Thursday, September 24, 2009

OASIS for psychosis - quicker, better and cheaper

In the U.K. it is now Government policy to make use of early-intervention services for people with psychosis. An increasing number of clinical services have been set up to help people in the early stages of psychosis. They aim to intervene as early as possible as a long duration of untreated psychosis has been associated with a poorer long-term outcome. If intervention can be given to at-risk people before they develop symptoms of psychosis then they can be stopped from developing the condition at all. However, the cost of early intervention is unclear. It is more intensive in the short term but could save money if it stops people becoming ill over the long term. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London looked into the cost-effectiveness of the OASIS (Outreach and Support in South London) service which aims to help people in an at-risk mental state for psychosis. They found that over a year the service was £1,872 more expensive per person than care as usual. The good news was that OASIS did indeed turn out to be cheaper than care as usual in the long term costing £961 less over a two-year period.

Valmaggia, L.R. ... [et al] - Economic impact of early intervention in people at high risk of psychosis Psychological Medicine October 2009, 39(10), 1617-1626

Cannabis and psychosis

Since the nineteenth century there have been descriptions of acute schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms in healthy people who have taken cannabis. The prevalence of cannabis use in psychotic patients being treated for the first time is approximately double that found in the general population and those patients who carry on using cannabis have earlier and more frequent relapses compared to non users. Most of the effects of cannabis are due to a substance called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but there are nearly 60 other chemicals from the same family in smoked cannabis and the variations in the quality of cannabis, the composition of joints and the physiology of smokers all make it hard to assess the effect of individual substances. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London used injections to deliver a standardised dose of 2.5mg of THC (about the same quantity as there is in an average joint) to 22 healthy men to see whether this would induce psychosis. The men were sometimes given an injection of a placebo for comparison purposes. The study found that THC did induce psychotic symptoms in previously-healthy men. THC also increased anxiety and affected neuropsychological performance but there was no relationship between the participants' levels of psychosis and their levels of anxiety or neuropsychological performance.

Morrison, P.D. ... [et al] - The acute effects of synthetic intravenous delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on psychosis, mood and cognitive functioning Psychological Medicine 39(10), 1607-1616

Physical restraint in psychiatric hospitals

There is a high level of violence on psychiatric-hospital wards. It has been estimated that almost half of nursing staff and one in seven patients are subject to physical assaults per year. Physical restraint is recommended only as a method of last resort for dealing with violence but relatively little is known about how often it is used and the circumstances of its use. Researchers from City University in London reviewed 45 studies into physical restraint. They found that, on average, five episodes of manual restraint a month might be expected on a typical 20-bed ward. Episodes lasted around ten minutes with about half involving the restraint of patients on the floor, usually in the prone position. Manually-restrained patients tended to be younger, male and detained under mental-health legislation.

Stewart, D. ... [et al] - Manual restraint of adult psychiatric inpatients: a literature review Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing October 2009, 16(8), 749-757

Depression, anxiety and executive functioning

Executive functioning is made up of a broad range of capabilities including the ability to pay attention, the ability to transfer one's attention from one thing to another, the ability to hold information in one's working memory, and planning. People who suffer from anxiety and depression often have problems with their ability to concentrate and inhibit their impulses making some scientists think that they have problems with their executive functioning. However, it is not known whether these problems with executive functioning come before or after the onset of anxiety or depression i.e. whether they are a cause or a symptom of mental-health problems. Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital studied 147 children. Some of their parents had depression, others had anxiety and the rest formed an unaffected control group. The idea was that any genetic tendency towards poorer executive functioning in people at risk from depression and anxiety would be reflected in children whose parents suffered from these conditions. The study found that children whose parents suffered from anxiety, or depression did not have poorer executive functioning. However, those children who did have depression or anxiety themselves did show worse executive functioning. Children with depression had poorer performance on several executive functioning and processing speed measures. Children with anxiety had a poorer verbal memory and children with social phobia made more mistakes on a continuous performance task. The results of the study tend to support the idea that poorer executive functioning is a symptom of depression and anxiety rather than a cause.

Micco, Jaime A. ... [et al] - Executive functioning in offspring at risk for depression and anxiety Depression and Anxiety September 2009, 26(9), 780-790

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Race, recognition and relations

The vast majority of people - other than those suffering from very rare neurological conditions - can recognise members of their own family, and people can also spot family resemblances among other people as well. Researchers from the University of Montpelier in France wanted to see if this ability to recognise related people crossed racial boundaries. French and Senegalese participants in the study were asked to match photos of parents with photos of their children. Both groups were able to detect kinship in the other group with the same degree of success and how much contact a French person had with Senegalese people (and vice versa) had no effect on the participants' ability to match parents to children.

Autism and MMR - more evidence that there is no link

The link between autism and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has been extensively debunked and new research from the NHS Information Centre in England has added to the evidence that there is no link. The centre surveyed 7,500 adults and found that 1% of them (1.8% of men and 0.2% of women) had an autism spectrum disorder. This was in line with the figures for children suggesting that there has been no rise in autism since the introduction of the MMR jab in the early 1990s.

