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Daily Cup of Wellness

5832109513_0053e2083d_bEveryone has heard that the tragic end to a relationship can break your heart, but a recent study in Europe has suggested that loneliness can stop your heart. According to a team of Danish researchers, people who are lonely have twice the mortality risk as those who have strong social support systems. The study also revealed that lonely people are not just at risk for physical ailments. People who feel lonely are three times more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression and generally have a lower quality of life. This is perhaps unsurprising given that isolation is a large risk factor for mental illnesses such as depression, but the link between a heightened risk of death from cardiovascular disease and loneliness is new.

The study was presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual nursing conference, EuroHeart 2018. The research dealt with data gathered from more than 13,400 patients who suffered from ischaemic heart disease, arrhythmia, heart failure or heart valve disease as well as responses to survey questions about a person’s social support. The survey was given to the patients of five heart centers in Denmark between April 2013 and April 2014. The survey asked participants about their physical and mental health. It also inquired about the patients’ levels of social support. Participants were asked questions such as, “Do you have someone to talk to when you need it?” and “Do you feel alone sometimes even though you want to be with someone?”

The results of the data support what had been seen in similar studies done in the past. “Previous research has shown that loneliness and social isolation are linked with coronary heart disease and stroke, but this has not been investigated in patients with different types of cardiovascular disease,” said Anne Vinggaard Christensen, a PhD student at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark and the lead author of the study.

The study is timely as loneliness has been described as an “epidemic” across multiple countries on several continents and as suicide rates climb across the developed world. “Loneliness is more common today than ever before, and more people live alone,” Christensen said. “[And] loneliness is a strong predictor of premature death, worse mental health, and lower quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease, and a much stronger predictor than living alone, in both men and women.”

Sadly, there is no hard and fast cure for this epidemic, but other research has shown that decreasing the time spent on written communication such as social media and texting and increasing the amount of time a person spends engaging in face to face encounters can help somewhat. What this means then for an increasingly digital world is unclear. Will loneliness be the epidemic that outsmarts modern medicine or is there a revival in authentic connection on the horizon?

jesus-3149505_640Religious adherents have long touted the many benefits of living a faithful life to the derision of many of those who are not religious. Recently, however, science has come down on the side of the faithful. A recent study done by Ohio State University found that religious people tend to live an average of four years longer than their non-religious counterparts. The study was based on thousands of obituaries from across the United States.

The researchers believe that the reason for the increased longevity is the healthy practices that often come with religious affiliation. People who volunteer, engage in social activities and otherwise form strong bonds in their communities are more likely to live longer lives. Religious people are far more likely to take part in such activities than non-religious people. Faithful religious adherents are also far less likely to drink large quantities of alcohol, smoke or do drugs than non-religious people. Avoiding such things automatically increases a religious person’s expected lifespan. Faithful religious practitioners are also more likely to take part in stress reduction practices such as meditation, gratitude and prayer.

These healthy practices, however, are not enough to necessarily explain why religious practitioners live up to nine and a half years longer than their non-religious counterparts. “There’s still a lot of the benefit of religious affiliation that this can’t explain,” said Laura Wallace, the lead author of the study.

While the study clearly supports the idea that religion is good for a person’s longevity, there was also good news for non-religious people who live in highly religious communities. In some communities, the study found that the “positive health effects of religion spill over to the non-religious in some specific situations.”

The Ohio State University study admitted that it had some limitations, such as the small sample size and the inability to control for factors such as race and lifestyle, but the study is hardly the first time that religious adherence has been connected to a longer life. Nonetheless, it offers a good reason to head to worship services or hit the ground in prayer even on those days when it is hard to get out of bed.

astrology-1244728_960_720TV doctors are known for issuing some interesting advice, but Dr. Oz’s latest has earned him quite a bit of ridicule. Dr. Oz tweeted that astrological signs “may reveal a great deal about [a person’s] health.” He included a link to a slideshow that claimed that Aries were more likely to suffer from migraines and Leos were more prone to upper back pain. Twitter, unsurprisingly, raked Dr. Oz over the coals for the tweet.

Astrology has become increasingly popular in recent years, but there is no clear link between a person’s physical health and the position of “their” stars. Health issues stem from a variety of causes including genetics, diet, environment, a person’s level of activity and their job. An office worker, for instance, is much more likely to deal with carpal tunnel syndrome after typing all day every day for years, and a construction worker is more likely to be at risk for throwing out their back if they lift heavy materials often. People who work with chemicals are more prone to respiratory infections while those who work outside have a greater risk of being sunburned and developing skin cancer. None of this, however, is dependent on the stars.

The one way that astrology could affect a person’s health would be through a variant of the placebo effect. The placebo effect is, essentially, when a person tricks themselves into believing that a useless medication is actually managing their symptoms. It is the ultimate case of mind over matter and plays a valuable role in medical research. When new drugs are tested using a placebo group, one group of volunteers is often given a placebo pill but told they have been given the actual medication. The placebo pill does absolutely nothing but mimics the appearance and taste of the actual medication. If the placebo group is “cured,” then there is the possibility that any effects of the actual drug are purely mental as well. If the placebo group shows no change, but the group with the actual medication recovers, then any change can be attributed to the chemical make-up of the drug. Astrology could potentially produce a similar effect. A person who is supposed to have a good day, might end up having a good day regardless of their actual condition. Mind over matter. The reverse, however, could also take place. Someone who is completely healthy might convince themselves that they have a headache because they are “supposed to” based on their horoscope.

