Thursday, August 28, 2008

Parents and students - the secrets of their success

Gaps between parents' real expectations of their student offspring and what the students themselves think is expected of them could add to the stress of being a college student according to new research from the U.S. A study of 174 first- and second-year students, 138 of their mothers and 72 of their fathers asked about personal maturity, academic achievement, dating and how well parents and students thought they communicated with one another. While most students were meeting or exceeding their parents' expectations those who thought they weren't (because they thought their parents' expectations were higher than they were) reported lower self-worth and more trouble adjusting to college. In another study the researchers found that those students who had at least one authoritative parent - one whose parenting style combined warmth, a demanding nature and democracy - adjusted better to college than those whose parents were too authoritarian, permissive or neglectful.

You can find out more about this research at

Spanking in the USA

There has been a lot of debate about spanking recently and a US study of 1,435 mothers in North and South Carolina has found that those mothers who had spanked their children in the past year were nearly three times more likely to say that they had also used harsher forms of punishment including beating, burning, kicking, hitting and shaking. The mothers who used an object to hit their child on the buttocks were more than nine times as likely to report committing other physical abuse. 45% of the mothers reported that they had spanked their child, 25% reported spanking with an object on their buttocks and 4% reported even harsher forms of punishment. Only 2% of the mothers who reported no spanking reported the use of physically abusive punishment, compared to 6% of the mothers who spanked and 12% of those who spanked with objects.

You can find out more about this research at

Leadership and mental health

Qualities associated with good leadership include treating employees considerately and truthfully, providing social support and providing inspirational motivation and intellectual stimulation. A Finnish review of the effects of leadership on employee's health and wellbeing found that workers with good leadership were 40% more likely to have low rates of anxiety, depression and job stress. Good leadership was also associated with a 27% reduction in sick leave and a 46% reduction in disability pensions.

You can find out more about this research at

Recovered memories and egg-salad sandwiches

There has been a lot of controversy over 'recovered memories,' particularly in people who claim to have been abused as children. In a series of experiments reported in the journal Psychological Science researchers falsely suggested that participants had become ill after eating egg salad as a child. Afterwards the researchers offered different kinds of sandwiches to the participants, including one with an egg-salad filling. Four months later the participants were asked to be in a separate study evaluating different kinds of food. Those who had been given the false memories gave the egg-salad sandwiches much lower ratings than those in the control group and were much more likely to avoid eating them.

You can read more about this research at

New study adds to confusion on antipsychotics for older people

Elderly people are often prescribed antipsychotic medication to treat mental health symptoms and reduce aggressive behaviour. In recent years clinicians have increasingly prescribed second-generation drugs which generally have fewer side effects than older ones. However, in 2005, after studies suggested that the newer drugs could increase the risk of death by 60% there was a move away from the second-generation drugs. A study of 37,241 elderly people taking antipsychotics in British Columbia between 1996 and 2004 found that first-generation medicines actually increased the risk of death from cardiovascular or respiratory diseases.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Autism in the interrogation room

People cope with police interviews and being locked up in different ways, making some vulnerable to making false confessions which can lead to miscarriages of justice. It is not clear whether people with autism are more vulnerable at interviews, or more prone to respond negatively to questioning. A study by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry compared 26 people with high-functioning autism to a control group of 27 unaffected people. People with autism were rated as significantly more compliant than the controls and also had higher scores on measures of depression, anxiety, fear of negative social evaluation and paranoia. The researchers concluded that people with autism may be more eager to please, or to avoid confrontation and conflict, than other people and may be more prone to respond compliantly to requests and demands.

North, Alice S., Russell, Ailsa J. and Gudjonsson, Gisli H. - High functioning autism spectrum disorders: an investigation of psychological vulnerabilities during interrogative interview Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology September 2008, 19(3), 323-324

Screening for personality disorders in prisoners

Many prisoners have personality disorders. It is important to get an accurate picture about how many people in prisons have personality disorders as this may determine service needs and have important implications for inmate management. The presence of these disorders may also predict the behaviour of some prisoners while in custody and after release. The ideal way of diagnosing personality disorders is through a clinical interview but this can be time consuming and expensive. Researchers in the UK looked into the effectiveness of a screening tool called SCID-II by using it on 496 prisoners. They found it 'retained good internal consistency with improved discrimination between personality disorders and clinical syndromes'.