You can find out more about this research at

A mindful doctor is a happy doctor

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center have been looking into the effects of mindfulness meditation and communication in reducing stress and burnout among doctors,You and improving communication skills with patients. As many as 60% of doctors report symptoms of burnout such as emotional exhaustion, treating patients as objects and a low sense of accomplishment and it has been linked to a poorer quality of care, increased medical errors and reduced patient satisfaction. Mindful communication uses techniques from meditation to help people maintain an open and non-judgmental outlook as they tackle everyday tasks. 70 doctors from the Rochester area of New York had eight intensive weekly sessions of mindfulness training for 2 1/2 hours, an all-day session and a maintenance phase of 10 monthly 2 1/2 hour sessions. The doctors experienced improved well-being including significant decreases in burnout and mood disturbance and they also experienced positive changes in empathy and 'psychosocial orientation to clinical care'.

You can find out more about this research at

Lol: txtspeak nt the end 4 splng

Psychology students at the University of Alberta have been looking at how 'textspeak' affects children's abilities to spell in conventional English. The students asked 40 12-17-year-olds to save their instant messages for a week - at the end of the study the participants completed a standardised spelling test. The study found that children who were good spellers in standard English were also good spellers in 'chat speak' and children who were poor spellers in standard English were poor spellers in chat speak. Girls used more chat speak than boys who preferred to express themselves through repeated use of punctuation!!! The boys who used more abbreviations were worse spellers whereas the girls who used more abbreviations were better spellers. Even the students - who were not that much older than the participants - had to use online dictionaries and ask their siblings to explain some of the abbreviations.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Childhood bullying and mental health

Bullying in school is a major problem for children, teachers and parents. Boys tend to bully more than girls who are more likely to use 'relational aggression'. Both bullying and victimisation are associated with poorer family functioning, interparental violence and child abuse and previous studies have shown that children who are both bullies and victims are the most troubled in terms of outcomes. Researchers from Turku University in Finland studied 5,038 children born in 1981. They asked them, and their teachers and parents, about bullying when they were eight and looked at the participants' psychiatric-hospital treatment and use of drugs until they were 24. The study found that girls who were frequent victims of bullying at eight were more likely to have been treated in a psychiatric hospital and to have taken antipsychotic, antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs by the time they were 24. Among the male participants frequent bully/victim and bully-only statuses predicted the use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Frequent bully/victim status among male participants also predicted psychiatric-hospital treatment and use of antipsychotics. However, among the male participants there was no link between bullying and subsequent mental-health problems once the children's mental-health problems at the age of eight had been taken into account.

Sourander, Andre ... [et al] - Childhood bullying behavior and later psychiatric hospital and psychopharmacologic treatment Archives of General Psychiatry September 2009, 66(9), 1005-1012

Inside the brains of psychopaths

Psychopaths are deceitful and manipulative and often engage in antisocial behaviour. They lack empathy with other people and find it hard to recognise the emotional significance of social events. Some scientists think that a part of the brain called the amygdala might be involved in these patterns of thinking and behaviour as the amygdala is involved in fear (which psychopaths feel much less of), social interaction and moral emotion and reasoning. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles compared the brains of 27 psychopaths and 32 normal people to see if there were any differences in the amygdalas of the psychopaths. They found that the psychopaths showed significant reductions in the volumes of their amygdalas. There were deformities in the basolateral, lateral, cortical and central nuclei of the amygdala in the psychopaths. There were significant correlations between reduced amygdala volumes and scores for psychopathy - links that were particularly strong to the affective (mood) and interpersonal aspects of psychopathy.

Yang, Yailing ... [et al] - Localization of deformations within the amygdala in individuals with psychopathy Archives of General Psychiatry September 2009, 66(9), 986-994

Depression and older people - does psychotherapy work?

Depression is common in older people and is recognised as a significant public-health problem yet there is evidence that older people do not always receive the best care. Researchers from Sichuan University in China reviewed 14 studies into the effectiveness of psychotherapy in treating depression in people over 55. They found that CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy), reminiscence and general psychotherapy were all effective although psychotherapy did not increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medication. There was no significant difference between CBT and reminiscence in terms of improving depression.

Peng, X-D. ... [et al] - Cognitive behavioural therapy and reminiscence techniques for the treatment of depression in the elderly: a systematic review The Journal of International Medical Research July/August 2009, 37(4), 975-982

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Autism and special abilities

People with autism often have special skills in mental arithmetic, music, art and drawing, memory, and mechanical and spatial abilities but little is known about what it is about autism that predisposes people to have these 'islets of ability.' Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London studied 6,426 eight-year-olds. They asked their parents if their children had any special gifts or abilities and looked for autistic traits in the areas of social interaction, communication, and restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests. The children with special abilities showed significantly more autism-like traits than those without such abilities. The more intelligent a child was the more likely they were to have special abilities but the less likely they were to display autism-like behaviour. Special abilities were more strongly associated with restrictive and repetitive behaviour than social and communication problems.

