Monday, November 30, 2009

Bipolar disorder and body clocks

People with bipolar disorder often experience trouble with their body clocks and this is particularly true for children. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine compared 152 children with bipolar disorder to 140 without. They found that the children with bipolar disorder were more likely to have a variation in a gene called RORB which plays a part in governing the body clock.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression and osteoporosis

Depression is associated with a number of different physical health problems and researchers at Jerusalem University have added a new one to the list - osteoporosis. A number of studies have pointed to a link between depression and decreased bone density but thes have been much too small to suggest a definite link. The Jerusalem University researchers pooled together 23 different studies comparing 2,327 people with depression to 21,141 without. The depressed people had a substantially lower bone density than the non-depressed ones and depression was associated with an increased activity in cells (osteoclasts) that break down bone. The association between depression and bone density was stronger in women, particularly pre-menopausal ones. It is thought that 1 in 5 men and 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 suffer from osteoporosis which can lead to bone fractures, severe disability and even death.

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, November 27, 2009

99 other great psychology blogs

Angela Peterson has compiled a list of the top 100 blogs for psychology students which you can find at

But don't forget to keep visiting Mental Health Update!

New gene linked to mental health

Researchers at Edinburgh University have been looking into the links between genetics and mental illness in a study of 4,000 people, half of whom were psychiatric patients. They found that a gene called ABCA13 was partially inactive in people with severe mental-health problems such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The researchers think that the gene may influence the way fat molecules are used in brain cells and the research will now focus on how exactly this happens.

You can find out more about this study at

Insecure children suffer more pain and depression

Adolescents who are socially insecure also experience more aches and pains and depression. Researchers from the Universite de Montreal studied 382 students from years 8 to 12 who weres asked to fill in questionnaires about their physical and emotional pain. The insecure teenagers experienced more pain in the form of headaches, stomach aches and joint pain and were more likely to be depressed. They also tended to be more 'alarmist' about their pain seeing it as a harbinger of something more serious. The researchers also thought that the insecure teenagers might exaggerate their pain in order to elicit more support from friends and family. Previous studies have shown that rather than being a phase that people grow out of insecure children tend to become insecure adolescents and then insecure adults.

You can find out more about this research at

Survey shows big increase in PTSD in U.S. veterans

Levels of mental-health problems among former U.S. servicemen have increased dramatically since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of California, San Francisco found that rates of post-traumatic stress disorder had increased by 4-7x and that one in three veterans enrolled in the veterans' health system has been diagnosed with a mental-health disorder. However, veterans are still reluctant to seek help with only 4 out of 10 people experiencing symptoms seeking help from a therapist or other mental-health professional. Reasons given for not seeking help included: worry about what others might think, fear of hurting one's career and concern that seeking help is a sign of weakness. The most common diagnoses were PTSD (22%) and depression (17%).

You can find out more about this research at

Urinary incontinence and depression

Urinary incontinence and depression often go together in older women. The natural conclusion to draw from this is that becoming incontinent makes people depressed but new research from the University of Washington in Seattle suggests that it might actually be depression that makes people incontinent. Researchers looked at information from the ongoing Health and Retirement Study which covers 70,000 households. They looked at women who started the study with depression to see if they developed incontinence and at women who started the study with incontinence to see if they became depressed. The study found that there was a strong 'pathway' leading from depression to incontinence but that incontinence did not lead to depression. Serotonin is known to play a role in both depression and bladder function so it could be that the physiological changes produced by depression also affect people's bladders.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Older alcoholics - less of them but they drink more

Researchers from Ohio State University have been using data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions to look at the links between ageing and alcohol. They found that although adults over 60 were less likely to abuse alcohol or be dependent on it those older people who did have a drink problem consumed more alcohol and had more binges than younger problem drinkers. Adult alcoholics over 60 drank more than 40 alcoholic drinks a week on average compared to younger alcoholics who drank 25-35 drinks a week. Older alcholics had an average of 19 episodes of binge drinking a month compared to 13-15 a month in younger people, perhaps because the older alcoholics need to drink more to get the same effect.

You can find out more about this research at

Mothers' depression and children's asthma

Children whose mothers are depressed may suffer more with their asthma. Researchers from Johns Hopkins Children's Center analysed data from interviews with 262 African-American women whose children suffered from the condition, which African-Americans are known to be particularly vulnerable to. They found that when the mothers were more depressed their children's symptoms worsened. However, worsening symptoms among the children did not lead to more depression in the mothers. The researchers thought that the women might become less effective at managing their children's condition - by making sure they took the right amount of medicine at the right times - the worse their depression got.

You can find out more about this research at

Sounds, sleep and memory

Scientists have long puzzled over the links between memory, sleep and learning. Researchers at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois asked 12 participants to associate 50 images with a random location on a computer screen. Each image was paired with a sound e.g. a stick of dynamite was paired with the sound of an explosion while a shattering wine glass was paired with the sound of breaking glass. 45 minutes after they had finished learning the participants were sent to lie in a darkened room. Once they had fallen asleep they were played some of the sounds associated with the objects although none of them remembered hearing them. However, when the participants were tested again they were more accurate at remembering the location of objects whose sounds they had heard while they were sleeping.

You can find out more about this research at

Burnout and bungles in the operating theatre

Burnout can be defined as emotional exhaustion with, cynicism about and lack of interest in one's job. Doctors are particularly at risk from burnout and a study of 7,905 surgeons by researchers at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine has found that it, and depression, are associated with more medical errors than straightforward tiredness. Nine per cent of the surgeons said that they had made a major medical mistake in the previous three months and 40% of them said that they were burned out. A feeling of depersonalisation - seeing patients as objects rather than people - which is one of the components of burnout was associated with an increase in the likelihood of reporting an error. Emotional exhaustion was also associated with an increased likelihood of making mistakes. However, the number of nights on call per week and the number of hours worked were not associated with increased errors.

