Friday, May 29, 2009

Untangling social networks in Holland

Dutch sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst has been investigating people's networks of friends and how they change over time. He followed 604 people, between 18-65, over seven years, asking them about their social networks; who they talked to about their problems, who they asked for help with D.I.Y., who they socialized with etc. The study found that the social context in which we meet people plays a big role in choosing our partners, friends and acquaintances i.e. we are as likely to make friends with people because they are close at hand as for any other reason. The study found that people often picked friends from a context where they had already made other friends and that the extent to which our friends know each other strongly depends on the context in which people meet each other. The size of people's networks stayed remarkably stable over the seven years of the study but there was a higher-than-expected turnover. Only 30% of the 'discussion partners' and 'practical helpers' still held the same position in people's networks seven years later and only 48% of people in people's social networks at the start of the study were still in them at the end.

You can find out more about this research at

Dementia drugs and side effects

Cholinesterase inhibitors are often prescribed for people with Alzheimer's disease because they increase the level of a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain that seems to help with memory. However, these drugs can have serious side effects and a study by Professor Sudeep Gill of Queen's University in Canada has highlighted some of them. The study, of patients in Ontario province, found that a slower heart-rate was 69% more common among people using cholinesterase inhibitors, there was a 49% greater chance of having a pacemaker fitted and an 18% greater risk of hip fractures. It is thought that the lower heart rate produced by the drug leads to more people being fitted with pacemakers and more fainting which raises the risk of hip fractures. It is not recommended that people stop taking the drugs but it may be a good idea for those people who have had problems with fainting or slow heart rate in the past to see their doctor before, or while, taking them.

You can read more about this research at

The importance of being attentive

Having attention problems in infant school (kindergarten) could lead to lower high-school grades years later. Researchers from the University of California Davis School of Medicine followed 700 children from the ages of 5-6 to the end of high-school (17-18). The study looked at the relationship between aggressive, inattentive and depressive behaviours at the start of the study and children's later performance on standardized high-school achievement tests. The researchers found that inattentiveness in infant school was the only behaviour that consistently predicted lower scores in reading and maths tests at the end of high-school regardless of the children's IQ.

You can find out more about this research at

'Man hands on misery to man' - the effects of interpersonal violence on children

Research has shown that there is a link between child abuse and mental-health problems and a study of 3,023 people in Paris has suggested that violence between parents could also have an effect on the mental health of their children. Among the particpants in the study 16% said that they had witnessed inter-parental violence by the age of 18. Witnessing violence was eight times more likely where the parents were alcoholics and more likely in families with financial problems, serious parental disease, housing problems and unemployment. After adjusting for other factors the researchers found that children who were exposed to interparental violence were 1.4x more likely to have depression, 1.75 times more likely to be alcoholics, three times more likely to be involved in conjugal violence themselves and five times more likely to mistreat their own children.

You can read more about this research at

Preaching to the converted

Most people's choice of newspaper tends to reflect their political opinions but even when people are given a choice of media they still tend to pick ones that confirm their opinions. Researchers from Ohio State University studied 156 undergraduate students. They were asked their opinions on topics such as gun control, abortion, health care and the minimum wage. Then, six weeks later, in what the participants thought was a completely unconnected study, they were asked to come back and take part in a 'market research' study on a mocked-up magazine which contained articles about these issues. It was clear which side of the argument the articles took and the researchers were able to use software to analyse what the students were reading. They found that the students spent 36% more time reading articles that agreed with their point of view. They clicked on an average of 1.9 articles that they agreed with and 1.4 articles that they disagreed with. There was a 58% likelihood of them picking an article they agreed with and a 43% chance of them picking one they disagreed with. People with a strong party affiliation, conservative political views and a greater interest in politics were more likely to pick articles they disagreed with. People who said that they frequently read the news were more likely to avoid opposing viewpoints.

You can find out more about this research at

Drink Canada Dry

A survey of drinkers in Canada by researchers at the universities of Montreal and Western Ontario has found that regularly drinking even small amounts can lead to binge drinking. The study found that regular drinking increased tolerance leading to people drinking more when they went out socialising. By contrast the study found that those people who rarely drink did not consume more than a couple of drinks on a night out. The study surveyed 10,466 men and women about their alcohol consumption over the last year.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shame and attribution

Over the past few decades shame has come to be seen as increasingly important in psychology. It can help people to behave better, prevent damage to social status and alert people to behaviour that might threaten their relationships. However, shame has also been linked to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and addictions. Attributions - the cause people assign to events - are thought to play an important part in people's feelings of shame and researchers at the University of Alberta, in Canada, looked into the links between attribution and shame. They conducted in-depth interviews with 13 people who had experienced an incident which caused them shame and then recovered from it. They found that initially shame was felt to be due to fundamental and inherent character flaws which the participants were powerless to control. However, as time went on people attributed their shame to specific and temporary factors, their self-esteem recovered and they regained a sense of power and control over their future. The shared and external factors that contributed to the event were also idenfitied.

Van Vliet, K. Jessica - The role of attribution in the process of overcoming shame: a qualitative analysis Psychology and Psychotherapy: theory, research and practice June 2009, 82(2), 137-152

Why ignoring the pecking order is better than trying to get to the top of it

People who feel insecure and unsafe in their personal relationships can feel under pressure to try and avoid feelings of inferiority associated with being overlooked or rejected. In contrast people who feel more secure do not fear inferiority or mistakes as they see people as essentially accepting and helpful rather than rejecting and shaming. Researchers have developed a scale to measure these feelings which ranges from insecure striving - where people feel they must compete for their social place and avoid mistakes and inferiority - at one end to non-secure striving at the other. Researchers from the University of Derby studied 62 people diagnosed with depression and measured their:

  • striving to avoid inferiority
  • fears of missing out, being overlooked and active rejection
  • attachment style (the way in which people form relationships which is thought to stem from our very early relationships with our mother our 'primary caregiver')
  • perception of their social rank
  • and mental-health problems

Striving to avoid inferiority was highly correlated with shame and moderately associated with feeling inferior to others and submissive behaviour. It was also associated with anxious and avoidant attachment, self-harm, anxiety, depression and stress. The researchers concluded that when people feel insecure in their social environments it can lead them to focus too much on a heirarchical view of themselves and others with a fear of rejection if they feel they have been too inferior or subordinate; something which may increase their vulnerability to depression, anxiety and stress.

