Tag Archives: life

Children’s snacking habits setting them up for obesity in later life

Children’s snacking habits are setting them up for obesity and poor health, Public Health England has warned, calling on parents to take a tougher line on sweets and cakes and fizzy drinks between meals.

Children in England are eating on average at least three unhealthy high-calorie sugary snacks and drinks every day, says PHE, and about a third of children eat four or more. It is urging parents to draw the line at two and make sure they are not more than 100 calories each.

The diet of the average child can contain three times more sugar than recommended, says PHE. Half the equivalent of seven sugar cubes a day they consume comes from unhealthy snacks and drinks. Each year that includes almost 400 biscuits, more than 120 cakes, 100 sweets, 70 chocolate bars and 70 ice creams, washed down with more than 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.

children’s snacks graphic

The slogan of a new campaign under the Change4Life banner is: “Look for 100 calorie snacks, two a day max”.

That could lead to a significant change in diet. An ice-cream contains about 175 calories, a pack of crisps contains about 190 calories, a chocolate bar contains about 200 calories and a pastry contains about 270 calories, says PHE.

There will be a drive to encourage healthier snacking, with signposting at supermarkets and special offers on fruit and vegetables. Parents can sign up on the Change4Life website to get vouchers for money off snacks PHE identifies as healthier, such as malt loaf, lower sugar fromage frais, and drinks with no added sugar.

Other snack foods PHE says are healthier include fresh or tinned fruit salad, chopped vegetables and lower fat hummus, plain rice cakes, crackers, lower fat cheese, small low-fat, lower sugar yoghurt, sugar free jelly, crumpets and Scotch pancakes.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “The true extent of children’s snacking habits is greater than the odd biscuit or chocolate bar. Children are having unhealthy snacks throughout the day and parents have told us they’re concerned.

“To make it easier for busy families, we’ve developed a simple rule of thumb to help them move towards healthier snacking – look for 100 calorie snacks, two a day max.”

The campaign will include a new TV advert from Aardman Animations as well as leaflets in schools.

Justine Roberts, CEO and founder of Mumsnet, said: “The volume of sugar kids are getting from snacks and sugary drinks alone is pretty mindblowing, and it can often be difficult to distinguish which snacks are healthy and which aren’t.

A third of children are leaving primary school obese or overweight. Recent figures from the National Child Measurement Programme in schools show the number of obese children in reception year has risen for the second consecutive year (to 9.6%) and has shown no improvement in year 6 (20%).

A quarter of children (24.7%) suffer from tooth decay by the time they turn five. Tooth extraction is the most common cause of hospital admissions in children aged 5 to 9 years.

How the hardest year of my life ended my catastrophic thinking

It is March and I am Googling “meningitis” again. My partner has caught our son’s chicken pox and her symptoms are frightening me. Vice-like headache. Aversion to light. Brain fog. Also, I am pregnant and my habit of catastrophising has sprouted horns, and, pumped up on hormones, my heart is working twice as hard as usual. Nausea is now approaching something more … cataclysmic. My phone starts autocorrecting “morning” to “meningitis”. I become convinced that my partner has developed brain swelling, a rare complication of chicken pox. From here, it is a short step to picturing her dying and me giving birth alone, letting the worst case scenario in like an old friend.

The thing is, this time I am right. Sort of. She does have meningitis. The GP takes one look at her and sends her up to the infectious diseases ward in a taxi. I feel a tiny bit triumphant in the way only catastrophisers can. See? I told you. The worst has happened! But I’m also wrong: a tiny wad of catastrophe may have been fired at us, but my partner does not die and I do not give birth alone. She recovers. The baby is born. We are lucky again.

Time and again during the hardest year of my life (to date, the catastrophiser in me would like to qualify), my habit of fearing that the worst will happen got, well, worse. I don’t know when it began, so peculiarly subtle is the feeling that the most likely outcome is the really bad one. But last year some of my most calamitous predictionscame true, at least in part. The realisation that I needed to do something about it came when my partner, who is a psychotherapist, arrived home with a book. “I saw this and thought of you,” she said. It was called Why Does Everything Always Go Wrong?. I laughed a bit too hard. The truth is, there was a lot to catastrophise about last year, on a global, national and personal level.


My son is autistic and we are all coping brilliantly; being the one is not a catastrophe once you are living it

Just before the meningitis episode I discovered that the baby I was carrying was high risk for Down’s syndrome. While we awaited more results, my pregnancy was reduced to a series of statistics – one-in-58 chance of Down’s, one-in-100 risk of miscarriage with amniocentesis – and I grappled with the fact that someone has to be the “one”. In fact, I already knew what it was to be the one, because my son is autistic and, actually, we are all coping brilliantly; being the one is not a catastrophe once you are living it.