You can find out more about this research at

Tobacco and lead boost ADHD risk

Researchers at the Cincinatti Children's Hospital Medical Center have added to the evidence linking exposure to substances in the womb to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They studied 2,588 children aged between eight and fifteen of whom 8.7% had ADHD. Children who had been exposed to high prenatal levels of tobacco were 2.4x more likely to have ADHD while children whose mothers had had high levels of lead in their bloodstream were 2.3x more likely. Children who were exposed to both tobacco and lead were 8.1x more likely to have ADHD.

You can find out more about this research at

Drugs and falling in older people

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have been looking into which drugs are linked to an increased number of falls in older people. They reviewed 22 studies on falls in people over 60 covering a total of 79,000 participants. They found that antidepressants had the strongest statistical link with falling but antipsychotics and benzodiazepines such as valium were also associated with an increased risk. Painkillers were found not to be linked to an increased risk of falling which is the fifth leading cause of death in the developed world.

You can find out more about this research at

Covert copers and heart problems

Not everyone copes with conflicts at work head on. Some people let things pass without saying anything, others walk away from conflict, some develop physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches while others get into a bad temper at home. Collectively these responses are known as 'covert coping' and new research suggests that they may significantly increase people's risk of a heart attack. Researchers from the Stress Research Unit at Stockholm University studied 2,700 people from 1992-2003. They asked them how they coped with conflict. By the end of the study 47 men had had a heart attack or died from heart disease. Men who tackled conflict in an open way by talking to people or getting angry had no increased risk of a heart attack but covert copers had double the risk. Those who sometimes or often walked away from conflict had three times the risk of heart problems.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, November 23, 2009

The borderline personality paradox - perception and performance in relationships

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can often have very unstable personal relationships. They have a great fear of abandonment and often perceive people in very black and white terms as either wholly good or wholly bad. However, past research has found that people with BPD can be very perceptive about working out other people's emotions. Researchers from Columbia University in New York, New York University and the City University of New York studied 55 people, 30 of them with BPD comparing their abilities on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test which asks people to judge emotions based solely on pictures of people's eyes. The group with BPD performed significantly better. The researchers thought that people with BPD go into situations expecting to be hurt, abandoned and rejected by others and that their extra sensitivity to emotions makes them pick up on signs that confirm these thoughts which other people might miss out on completely.

Fertuck, E. A. ... [et al] - Enhanced 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes' in borderline personality disorder compared to healthy controls Psychological Medicine December 2009, 39(12), 1979-1988

Brief interventions for drink drivers

Drink driving is involved in more than a third of all road deaths. Many people who persistently drink drive do not take part in rehabilitation programmes or carry on drink-driving once they get their licences back. Researchers from McGill University in Canada studied the effectiveness of two intervention programmes in treating 184 drink drivers. Half of the participants went through a Brief Motivational Interviewing treatment where they were encouraged to look at reasons to change their behaviour while the other half received information about the hazards of excessive drinking. The Brief Motivational Interviewing treatment was more effective in reducing the number of drinking days than the other treatment.

You can find out more about this research at

Autism: parent training helps improve behaviour and reduce drugs

Children with autism often have behaviour problems such as tantrums, aggression and self-injury as well. An antipsychotic drug called risperidone is sometimes used to reduce this behaviour but the problems return once the medication is stopped and the drug can cause children to put on weight leading to health problems and obesity. Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S. have been studying the effectiveness of adding a training programme to help parents manage their children's disruptive behaviour on top of the drug therapy (combination therapy). They split 124 children aged between 4 and 13 into two groups. Over the 24 weeks of the study one group received just risperidone while the other group received risperidone and, for their parents, the training programme. Both groups improved but the combination therapy group improved more showing less irritability, tantrums and impulsiveness. They also took less risperidone although they still put on as much weight as the drugs-only group.

You can find out more about this research at

Drinking in pregnancy and children's problems

In the U.K. the National Health Service advises pregnant women to not drink at all, or, if they do, to drink very little and this approach seems to be vindicated by research from Australia which studied the links between drinking in pregnancy and children's mental and physical health later. The research - carried out by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research - surveyed 2,000 women and children asking mothers about their drinking habits during pregnancy and their children's health at two, five and eight. The study found that moderate drinking in the first third of pregnancy doubled the chance of a child becoming anxious or depressed while drinking more than a bottle of wine a week trebled the risk. Drinking later in pregnancy was more likely to make a child aggressive and to increase the risk of children suffering from 'general aches and pains'.

You can find out more about this research at

Reducing violence on the wards

Healthcare professionals often suffer from violence and one study of nurses in Minnesota found that 13.2% had been assaulted over the last 12 months. Psychiatric nurses are even more at risk and one study found that 20% were assaulted over the course of a working week. There are several approaches to reducing violence on inpatient wards: identifying and helping the most violent patients, helping staff to anticipate risks and calm situations down before they get violent, and changing the culture of organizations by adopting zero-tolerance policies for violence. Researchers from Massachusetts looked at an intervention in the third category, the Violence Prevention Community Meeting. The meetings included both staff and patients and aimed to change the culture of expectations and attitudes towards violence in order to reduce patients' aggression. Over the 20-week study the meetings were found to lead to significant decreases in violence which fell by 89% when the meetings were being held and by 57% in the four weeks after they had finished.

Lanza, Marilyn L. ... [et al] - Reducing violence against nurses: the Violence Prevention Community Meeting Issues in Mental Health Nursing December 2009, 30(12), 745-750

Stress and schizophrenia

Schizophrenia affects about 1% of the world's population. Its symptoms - delusions and hallucinations, apathy, social withdrawal and cognitive impairment - can affect relationships, make life difficult and lead to problems holding down or getting a job. Schizophrenia usually develops between the ages of 16 and 30. Early-onset schizophrenia is thought to be more severe as it can disrupt brain development leading to problems with attention, memory and decision making. Stress is known to make schizophrenia worse. People with schizophrenia find it hard to cope with stress and stress can lead to relapses and stop people getting better. However, little research has been done into how stress affects adolescents with schizophrenia. Researchers from the universities of Pittsburgh and Washington studied 40 teenagers with schizophrenia. They found that symptoms were significantly linked to stress over the course of the 54-week study.

