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Mental Health News

Following are the latest news and information resources for the various mental health topics that we cover. We hope you will find the news educational and the links in the resources section useful in helping you to get even more in-depth data.

Genetic Link For Depression And Back Pain: Study

The landmark study of twins, published in the journal PAIN, reveals genetic factors might explain the commonly found association between low back pain and depression.

Dr Paulo Ferreria from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Health Sciences said the study indicates the association between depression and back pain is the result of the confounding effect of common genetic factors influencing both conditions.

"Our case-control study reveals the association between back pain and depression vanishes when genetic and familial confounders among twins are factored in," Dr Ferreria said.

"The new research offers hope for the future management of depression and back pain as the association of the two conditions can complicate diagnosis and treatment.

"While the prevalence of patients concurrently suffering depression and low back pain is high, this new research shows it is possible there is no direct relationship between the two health conditions."

Marina de Barros Pinheiro from the Faculty of Health Sciences and an author on the study said the new research debunks the findings of previous studies that found a consistent relationship between back pain and depression.

"In our study we examined genetically identical twins for a controlled case analysis and found that a link between depression and back pain was not evident which indicates genetic factors affecting both conditions is likely responsible for the association between the two conditions," Ms Pinheiro said.

"The study suggests genes affecting factors that control both conditions, for example levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, might potentially be responsible for the increase in the risk of suffering both back pain and depression."

The control study used data from 2,148 Spanish twins to investigate the association between depression and back pain, accounting for genetics, familial and environmental factors.

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How Being A Worrywart Helps At Work

Most people seek to project an upbeat, confident attitude on the job. But sometimes it is better to be a worrywart.

While ample research has documented the benefits of optimism at work, dozens of studies in the past several years have explored the flip side of the coin—how a moderate amount of pessimism can yield better performance.

A little worry can motivate people to be more persistent in doing difficult tasks, studies show. Some people actually summon up a certain amount of worry or fear before starting especially tough assignments, research shows. Others who are too cheery learn to recruit downbeat colleagues to provide some of the caution or realism they need.

As an actuarial consultant, Kathy Blum plows through large amounts of data to investigate cases of alleged negligence by accounting firms. Worrying motivates her to examine details in a variety of ways for evidence of misdeeds and to continue mulling over cases in her off hours, says the president and co-owner of The Kilbourne Co., a San Diego actuarial consulting firm. Sometimes, “a solution will pop to mind when I’m not at work,” she says.

Maintaining “a certain level of skepticism, or a lack of trust,” helps her persist in examining and re-examining defendants’ claims for inconsistencies or errors, Ms. Blum says. She tells herself that if she isn’t as thorough and accurate as possible and a case takes a wrong turn, “it’s just going to haunt me for a long time.”

Certain occupations, including actuarial science, accounting, engineering and computer science, tend to be a better fit for people with a realistic, detail-focused mind-set, research shows. These jobs are also less likely to pose obstacles for those who are pessimistic or worried.

Will Steih was miserable when he tried years ago to work in financial-products sales. When pitching to customers, he had to battle his natural tendency toward perfectionism and worry, says Mr. Steih, who is a certified public accountant. He resisted pressure from bosses to disregard the details of clients’ needs and focus on closing sales quickly.

Working with performance psychologist Gregg Steinberg, Mr. Steih found a new career as a personal financial adviser that allows him to channel his anxiety toward positive goals. “My anxiety level goes down in proportion with how much I’m able to engage my client” and ask detailed questions about his priorities and needs, says Mr. Steih, owner of Stewardship Partners in Brentwood, Tenn. He still worries a lot. In off hours, “I’m always ruminating, my wheels are always turning,” he says. But he directs that energy toward thinking about clients in depth and tailoring detailed financial plans to suit them.

“Constructive worry enables you to develop an adversity plan, in the sense that you’re worrying about all the things that could go wrong and how you’re going to fix them,” says Dr. Steinberg, the Nashville, Tenn., author of “Full Throttle,” a book about building emotional strength at work. “This can prepare you very well for whatever might come,” such as difficult questions in job interviews or negative reviews of your work.