Essentially, astrology has no real effect on a person’s health. They may think that it does and so it may have psychosomatic effects. When it comes down to it, however, those distant planets are not responsible for whether or not a person will develop a headache during their morning commute. That blame rests squarely on the shouting couple sitting across the train.

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Several news organizations have recently created a new rule that they refuse to show the faces of mass shooters during their media coverage. Their reasoning, they say, is so that the shooter is not glorified or created to be a spectacle.

With the influx of celebrity suicides this week, there has been an discussion if the current environment of media coverage is doing something similar in glorifying the act. It has also sparked discussion about whether more could be done to prevent copycat killings, without neglecting the duty to report news.

Several outlets have publicized the 1-800-273-8255 suicide prevention hotline this week. New organizations like People and Entertainment Weekly magazines are using it on their covers as well. Operators say the hotline has received the largest volume of calls in its history following the celebrity deaths.

However, outlets have also been covering the details of recent suicides in great detail. Two celebrities committed suicide this week. This Tuesday, fashion designer Kate Spade took her own life, and on Friday, chef Anthony Bourdain did the same. In the aftermath of Spade’s death, the details of her suicide note were released. Some of the media coverage even included photos of Spade’s body being rolled away on a stretcher. To some, it really was created into a spectacle.

Alia E. Dastagir with USA Today was concerned because such a spectacle can be life-threatening to people who are already considering suicide. To these people, “the rehashing of [the] details [of a suicide] can mean the difference between life and death” because it could encourage them to commit suicide themselves.

This phenomenon is called “suicide contagion,” and it’s happened before, for example in the wake of actor Robin Williams’ suicide. Dastagir reports that suicides rose almost 10 percent following his death, and suicides involving his specific method of killing himself went up over 30 percent.

If nothing else, stats like this tell us that the media need to be careful when it comes to suicide stories. Rather than treating these sad events as juicy stories, news services should see them as opportunities to spread awareness of the reality of suicide and the ways to help prevent it.

John Daniszewski, vice president and editor at large for standards at The Associated Press, said: “Our responsibility is to keep people informed, but in a way that doesn’t lead others to consider suicide.”

Withholding sensitive information is not unprecedented, as with may outlets who do not release the names of sexual assault victims and show pictures of graphic violence. Doing so results in still having solid coverage of the topic, without potential hazardous consequences. We should never treat stories like Spade’s as entertainment. In this hopeless world, we should be ready to share the reason for the hope that we have, not to balk at the hopelessness.

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Last year, Netflix captivated viewers with it’s series 13 Reasons Why. It followed a heart-wrenching story of Hannah Baker, who retraces the steps leading up to her suicide and letting her classmates know how much they caused it. The show tackled the sensitive issues of suicide in a transparent and sometimes gruesome way.

While many fans were incredibly thrilled with the series, it came with a lot of controversy. Within days of the series release the show was loudly criticized by suicide-prevention experts who feared a suicide-contagion effect or copycat attempts.

Further uproar about the show has increased recently, due to the American Family Association, a conservative Christian organization, asking the video streaming giant to pull the series. They began a petition which has over 55,000 signatures. The second season of the show is rumored to be streaming soon.

“This is not a partisan issue, not a conservative issue, but an issue of what we’re putting in front of our teens,” said Walker Wildmon, assistant to AFA President Tim Wildmon, his father.

“Fourteen-year-old Anna Bright from Alabaster, Alabama, killed herself April 18, 2017, after binge-watching the … series,” according to an American Family Association letter to Netflix CEO Reid Hastings sent late last month.

Bright wasn’t the only teen to commit suicide after watching the show. The AFA letter continues by saying “Bella Herndon and Priscilla Chiu, both 15-year-olds from California, also took their own lives just days after watching Hannah Baker kill herself.”

Wildmon later stated the the campaign to stop the series was an informal effort but wanted to do it to create awareness. He said the series is “a very dark show, but it’s dark towards our teenagers. It targets them, it’s very dark, it glorifies suicide. We’re trying to inform adults you need to keep an eye on what your kids are watching.”

Bright’s family has also spoken out against the show, and have been working with the AFA.

“To portray suicide first of all as an option is not a good thing,” Mother Patrice Bright said in the video that the AFA released. “To portray it graphically where you can actually see and get that image in your head, it leaves you vulnerable to the enemy’s attack, which I think it definitely did for our daughter.”

Anna’s dad, a former pastor, revealed that despite being raised in a God-centered house, she could not escape the dark battle inside her.

Netflix didn’t respond to the AFA, however has spoken out about the show in the past. Previously, the company said it would add cautionary messages and post-show resources for viewers.

One of the show’s editors and writers, Nic Sheff, defended the straightforward way the show depicts suicide. Once suicidal himself, Sheff said he survived because he heard a graphic story of suicide that repelled him. He wrote in Vanity Fair last year: “Facing these issues head-on — talking about them, being open about them —will always be our best defense against losing another life.”

Without doubt, for some viewers the show can be very troubling. The target audience of the show is mainly teenagers, and those who relate to Hannah could certainly choose to handle their own situations the same way the fictional character handles hers. This can make the show risky to watch.

The question is if the series does it’s due diligence to keep that risk to a minimum. However there is not good answer to that, because there is no correct way to tackle such a heavy issue. Until then, parents need to be aware of what their teens are watching and create open dialog about their mental health.

“If you are struggling with these issues yourself,” Alisha Boe who plays Jessica Davis said, “this series may not be right for you, or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult.”