What if the future of brain ailments is Organic?
How will we discern the future of what constitutes brain ailments when one considers the multitude of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases in the world?
The biases around how individuals with mental illness (MI) and health are perceived, relative to individuals with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD), Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and multiple sclerosis (MS) are different, where the former is feared and stigmatised. Yet research is unveiling there may be viruses at play in both MI and other neuro/degenerative diseases, which begs the question as to what underlies these similarities? Emerging evidence is suggesting links between these and infectious agents.
A study conducted by UK Biobank, found people who had experienced viral encephalitis were 22 times more likely to develop AD than those without a history of encephalitis. Additionally, data from the FinnGen study found that individuals who had viral encephalitis were 30 times more likely to be diagnosed with AD compared to those without encephalitis. These studies show an association between viral encephalitis and Alzheimer's disease, even though they do not necessarily prove causation.
As with MI and neurodegenerative diseases, which have risk factors including age, genetics, and lifestyle, such as smoking and poor diet, these, together with long Covid are being recognised as a growing public health threat. When individuals began to experience psychosis from Long Covid, sometimes termed post-viral syndromes, a well-known term in the medical field, some scientists began to question whether this was indeed psychological and began questioning the medical bias towards psychosomatic symptoms, beginning research into organic causes instead. Their point being that surely not everyone can possibly have the same psychosomatic reaction to Long Covid. In some instances, antiviral medications have been known to eliminate symptoms in Long Covid. This also begs the question as to whether antiviral medications may work for neurodegenerative diseases and MI, and also whether there are similarities and connections that science is perhaps missing.
A recent article on childhood infections stated being hospitalised for an infection during childhood, increases the chances of being hospitalised for a mental health issue such as Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Schizophrenia, Autism, Depression, and Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by 84%, and the likelihood of taking medication for a mental health concern by 42%. With less severe infections from childhood, this increased hospitalisation for a mental health issues by 40% and taking medications by 22%. However, the article points to a question around whether this is the infection itself, or the actual treatment of the infection that increased the risk.
A commonality in diseases of the brain include inflammation and immune dysfunctions and MI is known for having autoimmune as a comorbidity. However, it has recently been hypothesised that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may also result from immunological defects. Several studies have pointed to antibodies affecting parts of the brain in children with autism. Conversely, there are other studies that have failed to find an association between autoantibodies and autism, which potentially points to a connection, but not necessarily causation. What it does point to is that everyone responds uniquely to infections and that a multidisciplinary approach is necessary
There are a number of autoimmune dysfunctions that affect the central nervous system that have been linked to causes of mental disorders. An illness called Paediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders (PANDAS) specifically associated with children, is a diagnosis associated with Streptococcal infections. The neuroinfectious disease crosses the blood/brain barrier and begins to impact regions of the brain in such a way that the behaviours that manifest have been mistaken for MI. Questions to ask is how many people have been incorrectly diagnosed and/or incarcerated, as well as whether adults experience the same mental disorders from Streptococcal and other infections, and to understand why or why not, as conditions similar to this have been associated with autism in children.
Additionally, higher mortality rates are experienced due to infections by people diagnosed with severe mental illness (SMI), such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, relative to those without SMI. However, among those infected, more research is still required to ascertain whether SMI is linked to increased or decreased case fatality rates.
A systemic look at the change in our diets to much higher sugar content over the last century and the link to neurodegenerative and/or brain diseases has to take into consideration what we eat. These changes to our dietary intake has been linked to an increased risk for developing AD and worsening brain health. Science is also beginning to uncover this and the link to our microbiome.
A recent trend after probiotics, is Psychobiotics which are said to positively increase our mental wellbeing. Psychobiotics are said to include chemicals produced by bacteria from probiotics which contain specific species of bacteria called Postbiotics, and prebiotic supplements that support good bacteria in the gut. A group of medical professionals in psychiatry at Cork have been investigating the negative impact diets may have on our brain functioning, and as such, have been looking at Psychobiotics as an intervention that may have positive implications on mental health by targeting the microbiome, recognising the gut/brain connection. Through the elimination of the intake of processed foods and increasing the intake of fibre and fermented foods necessary for a Psychobiotic diet, they believe this will assist in help deal with stress.
This leads to the idea that in the future a systemic and multidisciplinary approach is essential and what will be required to understand any diseases of the brain and their manifestation on our behaviours, whether these be neurodegenerative diseases, MI, Autism, etc more especially when one considers the multitude neuropsychiatric and brain diseases that appear to have so much in common.