Vital, Pedro M. ... [et al] - Relationship between special abilities and autistic-like traits in a large population-based sample of 8-year-olds Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry September 2009, 50(9), 1093-1101

ADHD and maternal risk factors

A Scandinavian study of 21,678 children looked into the links between drinking, smoking and social deprivation in pregnant mothers and symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity in their children. The researchers found that after adjusting for smoking and social deprivation prenatal alcohol exposure "was not related to risk for a high inattention-hyperactivity symptom score." However, maternal smoking and social adversity during pregnancy were "independently and consistently associated with an increase in risk of child symptoms."

Rodriguez, A. ... [et al] - Is prenatal alcohol exposure related to inattention and hyperactivity symptoms in children? Disentangling the effects of social adversity Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry September 2009, 50(9), 1073-1083

Emotional intelligence and mental-health problems

Emotional intelligence is made up of four main strands: perceiving emotions, using emotions to facilitate thought, understanding emotional information and regulating emotions. People with mental-health problems are known to have emotional problems and difficulties with relationships and German researchers studied emotional intelligence in 179 people. 31 had depression, 19 had borderline personality disorder and 35 had substance-abuse problems; the remainder formed a control group of unaffected people. The people with mental-health problems had a lower overall score for emotional intelligence and had particular weaknesses in understanding emotional information and regulating their emotions. The patients with substance-abuse problems and borderline personality disorder were most impaired.

Hertel, Janine, Schuetz, Astrid and Claas-Hinrich, Lammers - Emotional intelligence and mental disorder Journal of Clinical Psychology September 2009, 65(9), 942-954

Bipolar disorder and criticism

Expressed emotion is a measure of the amount of negative emotion displayed in the family or caregivers of people with a mental-health problem. It is made up of hostility - blaming the sufferer for their illness - overinvolvement (family members blaming themselves for the sufferer's illness), and criticism. High levels of expressed emotion are linked to poorer outcomes in people with bipolar disorder, and in particular worse depression. Criticism and hostility are known to particularly affect people with bipolar disorder and researchers from the University of Miami looked into why these people might be particularly vulnerable to criticism. In a carefully-controlled experiment they subjected 70 participants - 35 of whom had bipolar disorder - to criticism and monitored how they reacted. (The participants were told that the criticism was part of the experiment after it was over). The researchers found that although the people with bipolar disorder reacted more negatively to criticism they recovered as quickly as the unaffected control group. Being female, perceiving the criticism as more negative, being disabled and having fewer positive relationships all made the participants with bipolar disorder more reactive to criticism.

Cuellar, Amy K., Johnson, Sheri L. and Ruggero, Camilo J. - Affective reactivity in response to criticism in remitted bipolar disorder: a laboratory analog of expressed emotion Journal of Clinical Psychology September 2009, 65(9), 925-941

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why 'D'oh!' could be the answer to academic success

The error-related negativity signal (ERN) is the brain's equivalent of Homer Simpson's 'D'oh!' and occurs around 100 milliseconds after a mistake has been made. Researchers at the University of Toronto looked into the strength of people's ERN skills as they undertook a Stroop task. (Stroop tasks are ones in which, for example, the word 'green' is printed in red ink and participants have to read out either the word or the colour it is printed in.) They then compared the strength of people's ERN signals with their college grades and found that those with large ERN signals did significantly better. Those students with large ERN signals were more likely to slow down in order to correct their mistakes and avoid future errors, leading to better grades. About half of people's ERN signal strength is due to genetics so it could be possible to find ways of boosting the other half. Having a very large ERN might not be quite so good though as it could lead to people becoming over-anxious about making a mistake.

You can find out more about this research at

ADHD and dopamine

Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York have been comparing the brain chemistry of adults with and without ADHD. They used positron emission tomography (PET) to scan the brains of 97 people, 53 of whom had ADHD; none of the participants with ADHD had received treatment for their condition. The researchers found that the participants with ADHD had less dopamine receptors and transporters in parts of the brain called the nucleus accumbens and the midbrain. Dopamine is an important regulator of mood and the two parts of the brain affected are part of the limbic system which is responsible for emotions, motivation and reward. People with ADHD are more likely to be obese and take drugs and it could be that in doing this they are consciously, or unconsciously, attempting to compensate for a deficient reward system.

You can find out more about this research at

Empathy: smells like T-shirt spirit

We usually recognise people by sight or sound but new research suggests that those people who are good at recognising people by smell might also be better at distinguishing emotions and more empathetic. Researchers from the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Rice University in Texas studied 44 female undergraduates who were asked to smell three T-shirts and identify the one that belonged to their room mate. The T-shirts had been worn overnight for an average of eight hours and their owners had been asked to use scent-free toiletries for two days beforehand. Those students who were best at identifying their room mate's T-shirt also excelled at a task of identifying people's facial emotions and in a test of empathy where they had to say how people would feel in certain situations. However, it was only the ability to use smell to identify their room mates that was linked to high performance in these tests - there was no link to general keenness of smell or the ability to name a range of different odours. The intensity and pleasantness of the T-shirt smells were also unrelated to the students' ability to identify their room mates.