Lee, Heeyoung and Schepp, Karen - The relationship between symptoms and stress in adolescents with schizophrenia Issues in Mental Health Nursing December 2009, 30(12), 736-744

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Type D personalities and heart problems

Research into the links between health and personality has tended to concentrate on Type A personalities - competitive go-getters who are thought to be more at risk of a heart attack - and the more laid-back Type B personalities who are thought to be at a lower risk. Recently, however, there has been more research into the Type D personality - people who experience a lot of negative emotions but do not express them for fear of rejection. In people who have had heart failure this personality type is associated with anxiety, depression and a reduced state of health. Dutch researcher Aline Pelle has been looking into this and found that people with Type D personalities were much less likely to see a doctor or nurse if they experienced heart-failure symptoms. Type D patients with a non type D partner reported a lower quality of marriage than type D personalities. Although the type D personalities were less healthy they were no more likely to die than other people.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression and opioids

People with depression are more likely to be prescribed powerful opioids at higher doses and for a longer time. Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle looked at medical records from two large healthcare plans between 1997 and 2005. They found that depressed people were four times more likely to be prescribed opioids for non-cancer pain. 25% of patients with depression had a long-term opioid prescription compared to only 9% of non-depressed patients. People with depression were more likely to be prescribed higher doses of the drugs, longer-acting drugs and sleeping pills and Valium. Depressed patients might be more likely to ask for opioids, seem in more distress and actually be feeling higher levels of pain but the researchers called for better monitoring to prevent the risks of addiction and overdose.

You can find out more about this research at

More evidence for meditation

Researchers at the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa have found more evidence for the beneficial effects of meditation. They studied 298 students who either trained to do transcendental meditation or were placed on a waiting list. After three months those students who had trained in meditation had lower blood pressure, more stable moods, a reduction in anxiety, depression, anger and hostility and better coping skills.

You can find out more about this research at

The art of subconscious decision-making

People who do crosswords often find that when they go and do something else the answer to a clue they have been wrestling with pops into their head spontaneously. Dutch researcher Ap Dijksterhuis looked into the issue of subconscious decision-making in a study of 352 undergraduates. Half of them knew a lot about football while the other half weren't interested in it. The students were asked to predict the results of four matches; some straight away, others after a couple of minutes thought and others after being distracted for a couple of minutes by a mental-arithmetic task. The students who didn't know much about football had the same amount of success however long they took with their predictions but the 'expert' students were more accurate after being distracted than when they made an instant decision or had spent time thinking about it. Dr Dijksterhuis thought that this might be because while the students were being distracted their subconscious brain was working on the problem free from the biases of their conscious mind.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mental-health problems and heart disease

Researchers from the VA Ann Arbor Health System in Michigan have been looking into the links between mental-health problems and heart disease. They studied 150,000 veterans who completed a survey in 1999 and were followed for eight years. By the end of the study 8% of the participants had died of heart disease with people with psychosis being more than twice as likely to die. People with depression and bipolar disorder were also more likely to die of heart disease but this increased risk disappeared once unhealthy lifestyles had been taken into account. However, even after allowing for things such as smoking and weight problems people with schizophrenia were 17% more likely to die of heart disease and people with psychosis were 30% more likely. The researchers thought that this could be due to the debilitating and isolating effects of psychosis and schizophrenia and the problems people with these conditions might have in getting adequate treatment.

You can find out more about this research at

Mixed halls mean more binge drinking

Binge drinking is a big problem on college campuses in the U.K. and the U.S. A study of more than 500 college students by researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah has found that students in mixed-sex accommodation are more likely to binge drink. 42% of the students in mixed accommodation said that they had drinking binges weekly compared to only 8% in single-sex accommodation. The influence of type of accommodation remained even when age, gender, religious beliefs, personality and relationship status were taken into account. The students in mixed-sex accommodation were also more likely to have multiple sexual partners and to use pornography.

You can find out more about this research at

Telephone counselling helps depressed heart patients

People who have had a coronary artery bypass often develop depression; something which can have a negative impact on their health. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine studied 302 people who had had a coronary-artery bypass. 150 of the participants received eight months of collaborative care by telephone while the rest made up a control group. The people who received the telephone counselling had improvements in their mental health, physical functioning, moods and levels of depression compared to the other group, with depressed men benefiting more than depressed women; however, a significant minority of patients did not benefit from the intervention.

You can find out more about this research at

Scotland's drug problem takes heavy toll

Statistics from Scotland paint a grim picture of the country's drug problem, particularly among older drug users. It is thought that there are around 55,000 'chaotic' drug users in Scotland of whom 15,000 are thought to be over 35. There were 574 drugs-related deaths in Scotland last year, 174 (30%) among 35-44 year-olds and 97 (17%) among people 45 and over. So, despite making up only 25% of the drug-using population people over 35 make up 47% of drug-related deaths. Over time older users are becoming a bigger percentage of drug abusers and can often be overwhelmed by a combination of past experiences and current problems.

You can find out more about this issue at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monitoring and marijuana

More than 42% of high-school students in the U.S. admit to taking cannabis. Apart from the risk of a criminal record cannabis use has also been linked to depression, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Parental monitoring - parents knowing where their children are, who they are with and what they are doing - has been associated with a reduced risk of gambling, sexual activity and drug use but the strength of the relationship between monitoring and cannabis use is unclear. Researchers from Claremont Graduate University in California reviewed 17 studies into this issue which covered a total of 35,000 participants. The review found that there was a 'strong, reliable' link between parental monitoring and decreased cannabis use and that this link was especially strong for girls.

