Friday, October 30, 2009

Bullying in the classroom - more Lord of the Flies than sweetness and light

Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain have been looking at what children themselves think about bullying, bullies and their victims and have come up with some surprising results. They studied 1,237 children between 11 and 16. 7.3% were victims, 8.5% were bullies and 84.1% were the uninvolved 'audience' for bullying. The study found that younger children were more approving of the bullying than researchers thought they would be. They saw the victims as passive, socially incompetent, anxious, depressed and insecure and the bullies as strong, brave, outgoing, happy, powerful and self-confident. Girls felt more sympathy towards the victims but boys saw them as vulnerable and morally responsible for their victimisation and said that they should feel 'guilty and ashamed.' As the children got older and took on more adult values they felt more sympathy for the victims and were more likely to reject the bullies.

You can find out more about this research at

Servicemen and mental-health problems - not just PTSD

A study of more than 800 servicemen and women by researchers at King's College London has found high levels of mental illness and not just post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from which one in 20 were found to be suffering. One in five was found to be misusing alcohol while one in seven suffered from depression or anxiety. Reservists were more likely to experience problems than full-time servicemen, perhaps because they had problems readjusting to civilian life. Young soldiers were the most likely to abuse alcohol while those with less education, lower rank or who were in the Royal Air Force were most at risk of anxiety or depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Figures show extent of prescribing to children

Information obtained by the U.K. Conservative Party under freedom-of-information legislation has revealed the extent of drug prescribing to children for mental-health conditions. They found that in 2007 420,000 prescriptions were issued for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) medication - equivalent to around 35,000 children once repeat prescriptions are taken into account - up by a third since 2005. More than 113,000 prescriptions were written for antidepressants for children under 16 (equivalent to about 9,000 children) and 86,000 prescriptions were written for antipsychotics, a 7% rise since 2005.

You can read more about this story at

Healthy diet cuts depression risk

Previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet - high in fruit, vegetables and fish and low in meat and dairy products - has been linked to a reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from University College London studied 3,486 people with an average age of 55 taking part in a long-term study of Whitehall civil servants. They asked them about their diet and then five years later assessed them for depression. The study found that - where the average chance of developing depression was 1 - people who had a 'whole-food' diet with lots of vegetables, fruit and fish had a 0.74 chance of developing depression whereas people who consumed a processed food diet with lots of puddings, fried food, processed meat, refined grains and dairy products had a 1.58 chance of becoming depressed.

Akbaraly, Tasnime N. ... [et al] - Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age British Journal of Psychiatry November 2009, 195(5), 408-413

Grey matter and OCD - reviewing the evidence

There has been a lot of research recently using brain scanning to look at differences in the brains of people with mental-health problems. Because brain scanning is an expensive and time-consuming business studies are often quite small meaning that samples are more likely to be affected by chance factors and extreme cases. One way around this is to pool the results from several different studies together in what researchers call a meta-analysis. Psychologists from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London did exactly this with studies on brain structure and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They looked at 12 different studies comparing to people with OCD to 376 people without. They found that although there was no difference overall in the amount of grey matter in participants' brains those with OCD had more grey matter in the bilateral lenticular nuclei and caudate nuclei and less in the bilateral dorsal medial frontal/anterior cingulate gyri. People with more severe OCD were more likely to have increased grey matter in their basal ganglia. Taking antidepressants did not seem to have any effect on grey matter in people with OCD.

Radua, Joaquim and Mataix-Cois, David - Voxel-wise meta-analysis of grey matter changes in obsessive-compulsive disorder British Journal of Psychiatry November 2009, 195(5), 393-402

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Teenagers, genes and intoxication

Researchers from Brown University in Rhode Island have been looking into the links between variations in the OPRM1 gene and alcohol misuse in teenagers. Their study of 187 teenagers with an average age of 15 found that 51.9% of youngsters with an alcohol use disorder had at least one of the variations in the gene compared to only 16.3% of those without an alcohol use disorder. The gene is thought to intensify the pleasurable effects of alcohol and has been linked to an increased rate of alcohol problems in adults. The study showed that the teenagers with variations in this gene were more likely to experience alcohol as intoxicating and pleasurable.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression, neuroses and aches and pains

Researchers at the University of Iowa have been looking into the links between neuroticism, depression and the experience of physical health problems. Previous research has shown that neurotic people - who often feel irritable, sad, anxious or fearful - are more likely to overestimate their aches and pains. The researchers studied 109 women who filled out surveys at the start of the study to assess their levels of neuroticism and depression. Every day, for three weeks, they reported whether they felt 15 common physical symptoms including aches and pains, gastrointestinal problems and coughs and colds. On the 22nd day the participants were asked to remember how often they had experienced each physical symptom in the last three weeks. The participants who were depressed at the start of the study were more likely to give an exaggerated account of their symptoms whereas those who were neurotic - but not depressed - were not, leading the researchers to conclude that it is depression not neurosis which makes people overestimate their aches and pains.

You can find out more about this research at

ADHD and crime

Children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are more likely to become criminals as they get older. Researchers from Yale School of Public Health studied more than 10,000 people and found that children with ADHD were twice as likely to commit theft in later life and had a 50% higher incidence of selling drugs. This is the first study to link ADHD with an increased propensity to commit crime; something the researchers estimated costs between $2bn and $4bn p.a. It is thought that ADHD affects between 2-10% of schoolchildren in the U.S. It is far more prevalent in boys than in girls and is common among close relatives suggesting that genes play a part in causing it.

You can find out more about this research at

Genes, environment and self-control: looking more closely at nature and nurture

Most scientists now accept that the nature/nurture debate is not a case of either/or but of genes and environment working together in a complex pattern to influence people's mental health. Researchers from the University of Iowa looked into one example of this examining how genes and attachment work together to influence how good young children are at self-control. They studied 89 children testing them to see whether they had a variation in a gene called 5-HTTLPR, measuring the quality of their relationship with their mothers at 15 months and how good they were at self-control at 25,38 and 52 months. They found that among children who carried a certain variant of the gene insecure attachment to their mothers at 15 months led to poorer ability to control their emotions later. However, those children who had secure attachment to their mothers at 15 months did not have problems with self-control later even if they carried the variation in the 5-HTTLPR gene.

Kochanska, Grazyna, Philibert, Robert A. and Barry, Robin A. - Interplay of genes and early mother-child relationship in the development of self-regulation from toddler to preschool age The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry November 2009, 50(11), 1331-1338

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Anxiety and birthweight

The list of drinks and substances that pregnant women have to worry about can seem endless and now researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre have added another factor to the list: anxiety itself. The researchers studied a sample of low-income women half of whom were African-American and half of whom were white. The group already had a number of risk factors - including drinking and smoking - but the study showed that anxiety had an influence over and above this. Anxiety in the last third of pregnancy predicted women having significantly smaller babies whereas in the first and second thirds of pregnancy only those with the most severe anxiety had smaller babies.

You can find out more about this research at

Depressed mums in U.S. fail to get adequate help

Depression in mothers can have a major impact on the entire family, especially on the health and wellbeing of children, and treating depression in mothers can improve the long-term health of their families. However, a study of 2,130 mothers by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found that 65% of mothers with depression don't receive adequate treatment. Black, Hispanic and other minority mothers were least likely to receive the help they needed. People with health insurance were three times more likely to get proper help than uninsured people.

Antipsychotics and weight gain in children

In the U.S. antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed for children and adolescents. However, new research from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York suggests that they may - as they do in adults - lead to weight gain making more children overweight and obese and raising their risk for diabetes and heart disease. The study looked at 272 children between the ages of 4 and 19 who were followed for 11 weeks. Those taking Zyprexa gained an average of 18.7 lbs, those taking Seroquel gained 13.4 lbs, those on Risperdal gained 11.7 lbs and those on Abilify gained 9.7 lbs. Up to a third of the children became overweight or obese over the course of the 11-week study.

