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Handwritten Letters Might Help Prevent Suicide Attempts, Study Finds

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Everyone enjoys getting a personal, handwritten letter. But the personal missive may be especially beneficial to people at risk of suicide, a new study finds. The research, published in PLOS Medicine, followed a pilot study of a suicide prevention method called the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program at a hospital in Switzerland. As part of the method, patients received follow-up letters from therapists they had seen after being admitted to the hospital for attempting suicide. 

A total of 120 patients took part in the pilot study, which involved seeing a therapist for three sessions to discuss their suicide attempt and mental health. Afterward, half of the patients received mail from their therapist. The handwritten letters arrived once every three months during the first year after the patients were released from the hospital, and every six months the next year. While the notes mostly contained boiler-plate advice on warning signs and staying safe, they also included a few personalized statements from the therapists. 

The technique seems to have had a broad impact on the patients who received those letters, compared to a control group that just went through post-hospitalization therapy. Only five patients in the letter-receiving group attempted suicide over the 24 months of the study, while 41 in the control group did. One person in each group died from suicide.  

The personalized letters may have given patients a reminder that someone cared about them, as one of the study’s authors told The Washington Post.

Despite public health efforts, “suicide has proven stubbornly difficult to understand, to predict, and to prevent,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and many people at high risk for suicide aren’t getting the treatment they need. In the U.S., suicide is the 10th leading cause of death (and the second leading cause of death for people 25–34), and far more people attempt suicide than die from it (as many as 25 times more in the case of youth, and 12 times more overall). So an 80 percent reduced risk of attempted suicide, as seen in this study, is a pretty big deal.

While this study had some limitations, such as patients dropping out, and more pilots around the world will be necessary (globally, 800,000 people kill themselves every year), it’s definitely a hopeful sign. 

And here’s a reminder that if you are in distress, you should make a free, confidential call to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Health
Yoga and Meditation May Lead to an Inflated Ego

If you’ve been exasperated for years by that one self-righteous, yoga-obsessed friend, take note: Regular yoga practitioners experience inflated egos after a session of yoga or meditation, according to a forthcoming study in the journal Psychological Science.

Researchers found that yoga and meditation both increase "self-enhancement," or the tendency for people to attach importance to their own actions. In the first phase of the two-part study, researchers in Germany and England measured self-enhancement by recruiting 93 yoga students and having them respond to questionnaires over the course of 15 weeks, Quartz reports. Each assessment was designed to measure three outcomes: superiority, communal narcissism, and self-esteem. In the second phase, the researchers asked 162 meditation students to answer the same questionnaires over four weeks.

Participants showed significantly higher self-enhancement in the hour just after their practices. After yoga or meditation, participants were more likely to say that statements like "I am the most helpful person I know" and "I have a very positive influence on others" describe them.

At its Hindu and Buddhist roots, yoga is focused on quieting the ego and conquering the self. The findings seem to support what some critics of Western-style yoga suspect—that the practice is no longer true to its South Asian heritage.

It might not be all bad, though. Self-enhancement tends to correlate with higher levels of subjective well-being, at least in the short term. People prone to self-enhancement report feeling happier than the average person. However, they’re also more likely to exhibit social behaviors (like bragging or condescending) that are detrimental in the long term.

So if you think your yoga-loving friends are a little holier than thou, you may be right. But it might be because their yoga class isn’t deflating their egos like yogis say it should.

[h/t Quartz]

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Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.
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This Just In
The Honey Smacks In Your Pantry May Be Contaminated With Salmonella
Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.
Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.

Salmonella, a bacterial food-borne illness often associated with raw eggs and undercooked chicken, has been linked recently to a popular children's cereal. According to Snopes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging consumers to avoid Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, citing the brand as the likely cause of the Salmonella outbreak spreading across the U.S.

Since early March, 73 people in 31 states have contracted the virus. Salmonella clears up in most people on its own, but in some cases it can lead to hospitalization or even death. Twenty-four victims have been admitted to hospitals so far, with no reported deaths. Of the 39 patients who were questioned, 30 of them remembered eating cold cereal and 14 of them specifically cited Honey Smacks.

In response to the outbreak, the Kellogg Company has recalled its 15.3-ounce and 23-ounce boxes of Honey Smacks printed with any "best if used by" date between June 14, 2018 and June 14, 2019 (recalled boxes are labeled on the bottom with the UPC codes 3800039103 or 3800014810). The CDC recommends that you take even greater precautions by throwing out or returning any Honey Smacks you have at home, regardless of package size, "best by" date, or whether your family has eaten from the box previously without getting sick.

Symptoms of Salmonella include diarrhea, fever, headache, and abdominal pain, and usually appear 12 hours to three days after the contaminated food is ingested. If you or someone in your household is showing signs of the infection, ask a doctor about how to best treat it.

[h/t Snopes]

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