Gilbert, Paul ... [et al] - The dark side of competition: how competitive behaviour and striving to avoid inferiority are linked to depression, anxiety, stress and self-harm Psychology and Psychotherapy: theory, research and practice June 2009, 82(2), 123-136

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Alzheimer's and decision making

People who are suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease may find it harder to prioritise between different information. Researchers at the University of Washington in St Louis studied 198 people, including 109 healthy older adults, 41 people with very-early Alzheimer's, 13 people with early Alzheimer's and 35 younger adults. The participants were asked to study and learn new words each of which had a different point value. All the participants learnt more high-value words but those with Alzheimer's were less able to prioritise the high-value ones.

You can find out more about this research at

Amygdalas and autism

The amygdala is a part of the brain linked to facial recognition and emotions and new research from the University of North Carolina suggests that it may be enlarged in toddlers with autism. Researchers found enlarged amygdalas in toddlers with autism at two and four years of age and found that they were associated with problems in joint attention - the ability to look the right way when Mum says 'look at the fire engine.' The study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to compare the brains of 50 toddlers with autism to a control group of 33 unaffected infants.

You can find out more about this research at

Weight loss may be sign of dementia

Losing weight, particularly in people who are overweight or obese to begin with, may be one of the early signs of dementia. Tiffany Hughes, a Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida, studied 1,836 Japanese Americans (average age 72) for eight years. Over the course of the study 129 of them developed dementia. People with lower body-mass index (BMI) scores at the start of the study were 79% more likely to develop dementia than those with lower BMI scores. Those who lost weight more quickly over the course of the study - particularly if they were overweight or obese to start with - were nearly three times as likely to develop dementia than those who lost weight more slowly. The results were the same after allowing for other factors such as smoking, exercise and gender.

Unravelling the tangles behind Alzheimer's disease

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal have made a significant discovery in the biochemistry of Alzheimer's disease. The disease is caused when tau proteins - which are a normal part of the brain and central nervous system - get out of control and form tangles that are the main cause of Alzheimer's. Scientists have found that tau proteins in normal brains have only three or four proteins attached to them whereas tau proteins in the brains of people with Alzheimer's can have anything from 21 to 25 additional phosphates. The research team at McGill University have now discovered that it is the addition of a single phosphate to the Ser202 amino acid within the tau brain protein that is the principal culprit responsible for Alzheimer's.

Women and retail therapy

A survey by Professor Karen Pine, from the University of Hertfordshire, looked into the phenomenon of retail therapy. The survey of 700 women found that 79% said they would go on a shopping spree to cheer themselves up. Four out of ten named 'depression' and six out of ten named 'feeling a bit low' as reasons to go on a shopping spree. However, one in four had experienced feelings of regret, guilt or shame after buying something in the week before the survey and seven out of ten had worried about money during the same period.

You can find out more about this research at

Child abuse and depression

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. looked into the impact of child abuse on people's struggles against depression. The study found that depressed people who had been abused as children were more likely to kill themselves, take drugs or have a personality disorder. They also became mentally ill at a younger age and were more likely to have to go into hospital to be treated.

Vitamin D and dementia

An article in this month's Journal of Alzheimer's Disease looks into the links between vitamin D deficiency and dementia. The article, by William B. Grant, points out that low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, dental caries, osteoporosis and periodontal disease all of which are known to either precede dementia or to be a risk factor for it. There is also evidence that vitamin D helps with neuroprotection and reducing inflammation and strong evidence that it has an important role in brain function. As many older people are deficient in vitamin D and it has many other health benefits Dr. Grant recommends that people over 60 should consider having their vitamin D levels tested.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Alcohol problems: why being able to hold your drink is not such a good thing

People who need lots of alcohol to get drunk tend to drink more and are at a greater risk of alcholism than other people. They also tend to drink with other heavy drinkers giving them false ideas about how much other people drink. A low level of response (LR) to alcohol is influenced by genes but it is unclear how much it is due to them and how much to drinking more and starting to drink earlier than other people. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, studied 297 men who were tested on their response to alcohol between the ages of 18 and 25. They were then monitored for alcohol problems after 10, 15, 20 and 25 years. Even after taking into account: a family history of alcohol problems, typical drinking quantity, the age when they first started drinking, weight and their age when they started the study LR at the start of the study still predicted the development of alcohol problems later, suggesting that a genetically-determined LR is a risk factor for developing drink problems regardless of environmental factors.

You can find out more about this research at

Heavy drinkers often injured

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been looking into the links between heavy drinking in students and their risk of alcohol-related injuries. In the U.S., in 2001, around 500,000 college students suffered alcohol-related injuries with more than 1,700 deaths. Around 2.8m college students in the U.S. drove under the influence of alcohol last year and 600,000 students were assaulted by another student who was under the influence. The University of Wisconsin-Madison study of 2,090 heavy-drinking students found that men who drank eight or more drinks at least four times a month and women who drank five or more drinks that often were five times more likely to be injured. Those students who scored highest for sensation seeking also had a greater risk of alcohol-related injuries.

You can find out more about this research at

Looking on the bright side all over the world

Despite the constant stream of 'bad news' stories in the media these days ranging from terrorism and climate change to swine flu and MPs' expenses the vast majority of people all over the world are optimistic. A joint study by the University of Kansas and Gallup surveyed more than 150,000 adults in over 140 countries. It found that 89% of people expected the next five years to be as good as, or better, than their current life and 95% of people expected their life in five years to be as good as, or better, than their life was five years ago. Optimism was highest in Brazil, Ireland, Denmark and New Zealand and lowest in Zimbabwe, Egypt, Haiti and Bulgaria.

You can find out more about this research at

MRI scans may lead to earlier Alzheimer's diagnosis

Early diagnosis of dementia is important both in terms of treating people to delay its onset and in helping relatives to prepare for their role as caregivers. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a computer programme called Freesurfer and have been using it to analyse the MRI scans of older adults with a remarkable degree of success. They studied 217 people: 58 of them had mild cognitive impairment which later went on to develop into Alzheimer's disease, 65 had probable Alzheimer's disease and the rest were unaffected. By concentrating on three areas of the brain - the entorhinal cortex, the hippocampus and the supramarginal gyrus - the programme was able to tell with 95% accuracy which of the sample had mild cognitive impairment and with 100% accuracy which of the sample had Alzheimer's.