You can find out more about this research at

Deep brain stimulation and Tourette's

Deep brain stimulation has been used to treat people with depression and now new research from Birmingham University in the U.K. suggests that it might also be helpful for people with Tourette's syndrome too. People with Tourette's have uncontrolled movements, vocalizations and tics and often also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The researchers used deep brain stimulation on 15 people with severe Tourette's and OCD who had already tried medication and psychological treatments. The brain stimulation involved a surgically-implanted brain pacemaker sending electrical impulses to certain parts of the brain. The participants in the study experienced 52% fewer tics and their OCD, depression and anxiety fell by up to a third. The treatment had no effect on people's cognition but larger studies need to be done before the treatment becomes more widely available.

You can find out more about this research at

Diabetes and Alzheimer's

Diabetes has been found to increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease but it is unclear what effect it has on people who already have the condition. Researchers from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Toulouse followed 608 people with mild-moderate Alzheimer's for four years and tested their memory and thinking skills twice a year. 63 of the sample had diabetes. The study found that the participants with diabetes actually declined less over the course of the study. The researchers thought that the participants with diabetes might also be taking medicine for cardiovascular problems improving their circulation and helping to mitigate some of the effects of Alzheimer's.

The psychology of torture

Researchers at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences have been conducting (pain-free) research into the psychology of torture. In the study one of the research team was 'tortured' (although in reality she was acting) by having her hand submerged in supposedly icy water. At different times she displayed indifference to the 'torture' or implied pain by whimpering and pleading with her 'torturers.' The 78 participants, who witnessed the 'torture' via a hidden intercom, were told that the women might have fraudulently taken money and that the study was about moral behaviour. Half of the participants met the woman who was being 'tortured' and half did not. Those participants who had met the woman saw her as being more guilty the more she suffered while those who had not met her saw her as being more guilty the less pain she felt.

You can find out more about this research at

NICE issues new guidelines on depression

NICE (the U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) has issued new guidelines on the treatment of depression. The guidelines say that the evidence for using counselling is 'very limited' and that it should only be used for people with persistent mild-moderate depression who do not want to take antidepressants or have cognitive behavioural therapy. The guidelines also say that antidepressants should not be used to treat persistent mild depression unless other treatments have not worked, the patient has a history of moderate or severe depression or symptoms have persisted for at least two years.

You can download the full text of the guidelines at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Video games and attention

Researchers from Iowa State University have been investigating the links between video games and attention problems. Their study, of 51 undergraduates aged between 18 and 33, compared those who played video games for two hours or less a week with those who played for around 40 hours a week. Those who played video games longest had more difficulty focusing on tasks requiring longer, more active attention.

You can find out more about this research at

Risk taking and low expectations

Low expectations of teenagers could actually make their behaviour worse. Researchers from Wake Forest University, North Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied more than 250 children and their mothers. The children were in Year 6 and Year 7 at the start of the study and were re-surveyed a year later. The children whose mothers expected them to be more rebellious and take more risks at the start of the study did so, as did the children who themselves had low expectations of how they would behave when they became teenagers.

You can find out more about this research at

PTSD and headaches

War veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may also be more prone to migraines and tension headaches. A study of 308 veterans by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that those with physical injuries had more than twice the risk of recurrent headaches as people who were not injured. However, those people with PTSD were four times more likely to get headaches. Physical injury was linked only to migraines, whereas PTSD was also linked to tension headaches as well.

You can find out more about this research at

Binge-eating and obesity on campus

Psychologists from the Center for Obesity Research and Education in Denver, Colorado have been looking into binge eating and weight problems among female college students. 715 students completed an on-line survey about health habits, behaviours and attitudes and gave their height and weight. Overall African-American students were less likely to binge eat and had less severe symptoms when they did. For both groups the triggers for binges were similar and included feeling depressed and fat. About a third of college students are overweight and this was confirmed by the study which found that 22% of the white students and 37% of the black ones were obese or overweight.

You can find out more about this research at

New genetic link to schizophrenia

Researchers at the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in New York State have identified a genetic variation that increases the risk of developing schizophrenia. The researchers compared the genes of 4,551 people with schizophrenia to 6,391 people without and found that a variation on chromosome 16 - which occurs in roughly around 1 in 5,000 people - increases the risk by more than eight times. Other genetic variations on chromosomes 1, 15 and 22 have also been associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia.

You can find out more about this research at

White matter and schizophrenia

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London have been looking into abnormalities in the white matter of people's brains and how this can lead to the development of schizophrenia. Professor Philip McGuire and Dr Sophia Frangou used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to examine the white matter of adolescents and adults with schizophrenia. They found that the adolescents had severe deficits of white matter in the posterior (back) region of the brain; specifically the parietal region. In the older patients the white-matter abnormalities had "migrated" to the front of the brain where they had a dramatic impact on the frontal lobes.

You can find out more about this research at

Loneliness and mental illness - guest post by Amy S. Cook

Loneliness and Mental Illness – The Connection
There’s a woman who lives alone in my apartment block – she keeps to herself and rarely ventures out. And when she does, she is hostile and cantankerous. The other residents of the building don’t treat her well; they make fun of her or generally give her a wide berth. A few like me know she is not mentally sound all the time, so we try to help her from time to time (only to be rebuffed). My spouse and I discuss her from time to time; we wonder if she became this way because she has lived alone for a long time or if she was abandoned by her family members because she was going senile.
A study conducted at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests that there is evidence to prove that loneliness and seclusion are high risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. Older people who live alone are more susceptible to being affected by mental illness than others their age. The study proved that they were more prone to a gradual loss of memory and confusion, something that seems to affect most people living alone with little or no social life whatsoever.
It’s easy for the young and tech-savvy to stay connected – thanks to the Internet and social networking, it’s easy to keep in touch with the world, even if it is through virtual connections rather than flesh-and-blood meetings. But for those who are past their prime, whose families have long since gone their own ways or who don’t have families at all, and who don’t have anything to do in life other than sit around and watch life go by and wait for death to come calling,
So if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s, one way to prevent the onset of the disease is to stay busy for as long as possible. Keep in touch with friends, and even if you live alone once you are past the age of 55, make it a point to socialize at least once a week. Instead of staying cooped up in your home or apartment, take a walk everyday and meet new people in the process. Have friends over for a game of cards and a few drinks or go out for a movie with them once in a while. When your mind is busy and active, your neurons stay active too and do not fade away into oblivion because they are no longer being used.
And if you know people who are past their prime and who are leading a quiet, retired life, encourage them to stay active on the social circuit and spend more time with their families. If they are capable of doing any kind of work, don’t prevent them from doing so because of their age. The bottom line is – as long as your body and mind are active and you lead an active social life, you can keep dementia and related mental illnesses away.
This guest article was written by Amy S. Cook, who regularly writes on the topic of
lvn to rn online . She welcomes your comments and questions at her email address:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Black cohosh for menopausal anxiety

Some studies have shown that nearly 50% of women experience psychological problems as they go through the menopause. Benzodiazepines and antidepressants are often used to treat anxiety in women going through the menopause but benzodiazepines can cause withdrawal problems and antidepressants can cause sexual problems, weight gain and withdrawal. Some women look for alternative remedies for their anxiety and turn to black cohosh extract made from the roots of a plant in the same family as buttercups and anemones. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania carried out a small-scale study of 28 people comparing the effectiveness of black cohosh to that of a placebo. They found that there was no significant difference between the black cohosh and a placebo over a 12=week study.