You can find out more about this research at

Fearless toddlers and reckless criminals

Toddlers who show less fear at the age of three may be more likely to become criminals later in life. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied nearly 1,9000 children born in 1969 and 1970 on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. The children were tested on their response to unpleasant noises when they were three and, 20 years later, the researchers looked to see whether they had a criminal record. 137 of the sample did so and compared to the other participants they had a much smaller response to the unpleasant noises at three years old. It could be the case that the children who did not associate unpleasant experiences with fear felt less fear of punishment if they committed a crime. The researchers took into account factors such as parents' education, single parents, socioeconomic status and family size.

You can find out more about this research at

Self-harm and car accidents

A study of newly-licensed drivers by researchers at the George Institute in Australia has found that those who had engaged in self-harm were more likely to be involved in car accidents. The researchers studied 18,871 newly-licensed Australian drivers aged between 17 and 24. 4.6% of the sample had engaged in self-harm - defined as: cutting and burning, poisoning, self-battering, road-related harm, risk-taking and attempted suicide - of whom 58.7% were women. Of those who had reported self-harm 10.1% had been involved in a crash and 84% of those who had had a crash were involved in multi-car pile-ups. The risks associated with self harm were significant even after age, sex, average driving hourse per week, psychological distress and amount of sleep had been taken into account.

You can find out more about this research at

New research points to the importance of oxytocin

Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. It plays an important part in labour and breastfeeding and is also associated with social recognition, pair bonding, dampening negative emotional responses, trust and love. Researchers at Oregon State University have been investigating how a genetic variation that influences how the body processes oxytocin could be linked to the way people deal with stress and feel empathy for others. 200 college students were subjected to blasts of white noise after a countdown presented on screeen; their heart rates were measured to see how they responded to stress. The students also took another test trying to work out people's emotions from pictures of their eyes; this test was designed to measure empathy. The students with one particular variation of the gene felt less stress after the white noise and performed much better on the empathy task. Previous research using a nasal spray to deliver oxytocin to people with autism found that it increased their scores on tests of empathy.

You can find out more about this research at

Counting the Cost of Alzheimer's

In the U.K. a report by the Alzheimer's Society has painted a bleak picture of the care given by the NHS to people with this condition. Based on a survey of 1,291 friends and relatives, 657 nurses and 479 ward managers the Counting the Cost report found that half of the people with Alzheimer's admitted to hospital left with worse health than when they went in. More than three-quarters of relatives were dissatisfied with treatment and one in three had made an official complaint. Poor care was leading to people spending much longer in hospital than was necessary, patients were being left unfed and with nothing to drink and even sitting in their own urine. Patients also suffered from weight loss, dehydration, pressure sores and incontinence after being left in bed for too long. The society found that at any one time people with Alzheimer's occupied one in four NHS hospital beds.

You can download a copy of the Counting the Cost report at

Meditation lowers heart risks

Researchers from the University of Wisconsis in the U.S. have found that transcendental meditation can have major benefits for people with cardiovascular problems. They studied a sample of 201 African Americans who had an average age of 59 and who had all been diagnosed with heart disease. Half practised transcendental meditation - in which people sit quietly and constantly repeat a mantra to focus their minds - and the other half had a health education class about diet and exercise. At the end of the study the participants in the transcendental meditation group had 47% fewer cases of heart attacks, strokes and deaths; lower blood pressure and significant reductions in their stress levels.

You can find out more about this research at

Study points to ketamine risks

Ketamine - which is often used as a tranquiliser for horses - is the fastest growing drug in the U.K. It is used on the dance scene and can produce effects of sedation, hallucinations and dissociation. Researchers at University College London studied 30 long-term users of the drug and found that it can have severe side effects. The study found that ketamine had a 'profound' impact on short and long-term memory, leading users to become 'dissociated' in their everyday lives and leaving them struggling to remember names and conversations. The drug also made people completely unresponsive to events around them making them more vulnerable to accidents. Ketamine was also linked to symptoms of depression and in the past it has been linked to breathing and bladder problems.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, November 16, 2009

Absconding from low-secure units. How often does it happen and what are the risk factors?

Researchers from the South London and Maudsley and Oxleas NHS Trusts in London have been looking into the issue of absconding in a low-secure unit for people with 'challenging' behaviour. They found that over the course of 6 1/2 years 22% of the inpatients absconded from the unit. 84% of the incidents occured while the patients were on unescorted leave. Only one person escaped from the unit and there were no serious incidents. The following factors were associated with an increased risk of absconding:

  • A history of absconding behaviour
  • A history of substance misuse or dependence
  • A history of non-compliance with treatment
  • A history of sexually-inappropriate behaviour
  • A history of bad behaviour in childhood
Beer, M. Dominic ... [et al] - Clinical predictors and patterns of absconding in a low secure challenging behaviour mental health unit Journal of Psychiatric Intensive Care December 2009, 5(2), 81-87

Seclusion and restraint in psychiatric intensive care units

Patients in psychiatric intensive care units (PICUs) often have to be placed in seclusion or restraint for their own or others' protection. U.K. researchers from NHS services in Suffolk, Hampshire and Oxford studied the patterns of seclusion and restraint in 332 patients admitted to 7 PICUs in England. They found that four of the units used seclusion on a total of 16% of their patients. All of the units used restraint on 28% of the admitted patients. Using seclusion did not affect the length of time patients were being restrained for or how many patients were restrained. The use of seclusion and restraint was significantly associated with patient violence and property damage. Restraint was also associated with higher levels of psychological disturbance and a younger patient age.

Dye, Stephen, Brown, Steve and Chhina, Navjyoat - Seclusion and restraint usage in seven English psychiatric intensive care units (PICUs) Journal of Psychiatric Intensive Care December 2009, 5(2), 69-79

Genes, OCD and antipsychotics

A number of studies have shown that antipsychotic drugs can lead some people to develop obsessive-compulsive symptoms. There is known to be a genetic link to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and genetic factors are also thought to be involved in the way different people react to antipsychotic drugs. Substances called glutamates (which occur naturally in the body) are thought to play a part in the development of OCD and a gene called SLC1A1 is thought to play a part in how the brain deals with them. A team of researchers from South Korea compared 40 people taking antipsychotics who had developed OCD with 54 people who had taken the drugs but not developed it. They found that the group who had developed OCD were more likely to have variations in the SLC1A1 gene.

