TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Ways Your Commute Is Hurting Your Health

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Long hours in transit can negatively affect your body and mind

The average American commute to work lasts 25 minutes, according to U.S. Census data, but many workers travel far above and beyond that number. In Los Angeles, drivers spend an average of 90 hours a year stuck in traffic alone, and employees in New York City spend an average of 48 minutes a day getting to their jobs, often switching trains or busses along the way.

Commuting is rarely anyone’s favorite time of day, but it can be more than just an inconvenience: All those hours spent in home-work limbo can have physical and mental health implications, as well. Here are five ways your car, train, or bus ride to the office can affect your well-being, plus what to do about it.

It may contribute to weight gain

A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that the farther Texas residents commuted every day, the more likely they were to be overweight. Unsurprisingly, the farthest commuters were also less likely to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. “It’s not so easy to move or change your job, so if you do have a long commute it’s important that you make a bigger effort to be active during the day,” says lead study author Christine Hoehner, PhD. “Take walking breaks, get up from your desk often, take the stairs, and make it a priority to exercise whenever you do have time.”

If you can, it might also be a good idea to try public transportation: men and women who drove to work weighed about 6.6 and 5.5 pounds more, respectively, than their peers who walked, cycled, or took trains or buses, a 2014 study in The BMJ found.

Read more: 20 Filling Foods That Help You Lose Weight

It’s a pain in the neck—literally

A third of people with commutes of more than 90 minutes say they deal with ongoing neck and back pain, according to a 2010 Gallup poll. While back pain is one of the most common health complaints, only one in four people who commute 10 minutes or less reported pain in the same poll.

The extra time spent sitting slumped forward in the driver’s seat or on the train could contribute to these issues, says Andrew Wolf, exercise physiologist at Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona. But making an effort to sit up straight—with a lumbar support behind your lower back, and your head evenly over your shoulders—can help you reverse bad habits. “It’s a lifestyle choice that requires that you think about it a bit every day,” he says. “Do enough of this and it will become automatic.”

Read more: 15 Exercises for People in Pain

It affects your mood

People who drove, carpooled, or took public transportation to work were less able to enjoy daily activities and had more trouble concentrating compared to walkers or cyclists in a 2014 study from the University of East Anglia. Interestingly, the researchers found that wellbeing scores decreased for car commuters as time spent behind the wheel increased. But for walkers, the opposite held true: Those who traveled farther to work on foot had better mental health scores.

If there’s no getting around public transportation for you, one thing you might try is talking to strangers. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, bus and train commuters reported more positive experiences when they connected with other riders than when they kept to themselves.

Read more: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

It stresses you out

People who commute by private car (no matter how long the trip)—or those whose trips lasted longer than 30 minutes by train, bus or on foot—had higher anxiety levels compared to people who made shorter trips, according to a 2014 report from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics.

Hoehner’s research also found that the longer people’s car commutes were, the more likely they were to have elevated blood pressure—even when she controlled for physical activity level. “That finding suggested that there’s something going on independent of the fact that people are less active, potentially something related to stress,” she says. (Other risk factors for hypertension, like lack of sleep, poor diet, and social isolation, could also play a role.)

“One way to combat this could be for employers to allow people to commute at different times of the day, so they’re not spending so much time in traffic,” Hoehner adds. Can’t switch up your schedule? Turn on a soothing playlist or practice slow, deep breathing when you feel yourself tensing up.

Read more: 12 Superfoods for Stress Relief

It exposes you to more pollution

In a 2007 study of Los Angeles residents, up to half of their exposure to harmful air pollution occurred while they traveled in their vehicles. Driving with the windows up, using recirculated air, and driving slower than 20 miles per hour can reduce exposure, say the study authors, but not as much as cutting back on driving time.

Cycling to work increases exposure to pollutants, as well, according to a 2010 Dutch study—but the same research also found that its health benefits of getting your heart rate up on your ride still outweigh its risks by at least nine times.

Read more: 15 Ways Exercise Makes You Look and Feel Younger

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: The Surprising Upside to America’s Worsening Traffic Jams

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Mental Health Therapy Through Social Networking Could Soon Be a Reality

While still in the development stage, the peer-to-peer technology had "significant benefits"

An experimental social networking platform intent on helping users calm anxiety and reverse symptoms of depression has received positive feedback.