Amsterdam, Jay D. ... [et al] - Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh) in women with anxiety disorder due to menopause Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology October 2009, 29(5), 478-483

Childhood cancer and suicide

People who have had cancer in their childhood are more likely to have suicidal thoughts in adulthood, even if their treatment ended many years ago. Researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston studied 9,126 adult survivors of childhood cancer and compared them to 2,968 of their siblings. 7.8% of the survivors reported having suicidal thoughts, compared to only 4.5% of the control group. Because of the intensive treatment they receive childhood cancer survivors are at risk of developing chronic medical problems later in life and not surprisingly those who were in poorer health were more likely to have thought of killing themselves. 28.8% of those reporting poor overall health had thought about killing themselves compared to only 3.3% of other survivors. Those who had had brain and central-nervous-system cancers were at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and other risk factors were: low levels of education, low income, recent unemployment and being unmarried or separated.

You can find out more about this research at

Bad behaviour and problem gambling linked in young people

Bad behaviour and problem gambling often go hand-in-hand in teenage boys. Researchers at the University at Buffalo in New York studied 2,274 people between the ages of 14 and 21. They found that for 14 and 15 year-olds the odds of being a risky or problem gambler increased by 80% with each additional symptom of conduct disorder. However, as the participants got older the link weakened and for 20 and 21 year-olds there was no link between problem behaviour and gambling. Female adolescents were much less likely to behave badly or indulge in problem gambling. Overall the study found that those children who didn't behave badly had a 5% risk of problem gambling whereas those who did behave badly had a 23% risk.

You can find out more about this research at

New research shows - it's tough at the top

A survey of 1,800 U.S. workers by researchers at the University of Toronto has found that, despite the fact that there are compensations to being in charge at work, it is still tough at the top. The study found that while people with 'job authority' - those who could direct, hire and fire and decide pay levels - earnt more money and had more stimulating jobs they also experienced more interpersonal conflict at work and had a worse work-life balance. The increased risks of stress, anger and poor health outweighed the benefits of being at the top of the heap.

You can find out more about this research at

Scents and sensibility

Nice smells could lead to better behaviour. Researchers from Brigham Young University in the U.S. conducted two experiments to investigate the effects of pleasant smells on people's behaviour. In one experiment participants were given $12 sent to them by an anonymous partner in another room who was trusting them to divide it fairly between them. The participants could keep as much of the money as they wanted. In a room freshly sprayed with lemon-scented Windex the participants gave back an average of $5.33, while in the unsprayed room the participants only gave back an average of $2.81. In another experiment students in scented and unscented rooms were asked about their willingness to either volunteer for, or donate to, U.S. housing charity Habitat for Humanity. Those in the scented room expressed a greater interest in volunteering and 22% said that they would donate compared to only 6% in the unscented one. Previous research has suggested that moral transgressions lead to a desire for physical cleansing.

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mental illness and unhealthy lifestyles

The Scottish Association for Mental Health has conducted a survey of 320 people looking into the links between mental illness and unhealthy lifestyles. People with mental-health problems were more likely to feel embarrassed (9% vs 1%) and that they were being judged (11% vs 2%) when taking exercise or going to the gym than people without mental-health problems. People with mental-health problems were four times more likely to have diabetes and men with mental-health problems were twice as likely as other men to drink more than the recommended 21 units of alcohol a week. People with mental-health problems were also more likely to be unable to afford to buy fruit and vegetables and more likely to smoke.

You can find out more about this survey at

Pesticides and suicide

Pesticides called organophosphates have been banned in many Western countries but are still widely used in the developing world. They can be very dangerous to people's physical health and there is also evidence that long-term, low-level exposure to them can also have effects on people's mental health. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London and Tongde Hospital, Zhejiang, China looked into the links between pesticide use and suicidal thoughts in rural areas of China. They studied 9,811 people who were asked whether they stored pesticides at home and if they had had any suicidal thoughts; they were also given questionnaires to assess their general health. The more easily accessible the pesticides were the more people's thoughts turned to killing themselves and those areas with the highest levels of home storage also had the highest levels of suicidal thoughts.

You can find out more about this research at

Cannabis and schizophrenia: has the U.K. Government over-reacted?

The idea that there is a link between cannabis and schizophrenia is a controversial one. Last year the U.K. Government reclassified cannabis as a class B drug, partly, at least, because they thought there was a link between the drug and mental illness. A study of the issue by researchers from the universities of Bristol and Cambridge and from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has been looking into the risk and has estimated that to prevent one case of schizophrenia the Government would have to persuade 2,800 young men who are heavy users of cannabis to give up; a figure that rose to 5,000 for young women. For light users of cannabis these figures rose to 10,000 young men and 30,000 young women respectively.

You can find out more about this research at

Twin study shows strength of genetic factors in autism

There is known to be a strong genetic component to autism. Researchers often use studies of twins to investigate the genetic links to illnesses and a team of researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore studied 277 pairs of twins in which at least one of the twins had autism. They found that when one identical twin developed autism 88% of their twins also developed it compared to only 31% in non-identical twins. As well as being more likely to both develop autism the identical twins also developed similar forms of autism too. They had similar levels of day-to-day functioning and similar risks of intellectual impairment.

Neurosis and asthma

People who are neurotic are at greater risk of developing asthma. Neurotic people tend to be more pessimistic, worry more and have more emotional ups and downs than other people. Researchers from Heidelberg University studied 5,114 people aged between 40 and 65 examining the links between neuroticism, stressful life events and asthma. Around 2% of the people who were free of asthma at the start of the study developed it during the eight-year follow up period. People who were highly neurotic were three times more likely to develop asthma than others. Divorce or separation increased the risk of asthma in women but not in men. Unemployment and the death of a loved one were not significantly associated with the development of asthma.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Obesity and suicide

Dr Kenneth J. Mukamal of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston has been comparing rates of obesity and suicide across U.S. states. On average about a quarter of adults were classified as obese and there were 12 suicides per 100,000 people. However, for each 3% increase in obesity in any given state there were 3 fewer suicides per 100,000 people. The states with higher levels of obesity also had higher levels of gun ownership and smoking and lower rates of college education and household income but even after all these factors were taken into account the link between obesity and lower suicide rates remained. Obesity was linked to lower rates of suicide by suffocation and poisoning and Dr Mukamal pointed out that it takes more poison to kill a fat person and that it is less easy for fat people to hang themselves. He also said that the health risks of obesity were much greater than the benefits of the reduced suicide rates.

You can find out more about this research at

Women quicker off the mark than men at reading emotions

Women are better than men at distinguishing between different emotions, especially between fear and disgust. 46 people - half men and half women - were shown a variety of different ways of depicting emotions by researchers at the University of Montreal. Sound and vision were used and sometimes the participants were presented with a face depicting one emotion and sounds conveying another. The study found that women were superior in completing assessments of emotions and responded quicker when they were portrayed by a female rather than a male actor. Compared to men women were faster at processing facial and multisensory expressions of emotions.

You can find out more about this research at

Antidepressants: the same number of patients taking more drugs

The recent rise in the number of prescriptions for antidepressants is due to the same number of people being prescribed more drugs rather than an increase in the number of people receiving them. A team of researchers from the University of Southampton looked at all new cases of depression between 1993 and 2005 using anonymous data from GPs. They found that, overall, there was a fall of 25% in the number of new cases although there was an increase among women between 18 and 30. However, the number of prescriptions issued per patient rose from 2.8 in 1993 to 5.6 in 2004 raising concerns that people are being kept on the drugs for too long.

You can find out more about this research at

Bullying over time

Girls who are bullied between the ages of six and nine are much more likely to be still being bullied in Year 6. Researchers from Warwick University studied 432 children from 17 primary schools in Hertfordshire and North London. Researchers asked the children about their experiences of being bullied between the ages of six and nine and again in Year 6. Among the girls those who were victims of direct bullying (physical or verbal abuse) at the start of the study were 2.5x more likely than their classmates to be being bullied at Year 6. However, boys who were being bullied at the start of the study were no more likely to be being bullied in Year 6. The study also looked at relational bullying - being excluded or given the cold shoulder by other children - and found that those who were the victims of this at the start of the study were no more likely to suffer in Year 6 than other children despite the fact that this was something that happened more often as children got older. Children with emotional problems and fewer friends and in classes with rigid social heirarchies were more likely to be bullied.

