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Psychiatric illness is biggest source of Europe's ill health

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4 | NewScientist | 10 September 2011 PSYCHIATRIC illness is now the biggest source of ill health in Europe. Almost 40 per cent of the region’s population – around 165 million people – experience a mental disorder each year, such as depression or anxiety, yet only a third receive treatment, according to a study published this week. Anxiety topped the league, accounting for 14 per cent of cases, followed by insomnia and depression, with 7.0 and 6.9 per cent, respectively (European Neuropsychopharmacology, DOI: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2011.07.018). Improvements since a Europe- wide mental health survey in 2005 have been patchy and isolated, despite pledges to improve diagnosis and treatment, says Hans-Ulrich Wittchen at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany, who led the new, three-year study of people’s Europe’s health gap mental health in 30 EU countries. The key to improving things is for governments to focus on early diagnosis, says Wittchen, since the costs of mental illness are often indirect, arising from absenteeism, unemployment and disability. “It’s notable that there’s still a large treatment gap,” says Vikram Patel of the London School of Tropical Medicine’s facility in Goa, India. “Perhaps Europe could learn lessons on how to use non-specialists to deliver certain mental health interventions, as has been achieved in developing countries.” Intelligent machine ARE you talking to a person or a machine? It could soon be harder to tell amid claims that software called Cleverbot has passed one of the key tests of artificial intelligence: the Turing test. Proposed by British computer scientist Alan Turing in the 1950s, the test states that if a human talking to a machine believes the machine is human, it passes. The Cleverbot test took place at the Techniche festival in Guwahati, India. Thirty volunteers conducted a typed 4-minute conversation with an unknown entity. Half of the volunteers spoke to humans while the rest chatted with Cleverbot. All the conversations were displayed on large screens for an audience to see. Both the participants and the audience then rated the humanness of all the responses, with Cleverbot voted 59 per cent human, while the humans themselves were rated just 63 per cent human. A total of 1334 votes were cast – many more than in any previous Turing test, says Cleverbot’s developer and AI specialist Rollo Carpenter. Ivory crackdown THE noose is tightening on a key hub used to smuggle ivory from Africa to Asia. In three months, Malaysian authorities have seized over 1700 African elephant tusks – a first for the nation. Chris Shepherd of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC says that in 20 years of working in anti- animal trafficking he has never known Malaysia to seize any tusks, despite other authorities making seizures on ships to – or Keep on pumpingFoiling tusk traffickingObama’s ozone go-slow HAS Barack Obama got his head in the clouds? That was the question from many corners last week as the president abandoned plans for stricter limits on ozone pollution. Environmental and health groups have met the decision with suspicion: they fear he has caved in to pressure from Republicans and industry, who say the regulations would be too burdensome and could cost jobs. The legal limit will stay at 84 parts of ozone per billion of air, as it has been since it was last tightened in 1997. The new rule would have cut this to 60 ppb. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the lower limit would cost the country $90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever imposed. Health campaigners believe it would have been money well spent. “The stronger smog standards would have saved up to 4300 lives and as many as 2200 heart attacks every year,” says Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international advocacy group based in New York. The Obama administration has hit back against “sell-out” claims. Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, says that the president is not “soft on smog”. He says that Obama is simply delaying a final decision on ozone: the scientific literature that supports the standards is being reviewed by the EPA anyway, he says, so it would have been premature to introduce the new rule until the review is complete in 2013. “Europe could learn lessons on using non-specialists to deliver certain mental health interventions” ERIK RANK/GETTY AP PHOTO UPFRONT
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Page 1: Psychiatric illness is biggest source of Europe's ill health

4 | NewScientist | 10 September 2011

PSYCHIATRIC illness is now the biggest source of ill health in Europe. Almost 40 per cent of the region’s population – around 165 million people – experience a mental disorder each year, such as depression or anxiety, yet only a third receive treatment, according to a study published this week.

Anxiety topped the league, accounting for 14 per cent of cases, followed by insomnia and depression, with 7.0 and 6.9 per cent, respectively (European Neuropsychopharmacology, DOI: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2011.07.018).

Improvements since a Europe-wide mental health survey in 2005 have been patchy and isolated, despite pledges to

improve diagnosis and treatment, says Hans-Ulrich Wittchen at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany, who led the new, three-year study of people’s

Europe’s health gap mental health in 30 EU countries.The key to improving things is

for governments to focus on early diagnosis, says Wittchen, since the costs of mental illness are often indirect, arising from absenteeism, unemployment and disability.

“It’s notable that there’s still a large treatment gap,” says Vikram Patel of the London School of Tropical Medicine’s facility in Goa, India. “Perhaps Europe could learn lessons on how to use non-specialists to deliver certain mental health interventions, as has been achieved in developing countries.”

Intelligent machineARE you talking to a person or a machine? It could soon be harder to tell amid claims that software called Cleverbot has passed one of the key tests of artificial intelligence: the Turing test.

Proposed by British computer scientist Alan Turing in the 1950s, the test states that if a human talking to a machine believes the machine is human, it passes.

The Cleverbot test took place at the Techniche festival in Guwahati, India. Thirty volunteers conducted a typed 4-minute conversation

with an unknown entity. Half of the volunteers spoke to humans while the rest chatted with Cleverbot. All the conversations were displayed on large screens for an audience to see.

Both the participants and the audience then rated the humanness of all the responses, with Cleverbot voted 59 per cent human, while the humans themselves were rated just 63 per cent human. A total of 1334 votes were cast – many more than in any previous Turing test, says Cleverbot’s developer and AI specialist Rollo Carpenter.

Ivory crackdownTHE noose is tightening on a key hub used to smuggle ivory from Africa to Asia. In three months, Malaysian authorities have seized over 1700 African elephant tusks – a first for the nation.

Chris Shepherd of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC says that in 20 years of working in anti-animal trafficking he has never known Malaysia to seize any tusks, despite other authorities making seizures on ships to – or

–Keep on pumping–

–Foiling tusk trafficking–

Obama’s ozone go-slowHAS Barack Obama got his head in the clouds? That was the question from many corners last week as the president abandoned plans for stricter limits on ozone pollution.

Environmental and health groups have met the decision with suspicion: they fear he has caved in to pressure from Republicans and industry, who say the regulations would be too burdensome and could cost jobs.

The legal limit will stay at 84 parts of ozone per billion of air, as it has been since it was last tightened in 1997. The new rule would have cut this to 60 ppb. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the lower limit would cost the country $90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever imposed.

Health campaigners believe it would have been money well spent. “The stronger smog standards would have saved up to 4300 lives and as many as 2200 heart attacks every year,” says Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international advocacy group based in New York.

The Obama administration has hit back against “sell-out” claims. Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, says that the president is not “soft on smog”. He says that Obama is simply delaying a final decision on ozone: the scientific literature that supports the standards is being reviewed by the EPA anyway, he says, so it would have been premature to introduce the new rule until the review is complete in 2013.

“Europe could learn lessons on using non-specialists to deliver certain mental health interventions”

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