Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Meta-cognitive therapy and ADHD

Meta-cognitive therapy (MCT) uses cognitive-behavioural principles and methods to teach skills and strategies in time management, organisation and planning. A study by Mary Solanto from the Mount Sinai Medical Center looked into how effective MCT might be in treating adults with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). 88 adults with ADHD were randomly assigned to have MCT or to take part in a support group. After 12 weeks the MCT group was significantly more improved.
A synthetic hormone used to treat people with osteoporosis could also help some people with schizophrenia. Researchers from Monash University in Australia compared the effectiveness of the synthetic oestrogen raloxifene to a placebo. In a small-scale study involving post-menopausal women the drug was found to have a significantly greater impact on psychosis symptoms than a placebo and to enhance people's memory and learning capacity. The type of oestrogen used in the study does not have the side effects on breast, uterus and ovarian tissue associated with other forms of oestrogen.

You can find out more about this research at

Massage and depression

Researchers from I-Shou university in Taiwan have been reviewing studies into the effectiveness of massage in treating depression. They looked at 17 studies, covering a total of 786 people. In 13 of the studies massage was compared to another treatment such as Chinese herbs, relaxation or rest while in the other four studies massage was compared to not being treated at all. Overall the studies found that massage had 'potentially significant' effects in alleviating the symptoms of depression. This could be because of the relaxing effects of the massage, the bond built up between a masseur and their client or massage causing the body to release the 'trust' hormone oxytocin.

Speedy marking, higher grades

Marking students' work more quickly might actually improve their grades. Researchers from the University of Alberta studied students giving a four-minute presentation to their classmates. The students were told when they would receive their marks and asked to predict their grades. The students who were told they would receive their marks earlier performed better but actually predicted their grades would be worse, suggesting that it was the fear factor of getting quick feedback that lay behind the improvement in marks.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Teletherapy for PTSD

Although teletherapy can seem impersonal it does have a number of advantages. It is cheaper and is more suitable for people who find it hard to get into hospital, either for psychological or geographical reasons. Stephane Guay, from the University of Montreal, studied people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) who had either between 16 and 25 sessions with a therapist via a teleconference, or face-to-face therapy. Both groups saw a significant decrease in their post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety symptoms and 75-80% overcame their PTSD; there was no difference in effectiveness between the two groups. However, the telemedicine participants were still treated in hospital as their treatment involved exposure to stress and it was felt to be important that someone was with them in case they reacted badly to it.

Genes and autism

Anthony Monaco from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University and a team of international researchers have been looking into the links between genes and autism in a study of 661 families in the U.K., the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. The team looked at four genes they thought might be linked to autism and found that two - LRRN3 and LRRTM3 - were significantly associated with susceptibility to autism. LRRN3 is thought to play a role in the development and maintenance of the nervous system while LRRTM3 is thought to be involved in organising the connections between brain cells.

You can find out more about this research at

Loneliness, misery and the web

In the context of human history the Internet is still a relatively recent development and no-one is quite sure of its psychological consequences. Irena Stepanikova from the University of South Carolina studied over 13,000 people asking them about their Internet use, loneliness and life satisfaction. Some took part in 2004, others took part in 2005 and 754 people participated in both years. The study found participants who reported spending more time browsing the web also tended to report being lonelier and less satisfied with life. Time spent instant messaging, in chat rooms and newsgroups, and in emailing was also linked with more loneliness. Among the people who took part in 2004 and 2005 increased web browsing was associated with increased loneliness and decreased life satisfaction. But it is unclear whether web use increases loneliness and unhappiness, loneliness and unhappiness lead to increased web use or whether there is a third factor that lies behind all three.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Family therapy and upset tummies

Functional abdominal pain - which has no physical cause - is a common problem in children. Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle looked into the effectiveness of family therapy in treating unexplained stomach pain in a study of 200 pairs of parents and children. The children's ages ranged from seven to 17 and half were assigned to a social learning/cognitive behaviour therapy group while the other half were given educational materials. Both groups showed improvement but the family therapy group showed a greater reduction in pain severity. The children in the therapy group also showed greater increases in their ability to distract themselves and ignore their pain and their parents also responded in a more appropriate manner. Previous research has shown that responding in a concerned and fearful way to a child's stomach pains can actually make the problem worse.

You can find out more about this research at

Stress, TV and obesity make unholy trinity for under-pressure workers

Stress, low levels of physical activity and obesity make up an unholy trinity in under-pressure workers. Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center studied 2,782 employees at a large factory in upstate New York. The researchers found that after stressful days workers went home and vegetated in front of the television and the more they watched TV the fatter they became. Those employees who watched four or more hours of TV a day were 150% more likely to be obese than those who watched two hours or less. People who worked in the most stressful conditions had body-mass indices on average one point higher than those who worked in less stressful jobs and at times of redundancy the consumption of high-fat and high-calorie snacks from the vending machines increased.

You can find out more about this research at

Teenagers and risk taking

Confirming what most parents probably know already researchers from University College London have found that teenagers are more likely to take risks than children or adults. The researchers' study involved 86 boys and men aged between 9 and 35 who played a computer gambling game. The teenagers took the most risks with risk-taking behaviour reaching a peak at fourteen. The teenagers were able to appreciate the pros and cons of their behaviour but got more of a 'buzz' out of the risk itself than other age groups. The scientists hope the study can be applied to other forms of risk-taking such as drinking, smoking and taking drugs.