You can find out more about this research at

Long-lasting naltrexone for heroin addicts

A drug called naltrexone is used to treat heroin addicts as it blocks the receptors heroin uses to generate its effect. Unfortunately the effectiveness of naltrexone can be limited as people often forget to take it orally. One way round this problem is to use a long-lasting injection which delivers the drug gradually into the bloodstream. A team of researchers from Australia compared the effectiveness of a long-lasting injection with that of oral naltrexone in a study of 70 heroin addicts. As well as comparing the injections to oral naltrexone the researchers also compared both treatments to a placebo. The study found that the implant led to higher levels of the drug in people's bloodstreams, fewer people returning to heroin use and people going longer before relapsing.

Hulse, Gary K. ... [et al] - Improving clinical outcomes in treating heroin dependence Archives of General Psychiatry October 2009, 66(10), 1108-1115

Brain structure and PTSD

Brain scans of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have shown abnormalities in parts of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, the amygdala and the hippocampus but it is not known whether these abnormalities have developed because of the PTSD or if they reflect an inherited risk factor for the condition. A team of researchers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire investigated this issue in a study of 66 people. All the participants in the study were identical twins and they were divided into two groups. One group was made up of pairs of twins where one twin had fought in a war and developed PTSD and the other twin had not fought. The other group was made up of one twin who had fought but not developed PTSD and their twins who had not fought. Those veterans who had developed PTSD and their non-combatant twins both showed more activity in their dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and their midcingulate cortex than the group of twins who had not developed PTSD after combat and their twins. The more active the brain regions were in the twins not exposed to combat whose siblings had developed PTSD the worse their siblings' PTSD symptoms were. The study shows that enhanced activity in this part of the brain is a risk factor for PTSD, not a consequence of it.

Shin, Lisa M. ... [et al] - Resting metabolic activity in the cingulate cortex and vulnerability to posttraumatic stress disorder Archives of General Psychiatry October 2009, 66(10), 1099-1107

Trying a new approach to antidepressants

It is estimated that only 30-40% of people with depression get better after eight weeks of treatment with an antidepressant. Doctors don't always know which one will work. They can take a while to work while they are absorbed by the body and some patients do not improve until the dose is raised above the starting level. Treatment is usually started with one antidepressant at a time so if this does not work there can be a delay before people get switched on to another, more effective one. Researchers from Columbia University in New York tried to overcome these problems by starting patients on two drugs (escitalopram and bupropion) at the same time and by increasing the doses of them much more rapidly than usual. By the end of their eight-week study 63% of the participants had remitted although 18% had dropped out because of side effects. The study was quite small (just 49 people) and had a number of methodological weaknesses but the new approach could be promising.

Stewart, Jonathan W. ... [et al] - Does dual antidepressant therapy as initial treatment hasten and increase remission from depression? Journal of Psychiatric Practice September 2009, 15(5), 337-345

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Community Treatment Orders more common than expected

In the U.K. Compulsory Treatment Orders alllow people who have been discharged from hospital to have conditions placed on their treatment in the community so that, for instance, they can be returned to hospital if they do not take their medication. The orders came into force in November 2008 and since then far more of them have been issued than the Government expected. 2,134 were issued between November 2008 and March 2009; much more than the 450 or so estimated by the Government.

You can find out more about this story at

Finding the best therapy for SAD

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of severe depression that occurs in autumn and winter. Two of the most popular forms of therapy for it are cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and light therapy in which sufferers sit in front of a light box that produces an artificial version of sunlight. Kelly Rohan from the University of Vermont looked into the long-term effectiveness of these treatments comparing those treated with light therapy, those treated with CBT, those treated with a combination of the two techniques and people on a waiting list for treatment. Rohan's study looked into how people were doing a year after their treatment. She found that the combination group did best with only 5.5% having a recurrence of their depression. 7% of those treated with CBT suffered a recurrence compared to 36.7% of those treated with light therapy. The recurrence of depression was also less severe in those with CBT than in the other groups. Previous studies have shown that light therapy is very effective so it is not so much that it does not work, rather that, left to their own devices, people find it hard to make time for a daily, half-hour session in front of a light box.

You can find out more about this research at

Diabetes, ketoacidosis and memory problems

Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body lacks insulin and burns fat for energy instead of sugar. This can lead to nausea, vomiting and fatigue and a feeling of mental sluggishness. There is anecdotal evidence of children with diabetes having memory problems and a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis looked into the links between diabetes, ketoacidosis and memory problems in a study of 62 children. 33 of the children had had an episode of diabetic ketoacidosis in the past and these children were found to perform significantly worse on memory tests.

You can find out more about this research at

Birth problems not prematurity linked to autism

Being born prematurely has been linked to an increased risk of autism but this could be due to complications in pregnancy and in and around birth rather than prematurity itself. A study of 7,296 children by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that children who were born at 31 weeks or earlier were 1.5x more likely to develop autism while those born between 32-36 weeks were 1.3x more likely to develop it. However, after birth complications had been taken into account there were no significant differences between babies born at 36 weeks or earlier and those born later suggesting that it was the complications not prematurity itself that raised the risk of autism. Pre-eclampsia, being born small for the length of a pregnancy, low infant blood sugar, birth defects and infant seizures all raised the risk of autism; pre-eclampsia was found to raise the risk by 50%.

You can find out more about this research at

Mental health and bladder problems

Depression, anxiety and sexual trauma have all been found to be risk factors for urinary-tract problems such as incontinence and an overactive bladder. Researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine looked into this further in a study of 1,419 women, 121 of whom had urinary-tract problems. They found that, compared to the other women, those with urinary-tract problems had a higher incidence of mental-health problems (64.5% vs 25.9%) and sexual trauma (49.6% vs 20.1%).

You can find out more about this research at

Green space and mental health

People who live near parks and green spaces are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. A Dutch study of 345,143 people compared information from medical records with a land-use database and found that those living near more green spaces had lower rates of 15 different medical conditions. Greater amounts of green space within a kilometer of one's home was related to small reductions in heart disease, diabetes, neck and back pain, asthma and migraine but the strongest connections were with depression and anxiety. There was a 50% higher rate of depression in people living in predominanlty built-up areas compared to those living in predominantly green ones. The relationship between green space and health was particularly strong among children and lower-income groups.

You can find out more about this research at

Topping up with Omega-3 - does it work for depression?

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis have been investigating the effectiveness of taking Omega-3 as well as antidepressants in a study of people with depression and heart disease. 122 people took part in the study. Half of them took sertraline and Omega-3 while the other half took sertraline and a placebo. The study found that after 10 weeks there was no difference between the group taking the Omega-3 and the group taking the placebo.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mercury and autism. Is there a link? Probably not ...

Mercury has been linked to the development of autism. Researchers at the University of California, Davis studied 452 children between the ages of 2 and 5, 249 of whom had been diagnosed with autism. The children's blood mercury levels were measured and the researchers also attempted to find out where the mercury had come from. The study found that levels of mercury in the bloodstream were actually lower in the children with autism. This was because the main source of mercury was found to be fish which the autistic children - who are known to be picky eaters - ate less of. Once the data had been adjusted for fish consumption mercury levels in autistic and non-autistic children were found to be similar. Other sources of mercury were fillings and chewing gum but vaccinations (which can contain mercury as one of the ingredients) were not found to raise mercury levels.

You can find out more about this research at

Lead, learning and literacy

Exposure to lead in childhood can significantly reduce children's scores in end-of-year reading tests. Researchers from Duke University and North Carolina Central University looked into the links between levels of lead in children's bloodstreams, poverty and parental education, and reading scores for children at the end of Year 4. They found that parental education accounted for 58-65% of the decline in scores for minority and low-income children, poverty status accounted for 25-28% and blood lead levels for 7-16%. The effect of lead was more noticeable for children who already had low test scores and the higher the children's lead levels the greater the impact on their scores. But the exposure to lead also had an impact on children who scored highly on the tests; enough to disqualify them from programmes aimed at gifted children.