You can find out more about this research at

In another study researchers at Glasgow University who measured electrical activity in the brains of young and older people found that young people were significantly quicker at recognising faces.

You can find out more about this research at

Why the spare room might be the better option

A sleep specialist from the University of Surrey has suggested that couples should sleep apart from one another in order to improve their chances of getting a good night's sleep. Dr Neil Stanley carried out research on 40 couples who wore an activity monitor to measure how often they were disturbed during the night. Couples slept much better when they were apart although only 8% of couples in their 40s and 50s sleep in separate beds. Poor sleep has been linked to depression, heart disease, strokes, lung disorders, traffic and industrial accidents and divorce.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Afghan children: coping with violence and conflict

Hardly surprisingly there is evidence of substantial mental-health problems among adults in Afghanistan but there is little evidence about how children are getting on. Researchers from Durham University studied a sample of 1,011 children, 1,011 caregivers and 358 teachers in 25 government-run schools in Kabul, Bamyan and Mazar-e-Sharif. They found that about 22% of the children met the criteria for 'probable psychiatric disorder' with girls being around two-and-a-half times more likely to have problems than boys. Children who had suffered five or more traumatic events were two-and-a-half times more likely to have a psychiatric disorder and three times more likely to report symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) than other children. Each symptom of psychological stress reported by caregivers led to a 10% increase in the probability of a psychiatric disorder in the children they were looking after. Children in Kabul were more likely to have mental-health problems and PTSD than children in the other two areas. The researchers pointed out that a lot of the trauma experienced by the children was due to 'everyday' violence rather than the ongoing war and that Afghan children showed remarkable resistance and strength in dealing with hardship.

You can find out more about this research at

Infection, inflammation and Alzheimer's disease

People with Alzheimer's disease who develop infections such as chest, intestine and urinary-tract infections may suffer double the rate of memory loss. Researchers from Southampton University studied 222 older people with Alzheimer's disease. Between them 110 of the 222 participants had had a severe infection and those participants who had had one or more infection over the course of the study showed twice the rate of cognitive decline. The infections can lead to a high level of a protein called Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF) in the blood, a protein which has been linked to inflammation. Inflammation is, in turn, though to contribute towards dementia.

You can find out more about this research at

Mind Your Head

A woman from the Shetlands whose mother, father and brother all committed suicide has set up a charity to raise awareness of mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding suicide. Shona Manson, whose brother Gary killed himself when he was 31 asked for donations for mental health at his funeral. Before long she had already received £10,000 and decided to set up an ongoing campaign rather than make a one-off donation. Mind Your Head aims to enhance mental-health care in the Shetlands and has held a number of different fund-raising events.

You can find out more about Mind Your Head at

Old age and shrinking brains - decline is not inevitable

Researchers from the Netherlands have challenged the idea that the brains of healthy older adults are smaller than those of younger people. Using data from the long-term Maastricht Aging Study they compared 35 people who performed well on cognitive tests early in the study and who stayed free of dementia with 30 people who showed substantial cognitive decline but who were still free of dementia. The 30 people who declined cognitively over the course of the study showed significant changes in the hippocampus and parahippocampal areas and in the frontal and cingulate cortices. However, those whose cognition did not change over the course of the study showed no loss of grey matter. The study concluded that previous research pointing to brain shrinkage in older people had failed to take into account cognitive problems which might not happen in everyone and that brain shrinkage might not necessarily be an inevitable part of the ageing process.

You can find out more about this research at

British doctors call for drinks clampdown

The British Medical Association has called for a ban on all alcohol advertising, including music and sports sponsorship. The drinks industry spends £800m a year on promoting alcohol but it is now one of the leading causes of early death and disability, third only behind smoking and high blood pressure. Alcohol consumption has been rising rapidly in recent years and it is thought that over a third of adults now drink over the recommended amount. Injury and illness due to drink is thought to cost the NHS up to £3bn a year. The doctors also called for a reduction in licensing hours and tougher rules about the pricing of drink. The U.K. Government remains in favour of a voluntary approach and the drinks industry points out that the U.K. already has the highest levels of taxation on drinks in Europe.

You can find out more about this story at

Self esteem, family support and suicide

In the U.S. suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between 15 and 24. One survey found that 16.9% of students had seriously considered suicide, 13% had made a plan and 8.4% had actually attempted to kill themselves. Self-esteem and family support are known to reduce the risk of suicidal behaviour but there has been little research into how the three factors influence one another. Researchers from the universities of Alexandria in Egypt and Seattle looked into this issue in a sample of 849 pupils considered to be at risk of dropping out of school in the Pacific Northwest and Northern New Mexico. They found that both self-esteem and family support reduced the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour. Interestingly the beneficial effect of self esteem was stronger in children with low levels of family support. The researchers thought that this might be because children who receive low levels of support from their family learn to fend for themselves thus building up their self esteem.