Dr. Steinberg counsels patients to draw a line against the wrong kind of worry—ruminating about things they can’t control. For instance, he recently coached a college basketball player who was so worried about failing to please a demanding coach that she lost sight of other rewards of the game. He advised her to refocus on improving her skills and aspects of her game that she could control.

The Risks of Cheer

Cheerful people “often just go into action without stopping to get input” from others, says Janet Johnson, president of Learning in Action Technologies, a Seattle consulting and training company specializing in assessing emotional intelligence. Sometimes, “they come off as larger than life. It can be overpowering” for colleagues and subordinates, she says. She counsels overoptimistic clients to “slow down enough to seek information” from others.

Jeannine Acantilado Wolinsky says her naturally upbeat attitude caused her to underestimate barriers on a previous job as a nursing director and to promise more at times than could be delivered. Ms. Wolinsky, owner of Elan Consulting Services, an executive coaching firm in Albany, Ga., says she has learned to appreciate the importance of a more negative perspective. She makes a point of drawing out colleagues who can warn her of risks and obstacles, and includes on her team co-workers who “are more negative than I am, to rein me in,” she says.

Negative emotions can prevent people from making risky bets, according to two studies of 213 people published in 2012 in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. In a simulated gambling game, participants in a sad mood were more likely to make logical bets they knew had a higher likelihood of winning, even after a series of losses. Happy bettors were quicker to switch to what they knew was a riskier strategy, perhaps because they heeded “gut feelings” rather than logical rules, the study says.

‘Terminal Niceness’

More employers are trying to recruit talent by making workplaces fun. Those who go too far risk discouraging criticism and disagreement, says Halley Bock, president of Fierce Inc., a Seattle leadership development and training company. One retailer, a client of her firm, promoted certain kinds of positive interaction so strongly that a culture of “terminal niceness” developed, where employees failed to speak up about problems or looming threats, Ms. Bock says. The pattern was one reason the company pursued a costly losing strategy for too long.

A major benefit of a downbeat mood is greater awareness of others’ moods and reactions. In a 2011 study led by researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, 50 people looked through binoculars at two images, with one eye seeing an image of an ordinary house and the other seeing a human face with a smiling, scowling or neutral expression. The experiment forces the brain to select one image as dominant. Participants in a negative mood focused longer on the faces, especially when the face was scowling.

That kind of awareness can fuel career success, according to an international study of 118,519 people published in 2007 in Perspectives on Psychological Science. While people who are very happy tend to form more rewarding relationships, those who are less happy attain higher salaries and more education. People who experience moderate sadness may be better at adapting their thinking and behavior to suit the task at hand, the study says. 

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More Evidence Meditation Is Effective Therapy For Anxiety

Researchers from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have found that yoga and meditation may be effective as a pain and anxiety therapy.

Rebecca Erwin, assistant professor of neurology at the medical center said, "We're coming to recognize that meditation changes people's brains. And we're just beginning to gain understanding of what those changes mean and how they might benefit the meditator."

Wells has conducted several studies that look at how meditation and yoga help with mild cognitive impairment, such as memory loss and migraines. Participants aged between 55 and 90 with mild cognitive impairment were asked to practice meditation for eight weeks, and were found to have significantly improved functional connectivity in that part of the brain's neuronal network that activates during memory retrieval. They also found less atrophy in the hippo-campus, which is the part of the brain that handles emotions, learning and memory.

Wells' has also conducted a study that looked at how a similar eight-week course of meditation helps migrane patients, who suffer from less frequent and severe attacks, and a greater sense of self-control, as compared to those who go through regular therapy. "Both of these were pilot studies with small subject groups and additional research is needed, but I'm still very excited by the findings," said Wells.

Prior studies have reported how this ancient spiritual practice helps with regulating stress hormones, allows patients to sleep better, and reduces the side effects of medications. Other studies have also looked at how various schools of yoga stack up in terms of medical benefits.

