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Mental Health ‘Epidemic’ Hits Generation Z

Nineteen-year-old college student Margaret Pisacano can usually feel a panic attack coming on; her thoughts start to spiral, her breathing speeds up, and her heart races.

“It’s as if a tornado and a tsunami of emotions just like overcame your body and you couldn’t control anything,” Pisacano says. “It was like almost a total loss of control over any feeling or thinking in your body.”

The Arizona native, who attends college in Florida, was first diagnosed with general anxiety disorder in middle school. She is among millions of stressed-out members of Generation Z — the group of young people born roughly between 1995 and 2015, who are currently between 4 and 24 years old.

A report released Thursday by the American Psychological Association finds the rate of adolescents reporting symptoms of major depression increased 52 percent between 2005 and 2017 — from 8.7 percent to 13.2 percent — among youth from the ages of 12 and 17.

The increase was even higher — 63 percent from 2009 to 2017 — among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

The survey examined data from 611,880 adolescents and adults. The researchers did not find a similar increase in adults older than 26. 

Today, one in three teens between the ages of 13 and 18 has an anxiety disorder.

“The current rate of anxiety is 31 percent in adolescents,” says Dr. Elena Mikalsen, head of the Psychology Section at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio in Texas. “It’s an epidemic. It’s a mental health emergency.”

Everyone gets anxious some of the time, but that anxiety is usually temporary. However, for a person with an anxiety disorder, the feeling doesn’t go away and can worsen over time to the point where it might trigger headaches, chronic pain, stomach issues, immune system suppression and disrupted sleep.

School and the pressure to get good grades appears to be the leading source of stress for many young people.

“We see all of our anxiety referrals very clearly as soon as the school year starts, almost like from the first week and until the school year ends and then we see none of them in the summer,” says Mikalsen. “The worst is the end of May when all of the teens get their grades…they’re just panicking terribly. We hospitalize kids for all kinds of medical issues because they get their grades and their immune system just collapses. The highest rate of suicide is in April and May when they’re having finals, when they’re having exams.”

The American Psychological Association found that almost one-third of teens say they feel sad or depressed and overwhelmed due to stress.

Claire Taylor, a 17-year-old high school junior in Massachusetts, was diagnosed with generalized anxiety a couple of years ago, but didn’t have her first panic attack until she started visiting colleges ahead of her scheduled high school graduation next year.

“For my whole life, college has kind of been my end goal…It kind of hit me that college is not the end, and that there’s more after that,” Taylor says. “I’m really not sure what I want to do when I go to college for and so just the whole prospect kind of freaked me out…I was shaking and crying and I couldn’t quite articulate why until after the fact.”

College-related anxiety is rising, according to a 2017 report from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. The institute surveyed 8,264 incoming first-year students at 30 U.S. colleges and universities and found that 39 percent reported frequently feeling anxious, but fewer than half of those students say they sought personal counseling in college.

Tarek Saoud, 22, began suffering from panic attacks after he went to college and felt the mounting pressure to set a course for success in life.

“I tried switching my (college) majors a few times, but I really did not like anything,” he says. “Not being able to find something was a big issue for me…Where I grew up here in Northern Virginia, it’s very expected to be either a businessman, a lawyer, a doctor, a scientist, something like along those lines. Those are what is seen as successful.”

Getting an appointment at the on-campus mental health center proved almost impossible, according to Saoud, who recounts a near-suicide attempt that was interrupted by a concerned friend who came looking for him.

“I’d been thinking about suicide for months at that point…there’s this big ledge I was sitting on with this big fall under it. I was just kind of sitting there thinking about, ‘Could I do this right now? Like, do I have everything in order? Did I forget anything that would get anyone in trouble and what not?’ Not like sad about it, just getting my things in order,” he says.

“I kind of felt crazy in my own head,” Saoud says. “When I was getting anxiety, super-irrational thoughts were running through my head all the time. Things like, ‘You’re never going to be happy, things are never going to get better’…It’s really easy to mask whatever inner issues are going on by being a super social, outgoing person, drinking a lot.”

He left school in Ohio during his sophomore year in college, returning home to Northern Virginia where he was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and clinical depression.