Panoply is a peer-to-peer platform jointly administered by MIT and Northwestern universities that encourages users to “think more flexibly and objectively about the stressful events and thoughts that upset them,” says a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Researchers found that the network, which is still being studied and has yet to be commercialized, produced “significant benefits, particularly for depressed individuals.”

Panoply works by teaching users a therapeutic tool called cognitive reappraisal, which tries to get people to look at a problematic situation from different perspectives.

When a person is stressed, they write what is causing the problem and their reaction. The “crowd” then responds by a offering a contrasting outlook. Comments are vetted to ensure the original poster is not abused.

The study involved 166 people over a three-week period. Researchers suggested a 25-minute per week minimum interaction to see results.

According to the published paper, the next step is to widen the net and see if the social media platform is as effective over a more diverse audience.

TIME Depression

How Pilots Are Screened for Depression and Suicide

While it’s not clear exactly why Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into a French mountainside, the black box from the cockpit raises questions about whether mental health issues were involved, and how aviation officials identify and monitor the mental health of pilots.

Prosecutor Brice Robin said that the cockpit recordings suggest the lead pilot was locked out of the flight deck after leaving for the restroom, and that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz “voluntarily allowed the aircraft to lose altitude. He had no reason to do this. He had no reason to stop the captain coming back into the cockpit.” As investigators search for a second black box, experts are trying to piece together the reasons why Lubitz acted the way he did. His mental state remains a possible cause.

If the investigation reveals that mental health played a role, it wouldn’t be without precedent. In a 2014 study in the journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, researchers looked at 20 years of data for what they called “aircraft assisted suicide.” From 1993-2012, 24 of 7,244 plane crashes were thought to be deliberately caused by a pilot. That’s less than 1% of the total, but it’s still enough to raise questions about the mental health stressors of pilots.

“I really wish that we had some kind of deeper thinking about this issue, because it’s one of the most difficult in aviation medicine,” says Alpo Vuorio, MD, PhD, the study author and an aviation specialist in occupational medicine at the Mehiläinen Airport Health Centre in Finland. He screens pilots and cabin crew of commercial airlines for health issues—including mental health issues—and says he sees any given commercial pilot once a year for a short visit.

Commercial pilots have to pass a physical and mental evaluation every six months (for those over 40) or once a year (for those under 40) in order to be certified to fly a passenger plane. The emphasis, however, is on the physical and less on the mental, mainly because mental health is harder to quantify.

“You somehow try to see if the pilot is well, and it’s not the easiest thing,” Vuorio says. Pilots answer yes-or-no questions about their mental health, Vuorio says, like if they’ve ever tried to attempt suicide or visited a psychiatrist. “You speak yes or no, but it’s up to you, what you tell,” he says. Pilots can visit several different locations for these examinations, he says, and if they don’t occur in house, past data don’t appear on the screen.

And pilots aren’t likely to divulge any potential mental health problems, including signs of depression or anxiety, because that would take them out of the sky. “Pilots aren’t going to tell you anything, any more than a medical doctor would about their mental health,” says Scott Shappell, professor of the Human Factors Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University who is a former pilot and crash scene investigator.

Pilots, like doctors and policemen and others with high-stress jobs, tend to be good at compartmentalizing — walling off difficult or emotional experiences so they don’t interfere with their ability to function day-to-day. Medical examiners who evaluate pilots for their recertification also aren’t always trained in mental health, so they may not recognize subtle signs of conditions such as depression or alcoholism.

According to Dr. William Sledge, medical director of the Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital who has evaluated pilots for the Federal Aviation Administration, about 40% of pilots he saw were for alcohol related problems, and a third for depression or anxiety. Only about half of the latter group reported their problems themselves, however. The other half were referred to Sledge only after incidents required their superiors to intervene.

“The problem is there is no incentive” to report mental health issues, says Shappell. “They know that if they self report, the way the system is designed, it will be a black mark.”

In a statement, the FAA said: “Pilots must disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications or face significant fines of up to $250,000 if they are found to have falsified information.”

In the case of mental health evaluations, pilots are taken off the flight schedule while they are treated or begin antidepressant medications. Until 2010, even these drugs were banned, and pilots required them could no longer fly.

When the U.S. Air Force began requiring annual suicide prevention and awareness training in 1995, including screening for mental illness, the suicide rate plummeted from about 16 suicides per 100,000 members to about 9.

