Mental illness trends in the U.S.

by Anthony Cusat-

In the United States, mental health and mental illness are topics that have slowly become more accepted with 87% of American adults agreeing that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of during a 2019 poll.

As more and more people recognize the validity of mental illness, the number of people receiving treatment and diagnoses is also escalating. However, some mental illnesses are becoming increasingly common while others are seeing a dip in prevalence.

Unearth the power of ‘Earthing’

by Kayla Frank–

Earth Day celebrates the accomplishments of environmental movements and raises awareness of the moral duties of protecting our environment. 

Photo of “person holding world globe facing mountain” by Porapak Apichodilok from retrieved April 4, 2023.

On Saturday, April 22, ways to honor Earth Day include picking up trash, planting trees, or even just going outside. Getting grounded is another way to engage with nature, but not the kind that comes from your parents or sends you to your room. 

Grounding, also referred to as “earthing,” involves direct skin contact with the Earth’s surface, like walking barefoot or sitting outside on the grass, sand, or dirt. Emerging yourself in a body of water can also be considered grounding.

Photo of “person in black leggings standing on rock” by PNW Production from Retrieved April 4, 2023.

Scientific research supports reductions in chronic pain, inflammation, and muscle damage, along with better sleep and improved moods when connecting with Earth’s surface electrons

Extra amounts of reactive oxygen species that contain atoms with unpaired electrons can create chaos in the body. Known as free radicals, these can aid in development of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Due to modern lifestyles that keep us inside, grounding can help restore our “electron deficiency,” realigning our primordial electric connection to Earth. Like our ancestors did for thousands of years, walking barefoot absorbs ions from the Earth’s surface, acting as antioxidants to improve our health. 

If going outside isn’t an option, there are other ways to unearth grounding. Alternatives range from grounding mats, sheets, blankets, socks, bands, and patches that are available from a range of sources. 

In an initial grounding experiment conducted by Clint Ober, the CEO of Earthing FX and innovator behind the grounding movement, Ober gathered 60 volunteers with chronic sleep and pain difficulties who were either grounded or sham-grounded during sleep. 

Grounding was through means of a conductive pad connected to a rod outside their bedroom. The results showed those who were grounded saw significant improvements in sleep and pain versus sham-grounded . 

Table of Ober’s grounding experiment from Ultimate Longevity LLC 2021, Grounding Research: Study Summaries. Retrieved April 4, 2023.

Remember to be intentional while earthing or grounding if you plan to take part this Earth Day. Earthing is a great way to connect with nature and reduce anxiety, but should be practiced often to achieve ample effects. 

On its way to becoming a massive movement worldwide, shed your shoes and get to grounding.

Religion’s influence on health

by Savannah Webb-

March 24, 2023 – Blacksburg, Va. – A woman meditates on religious scripture while sitting on the Drillfield. Photo credit: Savannah Webb

Religion and health are often kept separate, but studies show there is more overlap than might be expected.

“Religious involvement is related to virtually every single aspect of health — mental, social, behavioral and physical,” said Harold Koenig, director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. “Literally every health outcome is in some way connected to religious involvement.”

Koenig has over four decades of research experience studying the health effects of monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

“It’s really about devoutness,” Koenig said. “To what extent is a person’s attitudes and lifestyle driven by their religious beliefs? If it doesn’t affect the way they make their decisions and the way they treat other people and think about themselves, it’s not going to help.”

Positive mental health benefits such as lower levels of anxiety and lower risk of suicide are associated with religious devotion, and Koenig explained that religious involvement also lowers risk of cardiovascular disease.

“If you have a sense of purpose and meaning and you feel that you’re in control, because God is in control, all of that lowers your stress level,” Koenig said. “It makes perfect, logical, rational sense that you would then be at lower risk for high blood pressure, stroke or a heart attack.”

The Harvard School of Public Health has found similar results with larger research samples, specifically in women. While there’s no foolproof explanation for this gender disparity, Koenig offered insight on the phenomenon.