Ullrich, Simone ... [et al] - Detecting personality disorders in the prison population of England and Wales: comparing case identification using the SCID-II screen and the SCID-II clinical interview Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology September 2008, 19(3), 301-322

Friday, August 22, 2008

PTSD and alcohol problems

Substance abuse is strongly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological disorders that may occur after stressful and traumatic events. A study of 48,481 military personnel in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked into the links between military service and alcohol problems. Among Reserve or National Guard personnel who saw action the rate of new-onset heavy weekly drinking was 8.8% of new-onset binge drinking 25.6% and of new-onset alcohol problems 7.1%. Among regular soldiers the rates were 6%, 26.6% and 4.8% respectively. Women were more likely to report heavy weekly drinking but less likely to report binge drinking or alcohol problems. Those born after 1980 and those with PTSD and depression were all more likely to develop alcohol problems.

You can find out more about this research at

Anxiety, stress and allergy

There has long been known to be a link between stress and the immune system. Allergies occur when the immune system goes into overdrive and a study of 28 people by researchers at Ohio State University looked into the links between stress and allergies. The participants' anxiety levels were measured at the start of the study using a standardised questionnaire and they underwent pinprick tests to measure their reactions to allergens. The participants were also placed under stress by being asked to deliver a ten-minute talk and do maths questions without using a pen and paper (the stress condition). The researchers then measured the size of the weals on the participants' arms before and after they experienced the stress condition. Participants who had only moderate levels of 'background' anxiety had weals 75% larger after the stress experiment but for people who were already highly anxious at the start of the study their weals were more than twice as large after the stress test. Anxious people were four times more likely to have a stronger reaction to the skin test one day later after the stressful condition.

You can read more about this research at

ADHD - behaviour therapy better than drugs

Parents whose children are diagnosed with ADHD often ask for, or are given, drugs for their children. However, research from the largest ever study into treatments for ADHD has found that behavioural interventions can lead to less use of medication and smaller dosages when it is used. Although medication can dampen down symptoms of ADHD such as restlessness and fidgeting they don't address the impairments caused by ADHD such as a lack of successful interactions with peers, deficits in reading and maths skills and difficult relationships with parents and family members. There is also some doubt over the physical effect of the drugs with some research suggesting that heavy doses over long periods may reduce a child's adult height by two inches.

You can find out more about this research at

Driving and depression

A study of 60 people by researchers at the University of North Dakota looked into the links between depression, antidepressant usage and driving skills. 31 people who were taking antidepressants and 29 people who were not taking any medication undertook a driving simulation test which tested steering, concentration and scanning. Those participants who were taking antidepressants were further divided into those with severe and mild symptoms. Participants who were taking antidepressants but who scored in the normal range for depression did no worse than the control group but those people taking antidepressants with a high number of symptoms of depression performed significantly worse.

You can read more about this research at

Genetic links in bipolar disorder

Brain cells communicate with one another via special channels where they exchange sodium and calcium ions. Researchers believe that malfunctions in these channels could contribute towards bipolar disorder. Previous studies have painted an unclear picture about the links between genetics and bipolar disorder but an international study of 10,596 people - 4,387 of them with bipolar disorder - pooled data from previous research. It found that the two most significant genes were Ankyrin3 and CACNAIC.

You can find out more about this research at

Hope therapy for depression

Optimism has been defined as a generalized expectation that good things will happen whereas hope involves having goals, along with the desire and plan to achieve them. Researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham have been looking at ways of instilling hope in people. They aimed to build on the strengths people already had and help them to develop them and live up to their potential. A study of 32 people found that those taking part in the 'hope therapy' - given over eight, two-hour group sessions had reduced depressive symptoms compared to a control group.

You can find out more about this research at

Suicidal students in the States

An Internet survey of 26,000 students in the U.S. has found that more than half of them had had at least one episode of suicidal thinking at some point in their lives. 15% had seriously considered attempting suicide and 5% had made at least one suicide attempt. 6% of undergraduates and 4% of graduate students reported seriously considering suicide within the 12 months prior to answering the survey. The most common reasons for contemplating suicide were: wanting relief from emotional or physical pain, problems with romantic relationships, the desire to end their life and problems with college work. 19% of undergraduate suicide attempters and 28% of graduate attempters required medical attention.