You can find out more about this research at

Loving mums keep boys out of trouble

Boys who have a closer relationship with their mothers are more likely to be better behaved as they get older. Researchers from Reading University reviewed 69 studies of children under 12 and found that boys who never have a close relationship with their mothers are more likely to be aggressive and suffer mental-health problems. Boys who are able to seek comfort from their mothers as children grow up to be calmer, more self-confident and more empathetic. The study also found that relationships between mothers and sons can break down from a young age if children are repeatedly dismissed when trying to turn to their parents for help.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Calling all Twitterers

For those of you who use Twitter Carolyn Friedman and the team at the Radiography Schools website have compiled a list of the top 100 Twitter feeds to keep up to date with the latest heath news. You can find the list at

There is also now a Twitter account for the Mental Health Update blog which you can find at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Heavy drinkers, unhealthy lifestyles

People who drink more than is good for them are also unhealthy in lots of other ways. Researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research studied 7,884 people. They defined risky drinkers as those who on average drank more than three drinks a day, women or men who drank more than four or five drinks respectively at a sitting and people who were identified as at-risk drinkers using a commonly-used screening test. They found that risky drinkers were also more likely to smoke, less likely to use their seatbelts and eat healthily and less likely to see their doctors regularly. However, people who drank moderately - one to three drinks a day - were healthier than teetotallers, former drinkers, light drinkers (less than one drink a day) and heavier drinkers.

You can find out more about this research at

Exercise programme helps new mums

An exercise and health-education programme can help new mums to feel happier and reduce their risk of postnatal depression. Researchers from the University of Melbourne studied 161 new mums. 62 of them did an hour of exercise with their babies - led by a physical therapist - followed by half an hour of parenting education once a week. 73 of the women received educational materials but did not take part in the classes and 26 received neither. There was a significant improvement in wellbeing scores and depressive symptoms in the women taking part in the exercise classes compared to the other two groups and the improvement continued four weeks after the completion of the programme. The number of women identified as at risk for potential depression before the classes started was reduced by 50% after the intervention.

You can find out more about this research at

Down the slippery slope of Alzheimer's

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a stage which can sometimes - although not always - lead on to Alzheimer's disease. A study of 1,158 people by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has found that people with MCI often go downhill quickly. The average age of the participants in the study was 79. 149 of them had Alzheimer's disease, 395 had MCI and 614 had no thinking or memory problems. The participants took regular tests of their memory and thinking skills. The thinking skills of people with MCI declined twice as fast, per year, as those who had no cognitive problems while the skills of those with Alzheimer's disease declined four times as fast.

You can find out more about this research at

Motherhood and suicide

In 1897 Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of sociology, put forward the idea that being a parent makes people less likely to kill themselves. Because of the relatively-low numbers of suicides it has been quite hard to test this theory but a team of researchers led by Dr Chun-Yuh Yang from Kaoshiung Medical University looked at data on 1,292,462 women over a 20-year period. They found that mothers were less likely to kill themselves. Women who had two children were 39% less likely to take their lives than women with one and women with three children were 60% less likely. The researchers thought that having children raised mothers' happiness and self-esteem and that mothers tended to have more supportive social networks. Another reason, of course, could be that the responsibility of looking after children makes it very difficult for mothers to end their lives.

You can find out more about this research at

New study sheds light on prescribing patterns

In the U.S. the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has been looking into the prescription of psychiatric drugs such as antipsychotics, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. The study used data from the 2005 National Disease and Therapeutic Index, a national sample of around 4,000 doctors carried out by IMS health. It found that antipsychotic drugs were only actually used for schizophrenia/psychosis just over a third (35%) of the time and were actually used more often (39%) to treat mood disorders. The drugs - which can have serious side effects - were also used to treat dementia (7.4%), anxiety (6%) and ADHD (6%). Antidepressants were mostly used to treat mood disorders (65%) but they were also used to treat anxiety (16%) and schizophrenia/psychosis (2.6%). 28% of prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs were used for non-psychiatric problems including anxiety related to medical treatment (6%), allergic reactions (4%) and back problems (2.5%).

