While U.S. veterans are already eligible for emergency suicidal crisis care, starting Tuesday they can get it for free. Care available at any VA facility or any private facility will include up to 30 days of inpatient or crisis residential care, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs announced Friday. It will also include up to 90 days of follow-up outpatient care and ambulance rides to hospitals. The veterans will not need to be enrolled in the VA system. “Veterans in suicidal crisis can now receive the free, world-class emergency health care they deserve — no matter where they need it, when they need it or whether they’re enrolled in VA care,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in an agency news release. “This expansion of care will save veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that.” The change will affect more than 18 million veterans, about twice as many as are enrolled in VA medical care, NBC News reported. This change was required by the Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care, and Treatment (COMPACT) Act of 2020. “I am thrilled by Secretary McDonough’s announcement,” Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., former chair and now ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told NBC News. “This new benefit removes cost from the equation when veterans are at imminent risk of self-harm and allows them to access lifesaving…  read on >  read on >

Military service members who conceal their suicidal thoughts are also more likely to store their guns unsafely, a new study reveals. “These findings highlight a real problem with our suicide prevention system,” said Michael Anestis, lead author of the study and executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “We know that firearms account for the large majority of suicide deaths within the military and that unsecured firearms at home dramatically increase the risk for suicide,” Anestis said in a Rutgers news release. “Here, we found that suicidal service members less likely to be seen as high risk — those that hide their thoughts from others and avoid behavioral health care — tend to be the service members with the most ready access to their firearms,” he added. For the study, the researchers surveyed more than 700 gun-owning service members. These included active-duty service members throughout all military branches and those in the National Guard and Reserves. The investigators focused on 180 service members who had experienced suicidal thoughts within the past year and another group of 85 service members who had experienced suicidal thoughts in the past month. Surveys asked whether they had ever told anyone about their suicidal thoughts, if they had attended any behavioral health sessions within the past three months and the specific…  read on >  read on >

A short but intensive approach to “talk therapy” can help many combat veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new clinical trial has found. The study tested “compressed” formats of a standard PTSD treatment called prolonged exposure therapy, in which patients learn to gradually face the trauma-related memories they normally avoid. Traditionally, that has meant therapy once a week, over the course of a few months. But while prolonged exposure therapy is often effective for PTSD, there is room for improvement, according to Alan Peterson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. In general, he said, prolonged exposure (PE) therapy does not work as well for combat veterans as it does for civilians with PTSD. In an earlier trial, Peterson and his colleagues found that about 60% of combat vets still met the criteria for PTSD six months after therapy. So for the new trial, his team tested the effects of two compressed PE formats, where vets attended therapy every weekday for three weeks. It’s a concept that some PTSD programs have been offering in recent years. The general idea, Peterson explained, is that the short time window will help more patients stick with therapy. And the intensity of daily sessions, with patients devoting their time and energy toward getting better, might also boost effectiveness, he suggested.…  read on >  read on >

Ransomware attacks on America’s health care systems have more than doubled in recent years, disrupting needed medical care and exposing the personal information of millions, a new study reports. These attacks — in which computer systems are locked down by hackers until the victim agrees to pay a ransom — hit all levels of health care, from your doctor’s or dentist’s office up to the largest hospitals and surgical centers, according to the new findings. The annual number of ransomware attacks against health care leapt to 91 reported cases in 2021 from 43 in 2016, the researchers found. These attacks exposed the personal health information of nearly 42 million patients, caused ambulances to be diverted in critical situations, and forced delays or cancellations of scheduled care. “It does seem like ransomware actors have recognized that health care is a sector that has a lot of money and they’re willing to pay up to try to resume health care delivery, so it seems to be an area that they’re targeting more and more,” said lead researcher Hannah Neprash, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. For this study, Neprash and her colleagues created a database that tracks health care ransomware events. The database combines information from federal regulators and a private cybersecurity threat intelligence company. “We…  read on >  read on >

Researchers studying dry eye disease in mice have found that the condition can alter how the cornea heals itself. They have also identified potential treatments. “We have drugs, but they only work well in about 10% to 15% of patients,” said senior researcher Dr. Rajendra Apte, a professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “In this study involving genes that are key to eye health, we identified potential targets for treatment that appear different in dry eyes than in healthy eyes.” Tens of millions of people around the world, including 15 million in the United States, have eye pain and blurred vision as a result of complications and injury associated with dry eye disease, Apte said in a university news release. “By targeting these proteins, we may be able to more successfully treat or even prevent those injuries,” he said. In dry eye disease, the eye can’t provide adequate lubrication with natural tears. Various types of drops can help replace those, but when the eyes are dry, the cornea is more susceptible to injury. The researchers found that proteins made by stem cells that regenerate the cornea may be new targets for treating and preventing such injuries. To study this, the investigators analyzed genes expressed by the cornea in several mouse models. They looked at dry eye disease, diabetes and other conditions.…  read on >  read on >