You can find out more about this research at

Mirroring and head movements

People use head movements in conversation to convey a range of meanings and emotions. Women use these more than men but when men and women are talking to each other both sexes adapt; women use slightly fewer movements and men slightly more. However, it is unclear whether people do this in reaction to the other person's gender or through 'mirroring' the person they are speaking to. Researchers at the University of Virginia used sophisticated computer technology to preserve the movements of people but change their sex. They recorded a women's head movements, transposed them onto a man's face and played them to participants in the study who thought they were talking to a real person. They found that the participants responded to the head movements of the 'person' they were talking to, suggesting that it is mirroring rather than gender that lies behind the increased frequency of men's head movements when they speak to women.

You can find out more about this research at

Cognition and the menopause

60% of women say that they have memory problems during the menopause. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles studied 2,362 women between the ages of 42 and 52 to look into the links between the menopause and cognition. They divided the women into four groups: premenopausal, early perimenopausal (irregular periods but no gaps of three months), late perimenopausal (having no period for 3-11 months) and postmenopausal. The women were tested on verbal memory, working memory and how quickly they processed information. The study found that the women's scores improved over time but that they improved much more slowly during the late perimenopausal stage. Verbal memory was particularly affected and showed much slower improvement in both the early and late perimenopausal stages. Taking oestrogen or progesterone before the menopause had a beneficial effect but taking them after the menopause had a negative effect.

You can find out more about this research at

Guest post: ECT in Minnesota

The City Pages web site has published an in-depth article on the case of mental health patient Ray Sandford who has been forced by the State of Minnesota to undergo electroshock therapy, a controversial procedure used to treat a wide number of mental illnesses. The article examines Mr. Sandford's case and the ethics and practicality of electroshock therapy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Schizophrenia, violence and drug abuse

Schizophrenia is associated with a four-to-six-fold increase in violent behaviour but it is unclear whether it is schizophrenia itself or another factor associated with it that is behind the increased risk in violence. Researchers from Oxford University studied 88,028 people using data from Swedish registers of hospital admissions and criminal convictions from 1973-2006. The researchers found that among patients with schizophrenia 13.2% had committed at least one violent offence compared with only 5.3% of the general population. However, the rate of violence in people with schizophrenia and drug abuse was 27.6% compared to only 8.5% in those people who had schizophrenia but did not use drugs. After adjusting for other factors people with schizophrenia and drug problems were 4.4 times more likely to commit a violent offence while those with no drug problem were only 1.2 times as likely.

You can find out more about the links between schizophrenia, drugs and violence at

One in thirteen hit by depression in the U.S.

Researchers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S. have been analyzing data from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health involving around 45,000 people. They found that 7.5% of people suffered from at least one bout of major depression in the last year. 18-25 year-olds were most likely to suffer from depression (8.9%), more than those in the 26-49 age group (8.5%) and those over 50 (5.8%). 14.2% of Americans who described their health as 'fair' or 'poor' were depressed, compared to only 4.3% of healthier people. Only 64.5% of people who suffered from depression actually got treatment. Of those who did not get treatment 43% said cost was the main reason, 29% said they could deal with their depression on their own and 18% said that they did not know where to turn for help.

You can find out more about the levels of depression in the U.S. at

Revealing the true cost of autism

Researchers at the London School of Economics have estimated that autism costs the UK £27bn per annum. There are thought to be 432,750 adults with autism in the country and 107,016 children. The estimated costs for children were £2.7bn and for adults £25bn. The lifetime costs of autism were estimated at £0.8m for someone with no learning disabilities and £1.2m for someone with learning disabilities. For children the highest costs were for special education, health and social care and respite care. For adults the highest costs were staffed and supported accommodation, lost productivity while people were unemployed and hospital services.

You can find out more about the true cost of autism at

Listening in to the song of the brain

Computers and machinery 'hum' while they are working and now scientists at Cardiff University's Brain Research Imaging Centre have found that people's brains do too. They found that when people concentrated on a visual pattern their brains oscillated at between 40-70 Hz; equivalent to the lowest range of notes on a piano or the lower notes of a bass guitar. Each person's brain hums at a slightly different note and the frequency of the hum is controlled by the levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA is an important neurotransmitter and is essential for the normal operation of the brain. Problems with GABA have been associated with epilepsy and schizophrenia and it is hoped that this research may shed light on these conditions.

You can find out more about 'singing' brains at

Benefits of being bilingual

People who already speak more than one language tend to be better at learning other languages than people who only speak one. It's often thought that people who master more than one language have a natural aptitude for languages. Rather than studying adult language learners researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago studied children who had grown up bilingual and compared them to monolingual English speakers; they did this to see whether it was bilingualism itself, rather than any special talent for languages, that made it easier for bilingual people to learn another tongue. They asked participants in the study to learn words in a made-up language which bore no relation to any of the languages - Mandarin, Spanish or English - they already spoke. Bilingual people were able to master nearly twice as many words as monolingual ones. Other research has shown that bilingual people develop Alzheimer's disease on average four years later than monolingual ones.

You can find out more about this research at

Genes and victimization

Genetically-influenced traits, such as low self-control can lead to youths taking part in delinquent behaviour. Taking part in delinquent behaviour means people associate with a more violent peer group and this can, in turn, lead to people being more likely to be victimized. Studies of twins allow researchers to separate out the influences of genetic and environmental factors and researchers at Florida State University studied a sample of male twins interviewed between 1994 and 1995. Participants were asked about their family life, social life, romantic relationships, hobbies, drug and alcohol use and victimization. The researchers found that genetic factors accounted for 40-45% of variation in adolescent victimization among the twins. However, among adolescents who were repeatedly victimized genetic factors accounted for 64% of the variation.

You can find out more about this research at

Flynn effect makes detecting dementia difficult

In a phenomenon called the Flynn effect the IQ of the population tends to go down over time. This is as true of older people as it is of younger ones and could mean that it is more difficult to predict which people will go on to develop dementia using standardized tests. Simona Sacuiu, a Ph.D. student at the University of Gothenburg compared the test results of 70-year-olds in the early 1970s with those of 70-year-olds in 2000; none of those tested at either period had dementia. The results of people in 2000 were much higher suggesting that these tests can no longer be used to predict accurately which people will develop dementia. Five years after the test 5% of the participants had developed dementia. Those with memory problems showed an increased risk of developing dementia although not everyone with memory problems went on to develop the condition, further confusing the picture. 300 85-year-olds were also tested, 17% of whom developed dementia three years later. These participants were tested on their ability to draw geometric shapes and find words and only people who found difficulties with these tasks as well as having memory problems, were at an increased risk of developing dementia.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New gene linked to autism

Researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles have found that a variation in a gene called CACNA1G may increase children's risk of developing autism. The researchers studied 1,046 members of families with at least two sons affected by autism (which is four times more common in boys). The variation in the CACNA1G gene was consistently correlated with an increased risk of autism. However, 40% of the population share this variation so it may only be one of many genes behind the condition.