You can find out more about this study at

Comorbidity - drug abuse and mental illness. Guest post by Susan White

There’s a reason why the human brain is deemed the nerve centre of life, because without it functioning as well as it should, it’s better we are dead than alive. This point was brought home to me stronger than ever before a few weeks ago when an old woman who lived in the same condo complex as I was found unconscious in the toilet of her home. She had apparently been in there for more than three days and emergency personnel had to break down her door and evacuate her to a hospital where she is still in a coma.
The poor woman, in her late 50s to early 60s, was mentally ill. I’ve seen her now and then – she would manage to take care of herself, but she seemed to be all alone. It was only after her tragic accident that I came to know a few more facts about her life – she was a well-known doctor who apparently began to abuse drugs after her only son broke off all ties with her. She lost the ability to think clearly because of the drugs and depression, and with each feeding off the other in a vicious cycle, she lost her mind completely.
Mental illness has long been linked to drug abuse, and combined with loneliness, it forms a potent combination that could bring even the strongest of people down. Comorbidity, or the existence of two or more medical conditions or disorders occurring simultaneously in the same person, is never more obvious as in the combination of drug abuse and mental illness. The drug abuse leads to mental illness or vice versa, or a set of genetic and other factors bring on both mental illness and a tendency to abuse drugs.
The most significant factors that affect comorbid drug abuse and mental disorders are:
· Personal trauma: People who suffer unexpected and sudden trauma are often unable to cope with the stress and resort to using drugs as a way to relieve their depression. Their addiction and loneliness leads to further depression and an increased dependence on the drugs.
· Adolescence: When teens and pre-teens experiment with drugs, it affects their brains more significantly than when adults do it. This is because the brain is still undergoing developmental changes and when it is affected by drugs at this stage, it could lead to mental illness later on in life.
· Genetic factors: Some people are more predisposed to mental illness if their immediate family members have suffered it and if they are substance abusers, or vice versa.
The presence of both mental illness and substance abuse symptoms in a patient can cause confusion when they’re to be treated. Unless they’re in the hands of competent medical personnel who know how to identify the symptoms of each and treat them accordingly, the reactions to illegal drugs could be taken as symptoms of mental illness and vice versa.

This article is contributed by Susan White, who regularly writes on the subject of Radiology Technician Schools in Texas. She invites your questions, comments at her email address:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Researchers and brain waves

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have been using electroencephalography (EEGs) to measure people's brain waves as they meditate. They found that during meditation theta waves were most abundant in the frontal and middle parts of the brain indicating a state of deep relaxation. Alpha waves - characteristic of wakeful rest - were more abundant at the back of the brain. There were fewer beta waves which are associated with conscious attention and problem solving.

You can find out more about this research at

Self-harm: it's in the blood

Catherine Glenn and David Klonsky from the University of British Columbia have been looking into the role of blood in people's experience of self-harm. They studied 64 undergraduate students who cut themselves. The participants had an average age of 19 and 82% of them were girls. Just over half of them said it was important to see blood when they self-harmed saying that it helped them to relieve tension and induce calmness. Other explanations were that 'it makes me feel real,' and shows that 'I did it right/deep enough.' The group who said that seeing blood was important had cut themselves more than seven times as often and were more likely to say that they self-harmed as a way of regulating their own emotions. They also reported more symptoms consistent with bulimia and borderline personality disorder.

You can find out more about this research at

Ambition, expectation and depression

Between 1976 and 2000 the gap between the number of high school seniors (Year 13) students who expected to get a degree and those who actually did so more than doubled. This gap between youngsters' expectations and their actual achievements has been labelled 'ambition inflation' but is the disappointment it can bring bad for people's mental health? Professor John R. Reynolds from Florida State University - who did the original research into ambition inflation - studied 4,300 people. He assessed whether they had met their educational expectations and compared this with their levels of depression. They found that there was little difference between those who had, and had not, met their expectations. Lower educational achievement was associated with an increased risk of depression but there was no difference between those who aimed high and were disappointed and those with low expectations.

You can find out more about this research at

Sleep, spliffs and social networks

Recent studies have found that obesity, smoking and altruism can all spread through social networks, affecting not just our friends but their friends too. Now researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Harvard University have found that poor sleep and drug use can also spread through social networks. They studied 8,349 adolescents between year 7 and year 12 and found clusters of poor sleep and cannabis (marijuana) use that extended up to four degrees of separation within social networks. The researchers also found that it was the poor sleep that led on to cannabis use not vice versa.

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ningdong granule and Tourette's syndrome

Ningdong granule is a prescription used in traditional Chinese medicine. Researchers from Shandong University in China looked at its effectiveness in treating Tourette's syndrome. 64 children between seven and 18 were divided into two groups. One group took the granules while another group took a placebo. After eight weeks the participants taking the ningdong granule showed a 41.39% reduction in their total tic score while the placebo group showed only a 10.79% decrease. There were few side effects to the ningdong granules with one participant reporting loss of appetite and one constipation.

Zhao, L. ... [et al] - Traditional Chinese medicine ningdong granule: the beneficial effects in Tourette's disease The Journal of International Medical Research January/February 2010, 38(1), 169-175

TMS and hearing voices - study shows disappointing results

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) involves the use of strong, fluctuating magnetic fields to stimulate the surface layers of the brain's cortex. Some studies have shown TMS to be effective in treating auditory hallucinations but a study by researchers at the University of New South Wales has had disappointing results. Eighteen people with schizophrenia had either genuine TMS or a sham treatment for three days. The study found no difference in people's hallucinations between the group who received the genuine TMS treatment and the group who had the sham treatment.

Loo, C.K. ... [et al] - A sham-controlled trial of left and right temporal rTMS for the treatment of auditory hallucinations Psychological Medicine April 2010, 40(4), 541-546

IQ and mental-health problems

Long-term, or longitudinal, studies allow researchers to look back in time to see what factors early in people's lives are associated with them developing mental-health problems later. People who develop schizophrenia later in life tend to have lower IQs when they are younger and a team of researchers led by Annick Urfer-Parnas at Hvidovre Hospital in Denmark looked to see whether the same was true for other mental-health problems. People in Denmark take an IQ test when they are conscripted into the military at 18 and, in a sample of 28,017 people the IQ scores of the 7,486 people who went on to be hospitalised with a mental illness were compared to those of the 20,531 people who didn't. The study found that the people who went on to develop mental-health problems had significantly lower IQs than those who did not. The people with affective disorders had the highest IQ at 18 and those with personality disorders the lowest. For each mental-health problem a lower IQ was associated with an increased risk of becoming a patient.

