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A study that showed changes in the brain in those at risk of developing bipolar disorder raises new hope about early intervention.

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A study that showed changes in the brain in those at risk of developing bipolar disorder raises new hope about early intervention.

A brain imaging study of young people at high risk of developing bipolar disorder has for the first time found evidence of weakening connections between key areas of the brain in late adolescence.
Up until now, medical researchers knew that bipolar disorder was associated with reduced communication between brain networks that are involved with emotional processing and thinking, but how these networks developed prior to the condition was a mystery.
Today in a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers from UNSW Sydney, the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), the University of Newcastle and international institutions showed evidence of these networks diminishing over time in young adults at high genetic risk of developing bipolar disorder – which has important implications for future intervention strategies.
The researchers used diffusion-weighted magnetic imaging (dMRI) technology to scan the brains of 183 individuals over a two-year period. They examined the progressive changes in the brain scans of people with high genetic risk of developing the condition over a two year period, before comparing them with a control group of people with no risk.
People with a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder are considered high genetic risk, and are 10 times more likely to develop the condition than people without the close family link. In the brain image scans of 97 people with high genetic risk of bipolar disorder, the researchers noted a decrease in connectivity between regions of the brain devoted to emotion processing and cognition between the two scans during the two years between scans.
But in the control group of 86 people with no family history of mental illness, they observed the opposite: strengthening in the neural connections between these same regions, when the adolescent brain matures to become more adept at the cognitive and emotional reasoning required in adulthood.
Scientia Professor Philip Mitchell AM, a practising academic psychiatrist with UNSW Medicine & Health, says the findings raise new ideas about treatment and intervention in bipolar disorder developing in young people with a higher risk.
“Our study really helps us understand the pathway for people at risk of bipolar,” he says.
“We now have a much clearer idea of what’s happening in the brains of young people as they grow up.”
Prof. Mitchell says that being a clinician as well as a researcher, he sees first-hand how young people can have their lives suddenly turned upside down when they experience their first manic episode.
“We see a lot of bright, capable kids really enjoying life and then bipolar disorder can be a huge impediment to what they want to achieve.
“With our new knowledge about what actually happens in the brain as at-risk teenagers approach adulthood, we have the opportunity to develop new intervention strategies to either stop the condition in its tracks, or reduce the impact of the illness.”

Mental image
Professor Michael Breakspear, who led the team at HMRI and the University of Newcastle that carried out the analysis of the dMRI scans, says the study illustrates how advances in technology can potentially bring about life-changing improvements to the way that mental illnesses can be treated.
“The relatives of people with bipolar disorder – especially the siblings and children – often ask about their own future risk, and this is a question of high personal concern,” he says.
“It’s also an issue for their doctors, as the presence of bipolar disorder has important medication implications.
“This study is an important step in having imaging and genetic tests we can perform to help identify those likely to develop bipolar disorder, before they develop disabling and stressing symptoms of the disorder. This would bring psychiatry closer to other branches of medicine where screening tests are part of standard care.”
The researchers stress that more research is needed before changes are made to current modes of treatment. It also would not be practical, nor cheap, for all people with a genetic risk of developing bipolar disorder to have brain scans to see if the brain is showing signs of weakened connections.
“The significant finding of our study is that there is progressive change in the brains of young people with risk of bipolar which suggests how important intervention strategies might be,” says Prof. Mitchell.
“If we can get in early, whether that’s training in psychological resilience, or maybe medications, then we may be able to prevent this progression towards major changes in the brain.”
Dr. Gloria Roberts, a postdoctoral researcher working primarily on the project since 2008 with UNSW Medicine & Health, has seen how new onsets of mental illness in youth at risk of developing bipolar disorder can significantly impact psychosocial functioning and quality of life.
“By advancing our understanding of the neurobiology of risk as well as resilience in these high-risk individuals we have the opportunity to intervene and improve the quality of life in individuals who are most at-risk.”
As a result of the new findings, the researchers are planning to do a third follow-up scan of participants in the study. They are also in the early stages of developing online programs that assist in the development of resilience while providing young people with skills in managing anxiety and depression, which they hope will reduce their chances of developing bipolar disorder.