Links found between viruses and neurodegenerative diseases, Levine KS, et al, National Institute on Ageing, February 28, 2023
The knowns — and known unknowns — of long Covid, explained, Dylan Scott, Vox, Mar 13, 2023
Do Childhood Infections Cause Mental Health Disorders?, Jayna Nickert, HealthNews, March 14, 2023
Abnormally low autoantibody activity significantly associated with autism severity, Dr. Priyom Bose, Ph.D., News Medical Life Sciences,Mar 13 2023
Association of severe mental illness and septic shock, Ines Lakbar et al, Plos Medicine, March 13, 2023
How Sugar and Sweeteners May Affect Your Brain, Austin Perlmutter M.D., Psychology Today, March 6, 2023
Sam McDonald, WITH-HUMANITY, 15 March 2023
What are the future demands of our workforce?
Born between 1997–2012, Generation Z (Gen Z), are the most current generation to enter the labour market, and have come of age in a rapidly changing world. As a result, they differ from those of previous generations, and access to a wide range of information across vast geographical locations is impacting how they think, creating expectations for work that reflects a broader shift in the workforce.
According to a recent British Council report, Gen Z Indonesia want work they love that has a sense of purpose. Gen Z are more confident and want greater relationships at work, citing in person contact as a top priority. Many expect greater opportunities and are ready to leave their current positions, stating better pay as a key factor. A report from LinkedIn indicated 80% of those aged 18-24 are considering changing jobs.
Conversely, as the rising costs of living impacts salaries, white-collar workers are finding ways to earn double salaries. An article from Forbes refers to the over-employed - individuals who are taking on more than one full time position, often secretly, either wanting to make the most of their time due to underutilisation, or as a way to supplement income. 6% report working less than five hours a week, and 35% fewer than 30 hours per week, in their primary role. Of the 57% working only one job, these said they would consider adding another position, some as a way to learn new skills.
In order to meet expectations of a rapidly changing world, companies need to be recognizing the varied needs of a modern and diverse workforce. According to a report from Gallup, organizations know how to measure just about everything except the contentment of their workforce and over the past 10 years unhappiness has been steadily rising. A Fortune article states a third of current workers say unemployment is a better choice than being unhappy at work, even with the risk of a global recession.
This points to employees who are much choosier about how and for whom they work. A Randstad report cited the importance some global workers place on hybrid working as a primary choice, even after the Covid Pandemic. Other studies have shown caregivers and ethnically/racially diverse individuals prefer hybrid work arrangements.
Further, an article by UK Recruiter states that although Gen Z have experienced online and social media as a constant in their lives, these individuals want to be in the office and want to build connections with colleagues. They are demanding better work/life balance, citing a request for a 4-day work week and flexible working conditions. They expect employers to invest in their development and mental health and well-being and do not tolerate exclusion, and as such will consider leaving their employer if they sense diversity and inclusion issues.
The death of George Floyd in 2020 gave rise to greater focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leading to an opportunity to reimagine the world of work and bring greater representation. This has brought with it multifaceted ways in which employees want to express their identities, in turn assisting with building trust, belonging, and creating inclusive cultures.
In keeping with DEI an ‘age inclusive workforce’ is coming to the fore as many older individuals, who were often the first to leave the workforce during the Covid pandemic, have faced barriers to re-entry. A recent event in Wales, UK, highlighted the value organisations can gain from a mixed-aged workforce. Older employees are often better positioned to develop more financially secure futures and navigate cost-of-living crisis’ than their Gen Z counterparts.
To attract and retain talent and maintain a happier workforce in the future, a move away from linear, one-size-fits-all policies is necessary. Engaging workforces, embracing DEI, and demands for
more individualised, flexible ways of working, and spaces that foster a sense of purpose and fulfilment has become a societal imperative.
Next Generation Indonesia. Guy Allison. British Council. Oct 2022
Four in Five Gen Z Workers Want to Move Jobs This Year. Irina Anghel. Bloomberg. 08 Feb 2023
The Global Rise of Unhappiness. Jon Clifton. Gallup. September 15 2022
Would you rather be unemployed than unhappy at work? 1 in 3 workers say they would, major study finds. Chloe Taylor. Fortune. January 18 2023
What Gen Z Value Most at Work. Louise Triance. UK Recruiter. 12.Jan.2023
Overemployment is here: Nearly half of workers have more than one full-time job. Jane Their. Fortune. February 13, 2023
How CEOs are embracing the future of work to help advance DEI in 2023. Michael Fenlon and Sarah Cambrelen. Fortune. 27 January 2023
Event spotlighting the benefits of an age-inclusive workplace. Cerys Lafferty. Herald, Wales. Jan.2023
Building an Inclusive Workplace? Prepare to Shield It from Economic Fears. Hise O. Gibson and Nicole Gilmore. Harvard Business School. 08 Feb 2023
Sam McDonald, WITH-HUMANITY, 16 Feb 2023