Urfer-Parnas, A. ... [et al] - Pre-morbid IQ in mental disorders: a Danish draft-board study of 7,486 psychiatric patients Psychological Medicine April 2010, 40(4), 547-556

Dementia care is poor relation

The Alzheimer's Trust has produced a major new report into the impact of, and funding for, dementia. The report estimates the number of people with dementia in the U.K. at 821,884 and found that dementia costs the U.K. economy around £23bn a year. This compares with £12bn for cancer, £8bn for heart disease and £5bn for stroke. However, dementia is the poor relation as far as research funding goes. For every £1m in costs of the condition dementia research receives £4,882, compared to £129,269 for cancer, £73,153 for heart disease and £8,745 for stroke.

You can download a copy of the report at

Mixed reviews on UK's drug strategy

In the U.K. the National Audit Office has produced a report into the Government's £1.2 bn anti-drug strategy. It conludes that every £1 spent has brought £2.50 worth of benefit. Between 2004-5 and 2008-9 the number of adults in effective treatment rose from 134,000 to 195,000 and the number of problem drug users completing their treatment free from dependency rose from 6,000 to 15,000. However, of the 12,500 people who entered a programme aimed at getting drug users back into work early only 8% kept a job for 13 weeks or more. The report also criticised the lack of a framework for evaluating the success of the strategy saying that this made it difficult to accurately assess its success.

You can download a copy of the National Audit Office report at

The low down on mephedrone in Middlesbrough

UK drug charity Lifeline has been carrying out research in Middlesbrough into the use of mephedrone. The research involved focus groups of mephedrone users most of whom regarded the drug as superior to cocaine and ecstasy. Just over half of the users bought it over the Internet with the rest buying it in nightclubs. The drug was regarded as a stimulant and a hallucinogen and the majority of users mixed it with alcohol or cannabis to heighten its effects or ease the comedown. Most users swallowed the drug as snorting it can lead to painful nose burns. Few side effects were reported by the users although these included erratic heart beats, dry mouth and shrunken genitals.

You can download a copy of the Lifeline report at

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sororities and body image

Sororities are female societies in U.S. universities. They can provide students with opportunities for personal growth and enrichment but have also been criticised for leading their members to focus excessively on their appearance. Ashley Rolnik from Northwestern University in Illinois studied 127 first-year college students. Half went through the 'rush' process of sorority recruitment while the other half did not take part. Before the rush, a few days into it, on 'bid day' and one month after rush the students filled out questionnaires about their body image and eating behaviour. The students taking part in the rush process had higher levels of self-objectification - judging their bodies from an outsider's perspective - and more disordered eating behaviours than those who did not take part. A month after rush new sorority members also had higher levels of body shame. Women with higher - though still healthy - body weights were more likely to drop out of the rush process and feel dissatisfied with it.

You can find out more about this research at

Why dim lighting brings out the dark side in people

Young children often think no-one can see them when they shut their eyes and new research from the University of Toronto suggests that adults are also more inclined to believe they can get away with things when the lights are low. The researchers got students to take a maths test and then fill out an anonymous form saying how many questions they had got right. The more answers they got right the more money they received as a prize, up to a maximum of $12. Half of the students took the test in a dimly-lit room and half took the test in a brightly-lit room; the forms were coded so that the researchers knew who had taken it in which conditions. 60.5% of the participants in the dimly-lit room exaggerated their performance, whereas only 24.4% of the participants in the brightly-lit room did. A separate study found that students playing a game while wearing sunglasses were less inclined to share money even though the game was being played via a computer and the other players were in different rooms.

You can find out more about this research at

Memories: conscious and unconscious

There are two different ways of remembering things. One is by a deliberate effort of conscious recall while the other can occur involuntarily through the associations produced by sound, smell or bodily sensations. Kristiina Kompus from Umea University in Sweden has been using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencaphalography (EEG) to look into the differences between these two types of memory. Conscious recollection was found to involve the upper part of the frontal lobe, whereas unconscious recollection originated in the part of the brain which normally dealt with the sensations that triggered off people's memories. Kompus found that memories did not have to be particularly strong to be activated in this way and that memories recollected spontaneously did not activate the brain more than those recollected deliberately.

You can find out more about this research at

Mothers, attachment and insecurity

Attachment theory stresses the importance of the bonds a child forms with its mother during infancy - something seen as increasingly important by psychologists. Jude Cassidy from the University of Maryland traced 26 adults in Pittsburgh whose mothers had taken part in a study 40 years earlier. The mothers were asked to rate their one-month old babies on factors such as crying, spitting, sleeping, feeding and predictability and then do the same for the 'average baby.' Twelve of the participants had been rated more negatively than the average baby by their mothers and three quarters of them were classified as 'insecurely attached' in adulthood after being interviewed by the researchers. Of the 14 babies who had been positively perceived by their mothers only two were classified as 'insecurely attached.' Insecure attachment can lead to ongoing problems forming healthy emotional attachments to other people.