There are two new stressors impacting young people are perhaps a sign of the times. Mikalsen says more of her patients are concerned about school shootings and the lockdown drills they practice at school.

“I’ve been a psychologist for about twenty years and this is the first year that I now have patients who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from school lockdowns,” she says. “Before, it was you hide and now the hiding is not working, so now it’s attack the shooter and everybody’s like, ‘I can’t attack anybody. I’m too scared.’ And they’re supposed to be climbing on desks and throwing things and they’re practicing that in the classroom.”

The way their parents use social media is also causing stress for some teens.

“There is a problem happening right now with parents wanting to videotape their children and take pictures of their children in vulnerable moments. Like when kids are really stressed out, like when they’re anxious, when they’re upset,” says Mikalsen. “There’s a general lack of boundaries now because we’re all on social media…and I think it’s become a really big problem for kids that their information is just shared out there everywhere with everybody, causing stress and anxiety.”

Saoud says learning to express his feelings has helped get his anxiety under control, but not all young people feel free to be candid about their mental health.

“I don’t think a lot of my friends know because I don’t talk about it that often,” says Pisacano, the 19-year-old Florida college student. “It feels like they don’t want to hear me talk about it almost. It’s almost like I want to shield them from discomfort. I’m not uncomfortable talking about my mental health issues, but I think my friends are uncomfortable that I’m mentally ill.”

Taylor, the 17-year-old Massachusetts high school student, feels that she has generally accepted her anxiety as a fact of life. But she does feel regret when her mental illness stops her from doing things she would otherwise enjoy, like an exchange trip to Spain that she passed on due to her fear of flying.

“Even though I had a lot of great friends on the trip, I was still too afraid,” she says, “so in that sense, like I wish that my anxiety either manifested itself differently, or that I didn’t have anxiety, because I think it would have been really fun to go on the trip and it would have been an experience that I would remember forever, but usually I just kind of accept it as part of who I am.”

Saoud is attending community college for now and intends to transfer to a four-year college soon. Still on medication and seeing a psychologist, he doesn’t say he’s ‘cured,’ but feels there’s been a huge improvement over when he hit bottom.

“Sometimes I get in my head about the future and I think, ‘Where’s the point?’…but those are the times that I really sit down with myself and think about what I have achieved, what I want to achieve, how much I have to be grateful for,” Saoud says. “I’d like to say I’m hopeful. I really do believe that I have a lot of potential for the future.”

 

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Japan to Make Crater on Asteroid to Get Underground Samples

Japan’s space agency said Monday that its Hayabusa2 spacecraft will follow up last month’s touchdown on a distant asteroid with another risky mission — to drop an explosive to make a crater and collect underground samples to get possible clues to the origin of the solar system.

Hayabusa2 made history on Feb. 22 when it successfully touched down on the boulder-rich asteroid, where it also collected some surface fragments.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Hayabusa2 is to drop a copper impactor the size of a baseball and weighing 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) on the asteroid on April 5 to collect samples from deeper underground where they had not been exposed to the sun or space rays.

The new mission will require an immediate evacuation of the spacecraft to the other side of the asteroid so it won’t get hit by flying shards from the blast, JAXA said. While moving away, Hayabusa2 will leave a camera to capture the outcome.

The mission will allow JAXA scientists to analyze details of a crater to find out the history of the asteroid, said Koji Wada, who is in charge of the project.

Hayabusa2 will start descending toward the asteroid the day before to carry out the mission from its home position of 20 kilometers (12 miles) above. It will drop a cone-shaped piece of equipment containing explosives that will blast off a copper plate on the bottom. It will turn into a ball and slam into the asteroid at the speed of 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) per second.

JAXA has previously planned to have Hayabusa2 briefly touchdown in a crater, but an agency researcher, Takashi Kubota, said they may not force it to prioritize safety for the spacecraft. Kubota said it would be the first time a spacecraft would take materials from underground a space object.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 900 meters (3,000 feet) in diameter and about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth.

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Tens of Thousands Join Climate ‘March of the Century’ in Paris

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Paris over the weekend to demand action on climate change. The initiative started with a 16-year-old Swedish girl and ballooned to what environmental groups called the “March of the Century” in France. Arash Arabasadi reports.