You can find out more about this research at

Get Googling to boost your brain power

A study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that using Google could boost older people's brain power. The researchers scanned the brains of 24 neurologically-normal people between the ages of 55 and 78. Half of them used the Internet daily while the other half had very little experience of the Internet. After the initial scan the participants went home and practised Internet searching for an hour a day for seven days over a two-week period. By the end of the study the group which had not previously used the Internet showed increased activity in areas of the brain linked with language, reading, memory and visual abilities and in regions associated with working memory and decision-making.

You can find out more about this research at

Weight, self esteem and models

Researchers from Erasmus University in the Netherlands, the University of Cologne in Germany and Arizona State University have been looking into the vexed issue of women's weight and self-esteem and the influence of different-sized models. They showed women of a variety of different weights pictures of models of all shapes and sizes and measured their self-esteem before and afterwards. The women of normal weight showed an increase in self-esteem when they saw moderately-thin and extremely-heavy models because they felt similar to the former and dissimilar to the latter. However, they had lower levels of self-esteem when they saw moderately-heavy models and extremely thin ones because they felt similar to the former and dissimilar to the latter. Underweight women's self esteem rose whoever they saw pictures of, whereas overweight women's fell regardless of the size of the model they saw. The overweight participants ate fewer biscuits (cookies) and were more intent on exercise and dieting after they had seen the heavier models.

You can find out more about this research at

Needle sharing, poor planning and logic puzzles

People who share drug-injecting equipment put themselves at increased risk of developing HIV, hepatitis and other infections. It is thought that a third of the cases of HIV in the U.S. are due to injecting drug use and around 60-80% of injecting drug users are thought to be infected with hepatitis C. A team of researchers from Baltimore used a test similar to the puzzle Tower of Hanoi* to test the planning abilities of 225 injecting drug users. They wanted to see whether poor planning abilities were linked to an increased tendency to share needles. The researchers found that poor performance on the logic puzzle was associated with an increased chance of sharing needles suggesting that poor planning on the part of drug users plays a part in increasing needle sharing.

Severtson, Stevan G. ... [et al] - The association between planning abilities and sharing injection drug use equipment among injection drug users in Baltimore, MD Journal of Substance Use October 2009, 14(5), 325-333

*You can find out more about the Tower of Hanoi logic puzzle at

Injecting other drug users

Brighton has one of the biggest drug problems of any UK city and it is thought that around 2% of people between the ages of 15 and 44 inject drugs. The coroner of Brighton has raised concerns that the practice of drug users injecting other people might raise the risk of death through overdose so a team of researchers from the NHS in Brighton, the University of Sussex and St George's Medical School in London looked into this issue. They found that 26% of injecting drug users either received injections from other people or gave them to others. The most common reason for doing this was problems with injecting technique and sharing injecting equipment was common. The practice most commonly occured between friends and partners. Injecting other people was seen as no different to, or less safe than, injecting oneself.

Cherry, Scott ... [et al] - Injecting other users: a pilot study in an area of high prevalence of drug-related deaths Journal of Substance Use October 2009, 14(5), 289-294

Monday, October 19, 2009

PTSD raises death risk after surgery

People who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased risk of dying after surgery - even if the trauma they suffered happened many years beforehand. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco studied 1,792 male veterans, who had major, non-cardiac, non-emergency surgery between 1998 and 2008. 129 of them had PTSD. The veterans with PTSD were more likely to have risk factors for heart disease but even after taking this and high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and depression into account they were still 2.2x more likely to die within a year of surgery.

You can find out more about this research at

Smaller classes in early years key to bridging achievement gap

Governments spend a lot of time and effort in trying to reduce the gap in educational achievement between high and low achievers. New research from the U.S. suggests that concentrating these efforts on reducing class sizes in the very first years of school could be the most effective way of doing this. Researchers from Michigan State University and Northwestern University in Illinois used data from a study about class sizes and their effect on more than 11,000 children. They found that children who had been in small classes (13 to 17 children) from nursery through to year 3 had substantially higher test scores in Years 4 to 8 than those who had been in larger classes. Students at all levels benefited but low achievers did particularly well, especially in maths and science. The effects of the smaller class sizes were strongest when children were in consistently small classes between kindergarten and Year 3.

You can find out more about this research at

Psychosis and emotions; not so different after all

There has been little research into the emotions of people suffering from psychosis. Historically there has been a divide between the neuroses, like depression and anxiety, which are thought to have an emotional origin and the psychoses which are thought to have a biological cause but in one study 73.4% of people with psychosis were found to have suffered from a mood disorder at some point in their life and 71.4% from an anxiety disorder. Researchers from Scotland examined this issue more closely by comparing 21 people who had experienced psychosis, 21 people suffering from anxiety or mood disorders and 21 people who had never had any mental-health problems. Both the groups who had suffered from mental-health problems were found to experience similar emotions; more negative emotions and lower levels of happiness than the healthy control group. Both groups with mental-health problems also used similar strategies to regulate their emotions, strategies that were more dysfunctional than the unaffected participants. The study suggests that the emotional problems of people with psychosis are more similar to those of people suffering from other mental-health problems than had previously been thought.

Livingstone, Karen, Harper, Sean and Gillanders, David - An exploration of emotion regulation in psychosis Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy September-October 2009, 16(5), 418-430

Feeling down, how we cope with it and how it all links to depression

Everyone feels down from time to time. Most people try and get over it in a process that psychologists call 'mood repair.' Psychologists have identified over a 100 strategies for mood repair (adaptive strategies) but also a number of responses that actually end up making things worse (maladaptive strategies). It is thought that people with depression are worse at mood repair than other people and use less productive strategies to get over feeling down. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh looked into this issue in a study of 337 people, 215 of whom had suffered from childhood-onset depressive disorder. Participants were asked which strategies they used to deal with low mood and were followed over time to see how they got on. The study found that people who had previously been depressed or who were depressed at the time of the study both reported a greater number of maladaptive responses and less adaptive ones, although they did use some adaptive strategies. Using maladaptive responses predicted future increases in depression symptoms and an increased probability of a recurrence of depression and this was true of both maladaptive thoughts and actions.

Kovacs, M., Rottenberg, J. and George, C. - Maladaptive mood repair responses distinguish young adults with early-onset depressive disorders and predict future depression outcomes Psychological Medicine November 2009, 39(11), 1841-1854

Schizophrenia, art appreciation and jumping to conclusions

People with schizophrenia are more likely to jump to conclusions about things than other people. In one experiment participants were asked to judge whether a jar contained more of one or another colour of beads as they were pulled out, one by one; compared to other people people with schizophrenia made early, premature and incautious decisions in 40-70% of cases. Researchers are unsure whether this is because people with schizophrenia are anxious and don't cope with uncertainty very well or because they have a lower threshold for believing things than other people - something psychologists call liberal acceptance. A team of researchers from Germany and Canada investigated this further by showing 27 people with schizophrenia and 32 without pictures of obscure paintings. The paintings were given four alternative titles, one correct and three wrong ones. The participants were asked to rate the likelihood that each title was the correct one and could - but did not have to - make a decision about which was the right one. While they were doing this either happy, anxiety-making or no music was played in the background. People with schizophrenia were more likely to make a decision about the title of the paintings even if two of the alternatives were very close to one another. They were also more likely to give higher marks to some of the more implausible titles. Overall there was no difference in people jumping to conclusions while they were being played the anxiety-making music but people currently experiencing delusions were more likely to jump to conclusions while listening to it.