Fadel Zeidan, also an assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest, has been working on studying the benefits of meditation for a few years. "There is plenty of evidence that meditation can improve a host of issues, such as pain and cognitive function, and anxiety is perhaps at the top of the list," Zeidan said. "In these studies we've been able to get a better sense of the brain regions associated with reducing pain and anxiety during meditation," Zeidan added. "Basically, by having people meditate while their brains are being scanned we've been able to objectively verify what people like Buddhist monks have been reporting about meditation for thousands of years."

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Race Differences In Link Between Rural Life And Depression

Although rural living has been tied to higher risk of depression, a new U.S. study finds that country life may have differing effects on women of different races and ethnicities.

African American women living in rural areas were at lower risk of depression and other mood disorders, compared to African-American women in urban areas, researchers report. Non-Hispanic white women were at an increased risk for the same mental health problems when they lived in the country, compared to white women in cities.

“I actually thought we might see higher rates of depression among women of both races,” said Addie Weaver at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the study's lead author.

Economic and other hardships are sometimes amplified for people living in rural communities, Weaver said. However, the mental health of people living in rural areas is understudied in general, she told Reuters Health. There’s even less data for certain groups of people.

“It was a concern of mine that we know so little about African Americans living in rural areas and people living in rural areas in general,” she said. The new research, published online April 8 in JAMA Psychiatry, is intended to help guide future research, she added.

The researchers used survey data collected between 2001 and 2003 from about 1,800 women in the southern U.S., about 81% of whom were African American.

They found that non-Hispanic white women were about twice as likely to ever have had depression or mood disorder, compared to African American women. White women were also more likely to have had depression within the past year.

About 4% of African American women in rural areas reported a lifetime history of depression, compared to about 14% of those in cities. Rural African American women were also less likely to have had mood disorder than their urban counterparts.

By contrast, about 10% of rural non-Hispanic white women had been depressed in the last year, compared to about 4% of those in urban areas. And non-Hispanic white women in rural areas were more likely to have had mood disorder compared to urban non-Hispanic white women.

“What was particularly interesting to us is that rural residence seems to emerge as a protective factor for rural African American women,” Weaver said.

She cautioned that more research is needed, and that the data is only from women living in the U.S. South, so the results may be less applicable to women living elsewhere.

Culture could be one reason why rural living is tied to less depression and mood disorder among African American women, Weaver said.

She said African American women may benefit from greater family and religious support, compared to non-Hispanic white women.

“Of course there is a need of further research exploring this,” Weaver said. “We’re just speculating on some ideas at this point.”

Until more research is done, Weaver said doctors should know that where a person lives may influence their health, including their mental health.

“It’s important for clinicians to pay more attention to the rural context,” she said.

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New Study Links Facebook To Depression

The irony of Facebook is by now known to most. The “social” network has been linked to a surprising number of undesirable mental health consequences: Depression, low self-esteem, and bitter jealousy among them.

Now, a new study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology finds that not only do Facebook and depressive symptoms go hand-in-hand, but the mediating factor seems to be a well-established psychological phenomenon: “Social comparison.” That is, making comparisons, often between our most humdrum moments and our friends “highlight reels” – the vacation montages and cute baby pics – is what links Facebook time and depressive symptoms together. So is it time to cut down on Facebook? Maybe. Or maybe we should just adjust our attitude toward it.

In the new study from University of Houston, the researchers queried people about their Facebook use, how likely they were to make social comparisons (e.g., ”I always pay a lot of attention to how I do things compared with how others do things”), and how often they experienced depressive symptoms. It turned out that people who used Facebook more tended to have more depressive symptoms – but social comparison was a mediating factor only for men.

“It doesn’t mean Facebook causes depression, but that depressed feelings and lots of time on Facebook and comparing oneself to others tend to go hand in hand,” said study author and doctoral candidate Mai-Ly Steers.