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, March 12, 2010

New tests boost early detection of Alzheimer's

Early detection of Alzheimer's disease is considered to be crucial in treating it more effectively and researchers from the University of Tennessee have developed a computerised test which is more than 95% effective in detecting cognitive abnormalities associated with the disease. The computerised self-test had a 96% accuracy rate, compared to accuracy rates of 71% and 69% for the tests that are currently available.

You can find out more about this research at

Want to find out about children's drug use? Look in the cleaning cupboard

When parents worry about their children's drug use they often think about cocaine, cannabis or ecstasy. However, new figures from the U.S. Government suggest that they should be looking closer to home. The Department of Health and Human Services found that more 12-year-olds have used an inhalant to get high than had used marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens combined. 7% of 12-year-olds have used an inhalant to get high, compared to about 5% who had abused prescription drugs, 1.4% who had used marijuana and less than 1% who had used cocaine or hallucinogens. Common household products like petrol (gasoline), nail polish, bleach, paint solvents and cleaning spray can all be inhaled to get high and although the number of children abusing inhalants is not going up there is concern that children now see it as less risky which might lead to an increased rate in the future.

You can find out more about the problems of inhalant use at

Middle-aged women remember more than men

Middle-aged women have better memories than men of the same age. Matthew Brown and Brian Dodgeon from the University of London tested over 9,600 men and women as part of the long-term National Child Development Study. Participants were asked to remember ten words and then recall them once after two minutes and again after five. On average the women scored 5% more than the men on the first test and 8% more on the second. Apart from being a woman, not smoking and taking exercise were also found to boost people's scores.

Royal College calls for ban on self-harm websites

In the U.K. the Royal College of Psychiatrists has called for a ban on web sites which promote self-harm in teenagers. The latest figures show that 2,727 people under 25 were admitted to hospital after deliberately harming themselves with a sharp object, up from 1,758 in 2004/5. One in ten people are thought to engage in self-harm at some point in their lives and Britain has one of the highest rates in Europe.

You can find out more about this story at

50 best family health blogs

Online FNP is a web site aimed at people wanting to do an online course to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. They run a blog themselves and have compiled a list of the top 50 family health blogs which you can find at

The list includes blogs on general family health and lifestyle, nutrition, fitness, mental health, natural/organic living and blogs aimed at men, women, teenagers and children.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Depression, diabetes and dementia - the unholy trinity of ageing

A study led by Dr Wayne Katon from the University of Washington has been looking into the unholy trinity of diabetes, depression and dementia. Diabetes and major depression have both been found to be risk factors for dementia. Diabetes increases the risk of dementia by between 40 and 100% while a history of depression more than doubles the subsequent risk of Alzheimer's disease. Depression is also more common in people with diabetes and the study looked into the effects of depression and diabetes together on the risk of developing dementia. The study looked at 3,837 people with diabetes of whom 455 had major depression. 7.9% of people with diabetes and depression developed dementia over the course of the five-year study compared to only 4.8% of those with diabetes alone. The researchers calculated that major depression and diabetes had a 2.7x greater risk of dementia than diabetes alone.

You can find out more about this research at

Wife-batterers' warped perceptions

People who drink too much, have an eating disorder or who take drugs often think that their behaviour is more common than it really is. Initiatives aimed at tackling drinking in college have tried to point out that most students drink much less than their peers think they do - and these intiatives can change drinking behaviour. Researchers from the University of Washington interviewed 124 wife-batterers enrolled on a treatment programme to see if they too overestimated how common their behaviour was. They were asked how prevalent they thought various different types of abusive behaviour were and their answers were compared with the actual frequency of such abuse. The participants overestimated how frequent this behaviour was; they thought that 27.6% of men had thrown things at their partner when 'only' 11.9% have done this in reality and they also overestimated the frequency of marital rape - 23.6% vs 7.9%. However, it is not clear whether the men's overestimation of the frequency of this behaviour made them more likely to commit it, or whether the fact that they abused women led them to think that maltreating them was more common than it really is.

You can find out more about this research at

Why square eyes spell trouble for young boys

There has been a lot of debate about the effects of video games on children. Researchers from Denison University in Ohio looked into this issue a bit further in a study of six-nine year-old boys. They gave half of them a video-game system at the start of the study and the other half a system four months later. The children's intelligence, reading and writing abilities and behaviour were assessed at the beginning and end of the study and over the course of the study the parents recorded their children's activities from the end of the school day until bedtime. The boys who got the video games spent less time doing schoolwork and more time playing computer games and had significantly lower reading and writing scores four months later. Although the parents reported no differences in behaviour between the two groups the teachers said that the boys with the video games had more learning problems.

You can find out more about this research at

Badly-behaved children more at risk of pain in middle-age

Badly-behaved children are more likely to have chronic widespread pain (CWP) when they reach middle age. A team of researchers led by Dr Dong Pang from Aberdeen University carried out a long-term study of 19,478 people. When they were 7,11 an 16 parents and teachers, working independently, assessed their behaviour including restlessness, worrying, solitariness, ability to make friends, obedience, stealing, lying and bullying. At 42 the participants completed a questionnaire asking them about psychological distress in their adult life and at 45 they completed another one about pain. 12.9% of the women and 11.7% of men suffered from CWP at 45 but those people who had had severe and persistent behaviour problems at 7,11 and 16 were at double the risk of having CWP later. Bad behaviour in childhoood is also asssociated with adult mental-health problems such as depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance abuse.