Sharaf, Amira Y., Thompson, Elaine A. and Walsh, Elaine - Protective effects of self-esteem and family support on suicide risk behaviors among at-risk adolescents Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing August 2009, 22(3), 160-168

Social competence and troubled children

It is estimated that one in ten children in the U.S. suffers from serious emotional disturbances that disrupt their functioning in homes, schools and communities. Around 8% of these children need to be admitted to residential treatment because their behaviour is seriously threatening their own, or other people's, safety. These children have often been described as immature and primitive in their relationships and social competence but little formal research has been done in this area. Jodi Morstein Groot from Utah University looked into this issue in a sample of 113 young people. She found that 71% of the sample met clinical behavioural problem levels and that their social competence was at a level of people four years younger.

Groot, Jodi Morstein - Assessing behavior and social competence of severely emotionally disturbed youth admitted to psychiatric residential treatment Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing August 2009, 22(3), 143-149

Monday, September 07, 2009

Venlafaxine and duloxetine for depression

Researchers from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare (IQWiG) in Germany have reviewed a number of studies into the effectiveness of the antidepressants venlafaxine and duloxetine. They reviewed a total of 80 studies and found that both drugs were more effective than a placebo at treating depression symptoms and helped to prevent a relapse.

You can find out more about the review at

Genes and language problems

Researchers from the universities of Kansas and Nebraska have found a gene associated with specific language impairment (SLI). The gene KIAA0319, which is found on chromosome 9 was associated with variations in language ability among children with SLI and their family members. The gene influenced the children's abilities in speech, vocabulary and grammar. 322 children took part in the study, none of whom had hearing problems, mental handicap or autism.

You can find out more about this research at

The truth - in black and white

Researchers at Haifa University in Israel have been using a computerised writing tablet in an attempt to develop a handwriting equivalent of the lie detector. The tablet measures aspects of handwriting that are difficult to consciously control such as the length of time that the pen is on the paper as opposed to in the air, the length, height and width of each writing stroke and the pressure of the pen on the writing surface. They found that these characteristics differ when people write a deceptive sentence compared to a truthful one. They hope that the handwriting test might provide a cheaper, less intrusive version of the traditional lie detector.

You can find out more about this research at

I'm not wasting my time - I'm boosting my brainpower

Many an office worker has frittered away the odd ten minutes playing the computer game Tetris, fitting different shaped blocks into a virtual box as they fall from the top of the screen. Scientists from the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque used MRI scans to assess the effects of Tetris on brainpower in 26 adolescent girls who played the game for 30 minutes a day, over a three-month period. They used MRI scans to measure the thickness of the girls' grey matter and the efficiency of their brain activity. Compared to a control group who did not play the game the girls who played Tetris showed increased grey-matter thickness in part of the left frontal lobe and left temporal lobe and greater efficiency in the right frontal and parietal lobes.

You can find out more about this research at

Insomnia and blood pressure

Insomnia affects up to 48% of the population at some point in their lives. There is a growing body of evidence linking insomnia to health problems and this has been added to by researchers at the University of Montreal who studied 13 otherwise-healthy insomniacs and 13 people without sleep problems. They found that the people with insomnia had higher night-time blood pressure, something which can lead to cardiovascular problems as this is when the heart normally has a 'rest' in people who sleep well.

You can find out more about this research at

Two new genes for Alzheimer's found

A team of researchers led by scientists from the School of Medicine at Cardiff University has found two new genes linked to Alzheimer's disease. The team studied 19,000 DNA samples from older adults in Europe and the U.S., 7,000 of whom had Alzheimer's disease. The researchers found that twon genes called APOJ, or clustrin, and PICALM were both linked to Alzheimer's disease. APOJ is found on chromosome 8 and may be involved in the formation of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer's. PICALM is on chromosome 11 and is thought to be involved in the breakdown of synapses that link brain cells together.

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, September 04, 2009

Decision latitude and rheumatoid arthritis

Decision latitude can be defined as the ability an employee has to decide how they do their job. So people with a high decision latitude have lots of freedom to decide how they go about things whereas someone with low decision latitude has little freedom. Low decision latitude has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and a study of 2,675 people by a group of Swedish researchers suggests that it could also be a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers asked people about their work environment and compared those with and without rheumatoid arthritis. They found low decision latitude was associated with a 60% increase in the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

You can find out more about this research at

Bullying and sleep problems

Researchers from University College Dublin studied the links between workplace bullying and sleep problems in 7,694 people in southeast France. They found that 22.3% of women and 17.08% of men reported having "some or a great deal of trouble" sleeping. They found that men who were currently being bullied were 2.29 times more likely to have sleep problems while those who were exposed to daily, or near-daily, bullying were 2.39 times at greater risk of disturbed sleep. Women were also at greater risk of sleep problems if they experienced daily or near-daily bullying (1.73) or had been exposed to bullying for more than five years (1.87). 32% of women and 31% of men said that they had observed workplace bullying in the last 12 months. Even people who had only witnessed workplace bullying were still more likely to develop sleep problems.