You can find out more about this research at

Parents 1 Genes 0 in Georgia

Contrary to media hype about genes for x, y and z scientists now know that people's mental and physical health is the result of a complicated interaction between their genes and their environment. A variation in a gene called 5-HTTLPR is associated with impulsivity, low self-control, binge drinking and substance abuse but researchers at the University of Georgia have shown how good parenting practices can override the influence of the gene. The researchers studied 641 families in rural Georgia. 291 were placed in a control group and received three mailings of health-related information. The rest took part in a programme called Strong African American Families (SAAF). In the SAAF programme parents and children took part in seven consecutive weeks of two-hour prevention sessions. The parents learnt about effective caregiving strategies including monitoring, emotional support, family communication and handling racial discrimination while children were taught how to set and attain positive goals, deal with peer pressure and stress and avoid risky activities. The children with the 'risky' gene were no more likely than the other children to drink, smoke cannabis or have under-age sex. However, the children in the control group with the risky gene were twice as likely to engage in risky behaviour. Much of the protective influence of the SAAF programme came about because of the way it improved parenting practices.

You can find out more about this research at

Overweight and suicide in teenagers

Teenagers who are overweight, or who think they are overweight, may be more likely to make a suicide attempt. That's according to researchers from the College of Health and Human Sciences and Georgia State Universiy, both in the U.S., who studied the links beteen BMI, perceived overweight and sucide attempts in 14,000 teenagers. Both the children who were overweight and those who only thought they were were more likely to try and kill themselves.

You can find out more about this research at

Vitamin D and mental agility

Vitamin D could help to keep people mentally sharper as they get older. Vitamin D is produced by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight and is also found in certain foods, such as oily fish. Recent studies have indicated that it could protect against cancer, artery disease and tuberculosis. Researchers from the University of Manchester compared the cognitive performance of more than 3,000 men, aged between 40 and 79, and found that those who had low levels of vitamin D did worse on a task designed to test mental agility. The link between low levels of vitamin D and poor performance held true even after allowing for levels of education, depression, physical activity and measures of physical performance.

You can read more about this research at

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Swapping values in the family

Researchers in the Netherlands have been looking at the way values are transmitted within families and have found that it is a more complex process than a simple handing down from parents to children. The 10-year study of 295 families used written interviews with fathers, mothers and children. It found that some values were mainly passed to children from their fathers, while others were mainly transmitted by mothers. Fathers tended to be more influential in passing on values about work while mothers were more important in passing on ideas about self-determination. But mothers also influenced fathers in terms of values relating to the enjoyment of life and having fun. Adolescents influenced their parents' work ethos and influenced their fathers' values about the enjoyment of life. Surprisingly boys had much more influence on family values than girls.

You can read more about this research at

What people at work will put up with - even before the credit crunch

People are prepared to put up with hostility in the workplace before they think about changing their job. Researchers at Kansas State University analyzed online surveys and found that among workers reporting hostility in their current position 45% had no definite plans to leave their current job and 59% either liked - or at least did not dislike - their current post. The surveys found that people were equally affected by hostility from their co-workers as from their superiors. Exclusionary hostility - being reprimanded in front of others, having one's contributions ignored or being excluded from social activities - was seen as more damaging than interfering hostility such as being gossiped about or having equipment sabotaged. The research was carried out before the economic downturn so presumably people are even more reluctant to leave their jobs now.

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

There is nothing more embarrassing than being stopped in the street by someone who recognises you when you haven't got a clue who they are. It is thought that around 2% of the population may suffer from prosopagnosia, a condition characterized by great difficulty in recognising faces. Scientists had thought that people could either recognise faces or they couldn't but researchers at Harvard University have found a group of people called 'super-recognisers' who can recognise people they meet in passing many years later. They gave standardized face-recognition tests to a number of people and some scored far above average. Some of the super-recognisers were able to recognise people who shopped in the same store as them months ago and one recognised a waitress who had served her five years earlier.

You can find out more about this research at

Chinese meditation works wonders

Integrative body-mind training (IBMT) was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s and thousands of Chinese people practise it. It avoids struggles to control thoughts and relies instead on a state of restful alertness. Coaches provide breathing tips, mental imagery and other techniques while soothing music plays in the background. People learn to control their thoughts through posture, relaxation, body-mind harmony and balanced breathing. Researchers in China compared the effectiveness of IBMT and traditional relaxation techniques in a study of 86 undergraduate students at Dalian University of Technology. Both the students using relaxation and those using IBMT showed an improvement but those using IBMT showed dramatic differences. They had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower levels of depression, anxiety and fatigue. They had more blood flow in their right anterior cingulate cortex - a region of the brain associated with the regulation of cognition and emotion. They also had lower heart rates and breathed more through their stomachs, which is a more relaxed way of breathing.

You can find out more about this research at

Group therapy beats drugs for insomnia

Insomnia is a very common problem and can lead to depression and high blood pressure. Researchers at Laval University in Quebec looked into the effectiveness of counselling and medication for insomnia and found that in the long-term counselling was more effective. In the first six weeks weekly group therapy and nightly medication worked equally well and helped about 60% of the participants to get to sleep more quickly and sleep longer. However over six months those who had 'refresher' group therapy sessions slept better than those given drugs when they needed them. In the group therapy counsellors told the participants not to read, watch TV or worry in bed, to get up if they could not get to sleep after 20 minutes and to go back to bed only when they were sleepy again. The drug used in the study was Zolpidem which can be effective for short periods but may cause problems with dependence in the long term.