But catastrophising does not give a damn about hard evidence and I remained terrified. A fortnight later, the results came in: the chance of the baby having Down’s was vastly reduced, to one in 10,000. It occurred to me that catastrophising is more than just a destructive habit: sometimes it is a reasonable response to what is happening, a kind of mental preparation.

In April, my mother, who is incurably ill with breast cancer, got pneumonia and ended up in A&E. She asked to see my sister and I, so I rushed to London from Edinburgh, five months pregnant, with a daughter (and dread) somersaulting in my belly. I feared the distress would make me lose the baby and I thought my mother was going to die. Catastrophisers have a habit of thinking a person is dead if they are half an hour late, so a situation like this suits our sense of drama perfectly. My mother recovered. We continued to live with the deep uncertainty that comes with scans every three months and the neverending wait for results. Each time, I prepared myself for the worst. Maybe this is not a habit to be broken, but a coping mechanism.

By June, I had to make a major decision that provided an opportunity to see whether I could nix the catastrophising: how to have my baby. My son, who is four, was born by emergency C-section and so I was offered an elective caesarean. I saw a consultant who ran through the risks I faced if I attempted a natural birth without constant foetal monitoring and a cannula in my hand. I decided to laugh – or, at least, get off my head on laughing gas – in the face of potential catastrophe and attempted a natural birth on my own terms. I hired a doula to support me in hospital and – here is a first – hoped for the best.

In August, my daughter was born 45 minutes after I arrived in hospital. It was a short, fierce and mind-blowing natural labour. It was not perfect – I had an episiotomy and there was a minor Strep B scare that meant we ended up in A&E twice in the first week after her birth – but it was one of the best days of my life (to date, the optimist in me would like to qualify).

How am I trying to break my habit of catastrophising? Not by deep breathing, yoga, therapy, drugs or imagining all the catastrophes I fear floating away down a river. Talking and thinking have helped in the daily maintenance of perspective, which is catastrophising’s greatest enemy. Has this year been about the worst happening (and I write this a week after my beloved dog has had four tumours removed from her powerful, young body) or about a series of narrow escapes? Is it about bad luck or survival? After all, my partner recovered. The baby is perfect. My mother is still here. The dog is walking off the lead again. We are lucky.

Catastrophising is dependent on you never being in the moment: it constantly shoves you up against an unknowable, uncontrollable future. Once you go there, you are lost. Parenting, so often a source of anxiety, has been the best antidote to this. The hard graft and small, pure joys of looking after a baby and a little boy with autism anchor me to the present. The baby keeps me healthy, makes me feel lucky and gives me a constant dose of perspective. She is also exhausting: I am too tired and busy to catastrophise with as much fervour as the habit demands.

Then there is my brilliantly singular, loving and brave son. Before he was diagnosed with autism (that happened this year, too) I feared this moment: how will we manage? What will we do about school? How will he develop? Is everything going to be OK? The mystery and idiosyncrasy of autism can be frustrating, but it is also a visceral reminder that none of us knows what lies ahead and that compassion is the most powerful weapon against anxiety. So, here I am, living and thriving in the future over which I once catastrophised. And you know what? It is not so scary after all.

Life expectancy in US down for second year in a row as opioid crisis deepens

Life expectancy in the US has declined for the second year in a row as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the nation.

It is the first time in half a century that there have been two consecutive years of declining life expectancy.

Drug overdoses killed 63,600 Americans in 2016, an increase of 21% over the previous year, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics found.

Q&A

Why is there an opioid crisis in America?

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses – more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 years. The US last experienced two years’ decline in a row in 1963, during the height of the tobacco epidemic and amid a wave of flu.

“We do occasionally see a one-year dip, even that doesn’t happen that often, but two years in a row is quite striking,” said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch with the National Center for Health Statistics. “And the key driver of that is the increase in drug overdose mortality.”

Especially disconcerting, said Anderson, was preliminary data researchers received about overdoses in 2017: “It doesn’t look any better.” Together, the drug overdose epidemic and a plateau in improved mortality rates from cardiovascular disease are “affecting the entire national picture”.

“We haven’t seen more than two years in a row in declining life expectancy since the Spanish flu – 100 years ago,” said Anderson. “We would be entering that sort of territory, which is extremely concerning.”

Widely available prescription painkillers opened the gates for a new universe of legal and illegal opioid abuse beginning in about 1999. The number of Americans killed by overdoses has increased each year since then. As of 2015, more than half a million Americans had died from drug overdoses.


This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around

Anna Lembke, addiction expert

The new data from NCHS shows that powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have emerged as the latest threat. Between 2015 and 2016, the rate of deaths from synthetic opioids doubled, from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 to 6.2.

In 2015, 16.3 people for every 100,000 living in the US died of a drug overdose. That rate increased by 21% in 2016, when 19.8 people for every 100,000 died of a drug overdose.

“What we’re seeing now is the second wave of this epidemic,” said Anna Lembke, a behavioral sciences professor at Stanford University and an addiction expert. “The first wave started with physicians overprescribing … The second wave has translated into widespread, increased use of illicit opioids, of heroin, of fentanyl, of heroin laced with fentanyl.”