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Health Insurance Premiums Skyrocket, Some by 15% or More: CHOICE

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Health Insurance Premiums Skyrocket, Some by 15% or More: CHOICE

 

Should You Consider Self-Insurance? Plus Other Tips to Save!

Consumer group CHOICE has found that many Australians faced significant increases in their health insurance premiums in April, with some premiums rising as much as 17%—far higher than the annual average industry-wide price increase of 3.03%.

“CHOICE reviewed the prices of over 24,000 policies with hospital cover and found Gold policies had the highest premium increases, with average increases above 10% for HBF, HCF, HIF, and Australian Unity policies. One Gold policy in Western Australia even saw a 17% hike,” said CHOICE health insurance expert Jodi Bird.

“With these sky-high increases, it’s worth taking the time to review your health insurance to ensure you’re only paying for what you need, and that you’re getting it at the best possible price,” Bird added.

CHOICE’s Top Tips for Saving on Your Health Insurance

  1. Drop Gold Hospital Insurance

“Gold hospital cover has become too expensive. If you have a specific condition usually covered by Gold policies and want to use the private hospital system, look for a Silver Plus policy or consider self-insurance.”

Self-insurance is an alternative to private health insurance. Instead of paying an insurer, you save money yourself to cover private health costs as they arise. If you don’t need any health treatment, your savings will grow.

“We have found that in some cases, opting to self-fund your health care can be the better-value option,” Bird explained.

For example, cataract surgery, one of the most common surgical procedures in Australia, is often only covered by the most expensive Gold policies. CHOICE’s analysis showed that the annual cost of top-cover health insurance could exceed the out-of-pocket cost for a private cataract procedure.

“This option may only be suitable for people who have few health issues and do not anticipate any unexpected health events. And of course, you need to ensure you have the money set aside in case you require a surgical procedure or treatment in the private system,” Bird advised.

  1. Compare Policies to Find a Good Deal

“We always recommend comparing policies to find the best value policy to suit your needs. The same cover with a different insurer may save you hundreds of dollars a year. Look beyond the well-known big funds and consider smaller funds; switching to a smaller fund often provides a cheaper deal,” said Bird.

“If you’re unsure where to start, CHOICE has an independent health insurance comparison tool that allows you to compare thousands of policies from over 40 insurers,” Bird suggested.

  1. Do You Need Extras Insurance?

“The value of extras insurance really depends on the individual. It can be worth purchasing, but only if you use it enough that it pays out more than the premiums that are coming out of your pocket,” Bird noted.

“If you need extras insurance, shop around and buy your extras from a different provider than your standard hospital cover if you find a better deal,” Bird recommended.

Compare health insurance policies here: CHOICE Health Insurance Comparison Tool

 

For more health news, click here.

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NSW Seniors Urged to Book Free Flu Vaccine Amid Rising Respiratory Illnesses

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NSW Seniors Urged to Book Free Flu Vaccine Amid Rising Respiratory Illnesses

 

People aged 65 and over are being strongly urged to book their free influenza vaccine as respiratory illnesses continue to rise across NSW.

The latest NSW Health Respiratory Surveillance Report, released today, indicates a rapid increase in influenza activity in NSW, with COVID-19 transmission also reaching high levels.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant reported a 27% increase in influenza notifications and a 23% increase in COVID-19 notifications for the week ending 25 May compared to the previous week.

“While everyone aged six months and over is urged to get their influenza vaccine as soon as possible, it is particularly important for those at higher risk of severe illness from the virus,” Dr. Chant said.

“Influenza immunisation rates aren’t where they need to be. Less than half of people aged 65 and over in NSW have received their influenza vaccine this year. We really need to see that number go up, especially as people in this age group are among those most at risk of severe illness.

“We expect the number of influenza cases to quickly increase in the weeks ahead, so now is the time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so.”

