According to Barbara Oakley, author of A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), downtime during the day helps your brain process more information and work more effectively. While focused attention is crucial to absorbing new information or completing an important task, it’s just as important to cease focusing entirely, in something Oakley terms a “diffuse mode.”
Diffuse mode allows the brain to process the new information and solve complex problems in a way that we simply cannot do while focusing. Oakley draws upon the example of Charles Dickens, who worked from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., then took a long walk. She argues that this habit may have helped propel the novelist’s success. This kind of downtime allows your brain to process information on a subconscious level, resulting in insights and solutions in an almost effortless way.
According to a report published in the online edition of the journal Pediatrics, childhood mental health disabilities have greatly increased over the last half century. In just 10 years, the rate of neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions increased by 21%. Amy J. Houtrow, one of the study’s authors, argues that environmental factors and stress likely play a role in the increase. Interestingly, the rate of disability increased the most among children in more affluent families, who saw a 28% increase in mental health disabilities. She also points out that parents in higher economic groups are more likely to seek help for mental health challenges, so the higher numbers might be due to more accurate reporting from that demographic.
In 2011, actress Demi Lovato revealed her struggles with bipolar, anorexia, and bulimia. Through a partnership with the Mental Health Listening and Engagement Tour, for which she will be a featured speaker, she has released a mental health advocacy video addressing her experience with bipolar. In the video, Lovato says “Our society tends to shame or ignore those with mental illness, and I want to change that . . . If you or someone you care about could use help, reach out for support. Asking for help when you’re struggling is a sign of strength.”
Position Report, an app designed to help military veterans who need mental health help, is already available for iPhone users. The app’s developers are now attempting to raise $500,000 to develop an Android version of the program. According to the Veterans Administration, about 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans struggle with posttraumatic stress, and suicide is a common tragedy among veterans.
For impoverished people with mental health issues, jail cells often substitute for mental health care. Across the country, mental health advocates have raised concerns about insufficient mental health training for police officers. But in San Antonio, Texas, police officers endeavor to help—rather than arrest—people struggling with mental health challenges. The city has overhauled its mental health system, and police play a role in helping people with mental health challenges seek treatment, rather than putting them in jail. The city’s mental health squad is staffed by six officers trained to help people struggling with mental health difficulties. The end result is a jail system that is under capacity. The program has helped the city save $50 million in just two years.
Switzerland has more permissive laws on assisted suicide than most countries, and a study has found that this may attract people seeking assisted suicide. According to the study, 611 people from 31 different countries have undergone assisted suicide in Switzerland since 2009, and the number of people seeking help with suicide has steadily increased. Twenty-one people who committed assisted suicide in Switzerland were from the United States.
A study that examined the brains of 26 deceased children with autism—all of whom died from causes other than autism—has found that children with the condition may have extra synapses in their brains, affecting the ways their brains function. Extra synapses are typically “pruned” during development, and the study’s authors believe that drug treatment could eventually help reduce the number of synapses in the brains of children with autism.
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