Posts tagged with "Mental health"

Industry’s newest productivity tool: An uncomfortable toilet seat (no joke!)

December 25, 2019

We are not alone-and it has nothing to do with UFOs. While businesses already are monitoring employee emails, Slack messages, and keystrokes in order to increase productivity at the office, the last bastion of worker privacy is about to disappear, according to a report by The Huffington Post.

Gone are the days when a single-occupancy toilet stall was, perhaps, the only place where an employee could find solace in solo in a high-pressure workplace.

No—there won’t be video cameras in the loo, but a British company named StandardToilettoilet has applied for a patent on a toilet that discourages long bathroom breaks. The company has filed a patent for a fixture designed to increase employee productivity by making it uncomfortable for anyone to dwell on the toilet seat.

In its own defense, on its website, StandardToilet explains, “It is estimated that in the United Kingdom alone, extended employee breaks costs industry and commerce an estimated £4 billion (US$5.2 billion) per annum. Moreover, medical studies have suggested that using the traditional WC can contribute to swollen hemorrhoids and the weakening of pelvic muscles.”

The company adds two more pressing reasons for introducing discomfort and  a quicker departure into the restroom experience: “In modern times , the workplace toilet has become private texting and social media usage space. [And] in commercial shopping malls and train stations, a requirement to reduce queuing has become a necessity.”

Indeed, StandardToilet rationalizes, it is offering a “unique opportunity to improve employee heath and well-being with business efficiency through reductions in social media usage.”

While current toilet seats provide a reasonably comfortable horizontal seating surface, the newly designed seat slopes forward at an angle of 13 degrees, HuffPost reports.

The new product is designed to make it uncomfortable to spend longer than about five minutes on it without experiencing leg strain, Mahabir Gill, founder of StandardToilet, told Wired UK in an article published Monday.

“Thirteen degrees is not too inconvenient, but you’d soon want to get off the seat quite quickly,” Gil told the magazine. The magazine reported that Gil is in talks with several local councils and service stations to use his product.

However, there are naysayers: Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler, assistant professor of Design History at Purdue University in Indiana, told the HuffPost that the toilet makes assumptions about the kind of person who will be using it. “It kind of imagines that the process of urinating and defecating are these mechanical aspects of our bodies that always operate the way that they are supposed to. That we all have bowels that move efficiently, that we all pee at the same level, Kaufmann-Buhler said. “Bodies aren’t standard.”

In an email, StandardToilet explained to HuffPost that the product is not designed to replace toilets for people with disabilities.

Assuming that the product was in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other countries’ regulations for accessibility, there could still be issues if this toilet were to go mainstream, a workplace disability expert told the news outlet. Nadine Vogel is the CEO of Springboard Consulting, a business that works with companies on how to serve workers with disabilities. “Is it necessarily useable for all by a universal design point?” Vogel said is the question StandardToilet should be asking themselves to be more inclusive to employees with disabilities. “What is accessible is not always useable,” Vogel said.

Vogel outlined scenarios of workers who may or may not have a documented disability but need longer bathroom breaks. It could be a diabetic worker who needs to take a glucose test while sitting comfortably on a toilet seat, she said. Or it could be someone needing that break for their mental health. “The fact that the concern is extended employee breaks―well, what about people that have some kind of mental health situation that actually need that kind of longer break?” Vogel asked.

Harvey Molotch, a professor of Sociology at New York University and co-editor of “Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing,” told HuffPost that his immediate reaction to the patent was that it was a “spoof.”

In general, Molotch said this toilet monitoring is part of the history of “anxiety that people are ‘misusing’ toilet facilities for things not intended and, indeed, doing things that are sinful: drugs, sex, loafing.”

Kaufmann-Buhler said this product assumes how an employee’s time should be managed. “I do think it’s a very capitalist mentality that people’s physical bodies and its problems and limitations are inconveniences to modern capitalism that want you to be productive whatever the cost,” Kaufmann-Buhler said.