The second part of the study went a little deeper. Previous, face-to-face research on social comparison had found that upward social comparisons (e.g., looking at someone more popular or attractive than yourself) tend to make people feel worse, whereas downward comparisons (comparing yourself to someone with lower grades than you) tend to make people feel better about themselves. The second part of the new study tried to tap into this difference, asking people exactly how they felt when they viewed other people’s posts (e.g., “Today, when I was on Facebook, I felt less confident about what I have achieved compared to other people.”).

It turned out that people who logged more Facebook time not only had more depressive symptoms, but that social comparison – in any direction – was the mediator, and for both sexes. In other words, it didn’t matter whether a person was making upward, downward, or neutral social comparison – they were all linked to a greater likelihood for depressive symptoms.

So the study results may not be too surprising, but it does call out the mediating factor – making comparisons to your friends – in a new way. “Although other studies have established links between depressive symptoms and Facebook,” Steers says, “our study is the first of its kind to determine that the underlying mechanism between this association is social comparison. In other words, heavy Facebook users might be comparing themselves to their friends, which in turn, can make them feel more depressed.”

So should we all obliterate our Facebook accounts? It’s probably not totally necessary (although cutting down can’t hurt). Steers says the takeaway is larger than that – perhaps that our relationship with technology is often more nuanced than we think. For instance, as we’ve seen again and again, social networks aren’t purely social, and they may even veer into the realm of the anti-social.

“You should feel good after using Facebook,” says Steers. “However…the unintended consequence is that if you compare yourself to your Facebook friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ you may have a distorted view of their lives and feel that you don’t measure up to them, which can result in depressive symptoms. If you’re feeling bad rather than good after using Facebook excessively, it might be time to reevaluate and possibly step away from the keyboard.” She adds that people prone to depression may want to be aware of the connections, and think about how and when they log on to social media.

Steers also calls to mind Theodore Roosevelt’s belief that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If that’s true (and science seems to confirm that it is), it may be partly up to us to try to stop making the comparisons between our dullest moments and our friends’ most momentous ones. And maybe our friends could keep in mind that life isn’t all about the highlight reel after all – and that it wouldn’t hurt to post about those quieter, less glamorous moments, too. That might actually go a long way in making people feel more connected, instead of just the opposite.

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Feeling Lonely Has Consequences

Bad news for the lone wolves out there: New research suggests that, even if you love being alone, being lonely isn’t all that great for your health.

The study, published this month in Perspectives on Psychological Science, was a meta-analysis of previously-published studies looking at the relationship between social isolation and health. The researchers found 70 studies that qualified — with 3,407,134 participants overall. On average, the studies followed participants for about seven years while monitoring their levels of social isolation and loneliness as well as whether or not they had died.

Results showed that the likelihood of death increased by 26-32% for those who reported higher amounts of loneliness or social isolation, and for those who were living alone. That's about the same increased risk of death that obese people have. Although most of the studies involved participants over the age of 66, the effect was actually more pronounced in those younger than 65.

Of course, the correlations here don't necessarily mean that being lonely caused those deaths. But, other studies have shown similar results. Being socially isolated is already well-established as a risk factor for cancer, heart disease, and overall mortality.

On the flip side, though, having friends (that means any number of friends — whatever number makes you feel un-lonely) is associated with all kinds of nice things: More self-esteem, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and better resilience against what life throws at you.

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Older Workers Possess Unique Cognitive Strengths

Although some abilities tend to decline over time, new research finds that other cognitive skills actually improve with age.

Scientists have long known that our ability to analyze novel problems and reason logically, also known as fluid intelligence, peaks around age 20 and then begins a slow decline. However, two new studies confirm that skills related to crystallized intelligence—made up of a person’s acquired knowledge and experience—appear to peak later in life, often after age 40.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, psychological scientist Rachael M. Klein, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota, examined the relationship between age and business-related cognitive skills in a sample of high-level executives.

A sample of 3,375 executive-level job candidates ranging in age from 20 to 74 years old completed a specially developed managerial and professional test battery. Along with standard measures for experience, managerial and professional skills, creative potential, and management style, the executives also completed testing for fluid and crystal intelligence skills.