Kwon, Jun Soo ... [et al] - Association of the glutamate transporter gene SLC1A1 with atypical antipsychotics-induced obsessive-compulsive symptoms Archives of General Psychiatry November 2009, 66(11), 1233-1241

Talking therapy for chronic depression - does it make any difference

Around 50% of chronically-depressed patients fail to respond to trials of antidepressants or psychotherapy and an additional 20% do not get completely better. Even after partial improvement a residue of depression can affect people's lives and increase their chances of a relapse. Doctors often add psychotherapy to a drug treatment if this fails to work but there is little research on this. A team of researchers from the U.S. working on the REVAMP (Research Evaluating the Value of Augmenting Medication with Psychotherapy) project studied 491 people who were either not responding, or only partially responding, to antidepressants. They compared one group receiving cognitive behavioural analysis, one group receiving brief supportive psychotherapy and one group just receiving medication, all over a 12-week period. They found that although 37.5% of the participants showed at least some improvement over the course of the study there was no significant difference between the three groups. But it could be the case that a longer study would have shown more improvement in the psychotherapy groups or that different kinds of psychotherapy would have been more effective.

Kocsis, James H. ... [et al] - Cognitive behavioral analysis system of psychotherapy and brief supportive psychotherapy for augmentation of antidepressant nonresponse in chronic depression: the REVAMP trial Archives of General Psychiatry November 2009, 66(11), 1178-1188

Friday, November 13, 2009

Borderline personality disorder and relationship problems

The changeable moods and unpredictable behaviour of people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can lead to difficulties in relationships. However, there is little actual research to back this up. About 20-30% of people with borderline personality disorder are estimated to be in a relationship at any one time and researchers from the Institut Universitaire en Sante Mentale de Quebec looked into this issue more closely. They studied a sample of 35 couples where neither partner was affected. The partners filled out questionnaires about their personalities and how they thought their relationship was functioning. 68.7% of the couples in which the women suffered from BPD had frequent break-ups and reconciliations and nearly 30% of these couples dissolved their relationship. Nearly half of the men involved with a woman with BPD had at least one personality disorder. Couples with a partner with BPD had lower marital satisfaction, were less secure in their attachment to one another, had more communication problems and had higher levels of violence.

Bouchard, Sebastien ... [et al] - Relationship quality and stability in couples when one partner suffers from borderline personality disorder Journal of Marital and Family Therapy October 2009, 35(4), 446-455

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Using virtual reality to beat bullies

Researchers at the University of Warwick have been investigating how virtual reality could help children cope with bullying. They used a programme called FearNot!: a virtual school where children could assume roles as bullies, victims or bystanders. The characters were used to improvise real-life bullying incidents and pupils could interact with the characters and suggest ways to cope with, or resolve, the situation. The study involved 1,129 children aged between eight and nine from 27 primary schools across the UK and Germany. Half the children had three 30-minute sessions with the software over a three-week period while the other half formed a control group. The children who used the computer programme experienced a 26% decrease in victimisation.

You can find out more about this research at

Guest Post - 10 Common Myths About Clinical Depression

Angela Peterson has compiled a list of 10 Common Myths About Clinical Depression which aims to clear up some of the misconceptions about this condition. The myths are:

  1. Depressives are ingrates who lack empathy for real suffering
  2. Depression is not an illness
  3. Depression is nothing more than sustained sadness
  4. Depression can disappear by just thinking happy thoughts
  5. Depression only affects women
  6. Depression is a choice
  7. If a parent or grandparent suffers from depression, their kids will too
  8. Suicide attempts are just a plea for attention
  9. Depression is a psychosis
  10. Depression is a result of personality flaws and weakness

You can find out more about these issues at

Bang! What goes on in people's brains when they get a shock

Psychologists at the University of Alabama in Birmingham have been startling people in an attempt to help those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure what went on in people's brains when they heard a loud, unexpected burst of static. When the participants heard the sound there was an increase in activity in the frontal lobes of their brains. The amount of activity in this part of the brain predicted the physiological stress (sweaty palms and racing hearts) experienced by the participants. When the participants expected the sound there was much less activity in this part of the brain. The scientists hope that the discovery of which part of the brain is activated when people are shocked might allow them to develop treatments for PTSD.

You can find out more about this research at

Muscle strength and Alzheimer's

Older people with weaker muscles could be at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from Rush University Medical Center at Chicago started following 970 older adults who had an average age of 80 at the start of the study. They were tested for a number of different things including cognitive function and muscle strength. Three-and-a-half years later 138 of the sample had developed Alzheimer's. Those with the highest levels of strength at the start of the study were 61% less likely to develop Alzheimer's than those with the weakest muscles and this was true even when body-mass index and physical activity was taken into account. The researchers thought that this could be because damage to mitochondria - which produce energy for cells - can affect cognition and muscle strength or because the decreased muscle strength could be due to stroke or other central-nervous system disorders which also play a part in causing Alzheimer's.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression and stroke

Researchers at the University of Toronto have been reviewing 56 studies into stroke and depression covering a total of 75,000 people. They found that a third of people developed depression after a stroke and that women were more at risk than men. The researchers pointed out that depression is often seen as a natural reaction to stroke whereas most people do not develop it and it can be treated. This is important as the study also found that post-stroke depression was associated with greater disability, reduced quality of life and an increased risk of death.

You can find out more about this research at

Diagnosing autism in the blink of an eye

Autism affects an estimated 1 in 150 children but there are still no objective medical tests to diagnose it. Researchers at the University of Missouri have been looking at the way children's pupils respond to light. Pupils dilate (widen) when it is dark so more light reaches the retina and contract in bright light to prevent damage. The researchers found that the autistic children's pupils responded significantly more slowly than other children's and a test of pupil reaction time was 92.5% accurate in separating children from autism from other children.