You can find out more about this research at

Why staying at home and listening to a CD might be the best way of dealing with stress

Listening to relaxing music could be just as good for relieving stress as an expensive massage or thermotherapy. Scientists from the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle divided 68 people suffering from anxiety into three groups. One group had massage, one group had thermotherapy - where hot pads and towels are wrapped around people's arms and legs to reduce muscle tension - and a third group lay in a dimly-lit room listening to relaxing music. After ten sessions all three groups reported a decline in their anxiety of about 40% with a 50% decline three months later. However, the massage and thermotherapy sessions can cost up to £90 an hour.

You can find out more about this story at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

School playgrounds - red in tooth and claw

School playgrounds can often make the court of the Borgias seem like a vicarage tea party and clinical psychologist Rhiarne Pronk from Griffith University has been carrying out an 'in-depth' study of 'relational aggression' in a sample of 33 11-13 year-olds. She found that both boys and girls had personal experiences of unpredictable friendships, social exclusion, rumour and gossip. In the girls this took place in close friendship groups and involved dirty looks, being ignored or excluded and going behind other people's backs whereas in the boys it was more likely to happen in larger groups, be more direct and involve exclusion from games and sporting teams. Lack of social appeal and emotional reactiveness made children more likely to be victims but being too popular or talented could also lead to children being victimized.

You can find out more about the playground jungle at

Pay it Forward works in real life

In the film Pay it Forward people do good deeds for other people, who in turn do favours for others and this spreads throughout a whole network of people. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Harvard tested this theory out in a series of experiments in which people had the opportunity to cooperate or do each other down as part of a game. The participants in the study were all strangers and never played twice with the same person. The study found that - just as in the film - those who received money in the first game were more likely to give money away in subsequent games even though they were playing with completely different people. Uncooperative behaviour also spread in this way but no more quickly or powerfully than acts of generosity.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

How does autism affect the rest of the family?

Researchers from the University of Oregon have been looking at how autism affects the families of children who have the condition. They studied 20 families which had a toddler with autism and an older child aged between six and ten who was developing normally and compared them with 23 families with no autistic child. The study found that the older siblings of children with autism were mostly well-adjusted but slightly more likely to develop very mild forms of ADHD with symptoms of fidgeting, movement and attention problems. Not surprisingly the mothers of the children with autism were more likely to suffer from depression than the mothers with unaffected children.

You can find out more about this research at

Naltrexone and dual diagnosis

Naltrexone is often used to treat drug addicts and alcoholics. People with schizophrenia often have problems with drug use as well and Ileana Berman from Harvard Medical School led a small-scale study of 37 people to see whether naltrexone could help in treating people with schizophrenia. Over six months half of the study participants were given naltrexone and half were given a placebo. The study found that the participants taking naltrexone actually did worse than those on a placebo suggesting that antipsychotic drugs, psychotherapy and social support are still the best treatment for people with schizophrenia.

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SSRIs and cataracts

A study of more than 200,000 people in Quebec by researchers at the University of British Columbia has found that there is a statistical - though not necessarily a cause and effect - relationship between the use of SSRI (serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants and the development of cataracts. The study found that people taking SSRIs were 15% more likely to be diagnosed with cataracts or to have had cataract surgery. The drug fluvoxamine was associated with a 51% higher risk while venlafaxine carried a 34% higher risk but there was no connection between fluoxetine, citalopram and sertraline and an increased chance of cataract surgery. But the study did not take into account the effects of smoking which is more common among depressed people and can cause cataracts. It is also important to remember that depression can be a very serious condition while cataracts are fairly easily treated.

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7/7 survivors fail to get treatment

On July the 7th, 2005 Islamic militants killed 52 people and injured 700 in a series of bomb attacks in London. Researchers from University College London have been tracing people caught up in the attacks. They found that while a third of them were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder only 4% had been referred for specialist treatment by their GP. The study recommended that in future more people exposed to these kind of attacks are traced and offered treatment.

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My Mood Monitor checklist helps doctors with diagnosis

A simple one-page questionnaire could be an effective way of screening for mental-health problems in primary care. The My Mood Monitor checklist is made up of 27 questions and is designed to screen for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers from the University of North Carolina studied 647 adults who sought care at the university's Family Medicine Center between July 2007 and February 2008. The participants filled out a questionnaire at the time of their first visit and were then formally interviewed by mental-health professionals. The results showed that the checklist was effective in screening for mood and anxiety disorders 83% of the time and for a specific disorder in 76% of cases.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Educational DVDs for toddlers - are they a waste of money?

Toddlers who watch educational DVDs do not improve their vocabularies. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, studied 96 children between 12 and 24 months who were tested on measures of vocabulary and general development. Half of the children were then given an educational DVD to watch in their homes. After six weeks there was no evidence children learned the words specifically highlighted in the DVDs and watching the DVDs was unrelated to measures of general language learning. The children whose parents reported that they begun watching infant DVDs at an early age actually scored lower on a test of vocabulary knowledge. The researchers thought this might be either because parent bought the DVDs for children who were already falling behind or that the parents who bought the DVDs spent less time talking to their children or that the DVDs themselves had a negative effect on children's learning.

