness of harmful microbiota and we know that certain fats kill off these potentially harmful species,” Alcock said. “But we're making a bit of a leap from the Petri dish to the whole organism.”

“We don't intend this to be the final word. Rather it's a tool to generate additional hypotheses that can be tested.”

- MNT


Passive smoking harms healthy people

“It is well known that passive smoking is harmful for cardiovascular health, but the mechanism has not yet been discovered,” said Dr Kaya. “We investigated the effects of passive smoking on the levels of three parameters - mean platelet volume (MPV), carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) and lactate - in an effort to further understand this mechanism. We also looked at the correlation between the three parameters.”

Mean platelet volume (MPV) is a well established indicator of platelet activation that is increased in acute thrombotic events. It is suspected that carbon monoxide (CO) plays a major role in cigarette smoke-induced cardiovascular diseases.

When CO binds with hemoglobin (Hb) in red blood cells it is called COHb. Lactate accumulates in the blood when the supply of oxygen to blood cells is limited. For the study, 55 healthy nonsmoker volunteers (males 30 p.c. mean age 26±5 years) were prospectively enrolled. Blood samples for measurements of MPV, COHb and lactate were taken at baseline and after spending one an hour in a smoking room.

The blood levels of all three parameters were statistically higher after subjects were exposed to passive smoking. COHb increased from 0.8±0.3 p.c. at baseline to 1.2±0.4 p.c. after one hour in a smoking room (p=0.001). Lactate increased from 0.70±0.2mmol/L to 2.2±0.9mmol/L (p=0.001). MPV increased from 7.8±0.4 femtolitres (fL) to 8.5±0.6fL (p= 0.001). Dr Kaya said: “These results show that passive smoking increases platelet activation and increases CO and lactate levels in the blood.”

The researchers found significant correlations between MPV and COHb levels (r= 0.55, p=0.0001) and between MPV and lactate levels (r= 0.65, p=0.0001) after smoking. There was also a remarkable relation between COHb and lactate levels after smoking (r= 0.78, p=0.0001). Dr Kaya said: “Previous studies have suggested that the chemicals in cigarette smoke, especially nicotine and CO, increase platelet-activating factor.

The correlations found in our study suggest that the CO in cigarette smoke also increases MPV levels. It is likely that lactate levels increased because oxygen levels in the blood dropped as CO increased.”

He concluded: “We have shown that 1 hour exposure to passive smoking increases platelet activation, which could be the mechanism by which it contributes to increased risk of thrombotic events in healthy people.

It is likely that prolonged exposure to passive smoking could have even greater effects. Healthy people should avoid exposure to passive smoking so that they do not increase their risk of thrombotic events.”

- MNT


Parents can help children achieve a healthier lifestyle

Reducing television viewing may be an effective strategy to prevent excess weight gain among adolescents, according to a new study released in the September/October 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour.

Findings were based on a one-year community-based randomized trial that enrolled 153 adults and 72 adolescents from the same households. During that year, researchers from the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Center conducted six face-to-face group meetings,sent monthly newsletters, and set-up 12 home-based activities. In addition, each household agreed to allow researchers to attach a “TV Allowance” to all televisions in the household for the one-year study period. Television viewing hours, diet, and physical activity levels were measured before and after the intervention.A clear association was observed among adolescents between reduction in TV hours and decreased weight gain over one year. The TV hours’ impact on weight gain was not significant for adults. These findings suggest that television viewing is a risk for excess weight gain among adolescents. The implication is that parents who limit their adolescents’ television viewing may help their adolescent maintain a healthy body weight.

According to national survey data [NHANES] 2003-2006, about 31 p.c. of US children and adolescents are overweight or obese, therefore finding the causes for weight gain in this population is growing increasingly important.

According to Simone A. French, PhD, principal investigator of this study and the Director of the University of Minnesota's Obesity Prevention Centre, “We tried to intervene on behaviors that are related to energy balance, such as television viewing, sugar-sweetened beverage intake, physical activity, and consumption of packaged convenience foods. Although the individual contribution of each of these behaviors to excess weight gain and obesity may be small, it is important to examine their possible role individually and together in promoting excess weight gain. Associations between these behaviors and risk for excess weight gain may differ among adults and adolescents because of their different physical and social developmental stages.”

“This study is an important piece of evidence that reducing TV hours is a powerful weight gain prevention strategy parents can use to help prevent excess weight gain among their children by changing the home environment and household television viewing norms.”

- MNT

 

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