Even for experts, however, judging whether a pilot is suicidal is one of the hardest parts of the job. That’s no surprise, since the struggles of spotting and talking about suicide plague our entire society, says Barbara Van Dahlen, a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour, a network of volunteer therapists. “In our society we are so quick to try to make it ok, to say it will pass and to say suck it up,” she says. “We really don’t listen to ourselves and we don’t listen to others very effectively.”

But pilots and others in high-pressure occupations face several unique stressors, she says, like having a physically demanding job and being responsible for other lives. “In a lot of positions of authority and leadership, those people are supposed to be capable and on top of things,” she says. “They don’t have a lot of people to share with and talk to, to be less than perfect and less than OK. That adds to the stress.”

One study of suicides among general aviation pilots—civilians who aren’t leading scheduled commercial flights—published in the journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, looked at 21-years’ worth of general aviation accidents as reported by the National Transportation Safety Board between 1983-2003. During that time, 37 pilots either committed or attempted suicide by aircraft, and nearly all resulted in a fatality. 38% of the pilots had psychiatric problems, 40% of the suicides or attempts were linked to legal troubles, and almost half, 46%, were linked to domestic and social problems. 24% of the cases involved alcohol and 14% involved illicit drugs.

Having ready access to a plane also seemed to be a contributing factor, too; 24% of the crashed planes in the study were used illicitly.

Read next: German Pilots Cast Doubt on Blaming of Co-Pilot for Crash

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TIME Education

Education Does Not Make You a Happier Person

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A new study finds that the chance of happiness is the same, whether you went to college or not

There is no link between your education level and your personal happiness, says a new mental-health research study published by the British Journal of Psychiatry.

According to a press release, researchers from Warwick Medical School were inspired by the strong association between poor education and mental illness and wanted to investigate if the opposite was true: Does being educated lead to happiness?

The team discovered that the odds of happiness were equivalent throughout all levels of educational attainment.

“These findings are quite controversial because we expected to find the socioeconomic factors that are associated with mental illness would also be correlated with mental well being,” said Sarah Stewart-Brown, the lead author on the study. “But that is not the case.”

Researchers defined happiness as a state of high mental well-being in which people “feel good and function well.” They applied this to data from the Health Survey for England, which was administered to 17,030 people in 2010 and 2011.

Stewart-Brown said that her discovery means that socioeconomic factors may not be applicable to programs aimed at boosting mental well-being.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public-Health Issue

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Living alone is linked with increased chance of mortality

Loneliness kills. That’s the conclusion of a new study by Brigham Young University researchers who say they are sounding the alarm on what could be the next big public-health issue, on par with obesity and substance abuse.

The subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26%, according to the new study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Social isolation — or lacking social connection — and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by 29% and 32%.

“This is something that we need to take seriously for our health,” says Brigham Young University researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an author of the study. “This should become a public-health issue.”

The researchers emphasized the difference between the subjective, self-reported feeling of loneliness and the objective state of being socially isolated. Both are potentially damaging, the study found. People who say they are alone but feel happy are at increased risk of death, as are those who have many social connections but say they are lonely. People who are both objectively isolated and subjectively lonely may be at the greatest risk of death, says Holt-Lunstad, though she notes that more data would be needed to know with certainty.

“If we just tell people to interact with more people, that might solve the social-isolation issue, but it might not solve the loneliness issue,” she said. “I think we need to acknowledge that both of these components are important.”

MORE: You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?

Many social scientists say technology and housing trends are increasing the risk of loneliness. More Americans are living alone than ever before, and technology like texting and social media has made it easier to avoid forming substantive relationships in the flesh and blood. Yet research shows that relationships can improve health in a variety of ways, by helping us manage stress, improving the functioning of the immune system and giving meaning to people’s lives.

Holt-Lunstad says that maintaining meaningful and close relationships, as well as a “diverse set of social connections” is key. Policy interventions for loneliness may be more difficult to imagine but could range from encouraging doctors to identify at-risk patients to rethinking the way neighborhoods are designed, Holt-Lunstad says.

“People’s response is oftentimes to say, ‘What are you going to do, tell everybody to give someone a hug?'” she says. “But there are many potential ways in which this could be implemented.”