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Preeclampsia Test Can Identify Dangerous Condition Quickly, at Home

A new test can quickly identify preeclampsia, a common and dangerous condition during pregnancy and help keep mothers and babies healthy and safe.

When Jessi Prizinsky was pregnant with her first child, her feet started swelling.

“Well, you hear, everybody tell you, you know, the swollen ankles, and get your feet up and all that,” Prizinsky said. “That was where I thought, ‘OK.’ And then it started to be, it kind of looks like it’s in my arms and hands, too.”

Most women expect some swelling when they are pregnant. But these symptoms can also be signs of preeclampsia.

It’s a complication of pregnancy that raises the mother’s blood pressure and affects the blood flow to the placenta. This can lead to smaller or premature babies. Untreated, it can be fatal to mom, or baby, or both.

Fast, easy test developed

Researchers at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center have developed a fast, easy test to diagnose preeclampsia. That’s where Dr. Kara Rood practices maternal and fetal medicine.

“One of the hard parts with preeclampsia is there’s a lot of symptoms of just pregnancy alone, and other medical conditions that have similar symptoms that the women experience, like high blood pressure, headaches, changes in vision. Those can be attributed to a lot of other things,” Rood said.

Preeclampsia is more serious if it occurs earlier in the pregnancy, or in a woman who had high blood pressure before getting pregnant.

Rood says managing this condition early is best for both mothers and babies.

“Without the certainty of this test aiding in the diagnosis,” she said, “we as providers are definitely overcautious, as this is definitely something we don’t want to miss because of the life-threatening results of a misdiagnosis for moms and babies.”

Listen to your body

Because of her preeclampsia, Prizinsky was induced three weeks early. She had a successful second pregnancy and has this advice for other women.

“The biggest thing is listening to your body,” she said.

The test is so easy, women can take it at home, and preeclampsia can be treated as soon as it develops. The researchers expect the test to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the next few years.

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Low-Level Flooding Dampening Tourists’ Enthusiasm

As climate change heats up, we can expect more extreme weather events, more hurricanes and droughts over time. But small flooding events will also become more common, and while not catastrophic, according to a new report, these events are taking a toll on some local communities. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Students Worldwide Skip School to Protest Global Warming

They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

Students worldwide are skipping class Friday to take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.

The coordinated “school strikes,” being held from the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.

Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. Protests were under way or planned in cities in more than 100 countries, including Hong Kong; New Delhi; Wellington, New Zealand; and Oulo, Finland.

In Berlin some 10,000 protesters, most of them young students, gathered in a downtown square, waving signs with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and “Climate Protection Report Card: F” before a march through the capital’s government quarter. The march was to end with a demonstration outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office.

Organizer Carla Reemtsma, a 20-year-old university student, said social media had been key in reaching people directly to coordinate the massive protests in so many different locations, noting that she was in 50 WhatsApp groups and fielding some 30,000 messages a day.

“It’s really important that people are getting together all over the world, because it’s affecting us all,” she said.

Critics, supporters

Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.

“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”

But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.

“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 23,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”

Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.

“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”

Other action

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.

In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands.

In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.

Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reining in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say.

“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a society-wide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.

That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.

Luisa Neubauer, one of the Berlin group organizing Fridays for Future, said politicians should take note of the young.

“For the European elections in May, we’re urging everyone to think about whether they want to give their vote to a party that doesn’t have a plan for the future and the climate,” she said.

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Students Worldwide Skip Class to Demand Action on Climate

They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

Students worldwide are planning to skip class Friday and take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.

The coordinated ‘school strike’ was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.

Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

​Protests in 100 countries 

Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. A website coordinating the protests lists events in more than 100 countries, from New Zealand to the United States.

Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.

“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”

But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.

“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 14,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”

Decades of warning

Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.

“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”

Policies don’t go far enough

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.

In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands . 

In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.

Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reigning in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say. 

“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a societywide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.

That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.

Luisa Neubauer, one of the Berlin group organizing Fridays for Future, said politicians should take note of the young. 

“For the European elections in May, we’re urging everyone to think about whether they want to give their vote to a party that doesn’t have a plan for the future and the climate,” she said.

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