Moritz, S. ... [et al] - Decision making under uncertainty and mood induction: further evidence for liberal acceptance in schizophrenia Psychological Medicine November 2009, 39(11), 1821-1829

Friday, October 16, 2009

Antidepressants and suicide risk

Antidepressant treatment has been linked with an increase in suicidal thoughts among some people. Dr Nader Perroud from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied 811 people with moderate to severe depression comparing the number of suicidal thoughts in those taking nortriptyline and those taking escitalopram. Nortriptyline works by increasing the effectiveness of noradrenaline in the brain whereas escitalopram works by increasing the effectiveness of serotonin. Dr Perroud's study found that nortriptyline led to nearly ten times as many suicidal thoughts as escitalopram. The study is significant as it is the newer class of drugs known as SSRIs (serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors) - to which escitalopram belongs - that have been linked to an increased risk of suicide in the past yet this research shows that the older drug (part of a group of drugs called the tricyclic antidepressants) which led to more suicidal thoughts.

You can find out more about this research at

Don't write me off campaign gets backing from MPs

A third of people with autism in the U.K. - around 100,000 people - currently live without a job and without benefits. The Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons has recently published a report on adults with autism calling for improved support and making a number of key recommendations including improved training for staff working in health, social care, benefits and employment services.

You can download a copy of the Public Accounts Committee's report at

And find out more about the National Autistic Society's Don't write me off campaign at

Social phobia and depression in Japan

Phobias and major depression are both relatively common and can occur together. It could be that there are common biological and psychological factors between the two conditions or that there are sociocultural factors that make phobias more damaging in some cultures than in others. A team of researchers from Japan studied 2,436 people and looked into the links between specific phobias (e.g. spiders, dogs, lifts), agoraphobia, social phobia, and depression. The study found that social phobia was linked to a fourfold increase in the risk of depression whereas the other phobias had little effect. The researchers thought that because Japan is a relatively collectivist culture the social problems linked to social phobia could make it a more powerful cause of depression in Japan than in other countries.

Tsuchiya, Masao ... [et al] - Lifetime comorbidities between phobic disorders and major depression in Japan: results from the World Mental Health Japan 2002-2004 survey Depression and Anxiety October 2009, 26(10), 949-955

Mothers, daughters and OCD

Scientists still do not really know what causes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) but there is some evidence that it runs in families. Most studies into this have looked at an overall diagnosis of OCD but OCD is made up of a number of different symptoms and it could be that some symptoms are more likely to be inherited than others. Previous research has shown that symmetry/ordering and hoarding both have a stronger family link than other symptoms of OCD but little research has been done into the relationship between family factors and OCD tendencies in people not being treated for the condition. This could be useful as people who haven't been treated for OCD are less likely to be affected by other mental-health problems or treatments which could affect the results of a study. There is also the theory that OCD symptoms are just one end of a spectrum of behaviour that affects everyone to a certain degree so that information gained from a non-clinical sample could be applied to those with the condition. Researchers from Barcelona and the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, studied 184 female undergraduates and their parents assessing their OCD tendencies using questionnaires. They found that there was a link between both parents' OCD tendencies and those of their daughters with the link being stronger from mother to daughter. Ordering and hoarding were particularly strongly linked between mothers and daughters and ordering scores in mothers predicted other symptoms in their daughters such as washing and checking.

Taberner, Joan ... [et al] - Are obsessive-compulsive symptom dimensions familial in nonclinical individuals Depression and Anxiety October 2009, 26(10), 902-908

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How juggling could boost your brainpower

Juggling could boost your brainpower. Researchers at Oxford University studied 24 healthy young adults. Half of them were given weekly training sessions in juggling for six weeks and were asked to practice for 30 minutes every day while the other half carried on with their lives as normal. All the participants had their brains scanned to measure their white matter before the start of the study and after it had finished. Those participants who had been taught how to juggle showed a 5% increase in white matter in a part of the brain called the intraparietal sulcus - an area associated with reaching and grasping for objects. Apart from being good news for jugglers this is an exciting development for scientists as this effect of training on levels of white matter has not been demonstrated before.

You can find out more about this research at

Troubled childhoods, early deaths

Having a stressful childhood can significantly reduce people's life expectancy. Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Kaiser Permanente Organisation studied 17,337 men and women to investigate the links between bad childhood experiences and health. The researchers defined eight different adverse childhood experiences: verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse with physical contact, having a battered mother, having a substance-abusing person in the household, having a mentally ill person in the household, having a household member who was incarcerated, or having one's parents separate or divorce. 69% of the study participants under the age of 65 reported at least one of these experiences while 53% of those over 65 did. Those people who reported six or more adverse experiences were 1.7 times more likely to die at 75 or younger and 2.4 times more likely to die at 65 or younger. The authors of the study thought that having a troubled childhood makes people more likely to develop anxiety and depression which they cope with by using tobacco and alcohol.

You can find out more about this research at

U.K. Government launches new talking-therapy services

52 new sites offering talking therapy for people suffering from depression and anxiety have opened in the U.K. The Care Services Minister, Phil Hope, announced the new sites which will provide cognitive-behavioural therapy, counselling and guided self-help. 28 sites were opened earlier this year and 35 in 2008. The Department of Health aims to spend £103m making a total of 115 services available by March 2010.

You can find out more about this initiative and see a full list of the new sites at

Speed dating - is mimicry the key to a successful evening?

Mimicry could be the key to success for women when they go on speed-dating nights. Nicolas Gueguen from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud studied three women who were taking part in speed-dating sessions and coached them in how to mimic their partners. The women had 66 male dates altogether and were told to mimic some - repeating phrases and mimicking body language - and not others. The men who had been mimicked by the women were more likely to give them their contact information, to say that the speed date had gone well and to rate them as sexually attractive.

You can find out more about this research at

Lower, more targeted shocks for long-term depression

ECT or electroconvulsive therapy is one of the most controversial ways of treating depression. Despite the Frankenstein-like nature of electric shocks being given to the brain and patients having convulsions there is evidence that it can work for severely-depressed patients for whom drugs and psychotherapy have proved ineffective. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina have been testing a technique called bilateral epidural prefrontal cortical stimulation (EpCS) which targets electrical stimulation to a part of the brain involved in regulating mood. Electrodes close to, but not in the brain, are powered by two small generators surgically implanted in the patients' chests. In a small-scale study of the technique it was found to lead to a 54.9% reduction in depression symptoms on one measure of depression and three of the patients in the study achieved remission. The technique uses a lower current than conventional ECT and patients do not have convulsions.

You can find out more about this research at

Fry and Campbell join forces to call for more money for mental health

Former Labour Party spin doctor Alistair Campbell and actor Stephen Fry have joined a campaign calling for a trebling of spending on research into mental-health problems over the next five years. The Research Mental Health Initiative pointed out that spending on mental-health research has remained virtually unchanged since 2004-5 at £74m, a figure dwarfed by spending on cancer research. In 2004-5 cancer and mental-health problems each accounted for about 15% of the disease burden in the U.K. but cancer received 25% of health research funding compared to only 5% for mental health. The campaign is calling for an increase in research funding to £200m by 2014.

You can find out more about this initiative at

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Schizophrenia and murder - extremely unlikely but hard to predict

Despite lurid newspaper headlines violent crimes by people with schizophrenia are relatively rare and violent crimes against strangers rarer still. Researchers from the University of New South Wales joined with colleagues in Canada, Finland and the Netherlands to look into this issue and found that the rate of homicides of strangers by people with schizophrenia is about one in fourteen million; the same as that of winning the lottery. The study also compared the characteristics of people with schizophrenia who murdered strangers to those of people who killed family members. It found that those who killed strangers were more likely to be homeless and to have a history of antisocial conduct. The victims were more likely to be male and the murders rarely took place in the victim's home or workplace. More than half of those who killed either strangers or family members had never received treatment for their condition. The researchers pointed out that although murders of strangers by people with schizophrenia are extremely rare they are also just as difficult to predict as - because of their rarity - there is very little information for researchers to go on.