“I think religion is a little bit easier for women to engage in because they’re more social, and they’re more in touch with their emotions,” he said. “It’s harder for men. There’s a general tendency for them to not be as social or in touch with their emotions.”

March 24, 2023 – Blacksburg, Va. – A Christian Bible sits closed on the Drillfield. A majority of research on religion and health has been conducted on subjects belonging to the Christian faith. Photo credit: Savannah Webb

While gender seems to play a part in the relationship between religion and health, Koenig said the research indicates there is another factor at play — locus of control.

An individual with an internal locus of control believes their health is heavily influenced by their behavior and decisions, whereas an external locus of control places an individual’s health outcomes in the hands of fate or God. Surprisingly, Koenig has found that greater religious involvement is related to an internal locus of control.

“People who have strong faith actually have a greater sense of control, but it’s an indirect control through their dependence and belief in God,” he said. “They believe they can do things to influence God’s actions — like prayer — and in giving up control, there is actually an increase in control. It’s extraordinary how it all psychologically works.”

Finally, Koenig’s research indicates that the extent of psychological and physical relief from anguish depends on how long a person has been practicing religion.

“The people who benefit the most are those who are younger, because they have their entire lifetime to reap the benefits of that religious faith,” Koenig said. “Religious involvement protects you from drug and alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking, and stress levels — all of which keeps you healthier.”

Explained: Attending an out-of-state college/university

by Deanna Driver and Emily Logue —

In-state universities are often cheaper and closer to home, but out-of-state institutions have the ability to provide more opportunities.

Out-of-state students choose their university for a variety of reasons, but once they arrive on campus, their experiences and community reassure their decision. This is displayed on both a national level as well as with Virginia Tech students.  

ADHD med shortage requires patients to seek alternatives

by Cyna Mirzai-

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 16, 2023 — The nationwide shortage of the common ADHD medication Adderall is leading patients to test new forms of medication. Photo credit: Cyna Mirzai

A shortage of the immediate-release formulation of amphetamine mixed salts, commonly referred to by the brand name Adderall, has been ongoing since October 12, 2022. A direct stimulant on the central nervous system, Adderall is a medication prescribed to people diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to the FDA, one of the manufacturers of amphetamine mixed salts, Teva, is experiencing ongoing intermittent manufacturing delays. While there are other manufacturers producing amphetamine, there is not enough supply to continue meeting U.S. market demand through those producers. 

A rise in demand for Adderall is a large contributor to the shortage, with an increase of almost 20% in 2021 over 2020. Chad Alvarez, System Pharmacy Director of Carilion Clinic Roanoke, said he noticed an increase in demand from patients in the past few years.

“During the pandemic, people were working at home or helping their children with their schoolwork and many began noticing symptoms of ADHD,” Alvarez said. “With the increased use of telemedicine during the pandemic, we saw an increase in demand for those types of prescriptions.”

Many patients are currently prohibited from calling ahead to pharmacies asking about Adderall, since the treatment is a labeled controlled substance by the DEA, according to HCPLive.  A legally controlled substance cannot be transferred from one pharmacy to another, leading many patients to look for temporary alternatives to Adderall.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 16, 2023 — The shortage has led Main Street Pharmacy to turn away customers in need of Adderall since late last year. Photo credit: Cyna Mirzai

Alternatives work differently for patients depending on their particular case, Alvarez said. Whether it is an adult who used Adderall for years or a child who was prescribed last month, the benefits of each alternative provide varying results. 

“I always encourage patients to have a conversation with their provider on alternatives,” Alvarez said. “Other ADHD medications like Focalin, Vyvanse, Concerta and Ritalin are currently available in higher quantities and can treat attention deficit issues. It is definitely worth the conversation with your provider to figure out what will work best for you.”