To measure fluid intelligence, applicants were instructed to identify one of four pictures that best matched a target picture. In another test for fluid intelligence, the executives were shown a series of letters and asked to quickly identify the letter that would complete the sequence. High scores on this test indicate that a person possesses advanced analytical reasoning skills.

To measure crystal intelligence, participants were asked to select one word from a row of five that had the same, or nearly the same, meaning as the first word in the row.

The researchers found that older executives performed somewhat worse on tests of reasoning and fluid intelligence compared to executives under age 30. Average test scores for the older age groups decreased more rapidly beyond age 59.

However, when it came to measures for crystal intelligence, older executives outscored their younger colleagues on average.

“In contrast to fluid abilities, older employees and adults appear to have an advantage on tests of vocabulary and verbal ability that measure crystallized ability,” Klein and colleagues write. “Across all samples in this study, each age subgroup scored higher than the comparison group of younger individuals on these verbal and linguistic measures.”

A study recently published in Psychological Science found that some components of intelligence peak even as late as our 60s or 70s.

Psychological scientists Joshua Hartshorne of MIT and Laura Germine of Massachusetts General Hospital gathered a vast trove of data through websites gameswithwords.org and testmybrain.org. They examined four different cognitive tasks, as well as a task that measured participants’ ability to accurately read another person’s emotional state.

The massive dataset, collected from nearly 50,000 subjects from a broad range of ages, showed how different cognitive skills peak at different ages. For example, information processing speed appeared to peak relatively early in life, around age 18 or 19 before starting to decline. Short-term memory reached its peak around age 25 before beginning to drop around age 35.

But not all cognitive skills declined with age. Hartshorne and Germine found that we not hit our peak for some cognitive skills until our 40s, 50s, and even early 70s.

For example, the ability to accurately evaluate other people’s emotions, an important job skill for many professions, seems to peak in when we’re in our 40s or 50s. The results also showed that crystallized intelligence skills peak much later in life than previously believed: Vocabulary skills peaked in people in their late 60s and early 70s.

According to Klein and colleagues, these results should be used by employers to help them avoid discrimination based on age. By weighing certain cognitive tests in recruitment, hiring, and promotion, employers may end up unfairly favoring particular age groups.

“Organizations should be cautious when using certain tests of inductive reasoning, such as letter series tests, given the magnitude of age differences established in this research,” Klein and colleagues warn. “Selecting on such measures alone will likely lead to younger individuals being selected at much greater rates than older candidates.”

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Link Between Inflammation, Depression

Only about half of those with depression respond to anti-depressant medications. Researchers are trying to improve those odds by better understanding the mechanisms that cause this illness.

University of Pennsylvania scientists now are investigating a potential link between inflammation and depression -- since there's evidence that people with depression have higher rates of inflammation in both their blood and their brains.

The research team at the Center for Neuromodulation in Depression and Stress has zoomed in on interleukin 6, a protein secreted by the body to fight infection.

At normal levels, it's a good thing; elevated levels, however, have been shown to cause depression in animal studies -- and in humans during cancer treatment. "If you induce high levels artificially with interferon, which is a treatment for cancer, then about a quarter of people who have never had depression before get depressed," said Yvette Sheline, who heads the center.

Her current study is investigating how exactly interleukin 6 contributes to depression. "What it actually does, it degrades serotonin, which is one of the neurotransmitters involved in depression," she explained.

Sheline says study participants will receive both an anti-depressant and an anti-inflammatory.

"So people will first get treated with an anti-depressant, and we'll see if that lowers the amount of inflammation they have and lowers their depression," she said. "And then, in the second step, we will add in an anti-inflammatory agent, and see if that gives them an improved treatment response."

Elevated levels of interleukin 6 are often found in the elderly, and in people who have heart disease, diabetes or are obese, Sheline said.

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Binge Drinking Causes More Anxiety

Binge drinking, also defined as bouts of heavy drinking, should be avoided at all costs. It exposes an individual to a number of health issues: hypertension, weight-gain and type 2 diabetes. But while these might be more common to adults, the consequences are far worse for teenagers.