You can find out more about this research at

Friendly dolls and helpful children

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany have been looking into how children's environments influence their willingness to help other people. They showed groups of 18-month-old children pictures of household objects such as a teapot or a shoe. In the background of the pictures were a number of other images intended to affect the children's thinking. In the background of some pictures were two wooden dolls, facing and almost touching each other while other pictures showed dolls facing away from one another, a doll on its own and some wooden blocks. After showing the children the images one of the researchers "accidentally" dropped a small bundle of sticks then waited to see if the children would spontaneously help or if they needed some hints. The children who had seen the dolls close together and facing each other were three times as likely to offer help as the other children.

You can find out more about this research at

Predicting PTSD in soldiers

Researchers from Tel Aviv University have successfully used brain-scanning technology to predict which soldiers are more at risk of stress than others. The researchers studied a group of 50 army medics recording brain activity before they started active duty. They also measured the participants' stress symptoms when they were first drafted and a year-and-a-half later when they started active service. Using this information they were able to develop predictive brain measurements for whether or not a soldier would develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Activity in an area of the brain called the amygdala was found to be closely linked to whether or not soldiers developed PTSD.

You can find out more about this research

Unhealthy living lowers your brainpower

Unhealthy habits can reduce people's brainpower. That's the conclusion of a 17-year study of 5,123 British civil servants by researchers from Hopital Paul Brousse in Villejuif, France. The participants in the study took tests for memory, wordpower, mental arithmetic and logic when they were 44, 56 and 61 and were asked about their diet, smoking and drinking and exercise. Smokers did worse but teetotallers performed worse than moderate drinkers and people who had less than two servings of fruit and vegetables a day also did worse. People who took less exercise also showed a greater decline in brainpower.

You can find out more about this research at

Postnatal depression and suicide

Postnatal depression occurs in about 19% of new mothers and can lead to thoughts of killing oneself. Researchers from Boston University studied 32 new mothers who were feeling suicidal. Those women with the most severe problems experienced more sleeping and eating problems, felt more anxious, had more changeable moods, had experienced a greater loss of self and felt greater guilt about their experience. They had poorer self esteem, felt they were less prepared for mothering and expected to have a poorer-quality relationship with their children. They were "less able to demonstrate sensitivity and reciprocity with their infants during unstructured interactions ... less aware of their babies' social signals and showed poorer ability to respond to them consistently." The women's children showed less smiling, more fussing and less engagement with their mothers. Most of the women with suicidal thoughts had held jobs before having their children and had moved from a predictable and controlled environment where they felt competent to the unpredictability of looking after a newborn child. Interventions for these women could include

  • The mother structuring her day
  • Identifying tasks that need to be accomplished
  • Offering guidance into how to attune to the baby's needs
  • Alerting a spouse or other family member to step in when they feel most vulnerable
  • Gaining support from a person close by in moments of high anxiety

You can find out more about this research at

Jam-today people more impulsive

A study of 42,863 people - conducted via the BBC web site - by researchers at University College London and the University of Warwick - has found that people who are financially more imprudent are also more impulsive in other ways. The study asked people whether they would prefer £45 in three weeks time or £70 in three months. Participants were also asked a number of other questions about their lifestyle. Nearly half the sample opted for a quick pay day and these people were more likely to smoke, be overweight and have had an affair. Those people most likely to make impulsive financial choices were young, poorly-educated and on lower incomes.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

People who yearn for amputation

A small number of people have a burning desire to have a healthy limb amputated. Olaf Blanke from the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne has been conducting extensive interviews with 20 such people. His findings have cast doubt on the traditional view that this is a form of body dysmorphic disorder and suggest that it could be caused by abnormalities in the front-parietal circuits of the brain. 75% of the patients wanted their left leg amputated. They also reported abnormal sensations in the body parts they wanted removed including tingling and numbness, a loss of sensitivity, a feeling that the limb belonged to someone else or that it was already absent (a kind of phantom-limb sensation in reverse); all symptoms that are sometimes reported by people with damage to their fronto-parietal cortex. Contrary to how people feel in body-dysmorphic disorder none of the participants thought the 'offending' limb was defective or were embarrassed by it. Female patients tended to be more severely affected than men; the three women in the study all wanted to have multiple amputations.

You can find out more about this study at

Going straight - more help needed for people with mental-health problems

U.K. charity the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health says that prisoners with mental-health problems are not being given the help they need to find work when they are released. The charity's policy paper - Securing Employment for Offenders with Mental-Health Problems - states that too many prison-based work-preparation schemes exclude mentally-ill people because they are not thought to be ready for work, even though having a job is the single biggest factor in cutting the reoffending rate. The charity said that prison schemes placed too much emphasis on learning skills and not enough on cultivating links with employers. It called for a wider adoption of policies based on individual placement and support - involving helping people to secure paid jobs and providing in-work support to both employer and employee as long as they need it.

You can download a copy of the Sainsbury Centre report at

Kidney disease and depression

People with chronic kidney disease are at greater risk of depression than people with diabetes, heart failure and coronary artery disease. Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre studied 272 people in the early stages of chronic kidney disease and found that one in five met the official criteria for a major depressive episode. Unemployment, mental-health problems and diabetes all contributed to a 20% depression rate in this group compared to 11% for people with diabetes, 14% for people with heart failure and 16% for people with coronary artery disease.