You can find out more about this research at

Variability key in diagnosing dementia

Developing strategies to improve the prediction and diagnosis of dementia can help to improve the treatment of the condition. There are a number of neuropsychological tests used for diagnostic purposes which measure an individual's level of performance against healthy individuals to determine cognitive impairment. However people's performance can vary from tesst to test, something not taken into account in this approach. Researchers in the U.S. studied 897 people aged 70 and over who had follow up visits every 12-18 months during which they underwent detailed neurological and neuropsychological evaluations. The researchers tested for verbal IQ, attention/executive function and memory. The study found that the degree of variability in performance between the tests improved the prediction of dementia above and beyond people's level of performance on each test alone.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Homelessness and drug use

Homelessness and drug and/or alcohol abuse often go hand-in-hand. Homeless people who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to demonstrate ineffective coping skills, low levels of self-efficacy and to end up in prison. They are also vulnerable to hepatitis and HIV, victimization, sexually-transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, depression and suicidality. A focus-group study of 54 homeless and drug-using people between the ages of 18 and 24 looked into their attitudes to drugs and what they saw as the facilitators of and barriers to good-quality health care. Participants saw substance abuse as a health risk and a barrier to care but also as an adaptive response to psychological pain and survival on the streets. Facilitators to care and suggestions for improved health delivery and quality of care included using health mentors to assist in navigating the medical system, culturally-competent care, improved amenities in waiting rooms and expanded pharmaceutical services.

Christiani, Ashley ... [et al] - Attitudes of homeless and drug-using youth regarding barriers and facilitators in delivery of quality and culturally sensitive health care Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing August 2008, 21(3), 154-163

Short-term psychoanalytic supportive psychotherapy

Short-term psychoanalytic supportive psychotherapy was developed in Amsterdam in 1992. It is a six-month treatment made up of 16 sessions based on psychoanalysis. Researchers in Amsterdam pooled data from three clinical trials to compare the effectiveness of this therapy to drug treatment and to a combination of the therapy and drugs in treating depression. There were no differences in symptom reduction between the therapy and the drugs although therapists and patients preferred the therapy. Combined therapy was found superior to drug therapy by patients, therapists and independent observers. As far as quality of life was concerned the patients found no differences between psychotherapy and drugs or between psychotherapy and combined therapy but they did find combined therapy superior to drugs.

de Maat, Saskia ... [et al] - Short psychodynamic supportive psychotherapy, antidepressants, and their combination in the treatment of major depression: a mega-analysis based on three randomized clinical trials Depression and Anxiety 25(7), 565-574

Telephone help for overweight and depressed women

A study of 401 overweight women in California looked at the effectiveness of a phone and Internet based behavioural intervention designed to improve behaviours such as diet and exercise. Previous studies have shown that psychotherapy for depression can be delivered successfully by telephone or via the Internet and other studies have shown that exercise and weight loss can help people to feel less depressed so as well as their weight and exercise levels the study also monitored the women's mood. After 12 months those receiving the intervention significantly decreased their depression scores compared to a control group and those with probable depression showed clinically important improvements. The participants who engaged more readily with the intervention were more likely to reduced their depression scores.

Kerr, Jacqueline ... [et al] - Randomized control trial of a behavioral intervention for overweight women: impact on depressive symptoms Depression and Anxiety 25(7), 555-558

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Borderline personality disorder - characteristics and causes

Borderline personality disorder is a severe personality disorder whose features include impulsivity, changeable moods, relationship problems and identity problems. It is associated with interpersonal and occupational impairment, an increased risk for suicide and higher rates of treatment in both medical and psychiatric settings. A study of 5,496 twins, between the ages of 18 and 86, from the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia looked into the characteristics of people with borderline personality disorder and attempted to see how much of the condition could be attributed to genetic factors and how much to environmental ones. The study found that women and young people were more likely to have the condition. 42% of the variations in the condition could be explained by genetic factors and 58% by environmental ones.

Distel, M.A. ... [et al] - Heritability of borderline personality disorder features is similar across three countries Psychological Medicine September 2008, 38(9), 1219-1229

Previous studies have shown that about 1% of the population have borderline personality disorder. It can improve over time but it affects the life and development of young adults over decades and about 10% of people with the condition kill themselves. Stress is thought to play an important role in producing the behaviour associated with borderline personality disorder and a study of 135 people in The Netherlands aimed to examine this link more closely. The study compared 44 people with borderline personality disorder, 42 people with psychosis (which is also known to be brought on by stress) and 49 unaffected controls. It found that the participants with borderline personality disorder reacted much more strongly to the stresses and strains of everyday life than people with psychosis and the control group; after stressful events their negative mood increased more and their positive mood decreased more than participants in the other two groups.