Those numbers vary widely by age and geography. For example, while drug overdose death rates increased in every age demographic in 2016, people between 25 and 54 had the highest rates of overdoses, at 35 deaths per 100,000 people.

The five states with the worst death rates topped even those numbers. West Virginia nearly tripled the national average – 52 people for every 100,000 died of an overdose there. Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington DC and Pennsylvania followed: all hovered around 38 overdose deaths for every 100,000.

The life expectancy of men was especially affected in the US. Women’s life expectancy at birth remained at 81.1 years in 2016, but life expectancy for men declined by 0.2 years, to 76.1 years. It also made accidental death the third-leading cause of death in the US, replacing chronic lower respiratory disease.

“This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around,” said Lembke.

“We’ve got multiple generations of people that are already addicted, and it’s going to be a real struggle to help those people.”

Despite years of warnings about the growing epidemic, congressional leaders have often failed to do more than convene commissions and panels and draw up white papers. Most recently, Donald Trump declared America’s overdose epidemic a public health emergency, but little new funding has materialized. Further, Republican proposals threatened to gut government health programs, such as Medicaid, that treat a disproportionate number of opioid addicts.

“One-time grants are ultimately not going to change the course of this epidemic,” said Lembke. “It’s going to require systemic changes, infrastructure changes, changes in the ways that healthcare delivery happens.”

Data in the latest NCHS report was collected from death certificates in all 50 states, and compiled into the National Vital Statistics System.

Life expectancy in US down for second year in a row as opioid crisis deepens

Life expectancy in the US has declined for the second year in a row as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the nation.

It is the first time in half a century that there have been two consecutive years of declining life expectancy.

Drug overdoses killed 63,600 Americans in 2016, an increase of 21% over the previous year, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics found.

Q&A

Why is there an opioid crisis in America?

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses – more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 years. The US last experienced two years’ decline in a row in 1963, during the height of the tobacco epidemic and amid a wave of flu.

“We do occasionally see a one-year dip, even that doesn’t happen that often, but two years in a row is quite striking,” said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch with the National Center for Health Statistics. “And the key driver of that is the increase in drug overdose mortality.”

Especially disconcerting, said Anderson, was preliminary data researchers received about overdoses in 2017: “It doesn’t look any better.” Together, the drug overdose epidemic and a plateau in improved mortality rates from cardiovascular disease are “affecting the entire national picture”.

“We haven’t seen more than two years in a row in declining life expectancy since the Spanish flu – 100 years ago,” said Anderson. “We would be entering that sort of territory, which is extremely concerning.”

Widely available prescription painkillers opened the gates for a new universe of legal and illegal opioid abuse beginning in about 1999. The number of Americans killed by overdoses has increased each year since then. As of 2015, more than half a million Americans had died from drug overdoses.


This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around

Anna Lembke, addiction expert

The new data from NCHS shows that powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have emerged as the latest threat. Between 2015 and 2016, the rate of deaths from synthetic opioids doubled, from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 to 6.2.

In 2015, 16.3 people for every 100,000 living in the US died of a drug overdose. That rate increased by 21% in 2016, when 19.8 people for every 100,000 died of a drug overdose.

“What we’re seeing now is the second wave of this epidemic,” said Anna Lembke, a behavioral sciences professor at Stanford University and an addiction expert. “The first wave started with physicians overprescribing … The second wave has translated into widespread, increased use of illicit opioids, of heroin, of fentanyl, of heroin laced with fentanyl.”

Those numbers vary widely by age and geography. For example, while drug overdose death rates increased in every age demographic in 2016, people between 25 and 54 had the highest rates of overdoses, at 35 deaths per 100,000 people.

The five states with the worst death rates topped even those numbers. West Virginia nearly tripled the national average – 52 people for every 100,000 died of an overdose there. Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington DC and Pennsylvania followed: all hovered around 38 overdose deaths for every 100,000.

The life expectancy of men was especially affected in the US. Women’s life expectancy at birth remained at 81.1 years in 2016, but life expectancy for men declined by 0.2 years, to 76.1 years. It also made accidental death the third-leading cause of death in the US, replacing chronic lower respiratory disease.

“This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around,” said Lembke.

“We’ve got multiple generations of people that are already addicted, and it’s going to be a real struggle to help those people.”

Despite years of warnings about the growing epidemic, congressional leaders have often failed to do more than convene commissions and panels and draw up white papers. Most recently, Donald Trump declared America’s overdose epidemic a public health emergency, but little new funding has materialized. Further, Republican proposals threatened to gut government health programs, such as Medicaid, that treat a disproportionate number of opioid addicts.

“One-time grants are ultimately not going to change the course of this epidemic,” said Lembke. “It’s going to require systemic changes, infrastructure changes, changes in the ways that healthcare delivery happens.”