You can find out more about this research at

Domestic violence and disease

Women who suffer from domestic violence are, by definition, more likely to suffer physical injuries than other women. However, new research from Ohio State University suggests that they may also be more likely to suffer from a range of other physical and mental health problems as well. The study looked at the medical records of 3,568 women. Eight per cent had experienced some form of domestic violence in the previous year while 37% had suffered domestic violence at some point in their life. The study compared the women who had never been abused with those who reported recent domestic violence and found that the women who reported violence were more than six times as likely to have a drug problem and three times as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Other diseases which were more common among abused women were low back and neck pain, sexually-transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections and chest pains. The abused women were also more than twice as likely to smoke.

You can read more about this research at

Domestic violence and disease

Planning and positive thinking: the keys to a successful job hunt

Needless to say in the present economic climate a lot of people are busy job hunting. Researchers from the University of Missouri studied 327 job seekers to see what psychological factors contributed towards successful job seeking. Participants in the study were asked for background information, took personality tests and were asked about how they planned their job hunting. After 4-5 months they were contacted again to see how successful they had been in finding work. Metacognitive abilities - drawing up a plan, acting on it and refining it in the light of experience - were the most important factors in getting a first interview while the ability to maintain a positive outlook was more important at and beyond the first interview. The personality traits of extroversion and conscientiousness were also linked to success in job hunting. The researchers stressed that while properly planning a job hunt might seem like common sense it was surprising how few people actually did it in practice.

Predicting Alzheimer's: why memory may not always be the first thing to go

Memory problems might not always be the first sign of dementia. Researchers from the University of Kansas studied 444 people, of whom 134 developed dementia. They gave the participants in the study a series of different cognitive tests then looked back to see which of them developed dementia. They found that visuospatial skills - like the ones people use to read a map or put together a jigsaw - began to decline sharply three years before diagnosis and an overall decline in mental abilities was seen the following year. However, a sharp decline in memory skills was not seen until one year before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Measuring the risk of arson

There were 39,318 cases of arson in 2007-8 and in 2003 arson cost the U.K. economy £7.7bn. Mental-health problems are frequent among arsonists but there is little research into the assessment of future risk from arsonists; either in terms of the chances of them re-offending or of their potential for committing more dangerous arson in the future. A team of researchers led by Geoff Dickens from St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton looked at the case notes of 167 adult arsonists referred for forensic psychiatric assessment over a 24-year period. Repeat arsonists were younger, single and had a number of attributes suggesting childhood disturbances. Personality disorders and previous time in prison were also associated with reoffending. However, recidivism was not associated with starting more serious fires. It was much harder to predict the seriousness of people's arson attempts although having previously started fires with more than one ignition point and involving accelerants (e.g. kerosene or petrol) were both linked to more serious arson attempts in the future.

Dickens, Geoff ... [et al] - Recidivism and dangerousness in arsonists Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology October 2009, 20(5), 621-639

Catching the attention of college binge drinkers

Binge drinking in college is a big problem nowadays in both the U.S. and the U.K. Studies have shown that at least 40-45% of college students engage in heavy drinking each year, with between 12-31% qualifying for a clinical diagnosis of alchol abuse and 6% qualifying for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence. A team of researchers from Texas State University looked into the role of attentional bias - how much attention people pay to things - in people's drinking habits. 26 college students were asked about their alcohol consumption and shown pictures of household objects and alcohol-related scenes. The more people drank the more attention they gave to the alcohol images. One of the practical implications of this research is that it may be productive to restrict the number of alcohol posters and adverts on campus.

Ceballos, Natalie A., Komogortsev, Oleg V. and Turner, G. Marc - Ocular imaging of attentional bias among college students: automatic and controlled processing of alcohol-related scenes Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs September 2009, 70(5), 652-659

Growing up and out of substance abuse

Many young people behave in a delinquent fashion including using illegal drugs and committing minor offences such as shoplifting and vandalism but most grow out of this as they leave home, set up with a partner and get a job. Few studies have looked into the effect of these life changes on the use of drugs so a team of researchers from the RAND corporation in California followed 196 boys who had had residential treatment for substance abuse. The boys were between 13 and 17 at the start of the study and were surveyed after 3, 6, 12, 24, 30, 72 and 87 months. The study found that living independently and cohabiting were both associated with decreased substance abuse problems. Living with children was associated with more interpersonal violence (hitting people or getting into a fight). Living away from their parents was associated with an increase in substance problems as the boys moved into adulthood but a decrease thereafter suggesting that leaving the family home either too early or too late increased the risk of substance abuse.

D'Amico, Elizabeth J., Ramchand, Rajeev and Miles, Jeremy N.V. - Seven years later: developmental transitions and delinquent behavior for male adolescents who received long-term substance treatment Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs September 2009, 70(5), 641-651

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Teenagers reach logical maturity before emotional maturity

Teenagers are as logical as adults but lack their social and emotional maturity. This might not be a surprise to too many parents but it comes as the result of a study of 935 10-30 year-olds by researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia. Participants in the study were tested on their psychosocial maturity, including tests of impulse control, sensation seeking, resistance to peer influence, future orientation (jam today vs jam tomorrow) and risk perception. They were also tested on their cognitive abilities such as logical thinking. There were no differences in psychosocial maturity throughout the 10-17 year-old age group but there were differences between those who were 16-17 and those 22 and over, and between those who were 18-21 and those above 26. People's cognitive capacities got better from 11-16 but their was no improvement thereafter.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression, anxiety and obesity

A 19-year survey of 4,363 British civil servants by researchers at University College London has found that those who suffered from anxiety and depression were more likely to become obese. The participants were screeened four times over the course of the study with each screening assessing them for common mental disorders and measuring their height and weight. Weight gain was more common in people with mental disorders at the start of the study. Those participants who showed signs of mental disorder in the first three screenings were twice as likely as symptom-free people to be obese by the end of the study. Those who experienced more incidences of common mental disorders had a greater risk of weight gain and obesity but there was no evidence of a relationship in the other direction i.e. people who were obese at the earlier checks were no more likely to develop depression and anxiety later than slimmer people.

You can find out more about this research at

Kidsmatter initiative gets the thumbs up in Australia

Signs of mental-health problems can be identified in children at an early age, however, only about a quarter of them access mental-health services. Children's mental-health problems can affect their learning, friendships and ability to cope with and enjoy life as they get older. In Australia the Australian Psychological Society has developed an initiative called Kidsmatter and a range of resources for primary-school staff, parents and carers on 21 different topics relating to children's mental health. The project has just been independently evaluated and the evaluation found that it improved children's social and emotional wellbeing and increased parents' and teachers' knowledge of, and ability to support, children's mental health.

You can find out more about the evaluation at

And the Kidsmatter website is at

Young adults' drug choices: from crack and heroin to cocaine and cannabis

Young people are moving away from crack cocaine and heroin and towards 'ordinary' cocaine and cannabis according to new figures from the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. In 2008/9 £800m was spent on national drug treatment services, a figure that has more than tripled in the last decade. Last year more than 200,000 adults received treatment for drug addiction - mainly for heroin and crack cocaine - of whom 25,000 (1 in 8) successfully came off drugs. Among 18-24 year-olds there has been a 30% fall in those looking for treatment for heroin and crack addiction since 2005/6. However, there was a 20% increase in over 35s seeking treatment for crack and heroin addiction over the same period. The proportion of 18-24 year-olds looking for treatment for cocaine addiction has doubled in the last four years and there has also been a small rise in treatment for cannabis addiction.

You can find out more about this story at

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Antidepressants in pregnancy

More than one in ten pregnant women are thought to suffer from depression. Pregnant women are often prescribed a kind of antidepressant called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) but new research indicates that there may be risks to this. Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark studied 57,001 women. 329 had been treated with SSRIs, 4,902 had a history of mental-health problems but had not taken the drugs and the rest had no history of mental-health problems. Women who took SSRIs during pregnancy gave birth an average of fived days earlier and had twice the risk of pre-term delivery. Children exposed to SSRIs in utero had more difficulties immediately after birth and were more likely to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. But it is important to remember that depression in pregnancy carries its own risks and you should always ask your doctor before changing your medication.