Glaser, J.-P. ... [et al] - A momentary assessment study of the reputed emotional phenotype associated with borderline personality disorder Psychological Medicine September 2008, 38(9), 1231-1239

Friday, August 15, 2008

Risk factors for suicide in new mothers

Although suicide by mothers after the birth of a child is very rare its effects are profound and terrible. Researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine compared 335 women who had been hospitalized for suicide attempts with a control group of 1420 women. The researchers found that women who had previously been hospitalized for psychiatric disorders were more than 27 times as likely to attempt suicide. Women with a history of substance abuse were six times as likely to attempt suicide while psychiatric hospitalization and substance abuse together increased the risk by 11 times.

You can find out more about this research at

STAR*D study of persistent depression

Non-response to antidepressants is one of the major problems in mental health (see post below). Only about half of adult patients respond to the first antidepressant they try, with only a third achieving remission. Patients can either switch to a new drug altogether or augment the first drug with another one although it is not clear which of these strategies is the more effective. The Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study is the largest study into this issue ever undertaken and has found that both options are equally effective. The study also found that with persistent trial and error 7 out of 10 adult patients will eventually find a treatment that works.

You can find out more about this research at

Postnatal depression and hormones

Up to 80% of women experience at least a few weeks of low mood after the birth of a child, 10-15% experience more severe depression that may last a month or more and 1-5% experience severe psychosis that can last up to a year. New research by scientists at the Medical College of Georgia's School of Medicine has been looking at the effects of a substance called interleukin-1 beta which is produced in the uterus immediately after childbirth. This creates more serotonin transporters in the brain leading to a relative deficit in serotonin, low levels of which have been linked to depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Brain imaging and opiate receptors

A brain-imaging study of 23 people in Germany looked into the links between brain chemistry, personality and addiction. Healthy volunteers were given a personality test to measure novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence and persistence. They then underwent a brain scan. Those people with a high reward dependence had a high concentration of opiate receptors in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum which is considered to be very important in the development of addictive behaviour. These people have a relative shortage of endorphins to link up with their opiate receptors and could, therefore, be more likely to turn to illegal substances, or indeed alcohol or tobacco, to make up the deficit.

You can find out more about this research at

Exercise and mental health

A study of 5,952 pairs of twins, 1357 of their siblings and 1,249 of their parents looked into the links between genetics, exercise and depression. Lack of regular exercise has been associated with anxiety and depression in a number of studies but it is not known whether this effect is due to the lack of exercise itself or another unknown factor present in people who take little exercise and suffer from anxiety and/or depression. The study - carried out in the Netherlands - found that the links between exercise and anxiety and depression were small and best explained by common genetic factors. In identical twins the twin who exercised more did not display fewer anxious or depressive symptoms than the twin who exercised less and over time increases in exercise participation did not predict decreases in anxious and depressive symptoms.

De Moor, Marleen H. M. ... [et al] - Testing causality in the association between regular exercise and symptoms of anxiety and depression Archives of General Psychiatry August 2008, 65(8), 897-905

What happens when the (first) drugs don't work?

Major depression is usually very hard to treat. Studies have shown that only 11-30% of patients reach remission with initial treatment, even after 8-12 months. Most patients require a 'second-step' treatment but there is little information about the relative effectiveness of different drugs as a second step and prescribing tends to be done on a 'trial-and-error' basis. A U.S. study of 727 patients, between the ages of 18 and 75 looked at which factors were associated with a remission in patients being treated with 'second-step' medication. The researchers found that remission was more likely among participants who were White, employed, cohabiting or married and who had made no prior suicide attempts. Remission was less likely among patients who were also suffering from anxiety, obsessive-compulsiv disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social phobia. People with substance abuse problems were also less likely to improve when treated with a 'second-step' drug.

Rush, John A. ... [et al] - Selecting among second-step antidepressant medication monotherapies: predictive value of clinical, demographic, or first-step treatment features Archives of General Psychiatry August 2008, 65(8), 870-881

Antipsychotics - who wins in the generation game?

So-called 'second-generation' antipsychotic drugs have traditionally been seen as providing the same level of effectiveness as first-generation ones with far fewer side effects. However, comparisons have usually been made with a highly potent first generation drug such as haloperidol. Researchers at the University of New Mexico, U.S. looked at trials which compared second-generation antipsychotics with less powerful first-generation ones and found that the effectiveness and side effects of the two types of drugs were comparable. The authors of the study concluded that clinicians should look at the unique pharmacological and side effect profile of each drug before making prescribing decisions.