An alternative for patients who currently have Adderall pills is to begin dose-skipping. Patients can skip a dose on days when attentiveness is not critical to accumulate a reserve that will last them longer through the shortage, if advised by a doctor.

If patients do not want to try alternatives, they can choose to stay off medication until the shortage ends, but Dr. Jeremy Courts, owner of Main Street Pharmacy in Blacksburg, warns patients to be prepared for shifts in behavioral changes.

“You probably won’t have intense withdrawal symptoms but you’re going to be irritable and have trouble focusing,” Courts said. “When you don’t have Adderall but need Adderall, your quality of life goes down.”

As of now, the shortage is expected to continue through April 2023.

NRV programs combat rising opioid overdose fatality rates

by Savannah Webb-

Feb. 17, 2023 — Blacksburg, Va. — An bottle of hydrocodone that was prescribed by a Montgomery County hospital sits empty in a trashcan. The overprescription of opioids has been connected to the birth of the opioid epidemic.

The National Center for Health Statistics released 2022 data that shows a spike in fatal opioid overdoses in the US over the months of February and March.

“It’s devastating,” said Glenn Matthews, director of substance abuse and diversion services for New River Valley Community Services (NRVCS). “It’s just awful. It’s devastating economically, and it’s devastating to families. Fentanyl is at the center of a lot of those overdoses.”

The most recent drug overdose data from 2021 shows that Pulaski County — one of the five counties NRVCS serves — had the highest death rate in the NRV with 50.1 per 100,000 residents. Synthetic opioids, under which fentanyl is classified, were the cause of a majority of those deaths.

To combat these rising overdose rates, NRVCS offers a full continuum of care. According to Matthews, their services have a systemic and personalized nature that larger providers cannot accommodate for, ranging from an hourlong weekly therapy session to residential 24/7 care.

While this is extremely beneficial to the community, he explained that they cannot provide enough services for the demand necessary to treat the large number of individuals who need it.

Feb. 17, 2023 — Radford, Va. — The sign for Radford’s New River Valley Community Services center stands as the only thing to distinguish a nondescript brick building in a strip mall.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Matthews said. “The large majority of individuals need to repeat that treatment six or seven times or more. It’s a long, long process.”

In addition to the intervention services — support groups, therapy and rehabilitation — NRVCS provides, preventative education and emergency training are also critical to ending the opioid epidemic, according to Ashley LeDuc, associate director of substance misuse prevention and intervention with Hokie Wellness.

One of the most prevalent emergency training programs is REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education. The program teaches community members how to recognize and respond to a potentially fatal overdose.

“It’s the easiest way to save someone’s life,” LeDuc said. “To use Naloxone it really is just using nasal spray. Even if you aren’t trained, you can still use it — it’s one of the legal protections out there.”

Online REVIVE! training is available through NRVCS, and Hokie Wellness offers multiple in-person sessions as well. Hokie Wellness training sessions provide historical context about the opioid epidemic, as well as a sample of Naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, for trainees to take with them, according to LeDuc.

“It really is anybody that could experience an overdose,” LeDuc said. “You learn a lot about where opioid use disorder starts, which is with prescriptions that are given from doctors, and it works to destigmatize it.”

In addition to addiction itself, NRVCS hopes to use its services to address stigma in the community surrounding addiction.

“Addiction is not a choice,” Matthews said. “The only choice that’s involved in addiction is the first time someone picks up the substance. Once the brain gets addicted, choice is out the window. It is a serious illness.”

Single residents’ challenges with living in SW Virginia

by Emaryi Williams-

Having her rent increased by almost $70 was a bit of a shock to Renata Farrell, a single resident living in the New River Valley. Farrell lives on the border between Blacksburg and Christiansburg at The Highlands at Huckleberry Ridge apartments. Her monthly rent is currently $1,275.

“It’s definitely expensive. On top of that, I have a cat, so that’s an extra $40,” Ferrell said. “I also have to pay for electricity, water, and my internet. My electric bill has slightly gone up, and my internet bill will be increasing soon as well.”