You can find out more about this research at

Warmth, charm and grey matter

Some people are 'people' people - warm, outgoing and emotional - while others are more reserved and aloof. Scientists at Cambridge University and Oulu University in Finland investigated these personality differences and how they were related to differences in brain structure. 41 participants filled in a personality questionnaire which asked them how well they thought they connected to other people, how they showed their emotions and whether they liked to please people. The scientists then used brain scans to analyze the concentrations of grey matter in different parts of the participants' brains. People who scored highly for warmth and extroversion on the questionnaires had more grey matter in their orbitofrontal cortex (just above the eyes) and in a structure deep within the brain called the ventrial striatum, areas which have already been linked to the enjoyment of sweet tastes and sex.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cognition problems in schizophrenia

Perhaps the most well-known aspect of schizophrenia is the distressing hallucinations and delusions it can cause. However, it can also cause terrible problems with cognition which can be just as damaging. Researchers from Harvard University Medical School and SUNY Upstate Medical University in the U.S. reviewed 47 studies into the effects of first-episode schizophrenia on people's cognition which, between them, covered 4,979 people. They found that even after the first episode of schizophrenia cognitive problems were already broad and serious often being just as bad as the problems of people who had been ill much longer. People experiencing their first episode of schizophrenia performed much worse on tests than healthy control groups and had particular problems with processing speed, verbal learning and memory. Cognitive abilities declined the most between the high-risk period just before symptoms appear and the first acute phases.

You can find out more about this research at

Computerized therapy for problem drinking: log on and cut down

A relatively small number of people are alcoholics but many more people drink more than is good for them. However, only 10-20% of people with alcohol problems ever seek out or take part in treatment. Researchers in the Netherlands looked into the effectiveness of a web-based, self-help treatment called Drinking Less which is made up of motivational, cognitive and self-control information and exercises. It helps problem drinkers decide if they really want to change their consumption, helps them set realistic goals for acheiving change and provides tools and exercises to maintain change and prevent relapses. Researchers in Holland studied 378 people who had used the Drinking Less web site between May and November 2007. They found that after six months the participants decreased their average weekly drinking and that 18.8% changed their drinking patterns to 'low-risk' drinking. For 84% of the participants this was the first time they had sought help to deal with their problem drinking.

You can find out more about this research at

JERI proves its worth for early psychosis

The development of psychosis is thought to be due to a combination of acute stress and vulnerability within a person's makeup. The Jorvi Early Psychosis Recognition and Intervention (JERI) project in Finland is an early intervention initiative aimed at at-risk teenagers. The team meets the adolescents (who are between 12 and 20) in their school or home, together with their parents and community co-worker. The aim of the team is to recognise potential risk cases and step in to improve the children's relationships at home, school and in their social lives, reducing stress and improving their functioning. A study of the project published in the journal Early Intervention in Psychiatry found that it improved functioning and overall quality of life and reduced depression, anxiety and pre-psychotic symptoms. The youngsters did not receive any therapy or antipsychotic medication over the course of the study.

You can find out more about this research at

Study finds that happiness really does come from within

A study by researchers at the University of Rochester, in the U.S. has confirmed that happiness really does come from within. They followed 147 graduates from two universities during their second year after graduation and asked them about their satisfaction with life, self-esteem, anxiety, physical signs of stress and their experiences of positive and negative emotions. Some people's goals were classified as intrinsic - having deep, enduring relationships, developing one's skills and helping others to improve their lives - while others (being wealthy or improving one's image) were classified as extrinsic. The study found that the more committed people were to their goals the more likely they were to succeed in reaching them. However, people who acheived extrinsic goals were actually less happy: they had more negative emotions like shame and anger and more physical symptoms of anxiety such as headaches, stomach aches and loss of energy. People who valued personal growth, close relationships and community involvement did find happiness through acheiving their goals, however. They experienced a deeper sense of wellbeing, richer connections with others and fewer physical signs of stress.

You can find out more about this research at

Recurrences and relapses in bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder can cause extreme mood swings from euphoric recklessness at one extreme to paralysing depression at the other. It can recur throughout people's lives and a team of Swedish researchers tracked a group of bipolar patients over five years after their first admission to hospital in 2000. 60% of the participants had had no readmission but a smaller group (15%) had had 66 readmissions between them. On average the participants were readmitted 1.2 times over the course of the study but those people who had been admitted to hospital for a second time had an average of 1.9 admissions subsequently. Overall three quarters of the hospitalizations were repeat admissions.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Anxiety and inflammation

Cytokines are a family of proteins involved in the immune system's response to injury, infection and stress. There is growing evidence that stress and depression activate the immune system, and cytokines in particular, leading to inflammation. No-one quite knows how this works but it is thought that inflammation-producing cytokines may lie behind the links between depression and stress and health problems such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. There has been less research though into the links between anxiety problems and cytokines. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston studied 96 people. Half of them had either panic disorder (PD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the other half were an unaffected control group. The study found that the participants with PD and PTSD had higher levels of 18 of the 20 cytokines measured compared to the control group. 87% of the participants with PD or PTSD had high levels of cytokines, compared to only 25% of the control group.

Hoge, E.A. ... [et al] - Broad spectrum of cytokine abnormalities in panic disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder Depression and Anxiety May 2009, 26(5), 447-455

Social phobia: when even happy faces are frightening

People with social phobia fear and avoid engaging others in social interaction. Their social phobia is based on an expectation that they will be evaluated negatively and rejected socially. Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, is one of the most common mental-health problems and people with social phobia suffer from interpersonal problems and a lower quality of life. One of the problems people with social phobia have is that while they may be as good at getting on with other people as everybody else they tend to interpret other people's reactions in a more negative fashion. Researchers at the University of Manitoba, in Canada, showed 40 people (12 of whom had social phobia) a series of 24 faces on a computer. Some faces were happy, while others showed disgust and anger. The participants were asked to rate the approachability of each of the faces. All the participants rated the disgusted and angry faces as less approachable but the participants with social phobia rated the happy faces as less approachable than the other participants did. Within the group of people with social phobia the less approachable they thought the happy faces were the more severe their symptoms were.

Campbell, D.W. ... [et al] - Happy but not so approachable: the social judgments of individuals with generalized social phobia Depression and Anxiety May 2009, 26(5), 419-424

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Could meditation make your brain grow?

Meditation has been shown to have a number of beneficial effects on people's mental and physical health. People who meditate are better at cultivating positive emotions, retaining emotional stability and living in the moment. They have better focus and control over their emotions, reduced levels of stress and better immune systems. Now a study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has found that they also have bigger brains! The study use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 22 long-term meditators and 22 control subjects. The meditators had significantly larger volumes of grey matter in different parts of the brain including the hippocampus and areas within the orbito-frontal cortex, the thalamus and the inferior temporal gyrus. But it is not clear whether meditation leads to the growth of these parts of the brain or whether people with larger brains are more attracted to meditation. So there is a need for a long-term study following changes to people's brains after they start meditating.