Data in the latest NCHS report was collected from death certificates in all 50 states, and compiled into the National Vital Statistics System.

US life expectancy down for second year in a row amid opioid crisis

Life expectancy in the US has declined for the second year in a row as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the nation.

It is the first time in half a century that there have been two consecutive years of declining life expectancy.

Drug overdoses killed 63,600 Americans in 2016, an increase of 21% over the previous year, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics found.

Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 years. The US last experienced two years’ decline in a row in 1963, during the height of the tobacco epidemic and amid a wave of flu.

“We do occasionally see a one-year dip, even that doesn’t happen that often, but two years in a row is quite striking,” said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch with the National Center for Health Statistics. “And the key driver of that is the increase in drug overdose mortality.”

Especially disconcerting, said Anderson, was preliminary data researchers received about overdoses in 2017: “It doesn’t look any better.” Together, the drug overdose epidemic and a plateau in improved mortality rates from cardiovascular disease are “affecting the entire national picture”.

“We haven’t seen more than two years in a row in declining life expectancy since the Spanish flu – 100 years ago,” said Anderson. “We would be entering that sort of territory, which is extremely concerning.”

Widely available prescription painkillers opened the gates for a new universe of legal and illegal opioid abuse beginning in about 1999. The number of Americans killed by overdoses has increased each year since then. As of 2015, more than half a million Americans had died from drug overdoses.


This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around

Anna Lembke, addiction expert

The new data from NCHS shows that powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have emerged as the latest threat. Between 2015 and 2016, the rate of deaths from synthetic opioids doubled, from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 to 6.2.

In 2015, 16.3 people for every 100,000 living in the US died of a drug overdose. That rate increased by 21% in 2016, when 19.8 people for every 100,000 died of a drug overdose.

“What we’re seeing now is the second wave of this epidemic,” said Anna Lembke, a behavioral sciences professor at Stanford University and an addiction expert. “The first wave started with physicians overprescribing … The second wave has translated into widespread, increased use of illicit opioids, of heroin, of fentanyl, of heroin laced with fentanyl.”

Those numbers vary widely by age and geography. For example, while drug overdose death rates increased in every age demographic in 2016, people between 25 and 54 had the highest rates of overdoses, at 35 deaths per 100,000 people.

The five states with the worst death rates topped even those numbers. West Virginia nearly tripled the national average – 52 people for every 100,000 died of an overdose there. Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington DC and Pennsylvania followed: all hovered around 38 overdose deaths for every 100,000.

The life expectancy of men was especially affected in the US. Women’s life expectancy at birth remained at 81.1 years in 2016, but life expectancy for men declined by 0.2 years, to 76.1 years. It also made accidental death the third-leading cause of death in the US, replacing chronic lower respiratory disease.

“This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around,” said Lembke.

“We’ve got multiple generations of people that are already addicted, and it’s going to be a real struggle to help those people.”

Despite years of warnings about the growing epidemic, congressional leaders have often failed to do more than convene commissions and panels and draw up white papers. Most recently, Donald Trump declared America’s overdose epidemic a public health emergency, but little new funding has materialized. Further, Republican proposals threatened to gut government health programs, such as Medicaid, that treat a disproportionate number of opioid addicts.

“One-time grants are ultimately not going to change the course of this epidemic,” said Lembke. “It’s going to require systemic changes, infrastructure changes, changes in the ways that healthcare delivery happens.”

Data in the latest NCHS report was collected from death certificates in all 50 states, and compiled into the National Vital Statistics System.

Q&A

Why is there an opioid crisis in America?

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses – more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

US life expectancy down for second year in a row amid opioid crisis

Life expectancy in the US has declined for the second year in a row as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the nation.

It is the first time in half a century that there have been two consecutive years of declining life expectancy.

Drug overdoses killed 63,600 Americans in 2016, an increase of 21% over the previous year, researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics found.

Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 years. The US last experienced two years’ decline in a row in 1963, during the height of the tobacco epidemic and amid a wave of flu.

“We do occasionally see a one-year dip, even that doesn’t happen that often, but two years in a row is quite striking,” said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch with the National Center for Health Statistics. “And the key driver of that is the increase in drug overdose mortality.”

Especially disconcerting, said Anderson, was preliminary data researchers received about overdoses in 2017: “It doesn’t look any better.” Together, the drug overdose epidemic and a plateau in improved mortality rates from cardiovascular disease are “affecting the entire national picture”.

“We haven’t seen more than two years in a row in declining life expectancy since the Spanish flu – 100 years ago,” said Anderson. “We would be entering that sort of territory, which is extremely concerning.”

Widely available prescription painkillers opened the gates for a new universe of legal and illegal opioid abuse beginning in about 1999. The number of Americans killed by overdoses has increased each year since then. As of 2015, more than half a million Americans had died from drug overdoses.


