Category Archives: Covering medical studies

Study shows that social contact intervention may reduce mental health stigma, suggests solutions journalism ideas

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo by Alachua County via Flickr.

One of the biggest barriers to seeking mental health care is stigma. While I can point to some studies that show this all over the world, the scale of the problem is most evident simply by doing a keyword search in PubMed. Stigma is particularly discouraging for those living with substance use disorders, including alcohol use disorder.

What if training and research related to mental illness involved the people who live with mental health conditions? Could that reduce at least some of the stigma that even many clinicians have, consciously or not, about their patients and the disorders they treat? Could it improve mental health care overall? According to a new pilot study that tested this, it appears it can.

Journalists might find the study’s findings interesting because it’s a rich area for story ideas:

  • Do mental health facilities in your area explicitly do training to reduce stigma in clinicians?
  • How are people generally trained in local mental health treatment centers in your area?
  • Have patients who have been in treatment programs felt as though they were treated with respect and dignity?
  • Could patients’ perception of stigma from their clinicians be discouraging them from continuing care?
  • Are any local mental health facilities considering including people with mental illness in their training programs?  

Any one of those questions or a half dozen others could lead to possible stories to explore on a local or national level. Let’s look at how the researchers conducted this study and what they found.

Continue reading

Everything journalists need to know about Robert Califf, the newly nominated FDA commissioner

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Robert Califf (Photo by Mark J. Ermarth via Flickr)

President Joe Biden nominated cardiologist Robert Califf for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner to replace Janet Woodcock, who has been acting commissioner since Biden took office in January. So, who is Califf, and what should journalists know about him? Below is an overview of key facts that journalists may find helpful as a backgrounder as well as some recommended reading for those who have time to learn more.

Overview

  • Califf was most recently a senior research advisor for Verily, a research organization, and Google Health.
  • Califf has served at the FDA previously but is best known for building Duke University’s clinical trials program from the ground up and as an advocate for tobacco control.
  • Despite wide bipartisan support in his previous FDA appointment, Congressional reactions to this appointment are mixed, with particular opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin.

Califf isn’t new to the FDA.

  • He served as FDA Commissioner under President Barrack Obama from February 2016-January 2017, when President Donald Trump took office.
  • Before that, he had been Deputy Commissioner of the FDA’s Office of Medical Products and Tobacco from January 2015 until his nomination and confirmation as commissioner.
  • While at the FDA, Califf pushed to require “black box” warnings about the risks of mixing opioids and benzodiazepines.
  • Califf pushed for using electronic health data and “real-world evidence” while at the FDA.
  • Califf was involved in a controversial decision in 2016 after Commissioner Woodcock granted accelerated approval for eteplirsen, a drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, over the objections of agency and external scientists who said there wasn’t adequate evidence that the treatment worked. Califf’s subsequent memo deferred to Woodcock.
  • Califf was allegedly considered for FDA Commissioner in 2009 but was considered too tied to the industry.

Continue reading

Words matter: How you use them when covering mental illness can reduce — or increase stigma

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo by Shaheen Lakhan via Flickr.

Journalists already know it’s important to be thoughtful and respectful when including patient stories in our reporting. Where it gets tricky is figuring out what someone might consider disrespectful when they’re identified with their condition. I’ve written before about the difference between identity-first and person-first language, and a new study offers additional insight on the importance of distinguishing between the two.

Identity-first language means the condition precedes the person, such as writing about “autistic people” or “deaf people.” A substantial proportion (but not all) of the autistic and deaf communities prefer identity-first language. Person-first language means, for example, referring to “a person with diabetes” instead of “a diabetic” or “a diabetic person.” Putting the person first — instead of their disease — emphasizes their humanity and can reduce stigma, which is why it’s important when writing about obesity to use “people with obesity” instead of “obese people,” as obesity physician Yoni Freedhoff has encouraged for years.

The new study focuses on the label used for those who live with schizophrenia and provides compelling evidence for why it’s important for clinicians to use “people with schizophrenia” instead of “schizophrenics.” The findings are crucial for journalists because media coverage of mental illness can affect how the public views mental health conditions — especially schizophrenia — which has already suffered from stigma for years in the public eye. The new research also reveals how powerful words are in shaping our perceptions.

Continue reading

Rural liver cancer rates on the rise: How journalists can raise awareness

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo by Wei Sandy via Flickr

Though liver cancer rates have historically been lower in rural areas, they have recently increased and urban rates have started to slow down, according to a new study. These findings highlight the growing disparities between rural and urban health.

Some of the biggest stories in recent years about urban-rural health disparities have focused on opioid dependence and deaths, but the topic is rich with other story ideas that need public awareness — including ones that are connected to the opioid epidemic. Given what the most common causes of liver cancer are, the results of this new study hint at other upstream health issues that are becoming growing problems in rural areas, especially when other cancer rates, such as breast, lung, and colorectal cancer, have been falling in the same places.

Study methodology

Kali Zhou, M.D., one of the study’s lead authors, and her colleagues looked at trends of hepatocellular carcinoma — one of the nation’s fastest growing cancers — in adults over age 20 during the past two decades (1995-2016). They used the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries database which covers 93% of the U.S., including large swaths of the rural population.

Continue reading

American Journal of Public Health dedicates issue to health inequities and justice

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo by Maryland GovPics via Flickr

Health inequalities have long been a concern in medicine. A robust evidence base has been growing for decades regarding social determinants — such as poverty, neighborhood proximity to pollution, and education access — that contribute to higher risk of disease and poor health outcomes. However, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that these issues took center stage in the public eye.

A JAMA January 2021 article revealed that the hospitalization rate for Black patients with COVID-19 was more than triple that of white people, and Hispanic patients were hospitalized more than four times more often than white patients. Asian patients with COVID-19 had double the hospitalization risk of white patients. Similarly, Black and Hispanic people with COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to die from the disease than white people, and Asian patients were almost twice as likely to die than white patients.

Continue reading