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Health VIEW

Puzzle of a Generation's Instability

May 05, 1987|ALLAN PARACHINI | Times Staff Writer

The generation born since World War II has, in many respects, made entering psychotherapy as routine and accepted as going to the gym. Now, research studies suggest there may be good reason for this behavior.

These studies conclude that Americans born since about 1945 are more mentally unstable than their predecessors. It's a conclusion with which the editor of a prominent psychiatric journal says he agrees--but can't readily explain.

Two separate teams of researchers have found mounting evidence suggesting that, among Americans born between World War II and now, the incidence of common psychiatric disorders like depression is far more widespread than it was in previous generations.

The concern, warns a research team from the National Institutes of Mental Health, is that "an ominous trend may be present, leading to an increase in prevalence of a broad spectrum of (depression and depression-like) disorders in the coming decades."

The NIMH team reported its findings in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. A second research study reaching a similar conclusion, by Dr. Myrna Weissman of the Yale University School of Medicine, appears in the American Journal of Public Health. The Yale study concludes that the risk factors for major depression in America today include being female, born after World War II, separated or divorced or still in an unhappy marriage and having a family history of depression.

The NIMH team, led by Dr. Elliot Gershon, found--as did the Yale investigation--markedly higher rates of depression and related disorders in people born after 1940. Rates are nearly double those of previous generations born from before 1910 to the beginning of World War II.

It is tempting, noted Dr. Daniel X. Freedman of UCLA, editor of the Archives of General Psychiatry, to speculate that drug abuse may underlie the apparent trend. But Freedman said he doesn't think drugs explain it. "My line about this is that it's a puzzle," he said. "I can come up with a lot of cheap interpretations, but they don't work. You really have to wonder: What is this all about?" CONTRACEPTIVE SPONGE

The over-the-counter contraceptive sponge--limited on the American market to just one brand (Today) approved for sale in 1983--finds itself the subject of no less than three new research developments:

- Researchers at the American Social Health Assn., in a study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., concluded--based on a test among a group of female massage parlor employees in Bangkok--that the Today brand (and its contraceptive agent, nonoxynol-9) apparently can have the effect of protecting women against chlamydia and gonorrhea, but may make them more prone than normal to yeast infections. The yeast infection involved is commonly called candidiasis .

- A Los Angeles research team has begun an American test of a sponge that could give women who select that means of birth control an alternative to Today. The trial will last three years and involve 300 women; 50 are currently enrolled through the Los Angeles Regional Family Planning Council. Under scrutiny is a type of sponge already sold in Europe that relies on a spermicide called benzalkonium chloride, an agent quite different from the nonoxynol-9 used in Today and many over-the-counter birth control creams and gels. Early European studies of the new variety, tentatively called the Poly-B sponge here, suggest it is effective, but the family planning council conceded that long-term adverse reaction data has not been accumulated. European studies imply the new sponge may be inserted as long as 24 hours before intercourse and removed as soon as two hours afterward.

- In a related development, a manufacturer-financed study of the Today sponge, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, discounts initial concerns that women using Today may be at risk for toxic shock syndrome--a potentially fatal disorder initially linked to tampon use but later found to have a broader range of causes. The researchers, in Missoula, Mont., said their study found that Today had the apparent effect of neutralizing toxic shock syndrome bacteria. RUNNING INJURIES

There's been extensive debate over whether running as a sport results in few or many injuries, but any discussion about injuries in running in general is far too broad, a Swedish research team has concluded. That's because there appear to be marked differences in injury type and severity depending on the kind of running in which an athlete is engaged.

Reporting their findings in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers say they found that, among athletes of both genders, marathon runners most often had foot problems, middle-distance runners were afflicted most frequently by backache and hip trouble, and short-distance sprint specialists were most likely to complain of hamstring strain and tendinitis. Long-distance runners, however, also had appreciable numbers of back and hip symptoms.

The highest injury rates tended to occur in summer and spring. The distance a marathon runner covered in one month seemed to predict the likelihood of injury becoming apparent in the ensuing month. Injury symptoms often were not noticed until the month after whatever caused them had occurred. In 60 runners studied, researchers found that, in a year, two-thirds of them had at least one injury. Between 2.5 and 5.8 injuries occurred with each 1,000 hours of activity--a rate the researchers said was less than for soccer, but was not compared to other sports.

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