You can find out more about this research at

Terror attacks linked to more drinking, smoking, drug use

A review of 31 studies into the aftermath of terrorist incidents by researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the University of Michigan has found that nearly one in twelve people exposed to terrorism report increased use/misuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. The review looked at studies carried out after the September 11 attacks, the Oklahoma bombings and the Palestinian intifada. After adjusting for the type of terrorist attack, the type of people surveyed and the length of time after the incident the study was carried out the researchers found 7.3% of people drank more after being exposed to terrorism. The study also found similar rates of increase for drug and cigarette use.

You can find out more about this research at

Kava for anxiety and depression

Kava is a medicinal plant from the South Pacific. Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia have been looking into its effectiveness in treating depression and anxiety and have come up with encouraging results. The study compared kava to a placebo and found that kava dramatically decreased anxiety levels and had a positive impact on reducing depression. Kava was banned in Europe, the U.K. and Canada in 2002 because it can cause liver problems but this study used a different method of extracting the medicine from the plant which should avoid these difficulties.

Drowning sorrows, depression and drink problems

People often drink to cheer themselves up or drown their sorrows. This has been linked to an increased risk of suicide in teenagers and new research by scientists from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles suggests that it may raise the risk of depression and alcohol dependence in adults. A study of 5,181 twins aged 30 and over found that drinking to manage mood was strongly inherited and accounted for nearly all of the links between depression and alcohol dependence. Men were more likely than women to use alcohol to manage their moods and the link between 'self-medication' with alcohol and depression was also stronger in men.

You can find out more about this research at

Researchers develop new way of predicting Alzheimer's risk

A team of researchers in the U.S. have developed a new checklist to predict which people will go on to develop Alzheimer's disease. The team studied 3,375 people with an average age of 76 who were free of dementia at the start of the study. Over six years 480 of the participants developed dementia and the researchers then looked backwards to see which factors would predict who went on to suffer from the condition. They drew up a 15-point scale which included some well-known risk factors such as advanced age, poor thinking skills and having the ApoE4 gene which is linked to Alzheimer's. The scale also included other less-well-known factors such as being underweight, having a history of heart-bypass surgery, being teetotal and being slow at physical tasks such as buttoning up a shirt. After six years 56% of those with high scores on the scale had developed dementia, compared to only 23% of those with moderate scores and just 4% of those with low scores. Overall the scale correctly predicted risk in 88% of the participants.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

School bullying? Take one CAPSLE

A lot of schools use anti-bullying programmes but there have been few trials to compare their effectiveness. Researchers from University College London, Baylor College of Medicine in the U.S. and the University of Kansas studied 1,345 children aged between 7 and 11 in nine primary schools. They compared the effectiveness of School Psychiatric Consultation (which targets problem children for individual therapy), treatment-as-usual (TAU) and CAPSLE (Creating A Peaceful School Learning Environment). CAPSLE works on the relationships between bullies, victims and bystanders and assumes that all school members - including teachers - play a part in bullying. It aims to improve people's ability to understand what other people are thinking in the hope that this will reduce bullying. The study found that CAPSLE was the most effective of the three approaches. It reduced bullying, aggression and 'aggressive bystanding' compared to TAU schools. CAPSLE also produced a significant decrease in 'off-task' and disruptive classroom behaviour - changes which were still there when the children were followed up after a year. However, results for self-reported victimization, 'helpful bystanding,' and beliefs in the legitimacy of aggression did not differ between the groups.

Fonagy, Peter ... [et al] - A cluster randomized controlled trial of child-focused psychiatric consultation and a school systems-focused intervention to reduce aggression Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry May 2009, 50(5), 607-616

Suicide among Asians in England

People from India who move overseas tend to have high rates of suicide. There are a large number of people either from India or of Indian descent in the U.K. now and an article in the journal Mental Health in Family Medicine reviews the research into suicides in this group. It found that women were more likely than men to kill, or try and kill, themselves. Asians who attempt to, or succeed in, killing themselves are more likely to be suffering from stress but less likely to have been diagnosed as mentally ill. Their psychological problems had either been overlooked by their GPs or never presented to them. Hindus were more likely to kill themselves than Muslims.

Ineichen, Bernard - Suicide and attempted suicide among South Asians in England: who is at risk? Mental Health in Family Medicine 2008, 5(3), 135-138

Positive psychology helps for depression

A lot of clinical psychology deals with people's problems, weaknesses and perceived abnormalities. Positive psychology, however, prefers to concentrate on building up people's strengths and aims to foster qualities such as confidence, optimism and hope. A review of 51 studies, which included a total of 4,266 people, by researchers at the University of California, Riverside, looked into the effectiveness of positive psychology interventions at treating depression. The results showed that they significantly enhanced well-being and decreased depression. The treatments worked best with people who were older and highly-motivated to improve. Individual interventions worked better than group therapy and longer periods of treatment were more effective than shorter ones.

Sin, Nancy L. and Lyubomirsky, Sonja - Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: a practice-friendly meta-analysis Journal of Clinical Psychology May 2009, 65(5), 467-487

Eating disorders and the media

There is some evidence that the media's portrayal of skinny models may play a part in teenage girls developing eating disorders. An Irish study of 3,031 children and 56 parents looked into this issue. It found that 71.4% of the children felt adversely affected by the media's portrayal of body weight and shape with 25.6% believing it to be far too thin. Those children who felt that the media had a bad effect on this issue were most likely to have disturbed attitudes towards food and disordered eating patterns. 94.7% of parents also thought that the media's portrayal of body shapes was too thin and 71.9% thought that their children had been affected by them.

McNicholas, Fiona ... [et al] - Eating concerns and media influences in an Irish adolescent context European Eating Disorders Review May-June 2009, 17(3), 208-213

One in five teenage girls may have eating problems

Eating disorders are rare in the population as a whole but much more common in adolescent girls. The true level of eating disorders in the population is unclear and the results of the studies vary depending on the methods they use. Not all cases of eating disorders are picked up by the healthcare system and some people can have eating-disorder symptoms without necessarily fulfilling all the criteria for bulimia or anorexia. A three-year study of 595 adolescents in Finland found that as many as one in five teenaged girls struggled with eating problems at some point. 2.6% had had anorexia, 0.4% bulimia, 7.7% anorexia symptoms, 1.3% bulimia symptoms and 8.5% other eating problems. The researchers did not find any eating problems among the boys in the study.