This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around

Anna Lembke, addiction expert

The new data from NCHS shows that powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have emerged as the latest threat. Between 2015 and 2016, the rate of deaths from synthetic opioids doubled, from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 to 6.2.

In 2015, 16.3 people for every 100,000 living in the US died of a drug overdose. That rate increased by 21% in 2016, when 19.8 people for every 100,000 died of a drug overdose.

“What we’re seeing now is the second wave of this epidemic,” said Anna Lembke, a behavioral sciences professor at Stanford University and an addiction expert. “The first wave started with physicians overprescribing … The second wave has translated into widespread, increased use of illicit opioids, of heroin, of fentanyl, of heroin laced with fentanyl.”

Those numbers vary widely by age and geography. For example, while drug overdose death rates increased in every age demographic in 2016, people between 25 and 54 had the highest rates of overdoses, at 35 deaths per 100,000 people.

The five states with the worst death rates topped even those numbers. West Virginia nearly tripled the national average – 52 people for every 100,000 died of an overdose there. Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington DC and Pennsylvania followed: all hovered around 38 overdose deaths for every 100,000.

The life expectancy of men was especially affected in the US. Women’s life expectancy at birth remained at 81.1 years in 2016, but life expectancy for men declined by 0.2 years, to 76.1 years. It also made accidental death the third-leading cause of death in the US, replacing chronic lower respiratory disease.

“This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around,” said Lembke.

“We’ve got multiple generations of people that are already addicted, and it’s going to be a real struggle to help those people.”

Despite years of warnings about the growing epidemic, congressional leaders have often failed to do more than convene commissions and panels and draw up white papers. Most recently, Donald Trump declared America’s overdose epidemic a public health emergency, but little new funding has materialized. Further, Republican proposals threatened to gut government health programs, such as Medicaid, that treat a disproportionate number of opioid addicts.

“One-time grants are ultimately not going to change the course of this epidemic,” said Lembke. “It’s going to require systemic changes, infrastructure changes, changes in the ways that healthcare delivery happens.”

Data in the latest NCHS report was collected from death certificates in all 50 states, and compiled into the National Vital Statistics System.

Q&A

Why is there an opioid crisis in America?

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses – more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

‘Improv saved my life’: the comedy classes helping people with anxiety

“Your heart’s beating faster, you feel all these eyes on you, your body reacts with panic.” No, it’s not the discarded first line of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, but Alex MacLaren’s description of how his students feel in work meetings, job interviews or even the pub. MacLaren teaches improvisational comedy at the Spontaneity Shop in London. At first, its courses attracted performers. Now, he estimates half his students are seeking help with anxiety or confidence.

It’s a trend noted by other improv teachers. In Manchester, Brainne Edge runs workshops as head of ComedySportz UK. In the past five years she’s seen the proportion of non-performers attending her courses rise to around 75%.

Sarah Farrell, 40, a graphic designer from Manchester and Ryan Kelly, 34, head of digital at a London creative agency, are two such students. Farrell was struggling with social anxiety and depression. Kelly was preparing to be best man at a friend’s wedding and was dreading the speech. They are both fans of the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? and imagined how the confidence needed to perform in an improv show could help them.


It teaches you to have a better link between your brain and your mouth

Ryan Kelly

“This was my first time speaking in front of 200-odd people,” says Kelly. “I didn’t relish the thought, so I thought I’d do something that would make me more confident.” Farrell already attended therapy sessions, which she finds useful, but felt she needed something more. “I was dealing with suicidal thoughts at the time, [so] maybe it was to distract myself from those long Saturday afternoons,” she says.

Going into the first session was intimidating (“I made my friend come with me – I wasn’t that brave!”), but Farrell found a welcoming environment.

Edge says: “We work hard to make it a comfortable space for people to try things and play and not worry about consequences.” MacLaren agrees: “We have to move people from mild social anxiety … into a playful and safe space.”

The teachers identify improv principles that could help to combat anxiety. First, they try to remove the fear of failure – teaching students that there is no “wrong” thing to say. “That is incredibly powerful because we are so used to trying to get the answer right,” says MacLaren.

Games help students get used to speaking their thoughts. “We did word disassociation games where you run around the room, point at things and say a word that it wasn’t,” says Kelly. “It teaches you to have a better link between your brain and your mouth.”

Alex MacLaren and Jana Carpenter, improvisation teachers at the Spontaneity Shop.


Alex MacLaren and Jana Carpenter, improvisation teachers at the Spontaneity Shop.

Farrell stopped overanalysing her thoughts so much. “You try to be less inside your head,” she says. “With anxiety and depression you’ve always got the running commentary about how bad and useless you are. Getting that to shut up and just talking is massively helpful for me.”

Once participants are comfortable with the possibility of messing up, they can start saying yes to new experiences – or in improv, “Yes, and”. It means embracing and building on character and scenario ideas others bring to the stage. In real life, it could mean accepting a social invitation or simply participating in a conversation. “You learn to say yes even when you don’t know where you’re going to end up,” says MacLaren.