Read next: 7 Timeless Ways to Be Happy at Any Age

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

17 Surprising Reasons You’re Stressed Out

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Watch out for these hidden anxiety triggers

You’re probably all too aware of the major sources of stress in your life—money, your terrible commute, the construction workers who start jackhammering at 5 a.m. But stress and anxiety don’t have to just come from obvious or even negative sources. “There are plenty of chronic strains and low-grade challenges that don’t necessarily overwhelm you in the moment, but almost take more of a toll in the long run,” says Scott Schieman, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. These are some of unexpected reasons why you might feel anxious or agitated. By recognizing them for what they are, says Schieman, you can better prepare to cope.

Your significant other

Even if you have a blissfully happy relationship with your live-in partner or spouse, you’re both bound to do things that get on each other’s nerves. “Early in the relationship, it’s usually about space and habits—like whether you squeeze the toothpaste from the middle or the bottom of the tube,” says Ken Yeager, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Later on, you might clash over parenting style or financial issues, and finding a unified front to face these issues together.” So what’s the key to surviving and thriving in your life together? Finding balance, says Yeager: spending the right amount of time together (not too much and not too little), making compromises, keeping communication open and honest, and remembering to acknowledge what you love about each other on a daily basis.

Everyday annoyances

We’re told not to sweat the small stuff, but sometimes it’s the little things that have the biggest impact on our mood: the never-ending phone calls with your insurance company, the rude cashier at the grocery store, the 20 minutes you lose looking for a parking space. “We let these things bother us because they trigger unconscious fears,” says Yeager—fears of being seen as irresponsible, of being bullied or embarrassed, or of being late all the time, for example. “Sometimes you need to take a step back and realize that you’re doing the best you can given the circumstances.”

Read more: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

Other people’s stress

Stress is contagious, according to a 2014 German study: In a series of experiments, most participants who simply observed others completing a stressful task experienced an increase themselves in production of the stress hormone cortisol—a phenomenon known as empathic stress. You can also experience stress when someone you know is affected by a traumatic event, like a car crash or a chronic illness. “You start to worry, ‘Oh my gosh, could that happen to me?’,” says Yeager. “We tend not to think about these things until they hit close to home.”

Social media

It may seem like Facebook is the only way you keep up with the friends you don’t see regularly—which, during particularly busy times, can be just about all of them. The social network also has a downside, according to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center: It can make you aware of stressful situations in your friends’ lives, which in turn can add more stress to your life. The Pew report didn’t find that social media users, overall, had higher levels of stress, but previous studies have suggested that frequent social-media use can be associated with negative body image and prolonged breakup pain.

Distraction

A distraction can be a good thing then when it takes your mind off of a stressful situation or difficult decision, like when you take a break from work to meet a friend for lunch. But it works the other way, as well: When you’re so busy thinking about something else that you can’t enjoy what’s going on around you, that kind of distraction can be a recipe for stress. Practicing mindfulness gives you brain the refresh it needs, says Richard Lenox, director of the Student Counseling Center at Texas Tech University. Paying full attention to your surroundings when you’re walking and driving can help, he adds. “Stress and anxiety tend to melt away when our mind is focused on the present.”

Read more: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Your childhood

Traumatic events that happened when you were a kid can continue to affect your stress levels and overall health into adulthood. A 2014 University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that these childhood experiences may actually change parts of the brain responsible for processing stress and emotion. The way you were raised can also have a lasting impact on your everyday angst, suggests a 2014 Johns Hopkins University study. Researchers found that children of parents with social anxiety disorders are more likely to develop “trickle-down anxiety”—not simply because of their genes, but because of their parents’ behaviors toward them such as a lack of warmth and emotion, or high levels of criticism and doubt.

Tea and chocolate

You probably know to take it easy on the coffee when you’re already feeling on edge. “Caffeine is always going to make stress worse,” says Yeager. But you may not think as much about drinking several cups of tea at once, or chowing down on a bar of dark chocolate—both of which can contain nearly as much caffeine as a cup of joe. “Chocolate is a huge caffeine source,” says Yeager. “I know people who don’t drink coffee but they’ll eat six little candy bars in a two-hour period because they want the same kind of jolt.” Too much caffeine, in any form, can cause problems with sleep, digestion, and irritability.

Read more: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Your expectations

When things don’t go the way you’ve planned, do you tend to get upset and act defensively, or do you roll with the punches and set off on a new plan? If it’s the former, you could be contributing to a mindset of pessimism and victimization that will slowly wear you down, even when things may not be as bad as they seem. “Your level of serenity is inversely proportionate to your expectations,” says Yeager. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set ambitious goals for yourself or settle for less than what you want, of course, but being realistic about what’s truly possible is important, as well.