Scopolamine might lift depression quicker

Conventional antidepressant treatment usually takes between three and four weeks to become effective so finding quicker-working drugs is of great interest both to clinicians and drug companies. The horse-anaesthetic and recreational drug ketamine has been found to lift mood quickly but researchers at the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. believe that they have found another drug that can act just as fast. Scopolamine temporarily blocks the muscarinic cholinergic receptor and was tested in a double-blind trial in which neither the researchers nor the participants knew whether those involved in the study were taking scopolamine or a placebo. Scopolamine was found to reduce symptoms of depression within three days and half of the participants experienced full symptom remission by the end of the treatment period. The effects of the scopolamine lasted for two weeks after people stopped taking it but there will need to be many more trials - including studies of scopolamine's side effects - before doctors can add scopolamine to their prescription pads as a new treatment for depression.

Why deeper is better as far as conversation goes

Deeper could be better as far as conversations go, according to research from the University of Arizona. They got volunteers to wear a recording device which picked up their conversations over four days. The researchers analysed the participants' conversations to see whether they were trivial small talk or weightier discussions and the volunteers also completed assessments of their personalities and levels of happiness. Greater wellbeing was related to spending less time alone and more time talking to others. The happiest participants spent 25% less time alone and 70% more time talking than the unhappiest. However, the kind of conversation was also important and the happiest participants had twice as many deep and meaningful conversations and one third as much small talk as the unhappiest.

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Rochester mentoring scheme boosts behaviour

Mentoring has been used in a number of schools to improve results and discipline. The Rochester (New York not Kent) Resilience Project pairs children with a mentor and gets them to learn and practice behavioural and cognitive skills designed to strengthen their ability to manage their emotions and "address specific goals to improve school adaptation." Children are taught how to monitor their own emotions and the emotions of others and to maintain control and regain equilibrium by taking a deep breath, stepping back from emotionally-intensive situations and using an imaginary umbrellas as protection from hurtful words. Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center studied 226 children ranging in age from nursery to Year 3 who were already showin signs of problem behaviour. Some of the children took part in the Rochester Resilience Project while others foremed a control group. The children who took part in the project showed less aggressive and disruptive behavior, concentrated better on tasks, had better social skills and were less shy and more assertive. Compared to the control group they had a 43 in % decrease symptom and 46% less mean "office disciplinary referral). Over the course of the intervention 1.8% of the children in the 'mentored' group were supended compared to 6.1% in the control group.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Deep-brain stimulation gets thumbs up for severe cases

Deep-brain stimulation involves implanting electrodes into patients' brains. The electrodes are connected to an impulse generator - usually implanted below the collarbone - and deliver continuous, high-frequency, short electrical impulses aimed at 'resetting' brain circuitry. Jens Kuhn, from the University of Cologne and Theo P.J. Gruender from the Max Planck Institute reviewed studies into the effectiveness of deep-brain stimulation published between 1980 and 2009. They found improvement rates of between 35-70% in treatment resistant OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), depression and Tourette's syndrome with a low rate of side effects.

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Early cannabis use and psychosis

The link between cannabis use and psychosis is a controversial topic and research into it has often generated more heat than light. The latest study comes from the University of Queensland and involved more than 3,800 21-year-olds. It found that those who had begun using cannabis very early (six or more years before they were 21) were three times more likely to suffer from psychiatric symptoms. Another study of 228 siblings carried out by the same researchers also found a link between early cannabis use and psychosis.

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More evidence supports a healthy mind in a healthy body

A healthy mind in a healthy body is a wise old saying and one that is increasingly being backed up by research. The latest piece of evidence to support it comes from a study of 725 children by researchers from West Virginia University. They assessed the children's fitness levels and body mass index in Year 5 and again in Year 7 and their academic performance in Year 7. They found that, on average children who were fit in both years performed best academically. The next best performance was among children who were unfit in Year 5 but had become fit by Year 7, then children who were unfit in Year 7 but had been fit in Year 5. The children who were unfit in both years performed worst of all.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

GABA and depression

Most mental-health medications aim to increase the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain, however, scientists are now looking more closely into the effects of another neurotransmitter - GABA. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) dampens down brain activity and imbalances in GABA are thought to be involved in some of the runaway thoughts characteristic of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety. An inability to stop negative thoughts is also thought to be one of the factors leading to depression and researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto looked into the links between levels of GABA and depression in a study of 85 people. 25 had treatment-resistant depression, 16 had major depression but were taking no medication, 19 had major depression but had been successfully treated and 25 formed a healthy control group. Only in the group who had been unaffected by depression did GABA work normally and the less responsive to medication people were the lower the levels of GABA in their brain were.

Long-term psychoanalysis for young adults - does it work?

