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Teen bullies and risk of depression, suicidal thoughts

Depressed or suicidal adolescents who bully others are more likely to experience lasting mental health consequences than depressed teens with no involvement in bullying, according to a study conducted by researchers at Columbia University, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and the Israeli School of Psychology.

The study polled 96 American high school students who reported both depression and an involvement in bullying as perpetrators, victims, or both. Two years after the initial reporting, researchers compared those students to 142 teenagers identified as “at-risk” for suicide but who were not involved in any bullying.

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Bullies who also had thoughts of suicide or were depressed were likeliest to have issues with substance abuse or functional impairment two years later.

The findings are in line with previous studies suggesting that aggression or other external behaviors may be as important as depression or substance abuse as a suicide risk factor.

BOTTOM LINE: Bullying, when a teenager already shows signs of depression or has thoughts of suicide, may make that student more likely to have persistent psychological problems later on.

CAUTIONS: The study took its information about bullying behavior only from self-reporting, and it may have failed to note other risk factors for the depressed or suicidal students, such as histories of sexual or physical abuse.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Journal of Adolescent Health, July 2013

Reducing risk factors in heart patients

Doctors may be able to more precisely judge which patients with the common heart disorder atrial fibrillation need medication to prevent strokes. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, the University of California at San Francisco, and Stanford Medical School have developed a new way to predict strokes for those patients, according to a new study.

Atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heart rate which interferes with normal blood flow to the body, increases patients’ risk of stroke as much as four to five times, the study said. It is most common in those over 80.

Preventive drugs called anticoagulants can sometimes cause dangerous internal bleeding. The study aimed to allow doctors to better target when to prescribe these drugs to patients.

Researchers developed a risk score for strokes by analyzing 4,342 patients with the disease who did not take drugs. Risk factors in the study included old age, prior strokes, previous incidents of heart failure, or kidney dysfunction. The most at-risk individuals were those over 85 or those who had experienced a prior stroke, the study found.

The study found 46 percent of its participants had a less than 1 percent risk of a major stroke and therefore did not need to be placed on anticoagulant drugs.

BOTTOM LINE: Doctors can reduce risk factors such as bleeding for patients with heart disease by estimating risk factors more precisely and targeting treatment accordingly.

CAUTIONS: The study focused on the most severe strokes, meaning those at “low risk,” by the researchers’ definition, might still suffer minor strokes.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Journal of the American Heart Association, June 19

Sanjena Sathian can be reached at sanjena.sathian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sasathian.
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