Your reaction to stress

If you tend to deal with stressful situations by working long hours, skipping your workouts, and bingeing on junk food, we’ve got some bad news: You’re only making it worse. “We know that physical activity and healthy foods will help your body better deal with stress, and yet we often avoid them when we need them the most,” says Yeager. “People really need to think about this downward spiral we get into and work harder to counteract it.”

Multitasking

Think you’re being super efficient by tackling four tasks at once? Chances are you’re not —and it’s only decreasing your productivity while increasing your stress. A 2012 University of Irvine study, for example, found that people who responded to emails all day long while also trying to get their work done experienced more heart-rate variability (an indicator of mental stress) than those who waited to respond to all of their emails at one time. Focusing on one task at a time can ensure that you’re doing that job to the best of your abilities and getting the most out of it, so you won’t have to worry about or go back and fix it later, says Schieman. And don’t worry: You’ll have enough time to do it all. In fact, you may discover you have more time than you thought.

Your favorite sport

Watching a tight game of college hoops can stress you out—even if your alma mater wins. “The body doesn’t distinguish between ‘bad’ stress from life or work and ‘good’ stress caused by game-day excitement,” says Jody Gilchrist, a nurse practitioner at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Heart and Vascular Clinic. Watching sports can even trigger the body’s sympathetic nervous system, releasing adrenaline and reducing blood flow to the heart. Those temporary consequences aren’t usually anything to be concerned about, but over time, chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and increased disease risk. And, of course, it doesn’t help if you’re adding alcohol and binge-eating to a situation that’s already stressful on your body. You may not be able to control the outcome of the game, says Gilchrist, but you can limit its effects on your own body.

Read more: 11 Things You Should Never Do When You’re Angry

Digital devices

Whether you’re using it for work or play, technology may play a large role in your mental health, says Yeager. Using computers or e-readers too close to bedtime could lead to sleep problems, he says, and spending too much time virtually socializing can make real-life interactions seem extra stressful. (Plus, texting doesn’t trigger the same feel-good hormones as face-to-face talk does.) Then there’s the dreaded “work creep,” says Schieman, when smartphones allow employees to be tethered to their jobs, even during off-hours. “People say they’re only going to check email for an hour while they’re on vacation, but the problem with email is that they’re filled with responsibilities, new tasks, and dilemmas that are going to be hard to compartmentalize and put out of your head once that hour is up.”

Your (good) health

While it may not be as stressful as having a chronic illness or getting bad news at the doctor’s office, even people in the best shape of their lives worry about their bodies, their diets, and their fitness levels. In fact, people who take healthy living to an extreme may experience some rather unhealthy side effects. People who follow low-carb diets, for example, are more likely to report being sad or stressed out, while those on any kind of restrictive meal plan may feel more tired than usual. And it’s not unheard of for someone to become obsessed with healthy eating (known as orthorexia) or working out (gymorexia). Like any form of perfectionism, these problems can be stressful at best, and extremely dangerous at worst.

Housework

Does folding laundry help you feel calm, or does it make your blood boil? If you’re in a living situation where you feel you’re responsible for an unfair share of work, even chores you once enjoyed may start to feel like torture. “Dividing up housework and parenting responsibilities can be tricky, especially if both partners work outside the home,” says Schieman. “And whether you define that division of labor as equal or unequal can really change your attitude toward it.”

Read more: 19 Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Uncertainty

Stress can be defined as any perceived or actual threat, says Yeager, so any type of doubt that’s looming over you can contribute to your anxiety levels on a daily basis. “When you know something could change at any minute, you always have your guard up and it’s hard to just relax and enjoy anything.” Financial uncertainty may be the most obvious stressor—not being sure if you’ll keep your job during a round of layoffs, or not knowing how you’ll pay your credit card bill. Insecurities in other areas of life, like your relationship or your housing status, can eat away at you too.

Your pet

No matter how much you love your furry friends, there’s no question that they add extra responsibility to your already full plate. Even healthy animals need to be fed, exercised, cleaned up after, and given plenty of attention on a regular basis—and unhealthy ones can be a whole other story. “Pets can be the most positive source of unconditional love, but at the same time they require an extreme amount of energy,” says Yeager. People also tend to underestimate the stress they’ll experience when they lose a pet. “I’ve had people in my office tell me they cried more when their dog died than when their parent died. It’s a very emotional connection.”