You can find out more about this research at

Avatars and amiability

People who play online role-playing games often assume an avatar - a virtual body that may or may not look like them. New research from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that the avatars people choose to assume could actually effect their behaviour. Participants in the study were randomly given avatars with dark or white cloaks, doctor's coats or Ku Klux Klan uniforms or a transparent avatar. They were then given tasks in the virtual world including writing a story about a picture, playing a video game and deciding how to deal with people who broke the rules. Participants who wore a dark cloak or a KKK uniform - remember the participants did not choose their avatars - consistently demonstrated more negative and antisocial behaviour.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, November 09, 2009

Homocysteine and Alzheimer's disease

Middle-aged women with high levels of homocysteine in their bloodstream could be at more risk of developing Alzheimer's. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is important for the body's metabolism but too much of it can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of blood clots. Swedish scientists started following 1,500 women aged between 38 and 60 at the end of the 1960s. They took blood samples and can now compare the levels of different substances in people's blood with who went on to develop Alzheimer's later. The study - a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Gothenburg - found that those women with the highest levels of homocysteine had twice the risk of developing Alzheimer's as those with the lowest levels.

Torture, head injuries and mental illness

Hardly surprisingly many people who have suffered torture develop mental-health problems later and new research suggests that head injuries experienced while being tortured might also contribute to the development of mental illness. Researchers from Harvard University compared 42 Vietnamese immigrants who had been tortured in 're-education' camps with 15 Vietnamese immigrants who had not been detained. Those detainees with a history of head injury were more likely to have symptoms of depression and - when their brains were scanned - had significant reductions in the frontal and temporal lobes of their cerebral cortex. Those whose head injuries had been more severe had greater changes to their brains and more severe depression symptoms. Although those people with head injuries were at no greater risk of PTSD their symptoms were more severe.

You can find out more about this research at

Antidepressants and premature delivery

A study of over 3,000 women by researchers at the University of Washington, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University has found that using antidepressants during pregnancy could increase the risk of premature delivery. The study found that medication use and depression was strongly linked to delivery before 35 weeks gestation. However, in the women who had depression symptoms but who were not taking medication there was no increased risk of preterm delivery suggesting that it was the medication not the depression leading to premature birth.

You can find out more about this research at

Is it depression or is it Alzheimer's? Why multi-tasking could hold the answer

The early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can often be mistaken for those of depression. As a result of this many people with early Alzheimer's often go undiagnosed and miss out on treatment. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh compared the multi-tasking ability of 89 Alzheimer's patients, people suffering from long-term depression, and healthy elderly people with no memory impairment. They found that the people with Alzheimer's performed significantly worse than the other two groups suggesting that tests of the ability to do more than one thing at once could be a useful way of telling apart people with Alzheimer's from people with depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, November 06, 2009

10 Common myths about bipolar disorder

Adrienne Carlson has compiled a list of 10 common myths about bipolar disorder with lots of useful information aimed at combating some of the stigma around the condition. The myths are:

  1. Bipolar disorder is merely mood swings
  2. Manic episodes are characterized by extreme happiness
  3. Bipolar shifts happen very quickly
  4. It is OK to quit taking medication during manic episodes
  5. Bipolar disorder is very rare
  6. Bipolar disorder is not an illness
  7. People with bipolar disorder are inherently unstable or violent
  8. Most people with bipolar disorder are women
  9. Prolonged drug abuse can eventually lead to bipolar disorder
  10. People with bipolar disorder cannot hold down jobs

You can find out more about these issues on Adrienne's blog at

Thursday, November 05, 2009

How long is a piece of string? And what does it tell us about body image in eating disorders?

A distorted body image is thought to play a part in anorexia and bulimia. Researchers from the Medical University in Berlin compared 129 teenage girls with eating disorders to a control group of 354 girls of a similar age. The two groups were asked to indicate what they thought the circumference of their arms, thighs and waists were, then measured to see what their actual dimensions were. The control group overestimated their body circumferences by 8-16% whereas the participants with eating disorders overestimated their body circumferences by 30%. The biggest difference in estimates were between the estimates for thigh and waist circumference. There was no significant difference in the degree of overestimation between the participants with anorexia and those with bulimia.

Schneider, Nora ... [et al] - Comparison of body size estimation in adolescents with different types of eating disorders European Eating Disorders Review November-December 2009, 17(6), 468-475

Acceptance and commitment therapy and eating disorders

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a new approach that combines traditional cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) with an emphasis on mindfulness (non-judgemental living in the present) and an acceptance of events and factors that cannot be changed. ACT differs from CBT in that while CBT seeks to modify people's beliefs about events ACT encourages people to accept their feelings about what has happened but not to let these feelings about what has happened but not to let them interfere with their behaviour or stop them from reaching their goals. Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, the University of California, San Diego and the University of Minnesota tried using ACT on three patients who already had a history of intensive treatment for their condition. After 17-19 weeks of twice-weekly treatments with ACT all the women experienced a clinically-significant improvement on at least some measures and none of them had go worse or lost weight even after a year.

Berman, M.I., Boutelle, K.N. and Crow, S. J. - A case series investigating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a treatment for previously treated, unremitted patients with anorexia nervosa European Eating Disorders Review November-December 2009, 17(6), 426-434

Social support and PTSD in children

Children are often exposed to traumatic events such as illness or car accidents. It is thought that 40% of children exposed to trauma go on to develop acute stress disorder which can be a precursor to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Current theories about PTSD in adults emphasise the importance of negative appraisals of events in causing the development of the condition, with people who feel themselves to be vulnerable or the world to be unsafe being more at risk of developing PTSD. Social support from friends and family is thought to protect against the development of PTSD as friends and family can challenge negative beliefs, help to find solutions and encourage constructive behaviour. Researchers from Flinders University looked to see whether these theories were true in children in a study of 97 people aged between 7 and 17 who had been admitted to A&E departments. The study found that negative beliefs about the accident were strongly linked to both acute stress and depression symptoms. Social support helped to reduce negative beliefs and to prevent depression but did not stop the children from developing acute stress.

