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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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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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