Comedian Pippa Evans performs improv at the Comedy Store and with Josie Lawrence as part of Glenda J Collective. She also runs Improv Your Life, for non-performers. “I started doing it because I found improvisation really helped me,” she says. At work, she moved from being “an absolute control freak” to embracing her colleagues’ suggestions. It also helped her let go of the need to have a five-year life plan: “Improvisation allowed me to be open to a life where I don’t know what’s at the end of the tunnel and therefore appreciate what’s happening in the moment.”

Evans hopes to share these benefits and relates parts of her course to everyday situations. In her game “That reminds me”, a single word prompts a series of anecdotes, each inspired by the last, highlighting that every contribution keeps conversation flowing.

Most beginner courses don’t involve a performance, beyond working with classmates. But this can be too much. “We’ve had that a couple of times,” says Edge. “People have turned up and gone, ‘This is very big and loud, I’m not ready for this yet.’”

For Kelly, the course was fun and useful: “It made me a lot more relaxed; I actually enjoyed the [best man] speech.” He’s since noticed extra benefits. “I used to not enjoy big social things – working the room was very stressful,” he says. “I now look forward to those more. People aren’t judging you in real life. Don’t be afraid to put your thoughts into the conversation.”

After completing her course, Farrell signed up for the next level, which concluded in a performance. She’s since been back for more and would do it again. “You stop playing when you get older – everything becomes serious business – but it releases a lot of pressure,” she says. “I think [improv] saved my life. It opened me up to being a better version of myself.”

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

‘Improv saved my life’: the comedy classes helping people with anxiety

“Your heart’s beating faster, you feel all these eyes on you, your body reacts with panic.” No, it’s not the discarded first line of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, but Alex MacLaren’s description of how his students feel in work meetings, job interviews or even the pub. MacLaren teaches improvisational comedy at the Spontaneity Shop in London. At first, its courses attracted performers. Now, he estimates half his students are seeking help with anxiety or confidence.

It’s a trend noted by other improv teachers. In Manchester, Brainne Edge runs workshops as head of ComedySportz UK. In the past five years she’s seen the proportion of non-performers attending her courses rise to around 75%.

Sarah Farrell, 40, a graphic designer from Manchester and Ryan Kelly, 34, head of digital at a London creative agency, are two such students. Farrell was struggling with social anxiety and depression. Kelly was preparing to be best man at a friend’s wedding and was dreading the speech. They are both fans of the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? and imagined how the confidence needed to perform in an improv show could help them.


It teaches you to have a better link between your brain and your mouth

Ryan Kelly

“This was my first time speaking in front of 200-odd people,” says Kelly. “I didn’t relish the thought, so I thought I’d do something that would make me more confident.” Farrell already attended therapy sessions, which she finds useful, but felt she needed something more. “I was dealing with suicidal thoughts at the time, [so] maybe it was to distract myself from those long Saturday afternoons,” she says.

Going into the first session was intimidating (“I made my friend come with me – I wasn’t that brave!”), but Farrell found a welcoming environment.

Edge says: “We work hard to make it a comfortable space for people to try things and play and not worry about consequences.” MacLaren agrees: “We have to move people from mild social anxiety … into a playful and safe space.”

The teachers identify improv principles that could help to combat anxiety. First, they try to remove the fear of failure – teaching students that there is no “wrong” thing to say. “That is incredibly powerful because we are so used to trying to get the answer right,” says MacLaren.

Games help students get used to speaking their thoughts. “We did word disassociation games where you run around the room, point at things and say a word that it wasn’t,” says Kelly. “It teaches you to have a better link between your brain and your mouth.”

Alex MacLaren and Jana Carpenter, improvisation teachers at the Spontaneity Shop.


Alex MacLaren and Jana Carpenter, improvisation teachers at the Spontaneity Shop.

Farrell stopped overanalysing her thoughts so much. “You try to be less inside your head,” she says. “With anxiety and depression you’ve always got the running commentary about how bad and useless you are. Getting that to shut up and just talking is massively helpful for me.”

Once participants are comfortable with the possibility of messing up, they can start saying yes to new experiences – or in improv, “Yes, and”. It means embracing and building on character and scenario ideas others bring to the stage. In real life, it could mean accepting a social invitation or simply participating in a conversation. “You learn to say yes even when you don’t know where you’re going to end up,” says MacLaren.

Comedian Pippa Evans performs improv at the Comedy Store and with Josie Lawrence as part of Glenda J Collective. She also runs Improv Your Life, for non-performers. “I started doing it because I found improvisation really helped me,” she says. At work, she moved from being “an absolute control freak” to embracing her colleagues’ suggestions. It also helped her let go of the need to have a five-year life plan: “Improvisation allowed me to be open to a life where I don’t know what’s at the end of the tunnel and therefore appreciate what’s happening in the moment.”