You can find out more about this research at

Is licorice the next thing for pregnant women to avoid?

Pregnant women are already told to avoid smoking, alcohol and soft cheese and now it appears that there might be another substance for them to worry about - licorice. Licorice consumption is common among young women in Finland and a team of researchers from the universities of Helsinki and Edinburgh studied 321 eight-year-old children to look into the effects of licorice consumption in pregnancy. The children had previously taken part in a study into the links between licorice and early pregnancy so the researchers had a good idea about their mothers' licorice consumption during their pregnancy. The study found that women who ate more than a 100g of pure licorice a week during their pregnancy were more likely to have children with lower intelligence levels and more behavioural problems. The effect of licorice is thought to be due to a substance called glycyrrhizin which could affect the placenta allowing more stress hormones to cross over from the mother to her baby.

You can find out more about this research at

As if licorice wasn't enough to worry about researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and the University of North Carolina have been looking into the effects of prenatal exposure to a substance called bisphenol A which is found in some types of plastic bottles, water pipes and medical tubing. The scientists took urine samples from 249 pregnant women in Ohio at 16 and 26 weeks in their pregnancy and at birth and the children's behaviour problems were assessed when they were two. The study found that girls whose mothers were exposed to high levels of bisphenol A were more likely to display aggressive and hyperactive behaviour, although there was no effect in boys.

You can find out more about this research at

Hold the latte: coffee not a magic bullet for dementia

There has been mixed evidence as to whether coffee can help to stave off dementia. Researchers from the University of Helsinki studied 2,606 twins asking them about their coffee-drinking habits and other health and lifestyle factors when they were around 50, and testing their cognition when they were around 74. The study found that each year of increasing age was associated with a decline in thinking abilities. However, coffee consumption was found not to be protective against cognitive decline. Heart disease, diabetes and dissatisfaction with life were all associated with an increased risk of dementia.

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Depression, inflammation and heart disease

Depression and inflammation (which can be a risk factor for heart disease) are known to be linked but scientists don't really know which comes first. Researchers from Indiana University in Indianapolis studied 263 people aged between 50 and 70 in an attempt to get to the bottom of this. They tested the participants for depression and measured their levels of an inflammatory protein called interleukin-6 at the start of the study and again six years later. They found that depressive symptoms were linked to higher levels of interleukin-6 six years later but high levels of interleukin-6 were not linked to depression later. The strength of the link between depression and a future risk of heart disease is as strong as those for smoking, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol.

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The psychology of penalty shoot outs - what are they thinking about?

Fans of the England football team are used to their side being on the wrong end of a penalty shoot-out. Researchers at Purdue University in the U.S. have been looking into the psychology of kicking field goals - the equivalent in American football - and have come up with some interesting results. The researchers studied 23 athletes - who weren't American football players - kicking field goals from the middle of the pitch ten yards from the goal. The study found that people saw the goal as being smaller after an unsuccessful attempt. Those who kicked the ball wide of the posts saw the goal as being narrower and those who kicked the ball short of the posts (which are shaped like a capital H) saw them as being taller.

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'Chemical cosh' still being used for Alzheimer's patients

The use of antipsychotic drugs as a 'chemical cosh' for people with Alzheimer's disease has proved very controversial and a new survey by the Alzheimer's Society suggests that it is still a problem. The survey - of over 650 nurses and 450 nurse managers - showed widespread use of the drugs, sometimes purely to control 'difficult' patients. Government guidelines say the drugs can be given if patients are severely agitated or violent but critics claim that they are overused to keep patients sedated and make life easier for staff. The drugs can have serious side effects and are known to increase the risk of death.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Depression and child abuse

A new study of 5,500 families by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health has found a link between mothers' depression and their acts of aggression towards their children. The study used data from a national survey of 5,500 families who had been involved in child-abuse investigations. The mothers completed a standard questionnaire for depression at the start of the study and again after 18 months, and after three years. The mothers were also asked about instances of abuse over the past year including physical abuse, neglect and psychological aggression. The study found that when a mother developed depression the odds of her children suffering "psychologically-aggressive acts," including threats and name calling increased. Mothers who reported an increase in abuse from their partner were more likely to report physical abuse and neglect of their children while mothers whose partners were not abusive reported a decrease in psychologically-aggressive behaviour towards their children.

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Mediterranean diet cuts depression risk

People who follow a Mediterranean diet high in vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains and fish could be less likely to develop depression. Over the course of their lives people in Mediterranean countries are less likely to develop mental-health problems than people from Northern Europe and previous research has suggested that olive oil may play a part in this. Researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria studied 10,094 people from Spain who filled out food questionnaires. After about 4 years the participants were followed up to see whether they developed depression. People who stuck most closely to the Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower risk of depression and this remained true even when other factors involved in a healthy lifestyle were taken into account. A Mediterranean diet is known to improve blood-vessel function, fight inflammation and reduce the risk of heart disease - all factors that have been linked to depression.

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Mental disorders and Internet addiction in children

Internet addiction is a controversial phenomenon although it is clear that some children (and adults) spend too much time online at the expense of their school or work performance, family relationships and emotional state. Researchers from Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan looked into the links between ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), social phobia, hostility and Internet addiction in 2,293 year 7 students. They found that 10.8% of the participants coud be classified as having an Internet addiction. Depression, ADHD, social phobia and hostility were all found to predict Internet addiction when the children were followed up again two years later. However, depression and social phobia predicted Internet addiction only among girls. The most significant predictor of Internet addiction among boys was hostility, among girls the most significant predictor was ADHD.

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New vaccine shows promise for cocaine addiction

Researchers at Yale University have been testing a vaccine against cocaine addiction. The vaccine works by binding onto cocaine in the bloodstream and preventing it from reaching the brain cells where it produces its pleasurable effect. A total of 115 cocaine- and opiate-dependent people took part in the study. The participants received five injections of either the vaccine or a placebo over a 12-week period. Those participants who finished the study with a high level of antibodies produced significantly more cocaine-free urine samples than those who had lower levels of the antibodies or who had received a placebo. The proportion of participants who reduced their cocaine use by half was 53% among those treated with the active vaccine compared to only 23% among those treated with a placebo.

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More U.S. children thought to have autism

Nearly 1 in 90 children in the U.S. could have an autism-spectrum disorder - a figure 50% higher than the current estimate of 1 in 150. The Department of Health and Human Services National Survey of Children's Health gathered information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and telephoned 76,000 parents. 110 out of every 10,000 respondents reported having a child with an autism-spectrum disorder.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Depression and the menopause

Women who have gone - or who are going through - the menopause are twice as likely to develop depression. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh followed 221 women - who were premenopausal when they started the study - over a nine-year period. Over the course of the study 129 of the women went through the menopause and 69 experienced at least one major depressive episode. The women were more than twice as likely to develop depression as they were going through the menopause and four times as likely to develop it afterwards.

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Everyday tasks and developing dementia

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is often seen as an intermediate phase between normal cognition and dementia. However, not everyone with MCI goes on to develop dementia so it is important to try and work out who is most at risk so they can be helped as quickly as possible. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, studied 111 people with MCI. After 2.4 years 28 of them had gone on to develop dementia. The study found that functional impairment - difficulty in carrying out routine, everyday tasks - was the only factor associated with conversion from MCI to dementia.

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Young, free and anxious

A YouGov poll of 2,000 adults has found that two-thirds of them feel stressed or anxious at least once a week. One in three young women suffered from frequent anxiety (most days or every day) compared to one in ten young men. Money worries were given as the main cause of worry by 45% of the respondents, followed by job prospects (33%) and pressure from school or university (29%). Some of the sample said that they would seek advice or support from a partner or friend but almost a third (31%) said that they kept anxiety and stress to themselves.