Psychotherapy can help with a wide range of different mental-health problems. There is good evidence to support this but little research has been done into whether psychoanalytic psychotherapy is effective in treating young adults. A team of Swedish researchers, led by Annika Lindgren from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm looked into this issue in a study of 134 young adults who underwent long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy. The study found that on all the measures used people got significantly better from the time they started treatment to a follow-up check after they had finished. Interestingly a lower therapist-rated alliance - how well the therapist thought they and the patient were working together) was linked to a better outcome; perhaps because of the extra work therapists put in to improve a relationship they saw as less-than-satisfactory.

Lindgren, Annika, Werbart, Andrzej and Philips, Bjorn - Long-term outcome and post-treatment effects of psychoanalytic psychotherapy with young adults Psychology and psychotherapy: theory, practice and research March 2010, 83(1), 27-43

Obsessive thoughts in adolescence - why it's not just people with OCD

In both children and adults obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterised by the presence of recurrent obsessions or compulsions that are time consuming (over an hour a day) or cause mental distress or impairment. Common obsessions include fear of contamination, fear of harm to oneself or other people and urges related to asymmetry or exactness, and compulsions can include excessive washing and cleaning, checking, counting, repeating, touching, or straightening. Over the last 30 years a number of studies have shown that between 80-90% of the non-clinical population experience intrusive thoughts, images or impulses that are similar in content to clinical obsessions - the only difference being the levels of distress caused to people with OCD. Researchers from the University of Manchester studied 62 adolescents - aged between 12 and 14 - to see if the same was true of them. They found that 77% of the participants in the study reported obsessions and that the levels of distress experienced by the children were related to the significance they attached to their intrusive thoughts.

Crye, Jenny, Laskey, Ben and Cartwright-Hatton, Sam - Non-clinical obsessions in a young adolescent population: frequency and association with metacognitive variables Psychology and psychotherapy: theory, research and practice March 2010, 83(1), 15-26

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Eating disorders and PTSD

People with eating disorders often suffer with anxiety as well. 75% of people with an eating disorder have experienced at least one anxiety disorder during their lifetime with obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia being the most common. However, there has been little research done into whether people with eating disorders also suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany studied 101 eating-disorder patients. They found that 63.3% of those with anorexia and 57.7% of those with bulimia had experienced at least one trauma. 10% of those with anorexia and 14.1% of those with bulimia fulfilled the study definition for a current diagnosis of PTSD. The patients with an eating disorder and PTSD were more likely to report psychosomatic problems than those without PTSD.

Tagay, Sefik, Schlegl, Sandra and Senf, Wolfgang - Traumatic events, posttraumatic stress symptomatology and somatoform symptoms in eating disorder patients European Eating Disorders Review March-April 2010, 18(2), 124-132

COPP helps people cope with eating disorders

About 30% of patients do not respond to treatment for an eating disorder and between 30-42% of patients who do manage to put on weight have relapses later. After talking to people with long-term eating disorders clinicians in Canada developed the Community Outreach Partnership Programme (COPP) which does not directly concentrate on eating-disorder symptoms but aims to improve people's quality of life while living with an eating disorder, decrease anxiety and depression symptoms, increase people's independence and give them more hope for the future. A team of researchers led by Kim D. Williams from St Paul's hospital in Vancouver studied the effectiveness of COPP in a sample of 31 people with eating disorders. They found that the COPP programme led to significant reductions in 'global distress', hopelessness and eating disorder symptoms and an increase in the participants' BMIs.

Williams, Kim D., Dobney, Tracey and Geller, Josie - Setting the eating disorder aside: an alternative model of care European Eating Disorders Review March-April 2010, 18(2), 90-96

Monday, March 01, 2010

Why a siesta beats an all-nighter

Siestas could be better at boosting people's brain power than all nighters. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley studied 39 healthy young adults. At noon all the participants in the study took part in a rigorous learning task then at 2p.m. half of them had a 90-minute siesta. At six p.m. all the participants did another learning exercise. Those who stayed awake throughout the day became worse at learning while those who took a nap did a lot better and actually improved in their capacity to learn. The researchers found that the memory-improvement process took place in stage 2, non-REM sleep which occurs between deep sleep and REM - the phase of sleep in which we dream.

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Attachment, prenatal stress and cognitive development

Babies whose mothers were stressed when they were pregnant could end up with worse cognitive development than their peers. But any effects on cognitive development can be almost completely overcome by good parenting. A study led by Professor Thomas O'Connor from the University of Rochester Medical Centre measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 125 women as they underwent amniocentesis. When the children were 17 months old the researchers assessed the baby's cognitive development using puzzles, pretend play and memory tests. They also gauged the quality of the relationship between the mothers and their babies using a test in which children are briefly left alone and then reunited with their mothers. The study found that for children with an 'insecure' attachment to their mothers a high prenatal cortisol level was linked to shorter attention spans and weaker language and problem-solving skills. However, there was no link between prenatal cortisol levels and cognitive development in children who had a secure relationship with their mother.

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Diabetes, stress and cognitive decline

There has already been quite a bit of research linking diabetes to cognitive decline and a new study from researchers at Edinburgh suggests that stress can also play a part in this link. The researchers studied more than 900 men and women, aged between 60 and 75 with type-2 (adult-onset) diabetes. They tracked people's memories, information-processing abilities and general intelligence over time and found that those people with higher levels of a hormone called cortisol - known to be associated with stress - had declined more.

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