Evans hopes to share these benefits and relates parts of her course to everyday situations. In her game “That reminds me”, a single word prompts a series of anecdotes, each inspired by the last, highlighting that every contribution keeps conversation flowing.

Most beginner courses don’t involve a performance, beyond working with classmates. But this can be too much. “We’ve had that a couple of times,” says Edge. “People have turned up and gone, ‘This is very big and loud, I’m not ready for this yet.’”

For Kelly, the course was fun and useful: “It made me a lot more relaxed; I actually enjoyed the [best man] speech.” He’s since noticed extra benefits. “I used to not enjoy big social things – working the room was very stressful,” he says. “I now look forward to those more. People aren’t judging you in real life. Don’t be afraid to put your thoughts into the conversation.”

After completing her course, Farrell signed up for the next level, which concluded in a performance. She’s since been back for more and would do it again. “You stop playing when you get older – everything becomes serious business – but it releases a lot of pressure,” she says. “I think [improv] saved my life. It opened me up to being a better version of myself.”

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

‘Improv saved my life’: the comedy classes helping people with anxiety

“Your heart’s beating faster, you feel all these eyes on you, your body reacts with panic.” No, it’s not the discarded first line of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, but Alex MacLaren’s description of how his students feel in work meetings, job interviews or even the pub. MacLaren teaches improvisational comedy at the Spontaneity Shop in London. At first, its courses attracted performers. Now, he estimates half his students are seeking help with anxiety or confidence.

It’s a trend noted by other improv teachers. In Manchester, Brainne Edge runs workshops as head of ComedySportz UK. In the past five years she’s seen the proportion of non-performers attending her courses rise to around 75%.

Sarah Farrell, 40, a graphic designer from Manchester and Ryan Kelly, 34, head of digital at a London creative agency, are two such students. Farrell was struggling with social anxiety and depression. Kelly was preparing to be best man at a friend’s wedding and was dreading the speech. They are both fans of the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? and imagined how the confidence needed to perform in an improv show could help them.


It teaches you to have a better link between your brain and your mouth

Ryan Kelly

“This was my first time speaking in front of 200-odd people,” says Kelly. “I didn’t relish the thought, so I thought I’d do something that would make me more confident.” Farrell already attended therapy sessions, which she finds useful, but felt she needed something more. “I was dealing with suicidal thoughts at the time, [so] maybe it was to distract myself from those long Saturday afternoons,” she says.

Going into the first session was intimidating (“I made my friend come with me – I wasn’t that brave!”), but Farrell found a welcoming environment.

Edge says: “We work hard to make it a comfortable space for people to try things and play and not worry about consequences.” MacLaren agrees: “We have to move people from mild social anxiety … into a playful and safe space.”

The teachers identify improv principles that could help to combat anxiety. First, they try to remove the fear of failure – teaching students that there is no “wrong” thing to say. “That is incredibly powerful because we are so used to trying to get the answer right,” says MacLaren.

Games help students get used to speaking their thoughts. “We did word disassociation games where you run around the room, point at things and say a word that it wasn’t,” says Kelly. “It teaches you to have a better link between your brain and your mouth.”

Alex MacLaren and Jana Carpenter, improvisation teachers at the Spontaneity Shop.


Alex MacLaren and Jana Carpenter, improvisation teachers at the Spontaneity Shop.

Farrell stopped overanalysing her thoughts so much. “You try to be less inside your head,” she says. “With anxiety and depression you’ve always got the running commentary about how bad and useless you are. Getting that to shut up and just talking is massively helpful for me.”

Once participants are comfortable with the possibility of messing up, they can start saying yes to new experiences – or in improv, “Yes, and”. It means embracing and building on character and scenario ideas others bring to the stage. In real life, it could mean accepting a social invitation or simply participating in a conversation. “You learn to say yes even when you don’t know where you’re going to end up,” says MacLaren.

Comedian Pippa Evans performs improv at the Comedy Store and with Josie Lawrence as part of Glenda J Collective. She also runs Improv Your Life, for non-performers. “I started doing it because I found improvisation really helped me,” she says. At work, she moved from being “an absolute control freak” to embracing her colleagues’ suggestions. It also helped her let go of the need to have a five-year life plan: “Improvisation allowed me to be open to a life where I don’t know what’s at the end of the tunnel and therefore appreciate what’s happening in the moment.”

Evans hopes to share these benefits and relates parts of her course to everyday situations. In her game “That reminds me”, a single word prompts a series of anecdotes, each inspired by the last, highlighting that every contribution keeps conversation flowing.

Most beginner courses don’t involve a performance, beyond working with classmates. But this can be too much. “We’ve had that a couple of times,” says Edge. “People have turned up and gone, ‘This is very big and loud, I’m not ready for this yet.’”