Social media’s impact on young people is a hot topic, with most kids and teens wanting to do whatever their friends are doing and parents worrying about setting limits. A new study examines whether frequent checking of social media sites (Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat) is associated with changes in functional brain development in these early adolescents, about age 12. Using brain scans called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that habitually refreshing and checking social media may be associated with changes in brain sensitivity to social rewards and punishments — those online likes and engagement from others. “We know that adolescence is one of the most important periods for brain development — it’s going through more changes in reorganization second only to that we see in early infancy,” said study author Eva Telzer, who is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. “It’s a really dramatic period of brain development, in particular in these brain regions that respond to social rewards.” Social rewards aren’t limited to social media sites. They can be positive face-to-face feedback from peers or even receiving money. But those Facebook likes are social rewards, too. Other research has found that some adolescents are on their cellphones almost constantly, checking their social media at least hourly. For the three-year study, Telzer’s team recruited…  read on >  read on >

Swedish researchers studying anger say it appears there is a pent-up need for anger management and that an internet-based treatment can work. Scientists from the Centre for Psychiatry Research at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, had to close its recruitment site after a few weeks because there was so much demand for help with anger issues. “It is usually very difficult to recruit participants for treatment studies. For the anger study, however, it was very easy,” said Johan Bjureberg, an assistant professor at the center. The study included 234 participants, all of whom had significant anger problems. The participants were each randomly assigned to four weeks of either mindful emotion awareness, cognitive reappraisal or a combination of these two strategies, delivered online. “Many people who have problems with anger feel ashamed, and we think the internet format suits this group particularly well because they don’t have to wait in a reception room or sit face-to-face with a therapist and talk about their anger,” Bjureberg said in an institute news release. Mindful emotion awareness is focused on the ability to notice and accept one’s feelings and thoughts without any judgment and without acting on them. Cognitive reappraisal involves focusing on the ability to reinterpret thoughts and situations and identify alternative thoughts that don’t trigger difficult feelings. Combination therapy was most effective, though all options were…  read on >  read on >

Preteens who spend much of their free time watching online videos or playing video games may have a heightened risk of developing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a new study suggests. Researchers found that among 9,200 9- and 10-year-olds they assessed, the odds of developing OCD inched up with every daily hour kids devoted to online videos (such as on YouTube) or video gaming. That doesn’t mean kids are perfectly fine until they start browsing the video website. Experts said it’s possible that those on a trajectory toward OCD start to compulsively watch videos or become “addicted” to gaming. “It’s hard to tease apart the chicken-and-egg question,” said lead researcher Dr. Jason Nagata, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. In fact, he added, it’s likely there’s a “bi-directional relationship.” That is, compulsive kids may be drawn to play video games again and again, or watch online videos, where algorithms that feed them a continuous supply of additional videos can pull them down a rabbit hole. All of that, in turn, may worsen their compulsiveness. The bottom line, Nagata said, is that parents would be wise — for a number of reasons — to keep an eye on their kids’ screen time. OCD is a chronic disorder in which people have uncontrollable, recurring thoughts that spur behaviors they need to repeat…  read on >  read on >

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario for many parents: Your preschooler starts to act up just as the phone rings or you start dinner. Maybe you hand over an iPad or smartphone to soothe the child so you can get down to business. And this probably does the trick. But if this is your go-to strategy, your child may be at risk for developing longer-term behavioral issues — especially boys and kids already hard-wired to be hyperactive or impulsive. “If a child is upset and has big emotions and you hand over a smartphone or tablet to distract them, it may keep the peace in the moment, but if this is the main way you soothe your child, it will be a setback in the long run,” said study author Dr. Jenny Radesky. She is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at the University of Michigan Health Children’s Hospital, in Ann Arbor. Instead, kids need to learn how to identify these emotions and develop self-soothing strategies, she said. “Kids who don’t build these skills in early childhood are more likely to struggle when stressed out in school or with peers as they get older,” Radesky added. For the study, the researchers looked at 422 kids and 422 parents, analyzing how often parents used screens to calm kids aged 3 to 5. Over a six-month period, the investigators charted kids’…  read on >  read on >

Before you toast the holiday season with too much alcohol, here’s a sobering thought. Folks who get injured severely enough while intoxicated to require hospital treatment are five times more likely to die in the coming year, according to new research published in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The same is true of folks with alcohol use disorders. “Injuries are one of the most immediate hazards of problematic drinking behavior,” said lead researcher Sidra Goldman-Mellor, an assistant professor of public health at the University of California, Merced. “In addition to getting injured from things like car accidents and falls, some people may get injured in fights or even engage in self-harm after they’ve been drinking,” she said in a journal news release. “However, we actually know very little about what happens to people with an alcohol use disorder after they’ve had a serious injury,” Goldman-Mellor said. “So, we wanted to investigate the most important outcome of all: How likely they were to die?” For the study, she and her colleagues looked at 10 million visits to emergency rooms between 2009 and 2012 by California residents ages 10 and older. Of those, more than 262,000 had an injury that wasn’t fatal initially and either had a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder or were intoxicated at the time. In all, close to 77% of the…  read on >  read on >