Isomaa, Rasmus ... [et al] - The prevalence, incidence and development of eating disorders in Finnish adolescents - a two-step, 3-year follow-up study European Eating Disorders Review May-June 2009, 17(3), 199-207

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bupropion helps pregnant smokers

Smoking while pregnant can cause damage to unborn children and depression is also associated with 'adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes.' Both are common in pregnant women who use illegal drugs. Researchers from John Hopkins University in Baltimore studied 56 women who were enrolled in a drug-treatment programme which combined a week-long residential stay with follow-up outpatient treatment. Some were given bupropion, others were given citalopram or escitalopram and others were given no antidepressants. The women who took bupropion cut down their cigarette smoking by an average of 6.4 cigarettes a day (compared to negligible changes in the other groups) and were much more likely to show an improvement in their depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Dysgraphia adds to problems for school children

Dyslexia occurs when children have problems reading but a lot of children have problems with their written work as well and new research suggests that dysgraphia could be just as common as dyslexia. Dysgraphia includes problems with handwriting, spelling and organizing thoughts on paper and is diagnosed when a child's writing skills fall 'substantially below' the norm for their age and IQ. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota studied more than 5,700 children and found that between 7 and 15% developed a written-language disorder over their school career. Boys were 2-3 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with a writing problem. While the majority of children diagnosed with a writing problem also had reading difficulties about a quarter had significant difficulty only with writing.

You can find out more about this research at

Exercise and dementia

Exercise is known to improve people's physical and mental health and a study of 50 people by Edris Aman - a second-year medical student at St Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri - has found that it can even be beneficial for those with severe dementia. The participants in the study performed 15 minutes of aerobic exercise and 15 minutes of weight-training three times a week. They became far less agitated after completing the three-week exercise programme and showed significant improvements in how far they could walk in six minutes.

You can find out more about this research at

Sunshine and suicide in Greenland

Some places north of the Arctic Circle have months of constant darkness in winter and permanent daylight in summer. One might think that people would be more likely to kill themselves in the darker months but a study of suicides in Greenland by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has found that suicides tend to cluster in the summer months. In northern Greenland - where the sun doesn't set between the end of April and the end of August - 82% of suicides occured in summer. Most of these suicides involved young men and were violent including deaths by shooting, hanging and jumping from high places. The researchers thought that increased serotonin, caused by the extra sunshine, could make people more impulsive while insomnia caused by the constant daylight made people more suicidal.

You can find out more about this research at

Drowning young sorrows is a danger sign

A study of 32,000 teenagers aged between 14 and 17 has found that those who try to drown their sorrows with drink are at a greater risk of trying to kill themselves. Drinking while down was associated with a 68% increase in risk among teenagers who had previously thought about killing themselves. Among teenagers who had not thought about suicide drinking while down was associated with a trebling in risk. Of the 12.2% of children who did drink to drown their sorrows nearly 18% had tried to kill themselves, compared to only 3% of those who did not drink when depressed. It is often difficult to predict which teenagers will make suicide attempts so this research could be very useful in helping healthcare workers to do this.

You can find out more about this research at

Deep-brain stimulation and depression

Around 4 million people in the U.S. have depression that doesn't respond to medication. Some studies have suggested that deep-brain stimulation might be useful for these people and researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston studied the effectiveness of the technique on 12 people who had been depressed for a long time and who had not responded to nine or ten different drugs. A small hole was cut in the participants' skulls and electrodes used to stimulate a part of the brain called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is thought to play an important role in the development of depression. Half of the participants were given an active treatment while the other half were given a sham one. After 8 weeks the depression 'scores' of those who had been given the active treatment improved by 22%, compared to only 3% in those who had been given the sham treatment. After eight weeks all the participants were given the active treatment and the improvements made were maintained at further assessments after six months and a year.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Vitamin E, anti-inflammatories and Alzheimer's

A cure for Alzheimer's disease still seems a long way off but certain substances are thought to slow its progression. Among them are vitamin E and anti-inflammatory drugs. Researchers from Harvard Medical School studied 540 people being treated for Alzheimer's disease at the Memory Disorders Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. 208 people took vitamin E, 49 people took an anti-inflammatory, 177 took both and 106 took neither and the participants were assessed every six months. After three years there was a modest slowing of decline in function in people taking vitamin E. Anti-inflammatory drugs had a very consistent but generally only small effect but both substances together provided a greater slowing in the rate of decline.

You can read more about this research at

Fathers' problems and children's mental health

There has been a lot of research into how mothers' mental health affects their children but much less into the effect of fathers' mental health problems. A review of the research by academics from Oxford University has found that fathers' problems do have an effect on their children, particularly on their sons. Boys were at an increased risk if their fathers suffered from depression and sons of alcoholic fathers were at an increased risk of serious behavioural problems and substance abuse. Between 3-6% of men are thought to suffer from major depression and children of depressed fathers were at a higher-than-average risk of depression and suicidal behaviour. Children of fathers with anxiety disorders, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), substance abuse or bipolar disorder were also at an increased risk.

You can find out more about this research at

Bullying and psychosis

Several studies have shown that traumatic events in childhood - such as physical or sexual abuse - increase the risk of developing psychosis in adulthood. Now researchers at Warwick University have found that bullying can double the risk of developing psychosis symptoms in 12-year-old children. The researchers tracked 6,437 children from 7 to 12. The children had yearly physical and psychological assessments, were asked about psychosis symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions and bizarre thoughts, and children, parents and teachers were asked about bullying. The appearance of psychotic symptoms was twice as high among the bullying victims, regardless of any other mental-health problems they might have, family problems or intelligence.

You can find out more about this research at

Alzheimer's disease and delirium

A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School has suggested that delirium could speed up the progress of Alzheimer's disease. The study of 408 people with Alzheimer's disease, compared those people who had had an episode of delirium with those who had not and found that the mental capabilities of those who had been delirious declined nearly twice as quickly. Delirium is a state of mental confusion in which people's speech becomes disordered and nonsensical and they experience hallucinations. It is potentially preventable so by stopping people from developing delirium the researchers hope that this might reduce the speed of people's decline.

You can find out more about this research at

U.S. drug use rises sharply

The number of Americans taking drugs for mental-health problems has risen sharply since 1996, according to a study by Sherry Glied of Columbia University in New York. 73% more adults and 50% more children were using the drugs and among adults over 65 and children the use of the drugs doubled. In 2006 16% of adults over 65 had some form of mental-health diagnosis. Around 7% of Americans with serious mental illness ended up in prison every year. Some of the increase is due to increased awareness of mental-health problems among doctors and the fact that more Americans now have health insurance. However, as unemployment rises people may lose their health insurance, leading to a fall in the number of prescriptions.