The Highlands Apartments lights come on as night approaches on Friday, Feb. 7, 2023.
(Photo: Emaryi Williams)

According to HomeSnacks, an online platform that delivers “bite-sized” pieces of information about where people live, the city of Blacksburg is the number one most expensive place to live in Virginia, as of 2023. According to their statistics, the average rent in the city is about $1,141, and the average home costs about $309,800.

“A lot of my graduate student cohorts and colleagues live in Christiansburg or Radford because it’s more affordable,” said Cara Patrick, a graduate student who signed a lease for a single apartment at The Loft at 316 in Blacksburg.

Patrick says that not only is housing expensive, but it’s also competitive, meaning that many people default to settling for really expensive one-room apartments or settling for roommates.

“A lot of the one-bedroom or studio apartments are in the luxury developments, costing around $1,400 to $1,500. So, everyone has to scrap for the cheaper ones that are not in the Hub or the Union, and that’s a big challenge,” Patrick said.

The Lofts CMG Leasing Downtown Office in Blacksburg during the busy traffic hours on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023. (Photo: Emaryi Williams)

To save on costs, both Patrick and Farrell say they look outward, toward Christiansburg for financial relief in other areas.

“I had to find more cost-effective ways to live,” Patrick said. “Like I go to ALDI in Christiansburg now because what would cost me like $50 at Kroger, costs me like $30 or less there.”

“When considering costs, my friends and I will go to Christiansburg to go out and eat. ” Renata explained. “Restaurants there a slightly less expensive.”

According to BestPlaces’s 2023 Cost of Living Calculator, food and groceries, housing, average home costs, utilities, and overall living costs are more expensive in Blacksburg than they are in Christiansburg. Transportation is the only specific thing that was listed as more expensive in Christiansburg, while health costs were listed as equal in both cities.

If you plan on living in the Christiansburg-Blacksburg area, both Patrick and Farrell have the same advice – look now and save early.

“Luckily, because I worked all throughout high school, I have money saved because I strongly believe I would not be able to live on my own had I not saved,” Patrick said.

“Look really early. Talk to the apartment places. Try to talk to leasing offices, and talk to people that live there to find out exactly how much things actually cost, so you’re not surprised by how much things are,” Farrell advised.

Circularity: Potential advantages for local apparel businesses 

by Nicole Tutino –

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 16 A knitted sweater featuring worsted wool yarns on display in local art and fiber supply store, New River Art and Fiber. Photo: Nicole Tutino

To limit the fashion industry’s accumulated waste throughout apparel production processes and growing environmental concerns, solutions, such as a circular economy, change local businesses’ frameworks to offer more sustainable options to consumers.

A circular economy model increases the use and recyclability of any type of product through efficient design processes while limiting environmental impacts, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“With fashion in particular, some of the biggest ideas are this idea of using materials that are recovered from the economy — the existing things that we already have — instead of having to manufacture new ones from either natural resources or petrochemically-derived materials,” said Jennifer Russell, Virginia Tech assistant professor in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials.

In her work with apparel company H&M, Russell observed the companies’ difficulties in implementing a circular economy framework across the brand’s divisions.

“The advantage of small businesses is that they tend to be less stuck with the infrastructure, supply chains [and] relationships that they have,” Russell said. “They can be a little bit more agile, and so if demand or if interest changes in their community, they can respond quickly.”

Business models associated with a circular economy include resale, repair, and rental services. Russell notes clothing rental options allow companies to increase the circularity of the items within the economy and remove consumers’ responsibility for caring for the garment. While continuing the usage of the products, the business models face increased transportation expenses for larger business initiatives.