Your education

Having a college degree boosts your odds of landing a well-paying job, so although you’re less likely to suffer from money-related anxiety, your education can bring on other types of stress, according to a 2014 study by Schieman and his University of Toronto colleagues. His research found that highly educated people were more likely to be stressed out thanks to job pressures, being overworked, and conflicts between work and family. “Higher levels of authority come with a lot more interpersonal baggage, such as supervising people or deciding whether they get promotions,” says Schieman. “With that type of responsibility, you start to take things like incompetency and people not doing their jobs more personally, and it bothers you more.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME neuroscience

A Drug Has Been Found That Reverses a Precursor to Alzheimer’s

Researchers now want to proceed to substantial clinical trials

Researchers at John Hopkins University have found that low doses of a drug more commonly used to treat epilepsy can reverse a condition that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

According to statements issued Wednesday, the epilepsy drug, called antiepileptic levetiracetam, calms hyperactivity in the brain — a well-documented symptom of people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment, which is a condition that heightens the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The team, lead by neuroscientist Michela Gallagher, now wants to pursue substantial clinical trials.

“What we want to discover now, is whether treatment over a longer time will prevent further cognitive decline and delay or stop progression to Alzheimer’s dementia,” Gallagher said.

The researchers studied 84 people with an average age of 70. Participants received various doses of the drug, as well as a placebo, and the scientists used imaging technology to map brain activity.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Is Where Young People Are More Likely to Commit Suicide

Gun ownership may be affecting youth suicide rates, study finds

Young people who live in rural areas kill themselves at twice the rate as youth who live in cities, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

There aren’t clear-cut explanations for suicide, but geographical differences seem to play a role, the researchers found. People who live in rural areas have less access to mental-health services, more stigma surrounding help-seeking and freer access to guns than their urban counterparts.

The study, which looked at data from more than 66,000 young people ages 10 to 24 who died by suicide in the U.S., found that the gap between the urban and rural suicide rates grew significantly from 1996 to 2010.

About half of the people in the sample used a firearm to end their lives, followed by a third who died by suffocation. In rural communities, young people were more likely to use a gun — no coincidence, according to the study authors, since suicide rates in urban communities dropped alongside a decline in urban gun ownership.

Geography may partially explain the difference between rural and urban suicide rates, according to the study. Mental-health services can be harder to access in rural areas; more than half of rural communities in the U.S. don’t have a local mental-health worker like a psychiatrist or psychologist. Those who do have access to mental-health resources may be reluctant to use them because of stigma, and self-reliance is often seen as virtue in rural communities, the study says. Remote locations also mean smaller social networks and fewer people to rely on providing help. High unemployment and flailing economies have also depressed small towns.

MORE: Suicide Rate for Young Women Rises in U.S.

An editorial accompanying the study by Frederick Rivara, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, acknowledges that political forces make tougher gun laws unlikely. He argues instead for storing weapons safely. Various safe storage methods, including trigger locks and gun safes, can reduce the risk of suicide by as much as 70%, Rivara writes.

“The problem of suicide and the issue of firearms are very complex public health concerns,” writes Rivara. “But, in the United States, they also appear to be integrally linked and demand our attention.”

TIME Sex/Relationships

Divorce More Likely When Wife Gets Seriously Ill, Study Finds

'Life-or-death experiences may cause people to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives'

A marriage is more likely to end in divorce when a wife is seriously ill, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, found that a marriage was 6% more likely to end in divorce when a wife was diagnosed with serious illness than in marriages where the wife remained healthy. The study looked at data from more than 2,700 marriages with at least one partner over the age of 50. A husband’s illness did not affect the chances of divorce.

The study did not explain how illness may have led to divorce, but lead author Amelia Karraker said that illness can stress a marriage in many ways.

“Life-or-death experiences may cause people to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives,” said Karraker, an assistant professor at Iowa State University. “It could be that women are saying, ‘You’re doing a bad job of caring for me,’ ‘I’m not happy with this,’ or ‘I wasn’t happy with the relationship to begin with.’”

Nearly a third of the marriages evaluated ended in divorce while nearly a quarter ended in the death of one spouse.

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