You can find out more about this research at

Depressed mothers and sleepless babies

Researchers at the University of Michigan compared sleep patterns of babies whose mothers had depression to those whose mothers were unaffected by the condition. Their study followed 18 healthy, full-term babies for a week a month, over 24 weeks and the babies' mothers kept daily diaries of how much their children slept. 11 of the mums had depresssion while the others had no family history of the illness. The children of the depressed mothers took longer to fall asleep (80 vs 20 mins) and woke up more often in the night (4 vs 2 times). The team said that if the babies' sleep problems mean that they themselves become depressed this may be something that needs treatment.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Postnatal depression: researching mothers' feelings

Researchers estimate that 10-15% of women suffer from postnatal depression to some extent. Psychologists from Loma Linda University in California analysed nine qualitative studies into the experience of women with postnatal depression to see what they had in common. They found that in all the studies women felt they had failed to live up to their culture's definition of a good mother and also felt that they could not talk about their feelings. Their idealistic ideas about what made a good mother and a lack of support from other people combined with their own feelings of incompetence to lead to them becoming isolated from other people. They got through their problems by getting support from people who knew what they were going through, support which helped them to reconnect to other people. The conclusions of the study suggested that the women needed help from relationship experts to build better relationships with those around them.

Knudson-Martin, Carmen and Silverstein, Rachelle - Suffering in silence: a qualitative meta-data-analysis of postpartum depression Journal of Marital and Family Therapy April 2009, 35(2), 145-158

Single sex but not stress-free

Mixed-sex wards have been common in U.K. psychiatric hospitals in an attempt to provide a more 'normal' environment for service users. However, as people with less-severe mental illness are increasingly treated in the community people in psychiatric hospitals tend to be more disturbed and there have been concerns about the vulnerability of women to intimidation, violence and sexual harassment on mixed-sex wards. The U.K. government has been advocating more single-sex wards and many NHS Trusts have gone back to them. Researchers from Australia and the South London and Maudsley NHS FoundationTrust in London surveyed nursing staff on an acute psychiatric ward which was in the process of changing over from being mixed-sex to male only. They found that staff generally saw the change in negative terms and had particular concerns about the ward atmosphere becoming less therapeutic, more aggressive and their jobs becoming more stressful. These concerns did not get less over time. There were also concerns about the administrative problems caused by the changeover.

Thomas, Neil ... [et al] - Changing from mixed-sex to all-male provision in acute psychiatric care: a case study of staff experiences Journal of Mental Health April 2009, 18(2), 129-136

Service users get their OATs

Since the 1970s mental-health services have increasingly been delivered in the community. However, people with longer-term and more complex mental-health problems have sometimes been referred for Out of Area Treatments (OATs), something that has been called a 'virtual asylum.' OATs are very expensive (they cost £222m in 2004-5), can separate service users from their families and can cause disruption to communication about, and continuity of, care planning. A team of researchers from North London looked at 51 service users who were being treated on OATs in the North London borough of Islington. They found that they had a greater range of diagnoses and were more likely to be dependent on alcohol than other service users. Their social functioning was similar and although people in OATs had more severe 'challenging' behaviour few were defined as 'hard to place' in community settings. A third of the people on OATs moved successfully to a more independent setting and the money that Islington received for them was successfully reinvested into providing supported local accomodation. The service users had fairly low levels of contact with their friends and families (although it should be remembered that in some cases this might not necessarily be a bad thing) suggesting that they may have suffered from a certain amount of 'social dislocation.'

Killaspy, Helen ... [et al] - A comparison of service users placed out of their local area and local rehabilitation service users Journal of Mental Health April 2009, 18(2), 111-120

Milieu therapy: 'raising' good citizens

Milieu therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves the use of therapeutic communities. Clients join a group of 30 or so people for between 9 and 18 months and during their stay they are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves and others within the unit. It is thought to be useful in treating personality and behaviour disorders and is widely used in Scandinavia. A team of Norwegian researchers looked at how milieu therapy worked in one such unit in Norway. They found that in ways the unit was similar to a traditional nuclear family. The clients were often seen as 'harmed children' and were taught self-management skills. The staff aimed to provide a caring atmosphere while the clients sometimes seemed to behave in a child-like manner. In a sense the milieu was 'raising' the clients to transform their 'odd' behaviour and 'nonconforming' lifestyles and produce 'self-governing' individuals.

Oeye, Christine ... [et al] - Raising adults as children? A report on milieu therapy in a psychiatric ward in Norway Issues in Mental Health Nursing 30(3), 151-158

Measuring the burden on caregivers

Around 8% of adults with a mental-health problem have a serious mental illness, defined as a diagnosable mental disorder that is so long-lasting and severe that it seriously interferes with a person's ability to take part in important life activities. Many people with a severe mental illness live with their families and two-thirds of family caregivers are women. Studies have shown that these family members are at a high-risk of developing depression themselves and researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio looked at 60 women care-givers of people with severe mental illness. Some of the participants were Caucasian and others were African-Americans. The Caucasians reported higher stress than the African-Americans although both groups were similar in depressive cognitions, resourcefulness and quality of life. In both groups stress was linked to depressive cognitions and both together were linked with poorer mental health. In African-Americans stress was also linked to lower personal resourcefulness and both together were linked to poorer mental health.

Zauszniewski, Jaclene A., Bekhet, Abir K. and Suresky, M. Jane - Relationships among perceived burden, depressive cognitions, resourcefulness, and quality of life in female relatives of seriously mentally-ill adults Issues in Mental Health Nursing 30(3), 142-150

Wailing and gnashing of teeth

Bruxism is the involuntary excessive grinding, clenching or rubbing of teeth and can occur during the day or night. Scientists think that between 5-8% of adults grind their teeth but the links between bruxism and psychological factors are not conclusive and their relationship is still not fully explained. Turkish researchers compared levels of depression and anxiety in 58 people with, and 41 people without, bruxism. They found that levels of depression and anxiety were significantly higher in people who ground their teeth.

Gungormus, Z. and Erciyas, K. - Evaluation of the relationship between anxiety and depression and bruxism Journal of International Medical Research 37(2), 547-550