Bonham, Caroline and Abbott, Christopher - Are second generation antipsychotics a distinct class? Journal of Psychiatric Practice July 2008, 14(4), 225-231

Suicide and suicide attempters

Every year, worldwide, around 1 million people kill themselves. Many other people make unsuccessful attempts at ending their lives and there is some debate about whether people who commit suicide are different to those who make an attempt. An Italian study compared 94 people who killed themselves between 1994 and 2004 with 94 outpatients who had made at least one suicide attempt over the same period. Suicide victims were more likely to be unmarried, have poor social support and to have had more voluntary and compulsory admissions to hospital than suicide attempters. Suicide victims were less likely to have had stressful events during their childhood and adolescence and to be divorced and widowed than suicide attempters.

Innamorati, Marco ... [et al] - Completed versus attempted suicide in psychiatric patients: a psychological autopsy study Journal of Psychiatric Practice July 2008, 14(4), 216-224

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Keeping the mentally ill off the streets

A recent study in London, Ontario (Canada) found that 194 people had been discharged from psychiatric facilities onto the street in 2002. This is usually disastrous for the people concerned leading to re-hospitalization and prolonged homelessness. An intervention was developed in which people were given immediate assistance in accessing housing and help in paying their first and last month's rent. Participants in the study were divided into two groups, one receiving the intervention and the other receiving treatment as usual. After 3 and 6 months all the individuals in the intervention group had retained their housing. All but one of the people in the control group remained homeless and that person only got accomodation by becoming involved in prostitution. The results of the study were so dramatic that the control group was immediately discontinued with all the participants receiving the intervention.

Forchuk, C. ... [et al] - Developing and testing an intervention to prevent homelessness among individuals discharged from psychiatric wards to shelters and 'no fixed address' Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing September 2008, 15(7), 569-575

Specialist learning disability units

In the past people with learning disabilities often spent long periods of time as hospital inpatients. This is no longer considered to be acceptable and the current UK policy is for long-stay hospitals for people with learning disabilities to be reduced in size and, eventually, closed. However, there is still a need for people with learning disabilities to receive assessment and treatments that may still involve a period of admission to a specialist facility. A study of such a facility by researchers in Northern Ireland found that the main reasons for admission were challenging behaviour and mental-health problems. The study found that there were significant reductions in these problems following admission to the unit, which was staffed by a multidisciplinary team, mostly made up of nurses.

Slevin, E. ... [et al] - People with learning disabilities admitted to an assessment and treatment unit: impact on challenging behaviours and mental health problems Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing September 2008, 15(7), 537-546

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nicotine and schizophrenia

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are thought to be deficient in people with schizophrenia and one of the reasons why people with this condition tend to smoke heavily may be because they are trying to stimulate these receptors. A U.S. study of 31 patients looked at the effects of a substance called DMXB-A which it was thought would have the same effect as nicotine from tobacco but without the health consequences. DMXB-A was found to alleviate anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure) and alogia (poverty of speech) and to improve vigilance and working memory. But it had little overall effect on cognition and caused mild nausea in nearly all of the participants and mild tremor in five of them.

Freedman, Robert ... [et al] - Initial phase 2 trial of a nicotinic agonist in schizophrenia American Journal of Psychiatry August 2008, 165(8), 1040-1047

Medication adherence and antidepressants

Major depression is a pervasive and debilitating mental disorder that affects families and individuals throughout their lives. The prevalence of major depression is 2.9% in Western societies with 12.6% of people suffering from minor depression. Antidepressants can be highly effective but it is important that patients keep taking them for four-to-six months with those people most at risk taking them for at least a year. However, patients with major depression do not always stick to their medication regimes which can drastically reduce the effectiveness of the drugs. A Taiwanese study of 181 patients looked at their compliance with their medication. About 50% of the patients reported good medication adherence. The predictors of adherence to medication were a higher income (even though patients do not pay for these drugs in Taiwan), a feeling that the antidepressants were effective and an understanding of the importance of continuing to take the drugs.

Yeh, Mei-Yu ... [et al] - Predictors of adherence to an antidepressant medication regimen among patients diagnosed with depression in Taiwan Issues in Mental Health Nursing 29(7), 701-717

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Child abuse and suicide

A study of 3,338 children in Quebec looked into the prevalence of child abuse - both sexual and physical - and its links to suicidal behaviour later in life. Sexual abuse was reported by 9.9% of the children (men 2.7%, women 18%) physical abuse by 20.6% (men 26.3%, women 12.8%) and both types of abuse by 8.2% (men 4%, women 12.8%). In a third of the sexual abuse cases the abuser was a family member and in about two-thirds of cases the abuse occured on multiple occasions. Overall participants with no history of childhood abuse were less likely to demonstrate suicidal behaviour than those who had been abused. Children who had not been abused had the lowest prevalence of suicidal behaviour (6%) followed by those who had been physically abused (11.7%), those who had been sexually abused (14.8%) and those who had suffered both types of abuse (32.2%). Repeated abuse was more strongly associated with suicide attempts than a single incidence of abuse and abuse by immediate family members was linked to a higher level of risk than abuse by other family members or by strangers.