According to a study published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, teenagers who indulge in binge drinking set themselves up for a whole lot of anxiety as an adult, trigger a few long-lasting behaviourial problems and could cause brain damage.

Subhash Pandey, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead author of the study said: "Intermittent alcohol exposure degrades the ability of the brain to form the connections it needs to during adolescence. The brain doesn't develop as it should, and there are lasting behavioural changes associated with this."

The study: In the study, Subhash Pandey and his colleagues observed the behaviour of rats after they gave 28-day-old rats alcohol for two days, followed by a two day break and repeated this for 13 days. When the researchers analysed tissue from a part of the brain called the amygdala, they found in the exposed rats that the DNA and histones appeared to be tightly wrapped. The part amygdala is the one that is responsible for with decision-making, emotional reactions and memory. Rats exposed to alcohol during adolescence exhibited changes in behaviour that lasted into adulthood, long after exposure to alcohol ended.

"On-and-off exposure to alcohol during adolescence altered the activity of genes needed for normal brain maturation. The gene alterations increased anxiety-like behaviour and preference for alcohol in adulthood," Pandey said. The behavioural effects, he said, were due to "epigenetic" changes. Epigenetic changes are chemical modifications of the DNA or of the proteins around which DNA is wound, like thread on a spool.

These changes regulate many processes, including brain development and maturation during adolescence.

This study highlighted the expected behaviour change but we've got another credible study here which suggest that binge drinking young might also lead to alcohol addiction.

The study was published in 'Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health' and found that men who took up drinking as teenagers were more than twice as likely to be distressed and alcohol dependent in the future. The study also shared some shocking statistics. Did you know that the number of male teenagers who drink has tripled in India, especially those living in urban cities and poorer households?

The findings highlighted the importance of generating public awareness about the hazards of consuming alcohol early in life and stressed on the need for more in-depth research.

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How Electroconvulsive Therapy Alters Key Areas In Brains Of Depressed Patients

Electroconvulsive therapy remains a powerful and fast-acting salve for patients whose depression does not yield to lesser treatments, and now researchers believe they know why.

A study has found that shocking the brain induces structural changes in the brain's amygdala and hippocampus, structures that play key roles in processing strong emotions and in learning and memory, respectively.

After about four weeks of electroconvulsive therapy, 43 depressed patients experienced increases in volume in the amygdala and hippocampus that made those structures - typically diminished in depression - roughly comparable in size to those of a healthy control group.

The scale of the size change in those structures corresponded to improvements in patients' mood and a reduction in their depressive symptoms.

The research, published online in the journal Biological Psychiatry, also yielded insight into which depressed patients are most likely to respond positively to electroconvulsive treatment: depressed patients whose hippocampal volume was smallest at the start of treatment experienced the greatest improvements in mood, the study found.

Administered three times a week over four weeks, electroconvulsive therapy appeared to jump-start the generation of new neurons and the regrowth of neural connections between these key structures and the limbic system, the network of brain regions that mediate our response to stress and that are important in emotional regulation.

When it works to lift depression, antidepressant medication is also thought to induce a similar growth in "neuroplasticity". But the experimental subjects in the current study had been weaned off their medication before shock therapy began, suggesting that the regrowth of brain cells was a response to the electroconvulsive therapy, the authors wrote.

Changes in depressed patients' moods - as well as in the size of their amygdalae and hippocampi - were evident very quickly. Within 72 hours of a patient's first course of electroshock therapy, researchers could detect clear evidence of change in both measures.

A treatment administered in varying forms since the 1930s, electroconvulsive therapy induces intentional seizures in the brain. Among its side effects are memory loss and confusion. The long-maligned therapy has gained a following in recent years and is widely offered to those with recurrent major depression that is treatment-resistant. It's estimated to help between half and 80 per cent of patients with such depression to achieve remission, at least temporarily.

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Did You Know?

In fewer than five years, mHealth markets related to telemedicine will be worth a projected $1.5 trillion.

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