You can find out more about this research at

Attachment style and bipolar disorder

Attachment style can be defined as the way in which we carry our relationship with our closest childhood caregiver (usually our mother) into our own adult relationships. Attachment style can be described as secure - characterised by comfort with intimacy and autonomy and with a positive model of oneself and the other in a relationship - or insecure. Insecure attachment can be further divided into three types: anxious in which people are fearful on intimacy and socially avoidant, preoccupied with relationships in which people have a negative model of the self and a postiive model of the other, and dismissing in which the subject has a positive model of the self but is dismissive of the value of intimacy. Researchers from the universities of Nottingham, Liverpool, Lancaster and Bangor looked into attachment style in people with bipolar disorder. They studied 148 people, 107 of whom had the condition. They found that 78% of the bipolar patients had an insecure attachment style compared to only 32% of those unaffected. Healthy people had higher secure attachment, lower anxious attachment and lower preoccupied attachment. Mania was associated with higher secure and preoccupied attachment styles and depression was associated with higher preoccupied and lower dismissing attachment style scores.

Morriss, Richard K. ... [et al] - Adult attachment in bipolar 1 disorder Psychology and Psychotherapy: theory, research and practice September 2009, 82(3), 267-277

Memories matter - to everyone

The Alzheimer's Research Trust has launched a major new campaign which aims to highlight the problems of memory loss experienced by people with Alzheimer's, a condition that 700,000 people in the U.K. suffer with. The Trust has set up a website where people can share their unforgettable moments - good, bad or ugly - and well-known people such as Sir Michael Parkinson, Tony Benn, Tony Robinson, Sir Terry Pratchett, Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron have already contributed their own memories to the site. So why not support the Trust's campaign and add your own memories at

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Still stigma in the workplace for people with mental-health problems

U.K. anti-stigma campaign Time to Change surveyed more than 2,000 people around the country to investigate the links between stigma, mental health and employment prospects. Participants were asked to imagine that they were interviewing someone for a job and that the interviewee had admitted that they suffered from depression from time to time. 92% of people believed that admitting to having a mental illness would damage someone's career. The three careers felt to be most vulnerable were doctors (56%), the emergency services (54%) and teachers (48%). Interestingly only 21% of people thought an admission of mental illness would harm the career of an MP. Even if someone with depression was the best person for a job 56% said that they would not employ them. Of these people 17% said that they would not offer them a job because they would be unreliable, 10% said that they would be blamed if the employee took time off sick and 15% said that they were worried that a depressed person wouldn't work as well as other people or get on with other employees. Bank workers were the most likely to discriminate against someone with a mental illness.

You can find out more about the Time for Change survey at

Earthquakes shake brains as well as bodies

On May 12, 2008 an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale hit the town of Wenchuan in China, killing 69,146 people and seriously injuring 374,131. Brain scans of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have shown alterations in people's brain structure but little is known about changes in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned 44 healthy survivors and 32 controls shortly (13 days) after the Wenchuan earthquake. They found hyperactivity in certain areas of the brain and decreased connectivity in others. The researchers hope that better understanding of the changes in the brain that take place after trauma could lead to an earlier diagnosis of those at risk and more effective treatment for them.

U.K. Government boosts mental-health support for workers

The U.K. Government has announced that people with mental-health problems will get extra support to manage their condition so they can stay in the workplace. After successful pilot schemes - which were 90% successful in helping people to retain their jobs - the Government is now looking to extend the scheme with an expectation that it will be rolled out nationally. The Government will publish its National Strategy for Mental Health and Employment in the autumn setting out how employers, healthcare professionals and organisations can improve wellbeing in the workforce. The Government will also introduce a network of dedicated mental-health experts across job centres who will work with healthcare professionals to coordinate support for people with mental-health conditions and is to increase the Access to Work fund from £69m to £138m over the next five years.

You can find out more about these Government initiatives at

U.K. Government clamps down on new drugs

The U.K. Government is to ban the drugs BZP and GBL which have been linked to a number of deaths. The drugs are to be classified as class C carrying prison terms of up to two years for possession and 14 years for dealing. BZP is also known as 'herbal Ecstasy' and GBL is taken as a substitute for the 'date rape' drug GHB which is already illegal. The Government also clamped down on man-made cannabinoids - known as Spice - making them, like cannabis itself, class B drugs.

You can find out more about this issue at

And you can watch a video about it at

Older drinkers, stronger drinks behind rise in alcohol consumption

New research by private company Mintel has shown that although drink sales - by can or bottle - have remained steady since 2000 alcohol consumption per person has risen by 10%. This is because wines and lagers are becoming stronger and people are unaware of the changes. The average alcohol content of wine is now 13% as opposed to 11% in the past and 5% premium lagers are also more popular now. Mintel's research suggests that it is older people drinking at home rather than young adults binge drinking that is behind the rise in alcohol consumption. Interestingly 22% fewer 18-24-year-olds agreed with the statement "the point of drinking is to get drunk" than five years ago. In the U.K. a third of men and a fifth of women drink more than the recommended daily limits.