You can read more about this research at

Maturation, Mum and Dad and making trouble

A study of 330 girls by researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, looked into the links between early maturation, parenting and delinquent and aggressive behaviour. A quarter of the girls had matured early, defined as starting their periods a year before the average age for females of their racial and ethnic group. Girls who had matured earlier were more likely to be delinquent than other girls but no more likely to be aggressive, unless they also experienced low levels of parental nurturance, communication and knowledge (of what they were doing and who they were friends with). Early maturing girls could be at more risk of delinquency because they are more likely to be accepted by, and form relationships with, older boys who are more likely than younger children to engage in undesirable behaviour.

You can find out more about this research at

Fish - it really is brain food!

Silent brain infarcts are small lesions in the brain that, while they have no effect in themselves, can cause cognitive decline, strokes and dementia. A Finnish study of 2,313 people aged 65 or over gave them brain scans at five-year intervals and asked them about their fish consumption in the intervening time. Those people who ate broiled or baked tuna and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids three or more times per week had a nearly 26% lower risk of having silent brain infarcts, while even eating one portion of this type of fish a week led to a 13% lower risk.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Spongebob Squarepants, competition and cognitive control

A number of studies have shown that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism have trouble in controlling their attention. Tangible rewards - such as sweets - have been found to help with this but it is not known whether less tangible ones are effective in improving cognitive control. A study of 77 children by researchers in the Netherlands looked at how children with ADHD and autism could be motivated. The children were given a task in which they had to identify a character from the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants while other characters from the cartoon tried to distract them. The children took the test under two conditions; a neutral one where they took the test on its own merit and a 'motivation' one when they were told that they were competing with other children. Different children took the tasks in different orders to prevent differences in the results simply being due to the children having had more practice in taking the tests. All the children, those with ADHD, those with autism and an unaffected control group improved their performance when they were told they were competing against other children. Although the boys with ADHD were still slower than the control group in the motivation condition they were just as accurate. The children with autism also improved in speed and accuracy in the motivation condition but this was not statistically significant.

Geurts, Hilde M., Luman, Mariolein and van Meel, Catharina S. - What's in a game: the effect of social motivation on interference control in boys with ADHD and autism spectrum disorder Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry August 2008, 49(8), 848-857

Face perception in autism

People with autism tend to have difficulties remembering faces, processing facial expressions and knowing which components of faces convey especially important communicative information. However, it is unknown why people with autism have these difficulties. One theory is that because of their lack of interest in socialising autistic people just do not develop the expertise in 'face processing' that other people do. Another theory is that people with autism have difficulty in perceiving all complex objects, not just faces. A study of 60 children by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh tested them on their ability to recognise different faces and different imaginary creatures called greebles which were designed to be subtly different but not to convey any social information through expressions or body language. Compared to the healthy control group the autistic children found it much harder to differentiate between the faces and the greebles suggesting that it was complicated objects rather than faces per se they had trouble processing.

Scherf, K. Suzanne ... [et al] - Atypical development of face and greeble recognition in autism Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry August 2008, 49(8), 838-847

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Family meals and substance abuse

Eating meals together as a family could lessen the risks of children smoking or taking drugs according to a study of 806 teenagers by researchers at the University of Minnesota. The children were first surveyed at about 13 and asked how often in the past week their family ate together and about their use of marijuana, cigarette and alcohol. The researchers followed up with a second survey by mail five years later. In the second survey the girls who had reported five or more family meals per week had about half the level of substance use. However, boys showed no significant difference in substance use between those who had regular family meals and those who did not.

You can read more about this research

School failure and depression

A study of 808 children in Seattle by researchers at the University of Washington has found that school failure (defined in the study as expulsion, suspension or dropping out of school before year 12) is linked to later depression in girls but not in boys. Overall 45% of the girls and 68% of the boys (who were drawn from a high-crime area in Seattle) had experienced a major school failure. 22% of the girls were suffering from depression, compared to 17% of the boys. Girls who were expelled from school were more than twice as likely to suffer from depression (44% vs 20%). They were also more likely to suffer from depression if they had dropped out (33% vs 19%) or if they had been suspended (28% vs 19%). There was no link between school failure and depression in boys.