The influenza vaccine is free and readily available for those at higher risk of severe illness from influenza. It is available through GPs for any age group and through pharmacies for everyone aged five years and over.

Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) Infectious Diseases Paediatrician Dr. Phil Britton noted that influenza notifications are increasing across all age groups, particularly among young children aged three to four years.

“In recent weeks, we have seen influenza cases rising among young children. The best thing parents can do to keep their kids well this winter, and reduce the risk of them being hospitalised due to influenza, is to ensure their children receive a flu vaccine,” Dr. Britton said.

Free Flu Vaccination Eligibility:

  • People aged 65 and over
  • Children aged six months to under five years
  • Aboriginal people from six months of age
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, severe asthma, kidney, heart, and lung disease

Steps to Protect Yourself and Others from Respiratory Viruses:

  • Stay up to date with recommended influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Stay home if you are sick and wear a mask if you need to leave home
  • Gather outdoors or in large, well-ventilated spaces with open doors and windows
  • Avoid crowded spaces
  • Consider doing a rapid antigen test (RAT) before visiting people at higher risk of severe illness
  • Talk with your doctor now if you are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or influenza to make a plan about what to do if you get sick, including what test to take, and discussing if you are eligible for antiviral medicines
  • Don’t visit people who are at higher risk of severe illness if you are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19 or influenza
  • Practice good hand hygiene, including regular hand washing

For more information and to book your vaccination, visit your local GP or pharmacy.

 

For more seniors news, click here.

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Mental Health Service Boost in Coffs Harbour with Opening of Medicare Mental Health Centre

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Mental Health Service Boost in Coffs Harbour with Opening of Medicare Mental Health Centre

 

Communities in and around Coffs Harbour will soon benefit from increased mental health support with the opening of a Medicare Mental Health Centre in late June. Healthy North Coast, which delivers the North Coast Primary Health Network program on behalf of the Australian Government, announced today the selection of local not-for-profit organisation Open Minds as the service provider for the new centre.

Monika Wheeler, CEO of Healthy North Coast, emphasised the importance of accessible mental health services. “It is estimated that 43% of Australians will experience mental health distress at some point in their lives. It is vitally important we have a range of mental health services that are easily accessed in times of need,” she stated.

The new centre will offer free, walk-in mental health services with no appointments or referrals necessary. This model is designed to provide immediate and tailored support to individuals in need. Wheeler highlighted the success of a similar initiative: “Our Lismore Centre, also run by Open Minds, opened in 2022 and has delivered over 9,000 sessions and supported more than 1,000 people. We’re confident that the Coffs Harbour Centre will be a welcome addition for residents looking for a tailored experience and connection to the right support for them and their circumstances, which are different for everyone.”

Rik Barker, General Manager of Integrated Mental Health Services (NSW) at Open Minds, welcomed the announcement. “We look forward to opening the doors in Coffs and delivering a quality mental health service, improving the wellbeing of people on the Mid North Coast,” he said.

Key Features of the New Centre

  • Staffing: The centre will be staffed by mental health and allied health professionals available to visitors based on their level of need. There will also be a Social and Emotional Wellbeing Worker for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, in partnership with Galambila Aboriginal Health Service.
  • Location and Hours: The centre will be co-located with the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre in Block B of the Community Village, 22 Earl Street, Coffs Harbour. Initial hours of operation will be 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday, with provisions for targeted/appointment-based services for up to four hours on Saturdays.
  • Accessibility: Residents can visit the centre without prior appointments, and services are free of charge.

Wheeler explained the community’s enthusiastic response to the new centre, noting its welcoming space and easy accessibility. She also encouraged those unable to visit in person to utilize the free Head to Health service by calling 1800 595 212 for phone-based support.

Additional Information

  • Crisis Services: The Medicare Mental Health Centres are not intended for crisis or emergency services. For urgent support, individuals should contact Lifeline at 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Access Line at 1800 011 511. For immediate help or if at risk of harm, calling 000 is advised.

For more information and updates, visit here.

 

For more Coffs Harbour news, click here.

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