Employees already feel pressure to take shorter bathroom breaks. Seventy-four percent of Amazon warehouse workers avoid using the toilet out of fear of being warned about missing their target numbers, according to a survey of more than 100 employees by worker rights platform Organise.

Office design can add another physical layer to this pressure to be an efficient worker. Since direct surveillance would be “indecent invasion of the most private of our acts,” employers control workers’ toilet habits through equipment, Molotch said. “Instead of a real cop, the cop is built into the machinery itself,” he added.

Research contact: @HuffPost

How deep is the impact of bullying?

July 5, 2018

For about 25% of all U.S. children and teenagers, bullying is an everyday experience, at school and on their home turf. Whether that involves name-calling, isolation from social groups or activities, or actual physical aggression, it will leave a lasting impression on a child’s self-image and mental health.

Indeed, a U.K.-based study published in the November 2017 edition of the journal, JAMA Psychiatry, provides the strongest evidence to date that being bullied at a young age leads to feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as an increase in paranoid and disorganized thinking.

But, the researchers believe, the after-effects do not have to last a lifetime: Many of the negative reactions seem to dissipate within a few years.

After polling more than 11,000 twins, ages 11 through 16, in England and Wales, the co-authors—who are affiliated with King’s College London, University College London, and University of Birbeck-London—were able to isolate the extent to which bullying created negative outcomes, rather than such other factors such as genetics or environmental pollutants.

The study found that kids who are bullied as tweens or teens are more likely than their non-bullied siblings to suffer from a wide range of troubling psychiatric problems as long as two years later. However, at the five-year mark, the anxiety and depression attributable to bullying had disappeared, and the lingering impact on paranoid and disorganized thoughts was modest. Many of the children had developed strategies for managing their symptoms and fears.

The authors said, “Our finding that [the level of anxiety and depression] dissipated or reduced over time highlights the potential for resilience in children exposed to bullying. This finding also highlights the need for further investigations into mechanisms of resilience that could be harnessed in future interventions.”

Their advice: Talk to children about bullying experiences early on and encourage them to join a support group, or to find other ways to relieve their stress. “We want to be sure to support kids and consider the risk of bullying along with factors that can compound it—including pre-existing mental health conditions and isolation from peer groups.”

Research contact: j.pingault@ucl.ac.uk

We are what we eat: The American Gut Project

June 12, 2018

Our inner lives—from digestion to mental health—are affected by the bacteria that live in our guts, based on the first major findings of a study of the “poop” of 11,336 average Joes by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and their collaborators worldwide. The American Gut Project, launched in November 2012, is a crowd-sourced, global citizen science effort to better understand human microbiomes—which types of bacteria live where, how many of each,; and how they are influenced by diet, lifestyle and disease.

The project—described May 15 in mSystems, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology— is the largest published study to date of the human microbiome.

“It’s really amazing that more than 10,000 people—members of the public who want to get involved in science whether or not they work in a lab or have a [doctoral degree]—have mailed their poop to our lab so that we can find out what makes a difference in somebody’s microbiome,” said Rob Knight, Ph.D., who is one of three co-founders of the research project and who also is a professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Jacobs School of Engineering, and director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego.  The other two are Jeff Leach, Ph.D. and Jack Gilbert, Ph.D.

The researchers recruited their participants—mostly from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, but also from 42 other nations and territories—who were willing to contribute $99 as “citizen scientists.” Having done so, they then received a kit, which enabled them to collect a fecal, oral, or skin swab and then mail it back to UC-San Diego. Along with the sample, each participant answered a voluntary survey that included questions about general health status, disease history, lifestyle, and diet. They also could choose to participate in an online forum called Gut Instinct, through which they could share their lifestyle-based insights. Once the sample was processed, participants received a report that detailed specifically what was living in their guts (or other body site).

To tease out the identities of the bacteria living in a participant’s mixed sample, the American Gut Project team sequenced a genetic marker unique to bacteria and archaea. Called 16S rRNA, this molecule acts as a sort-of bar code for these microbes.