Ellis, Alicia A., Nixon, Reginald D.V. and Williamson, Paul - The effects of social support and negative appraisals on acute stress symptoms and depression in children and adolescents British Journal of Clinical Psychology November 2009, 48(4), 347-361

Caregivers, sleep and stress

In the U.K. nearly seven million people provide help for a sick, disabled or elderly person and in the U.S. more than 44 million people have been identified as caregivers. Researchers from the University of Birmingham looked into the links between the burden of caring for someone and depression and anxiety in a sample of 393 caregivers. They found that the strain and burden of caregiving were linked to depression and anxiety both at the time and five years later. The quality of sleep was found to be an important factor in the link between caregiver stress and depression and anxiety.

Phillips, Anna C. ... [et al] - Symptoms of depression in non-routine caregivers: the role of caregiver strain and burden British Journal of Clinical Psychology November 2009, 48(4), 335-346

What service users think about ECT

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an effective treatment for major depression, mania and catatonia yet it is sometimes seen as authoritarian and inhumane, has a bad image and some patient groups oppose it. Researchers from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust surveyed 389 people who had had ECT focusing on the consent process and side effects of the treatment. They found that almost half of the sample reported memory loss after ECT. Overall, the consent process was seen as adequate although there were concerns about the provision of written information, discussion about alternatives to ECT and the consequences of not having it. 72% of the sample said that ECT had improved their condition.

Rayner, Lauren ... [et al] - The patient perspective of the consent process and side effects of electroconvulsive therapy Journal of Mental Health October 2009, 18(5), 379-388

Yoga and mental health

Women with eating disorders may lack body awareness including having a reduced awareness of basic body signals such as hunger and fullness, energy levels and fatigue. They can also lack awareness of their moods so that instead of being recognised and dealt with strong feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, loneliness and even happiness can lead to either restricted eating or a binge. Yoga improves physical and emotional awareness, reduces depression and anxiety and improves people's self confidence and self control. Researchers from the University of Hartford in Connecticut studied the effect of yoga on five women taking part in a six-day yoga workshop. They found that it improved mood, psychological adjustment, physical and emotional awareness and eating-disorder symptoms.

Lourdes, P. Dale ... [et al] - Yoga workshop impacts psychological functioning and mood of women with self-reported history of eating disorders Eating Disorders October-December 2009, 17(5), 422-434

Supported housing for eating disorders

Some people with eating disorders receive treatment as day patients at hospital. They spend 7-12 hours a day on site receiving supervised meals, group and individual psychotherapy and nutrition counselling. However, this good work can be undone if patients go back to an unsupportive or even harmful living environment. One way around this could be through the use of supported housing which is already used to help people with schizophrenia and drug addiction. Supported housing aims to settle people back into the community and help them to lead fulfilling and satisfying lives. People in supported housing often receive counselling to improve their problem-solving skills, support groups and transport to appointments. Researchers from the University of Rochester compared 16 women receiving day-hospital treatment and living in supported housing to 19 women who were just receiving day-hospital treatment. After allowing for age, how long the women had had their eating disorder and how long they had been in hospital the women in supported housing were found to show 'numerous improvements' compared to the other women.

Tantillo, Mary ... [et al] - Combining supported housing and partial hospitalization to improve eating disorder symptoms, perceived health status, and health related quality of life for women with eating disorders Eating Disorders October-December 2009, 17(5), 385-399

Motivational interviewing gets thumbs up from researchers

Motivational interviewing aims to help people explore and deal with their mixed feelings about changing their behaviour and to increase their motivation to make positive changes. It has become increasingly popular over the last decade and is used in psychotherapy, medicine, treating addictions and public health. Brad Lundahl from the University of Utah and Brian L. Burke from Fort Lewis College reviewed a number of studies into the effectiveness of motivational interviewing and found that it was significantly better than not treating people at all and as effective as other methods of treatment at helping people overcome drug problems and reduce risky behaviour. Group motivational interviewing was found to be less effective than one-to-one interviewing.

Lundahl, Brad and Burke, Brian L. - The effectiveness and applicability of motivational interviewing: a practice-friendly review of four meta-analyses Journal of Clinical Psychology November 2009, 65(11), 1232-1245

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The sleep surveyors

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been conducting a huge survey of people's sleep. 403,981 people took part in the survey across all 50 states. Nearly 70% of people said that they had on bad night's sleep a month. Black people (13%) were most likely to say they never got enough sleep. 12% of women and 10% of men complained of an ongoing lack of sleep. West Virginia was the most sleep-deprived state with 19% of people being poor sleepers while North Dakota had the best sleepers with only 7% being affected.

You can find out more about this research at

Why some people get PTSD and others don't

It is thought that between 40-70% of Americans have experienced traumatic events yet only about 8% go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the course of their lifetimes. Researchers from Yale University studied 1,252 people aged from 17 to 79 who had experienced adversity in their childhood and/or as an adult. People who had experienced adverse events in both adulthood and childhood were much more likely (29%) to develop PTSD than people who had 'only' experienced adversity in one part of their life (9.9%). A gene called 5-HTTLPR was also found to influence whether people developed PTSD or not but it was only found to increase in people who had had a double dose (in childhood and as an adult) of trauma.

You can find out more about this research at

Mapping out emotions in York

Researchers at the University of York have a £1.1 million scanner to play with which can map the magnetic fields made by electrical activity in the brain. They tested 19 people to measure how the brain responded to expressions of emotion, both facial and vocal. They found a strong response from a part of the brain called the posterior superior temporal sulcus. This part of the brain responded to both facial and vocal stimuli although it was previously only thought to respond to facial cues.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression treatment benefits long lasting for teenagers

Scientists often follow people who take part in research studies to see how they are getting on later. Researchers from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina did exactly this with 327 depressed teenagers who had taken part in a 36-week study into methods of treating depression. The follow-up found that even a year after the end of active treatment the teenagers still felt benefits in terms of lower levels of depression and suicidal thoughts.