You can read more about this research at

Red Bull and risk taking

Red Bull and other 'energy' drinks are popular among younger people who often use them so they can stay up late and carry on partying. Previous research has concentrated on the potential cardiovascular risks of consuming large amounts of caffeine but a new study of 795 undergraduate students by researchers at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions has found a link between energy drink consumption and risk-taking. 39% of the sample reported consuming at least one energy drink in the previous month. Men (46%) were more likely than women (31%) and Whites (40%) more likely than Blacks (25%) to consume the drinks. Those who drank energy drinks more than six times a month were three times more likely to have smoked cigarettes, abused prescription drugs and been in a serious fight in the year prior to the study. They were twice as likely to drink alcohol, have alcohol-related problems and use marijuana and were more likely to engage in other forms of risk-taking such as unsafe sex, not using a seatbelt, participating in extreme sports or doing something dangerous on a dare.

You can read more about this research at

ARBs and dementia

The cholesterol-lowering drugs statins have been linked to a reduced risk of dementia (see below) and now researchers have found that angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) can also reduce the risk of the condition. Using data on more than 5 million people scientists from Boston University School of Medicine compared those people taking ARBs with those of similar health status who were taking different medication. Patients taking ARBs had about a 35-40% lower chance of developing Alzheimer disease or dementia. In patients already suffering from these illnesses people taking ARBs had a 45% lower chance of developing delirium, being admitted to a nursing home or dying.

You can find out more about this research at

Oxytocin - can it give you rose-tinted memories?

There has been a lot of research recently into the effects of a hormone called oxytocin which is believed to be linked to positive emotions and social interaction. A study of healthy male volunteers gave them either oxytocin or a placebo and presented them with a series of happy, angry and neutral faces on a computer screen. The participants returned the following day when they were presented with another set of faces and asked to pick out the ones they had seen the day before. Those people who had been given oxytocin were more likely to remember the happy faces rather than the angry and neutral ones.

You can find out more about this research at

Dangers of mixing drugs at home

A U.S. study of 50 million death certificates issued between 1983 and 2004 looked at 200,000 deaths from medication errors. Traditionally research into medication errors has focused on clinical settings but an increasing amount of drugs are now being taken in the home. The researchers - from the University of California, San Diego - found that deaths from combining medication with alcohol and/or street drugs rose by 3,196% between the two years whereas deaths in clinical settings rose by just 5%.

You can find out more about this research at

Statins and dementia risk

Statins are drugs usually used to reduced people's cholesterol. However, a study of 1,674 Mexican Americans over the age of 60 by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health has found that they may also reduce people's risk of dementia. During the five-year study 27% of the participants took a statin drug and a total of 130 people developed dementia or cognitive impairment. After allowing for other risk factors such as education, smoking, diabetes and stroke the study found that statin users were about half as likely to develop dementia.

You can find out more about this research at

Men, women, ageing and happiness

Women become less happy than men as they age, according to a long-term study carried out by researchers at Cambridge University and the University of Southern California. The study looked at people's expectations for their personal lives and finances and their levels of happiness over time. It found that women are, on average, happier than men in early adulthood but that men overtook women after the age of 48. In later life it was men who came closest to fulfilling their aspirations. Nine out of ten people wanted a happy marriage and the least happy part of a man's life - his 20s - is also the time when he is most likely to be single. Men were more dissatisfied than women with their financial situation earlier in life but this was because their expectations were higher, not because their incomes were lower. Men are more likely than women to be married after 34 and their income rises as they get older as well. On average men become happier than women with their finances at 41 and with their family life at 64.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, August 04, 2008

Anxiety, depression and blood pressure

The idea that psychological factors can influence blood pressure is at least 100 years old. Whether anxiety and depression contribute to the development of high blood pressure has been addressed in several studies although the results have been inconclusive and a recent Norwegian study found that anxiety and depression were actually linked to low blood pressure. The same team of researchers looked at data from 36,530 men and women between the ages of 20 and 78. The participants were asked about their levels of anxiety and depression and their blood pressure between 1984 and 1986 and were re-examined 11 years later. The researchers found that a high symptom level of anxiety and depression at the initial stage of the study predicted low blood pressure eleven years later and that changes in anxiety and depression between the two studies predicted changes in blood pressure.