You can find out more about this issue at

Depression burden set to soar

As the first global Mental Health Summit starts in Athens the World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that within 20 years more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem. WHO figures show that over 450 million people worldwide are directly affected by mental disorders or disabilities. Most of these people live in developing countries yet such countries spend less than 2% of their national budgets on mental healthcare. Levels of depression are actually higher in poorer countries and poorer people in richer countries also have a higher incidence of depression. However, higher-income countries allocate 200 times more resources to mental-health than low-income ones. In the U.K. it is estimated that depression costs £12bn per annum - about 1% of GNP.

'Sticks and stones' not so true in high school

The old proverb that 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me' might not be that helpful as far as high-school students are concerned. Researchers from the University of Illinois studied 10,060 year 10 students in 659 high schools and found that classroom disruptions and psychologically-hostile school environments can make it harder for gifted students to excel and low achievers to catch up. 70% of the students said that they were bothered by disruption in the classroom and one in five said that they were often put down by their peers. The study found that smaller, private and more affluent schools did little to protect their students from verbal abuse. Boys experienced verbal put-downs more often than girls and high-achieving African-American students in minority schools were also more likely to experience verbal harassment.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Teenage depression increases adult risk

Teenagers who suffer from minor depression are much more likely to develop mental-health problems later in life. Researchers at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute interviewed 750 14-16-year-olds and found that 8% of them had minor depression. The same group was assessed again as adults. By the time the participants got to their 20s and 30s the risk of having major depression was four times greater in those who had suffered from minor depression as teenagers. The risk of agoraphobia, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder was two-and-a-half times greater and the risk of anorexia or bulimia was three times higher.

You can find out more about this research at

Report paints mixed picture of UK childhood

An international report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - Doing Better for Children - compares the wellbeing of children in a number of developed countries and paints a mixed picture of childhood in the U.K. The report found that children in the U.K. are relatively well off, tend to enjoy school more, experience low levels of bullying and are less likely to commit suicide relative to many other developed countries. However, young teenagers (13-15) in the U.K. were more likely to get drunk than those anywhere else in the world and were also more likely to become pregnant and to have parents who were separated. 33% of 13-15-year-olds reported being drunk at least twice - more than double the rate of children in the U.S., France and Italy. The rates of drinking were particularly high among U.K. girls with 50% of 15-year-old girls reporting getting drunk - three times higher than girls of the same age in France.

You can find out more about the OECD report at

Drinking and depression - does abstinence make the heart grow stronger?

Heavy drinking can lead to poorer physical and mental health but there is increasing evidence to suggest that low levels of alcohol consumption might also be associated with psychological problems. This could be because teetotallers were heavy drinkers at one point and have now had to give up, or because they have other - non-alcohol-related health problems - that stop them from drinking and might also lead to depression. Researchers used information from the Nord-Troendelag Health Study covering over 38,000 Norwegians and found that those people who said that they had drunk no alcohol over the last two weeks were more likely to report symptoms of depression. Those people who referred to themselves as 'abstainers' were at the highest risk of depression. 14% of those who were currently teetotal had previously been heavy drinkers but this did not explain all the increased risk of depression in this group and neither did age or physical health problems. The authors thought that abstinence could either be caused by, or result in, social marginalisation in societies where alcohol use is the norm or that teetotallers might have other personality traits in common that predisposed them towards depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Hopelessness and stroke risk

Many studies have linked depression with heart disease and recent studies have suggested that optimism can protect women from heart problems. Researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School looked into the links between hopelessness and stroke risk. They studied 559 women with an average age of 50 who had no clinical signs of heart disease, such as high blood pressure. They measured the women's levels of hopelessness and depression and took ultrasound pictures of them to measure the thickening of their neck arteries. Thickening of the neck arteries is associated with deposits of plaque within them - atherosclerosis - which is a predictor of stroke and subsequent heart attack. The study found that the women who scored highly for hopelessness had thicker neck arteries - a difference that was significant even after adjusting for other risk factors such as age, race, income, heart-disease risk factors and depression.

You can find out more about this research at

The amygdala and personal space - the strange case of patient S.M.

Most people have a strong sense of personal space and feel uncomfortable when they are too close to others. Researchers from the California Institute of Technology have been studying a patient - known as S.M. - who has damage to the amygdala on both sides of her brain. S.M. seems to have no sense of personal space and felt no discomfort when experimenters walked to within a foot of her - half the distance of a twenty-strong control group. She also felt no discomfort when one of the experimenters stood nose-to-nose to her staring straight into her eyes and when an accomplice stood close to her in a situation which she couldn't have known was part of the experiment. The case of S.M. made the researchers think that the amygdala has something to do with people's personal space and in another experiment they scanned people's brains as they were told that a researcher was standing nearer to, or further away from, them. They found that when the participant was told that the researchers were standing nearer to them the activity in their amygdalas increased.

You can find out more about this research at