For Kelly, the course was fun and useful: “It made me a lot more relaxed; I actually enjoyed the [best man] speech.” He’s since noticed extra benefits. “I used to not enjoy big social things – working the room was very stressful,” he says. “I now look forward to those more. People aren’t judging you in real life. Don’t be afraid to put your thoughts into the conversation.”

After completing her course, Farrell signed up for the next level, which concluded in a performance. She’s since been back for more and would do it again. “You stop playing when you get older – everything becomes serious business – but it releases a lot of pressure,” she says. “I think [improv] saved my life. It opened me up to being a better version of myself.”

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

‘Improv saved my life’: the comedy classes helping people with anxiety

“Your heart’s beating faster, you feel all these eyes on you, your body reacts with panic.” No, it’s not the discarded first line of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, but Alex MacLaren’s description of how his students feel in work meetings, job interviews or even the pub. MacLaren teaches improvisational comedy at the Spontaneity Shop in London. At first, its courses attracted performers. Now, he estimates half his students are seeking help with anxiety or confidence.

It’s a trend noted by other improv teachers. In Manchester, Brainne Edge runs workshops as head of ComedySportz UK. In the past five years she’s seen the proportion of non-performers attending her courses rise to around 75%.

Sarah Farrell, 40, a graphic designer from Manchester and Ryan Kelly, 34, head of digital at a London creative agency, are two such students. Farrell was struggling with social anxiety and depression. Kelly was preparing to be best man at a friend’s wedding and was dreading the speech. They are both fans of the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? and imagined how the confidence needed to perform in an improv show could help them.


It teaches you to have a better link between your brain and your mouth

Ryan Kelly

“This was my first time speaking in front of 200-odd people,” says Kelly. “I didn’t relish the thought, so I thought I’d do something that would make me more confident.” Farrell already attended therapy sessions, which she finds useful, but felt she needed something more. “I was dealing with suicidal thoughts at the time, [so] maybe it was to distract myself from those long Saturday afternoons,” she says.

Going into the first session was intimidating (“I made my friend come with me – I wasn’t that brave!”), but Farrell found a welcoming environment.

Edge says: “We work hard to make it a comfortable space for people to try things and play and not worry about consequences.” MacLaren agrees: “We have to move people from mild social anxiety … into a playful and safe space.”

The teachers identify improv principles that could help to combat anxiety. First, they try to remove the fear of failure – teaching students that there is no “wrong” thing to say. “That is incredibly powerful because we are so used to trying to get the answer right,” says MacLaren.

Games help students get used to speaking their thoughts. “We did word disassociation games where you run around the room, point at things and say a word that it wasn’t,” says Kelly. “It teaches you to have a better link between your brain and your mouth.”

Alex MacLaren and Jana Carpenter, improvisation teachers at the Spontaneity Shop.


Alex MacLaren and Jana Carpenter, improvisation teachers at the Spontaneity Shop.

Farrell stopped overanalysing her thoughts so much. “You try to be less inside your head,” she says. “With anxiety and depression you’ve always got the running commentary about how bad and useless you are. Getting that to shut up and just talking is massively helpful for me.”

Once participants are comfortable with the possibility of messing up, they can start saying yes to new experiences – or in improv, “Yes, and”. It means embracing and building on character and scenario ideas others bring to the stage. In real life, it could mean accepting a social invitation or simply participating in a conversation. “You learn to say yes even when you don’t know where you’re going to end up,” says MacLaren.

Comedian Pippa Evans performs improv at the Comedy Store and with Josie Lawrence as part of Glenda J Collective. She also runs Improv Your Life, for non-performers. “I started doing it because I found improvisation really helped me,” she says. At work, she moved from being “an absolute control freak” to embracing her colleagues’ suggestions. It also helped her let go of the need to have a five-year life plan: “Improvisation allowed me to be open to a life where I don’t know what’s at the end of the tunnel and therefore appreciate what’s happening in the moment.”

Evans hopes to share these benefits and relates parts of her course to everyday situations. In her game “That reminds me”, a single word prompts a series of anecdotes, each inspired by the last, highlighting that every contribution keeps conversation flowing.

Most beginner courses don’t involve a performance, beyond working with classmates. But this can be too much. “We’ve had that a couple of times,” says Edge. “People have turned up and gone, ‘This is very big and loud, I’m not ready for this yet.’”

For Kelly, the course was fun and useful: “It made me a lot more relaxed; I actually enjoyed the [best man] speech.” He’s since noticed extra benefits. “I used to not enjoy big social things – working the room was very stressful,” he says. “I now look forward to those more. People aren’t judging you in real life. Don’t be afraid to put your thoughts into the conversation.”

After completing her course, Farrell signed up for the next level, which concluded in a performance. She’s since been back for more and would do it again. “You stop playing when you get older – everything becomes serious business – but it releases a lot of pressure,” she says. “I think [improv] saved my life. It opened me up to being a better version of myself.”

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.