Hildrum, Bjorn ... [et al] - Effect of anxiety and depression on blood pressure: 11-year longitudinal population study British Journal of Psychiatry August 2008, 193(2), 108-113

Antipsychotics and weight gain. What are effective interventions?

Up to 80% of people being treated with antipsychotics suffer from medication-induced weight gain and young people experiencing a first episode of psychosis are particularly susceptible to rapid and pronounced weight gain. Weight gain has become a major concern in the treatment of psychosis because it may stop people sticking with their treatment and is, in itself, associated with a reduced quality of life, social stigma and greater morbidity (illness) and mortality. A recent review of interventions to reduce weight gain in schizophrenia concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the use of drugs to prevent weight gain, so a team of researchers from Melbourne looked into non-pharmacological alternatives. A review of previous studies concluded that individual and group interventions, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and nutritional counselling were all effective in reducing or slowing down antipsychotic-induced weight gain.

Alvarez-Jimenez, Mario ... [et al] - Non-pharmacological management of antipsychotic-induced weight gain: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials British Journal of Psychiatry August 2008, 193(2), 101-107

Friday, August 01, 2008

Social rank and eating disorders

Recently research into eating disorders has focused on not just the individual patient but on their relationships with other people and the rest of society. The idea of social rank concerns individual's perceived or actual place in social heirarchies and low social rank can be conceived as; the perception that one is of low social rank, that one has been put down by a dominant other, that one is unable to escape an uncontrollable set of circumstances and the giving up of competing with others through submissive behaviour. Previous studies have found an association between low social rank and eating disorders. A study of 74 female office staff in London looked into the links between various aspects of social rank, eating disorders and depression. It found that submissive behaviour and an unfavourable social comparison were linked to disordered eating while social defeat and internal entrapment predicted depressive symptoms.

Troop, Nicholas A. and Baker, Anna H. - The specificity of social rank in eating disorder versus depressive symptoms Eating Disorders July-September 2008, 16(4), 331-341

Slimness and gymnasts

Despite studies showing a link between disordered eating and involvement in appearance-related sports few studies have examined the effectiveness of interventions designed to reduce disordered eating among female athletes. Canadian researchers looked at the effectiveness of a programme called Body Sense in 62 female gymnasts between the ages of 11 and 18. The Body Sense programme addresses: eating attitudes and beliefs, accurate information about body health, unique body size and shape, resisting pressures to diet, physical activity for enjoyment, helping an athlete feel good about herself, assertiveness, stress management, role models and promoting a balance between sport participation and life outside sport. Participation in the programme resulted in athletes perceiving a reduction in pressure from their sports clubs to be thin although no changes were found in body esteem, the girls' perceptions of society's attitude to thinness or the girls' parents' ideas about thinness and dieting.

Buchholz, Annick ... [et al] - Bodysense: an evaluation of a positive body image intervention on sport climate for female athletes Eating Disorders July-September 2008, 16(4), 308-321

Look into my eyes, not around the eyes ...

Children are more easily hypnotized than adults and hypnotherapy has been found to be effective in childhood disorders such as asthma and chronic and acute pain and in helping children deal with unpleasant procedures associated with cancer treatment. A review of studies on the use of hypnotherapy for mental-health problems in children found 60 articles. Their findings indicated that hypnotherapy may be useful for a wide range of disorders and problems and may be particularly valuable in the treatment of anxiety disorders and trauma-related conditions.

Huynh, Melanie Ekholdt, Vandvik, Inger Helene and Direth, Trond H. - Hypnotherapy in child psychiatry: the state of the art Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry July 2008, 13(3), 365-376


Long waiting times for a first appointment at child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are an international problem and one of the main reasons for service user dissatisfaction. A team of Irish psychologists aimed to get around this by adopting a brief consultation and advisory (BCA) model, which gave service users an appointment within four weeks of referral, a second consultation approximately 2 weeks later and a third, follow-up session after 2-3 months. The model is described as a time-limited, client-centred and solution-focused approach to dealing with common, non-complex referrals. A trial of the approach compared 32 children who received care via the BCA model to 28 who received treatment as usual. Both groups showed improvements on a number of variables after 3 months but only those receiving BCA showed continued improvement at 6 months. Participants in the treatment as usual group expressed dissatisfaction with long waiting times and had a higher drop-out rate than the BCA treatment group. The introduction of the BCA approach did not lead to a decrease in overall mean waiting time.

McGarry, Joan ... [et al] - The clinical effectiveness of a brief consultation and advisory approach compared to treatment as usual in child and adolescent mental health services Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry July 2008, 13(3), 365-376