First findings

All of the data collected by the American Gut Project are publicly available, without participants’ identifying information. This open access approach allows researchers around the world to mine the data for meaningful associations between factors such as diet, exercise, lifestyle, microbial makeup and health. Among the observations that have emerged to date are the following:

  • Diet: The number of plant types in a person’s diet plays a role in the diversity of his or her gut microbiome—the number of different types of bacteria living there. No matter the diet they ate, participants who ate more than 30 different plant types per week (41 people) had gut microbiomes that were more diverse than those who ate 10 or fewer types of plants per week (44 people). The gut samples of these two groups also differed in the types of molecules present.
  • Antibiotics. The gut microbiomes of American Gut Project participants who reported that they took antibiotics in the past month (139 people) were, as predicted, less diverse than those of people who reported that they had not taken antibiotics in the last year (117 people). But, paradoxically, people who had taken antibiotics recently had significantly greater diversity in the types of chemicals in their gut samples than those who had not taken antibiotics in the past year. What’s more, the participants who ate more than 30 plants per week also had fewer antibiotic resistance genes in their gut microbiomes than people who ate 10 or fewer plants. In other words, the bacteria living in the guts of the plant-lovers had fewer genes that encode the molecular pumps that help the bacteria avoid antibiotics. This study didn’t address why this might be the case, but the researchers think it could be because people who eat fewer plants may instead be eating more meat from antibiotic-treated animals or processed foods with antibiotics added as a preservative, which may favor the survival of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Mental health. The American Gut Project researchers also examined the gut microbiomes of 125 people who reported having a mental health disorder, such as depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),or bipolar disorder. They matched each of these participants to individuals who did not have a mental health disorder, but did have other major factors in common, such as country, age, gender, and body mass index. The team found that people with a mental disorder had more in common with other people with mental disorders, in terms of the bacteria makeup of their gut microbiomes, than they did with their mentally healthy pairs. The observation held true in both U.S. and U.K. populations, in males and females, and across age groups. In addition, the research team found some indications that specific bacteria types may be more common in people with depression than people who do not have the condition.

Most of the findings emerging from the American Gut Project so far are simply observations or associations, and in many cases researchers can’t yet extrapolate the ultimate effect on human health. For example, while the researchers observed that people who eat many plants have a more diverse gut microbiome than those who don’t, they don’t yet know if increasing a person’s microbial diversity from its current level would have a direct positive effect on his or her health. However, the ultimate goal is to improve health with this knowledge.

 The work is ongoing. “The human microbiome is complex, but the more samples we get, the sooner we will be able to unravel the many ways the microbiome is associated with various health and disease states,” Knight said. “The American Gut Project is dynamic, with samples arriving from around the world daily. The analysis presented in this paper represents a single snapshot, but we want eventually to go beyond making maps of the microbiome to making a microbiome GPS that tells you not just where you are on that map, but where you want to go and what to do in order to get there in terms of diet, lifestyle or medications.”

To participate in the American Gut Project, visit AmericanGut.org 

Research contact: hbuschman@ucsd.edu

Majority of U.S. teachers not in ‘right mindset’ in classroom

November 3, 2017

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of U.S. educators find work either always or often stressful—which is twice the level felt by workers in other sectors—according to survey results from the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association.

The data is part of the  2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey, which polled nearly 5,000 teachers and school staff members nationwide.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents noted that their mental health was “not good” for seven or more of the past 30 days—reflecting a large increase from the 34% of respondents who said their mental health was “not good” in 2015.

In addition, more than half agreed that they have less enthusiasm now than at the beginning of their careers.

The survey cited various causes for the increased stress among teachers— including having little influence over policy decisions and professional development, working long hours, experiencing teacher shortages, and feeling a lack of respect from federal and elected officials and the media.

Specifically, the survey cited the disrespect that public school teachers believed was directed their way by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

In addition, teachers reported being bullied, harassed or threatened on the job at higher rates than other professionals; and reported sleeping less than the recommended average per night, which may contribute to worse health outcomes.

These high rates of teacher stress and health have been linked to higher turnover and increased absenteeism among teachers, as well as lower achievement for students and increased costs for school districts.

Research contact: ccox@signalscv.com