Never judge a book by its cover - but if you do you might be right

Despite advice to 'never judge a book by its cover' people often judge by first impressions, whether it is a profile picture on a social-networking site or at a job interview. Now new research by psychologists at the University of Texas suggests that these judgements can be surprisingly accurate. The psychologists showed the participants in the study photographs of 123 subjects they had never met before. Some of the photographs were in a controlled, 'neutral' pose and others were more natural. The accuracy of the participants' judgements were compared to the self-assessments of the subjects and assesments of the subjects by their three closest friends. Even in the neutral pose the participants could accurately judge some major personality traits including extraversion and self esteem, although most traits were hard to judge from these photographs. However, when the participants saw the natural photographs their judgements were accurate for nine out of the ten personality traits they were asked about. Extraverts smiled more, stood in energetic and less tense ways and looked healthy, neat and stylish. People who were more open to experience were less likely to look healthy and neat but were more likely to have a distinctive style of dress. Men who had a neat and tidy appearance were seen as more conscientious.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Early retirement and better sleep

Sadly, for most people nowadays - barring lottery wins - early retirement is just a distant pipe dream. However, for those people lucky enough to be able to take it it could bring a dramatic improvement in sleep quality. Researchers from the University of Turku in Finland studied 14,714 employees of the French national gas and electricity company Electricite de France-Gaz de France who retired at an average age of 55. All of the participants had reported sleep disturbances at least once before and after their retirement. Overall the prevalence of sleep disturbance fell from 24.2% in the last year before retirement to 17.8% in the first year afterwards. The improvements in sleep were more marked in men, managers, those with demanding jobs and people who worked night shifts. Sleep disturbance got worse as people aged but although it rose again after the first year of retirement it did not reach the levels of people in their last year of work.

You can find out more about this research at

Study backs U.K. government's talk-therapy initiative

The U.K. government has been trying to help more people with mental-health problems with its Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. Researchers from Exeter University looked at the effectiveness of the programme in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. They studied 2,017 people who had been treated for depression and anxiety. By the end of their treatment 76% of depression sufferers were either in recovery or remission and 74% of anxiety sufferers were. For all patients (including those who dropped out of treatment) the figures were 61% and 62% respectively. The average length of treatment was short (2hrs 45 mins) and most patients received low-intensity cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), the majority of which was carried out over the telephone.

You can find out more about this research at

Defining words and diagnosing dementia

Researchers devote a lot of time to diagnosing dementia as quickly as possible as the earlier the condition is diagnosed the more effectively it can be treated. Over 20 years doctors from Oxford have been studying a group of 241 healthy elderly volunteers giving them regular tests designed to measure their thinking or cognitive powers. Looking back over the tests the doctors found that those participants who went on to develop mild cognitive impairment - often seen as a precursor of Alzheimer's - stumbled on tasks involving language expression, learning and recall. They had greater difficulty remembering the names of common objects or animals and explaining the meanings of words and those who were older and scored lower on the language and memory tests tended to deteriorate more quickly.

You can find out more about this research at

TV, toddlers and aggression

Very young children who watch too much television are more likely to behave aggressively. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children below the age of two but this is more honoured in the breach than the observance. Researchers from the University of Albany in New York studied information from 3,128 mothers whose children had been born between 1998 and 2000. About two-thirds of the mothers said that their three-year-old child watched more than two hours of television a day. Direct child TV exposure and household TV use were both significantly associated with childhood aggression after allowing for other factors such as parent, family, neighbourhood and demographic characteristics.

You can find out more about this research at

Deep-brain stimulation offers hope for severely depressed

A small-scale study of ten patients by researchers at the University Clinics of Bonn and Cologne has shown some promising results for the use of deep-brain stimulation (DBS) for people with severe depression. The participants in the study had all suffered from severe depression for a number of years and had not been helped by drugs or psychotherapy. The DBS involved using an electric current to stimulate a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens - an important part of the brain's reward system involved in remembering and anticipating good experiences. People with depression often remember only bad things from the past and see little hope for the future so it was hoped that stimulating these parts of the brain would help to overcome this. Five of the participants' well-being improved significantly over a sustained period and even after a year the stimulation of the nucleus accumbens was still as effective. Anxiety also improved, overall brain function was not affected and there were only minor side effects of the treatment but a lot more work needs to be done before DBS can become an established treatment.

You can find out more about this research at

Danger: rose-coloured spectacles can blur your vision

Being in a bad mood could help people see the world more clearly. Researchers from the University of New South Wales induced happy and sad moods in participants by showing them films or asking them to remember positive or negative events. The participants then took part in a series of psychological tests and tasks allowing the researchers to compare people in a bad mood with more cheerful participants. Those participants in a bad mood were less gullible, less likely to make snap decisions based on racial and religious prejudices, less likely to make mistakes when asked to recall an event that they had witnessed and better at stating their case using written arguments.

You can read more about this research at

Smoking mums and bad behaviour

Mothers who smoke are more likely to have children who behave badly. Researchers from the universities of York, Hull and Illinois studied more than 14,000 pairs of mothers and children taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study which involves children in the U.K. born between 2000 and 2001. The mothers were asked about their smoking during their pregnancy and about their three-year-old child's behaviour. The study took into account factors such as the mother's age, her level of education and socioeconomic status, family stability and problematic parenting but still found that light smokers were 44% more likely to have badly-behaved boys and heavy smokers 80% more likely. Both heavy and light smokers were also significantly more likely to have boys who were hyperactive or who had attention-deficit disorders. In girls light and heavy smoking in pregnancy were linked to bad behaviour but not hyperactivity or attention problems.

You can find out more about this research at