Russell explains local businesses can engage consumers with circular economy methods efficiently due to close proximity.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 16 – Berroco’s 100% Pima Cotton yarns are offered for sale at $16 at New River Art and Fiber. Photo: Nicole Tutino

Renewable inputs, like cotton and wool, offer environmental benefits, but Russell warns that consumers need to be aware of how natural fibers are sourced. The circular economy framework ensures renewable resources, like natural fibers, are not consumed more than they can be replaced, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 

A Blacksburg art supply business, New River Art and Fiber, sells yarns composed mainly of natural or renewable fibers. Synthetic materials, such as polyester, can feature plastic particles, called microfibers.

“We buy synthetic yarn, wear that fabric, wash that fabric and then shed it into the oceans to the point where we are eating that fabric,” said Jessica Jones, owner of New River Art and Fiber. 

Jones said the business’s focus on selling more natural fibers in yarns began as a personal choice, and her understanding of the environmental benefits developed over time.

“I like to think that by not putting it [synthetic fibers] out into the world I’m having a generally positive impact on our local environment,” Jones said.

New River Art and Fibers’ loops groups allow community members to knit or crochet together. Repair techniques can emerge from these collaborative sessions which help extend the use of garments.

Interconnected: Acupuncture Explained

by Tyler McAnany

Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine practice, has been around for 3,000+ years according to the National Library of Medicine. The study of Qi (pronounced chee), better known as the energy and life force flowing within the human body, was the driving force for acupuncture as it looked to balance this flow of Qi.

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 13 – Energy Points on Us: Diagrams located in the office that showcase specific points in which the energy flows.. Photograph: Tyler McAnany

Acupuncture, by definition, involves putting hair-thin needles into specific energy points throughout the skin. Its goal is to allow energy to flow by using metal needles as conductors inside the body’s electrical system. 

Licensed acupuncturist Victoria Taylor explained this best with a theory in Chinese medicine. “Where there is no flow there is pain, where there is pain there is no flow. If energy is stuck you can push it, pull it or give it somewhere to go.” 

Not just anybody can perform this ancient healing art. Depending on what state you are in, it requires a state-regulated license, and oftentimes, it required you to sit for the national licensure exam. 

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 13 – Much to Know: An example of all of the information, resources and steps that go into acupuncture. Photograph: Tyler McAnany

Taylor also mentioned how important one’s self-health is to perform acupuncture. “In order to be a good acupuncturist, you have to be in really good shape. You need to be energetically balanced, you need to receive a lot of acupuncture, you need to do your daily practices, and your health practices.”

At her practice in Yellow Sulphur Springs, Taylor sees patients ranging from teenagers to 90 year olds. She described their pain as their ticket in the door, and this “pain” could be a variety of things. “We look at the body very differently as opposed to western medicine which is very reductionist. We look at things more in terms of relationships. Not only does it work for knee pain but it works for functional things like menstrual cramps, reproductive orders, coughs, and things relating to internal medicine.”

It is these concepts of relationships and interconnectedness that can explain our bodies’ reactions, pains, and responses. Victoria Taylor explained that “since we are so multilayered, your toe pain could be from you changing jobs. It’s not linear but it’s the same energy.”

While many have come to heal and realize the benefits of acupuncture, the practice still carries numerous misconceptions. The biggest is that the needles will hurt. While there will always be sensations, acupuncture is not meant to cause pain or discomfort, but better yet stimulate specific energy points. A burst in a Qi sensation may be confused for pain at first but that jolt is what is intended. 

Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 13 – Peaceful Practice: A look at the peaceful and secluded location of the practice. This calm and beautiful location allows all to relax and let their guard down. Photograph: Tyler McAnany

As for misconceptions about the industry and profession, Taylor still deals with skepticism. “It is not a belief system. There is a philosophy of interconnectedness. Some people that are very religious in the eastern world and European religion are anti-acupuncture. It is not anti-god.”

While acupuncture may not be for everyone the old saying goes “don’t knock it til’ ya try it” and that could not be more true as it relates to this ancient practice. While at face value it can seem intimidating, something of this nature would not stick around for centuries if its outcomes were not desired and effective.