Thursday, September 30, 2010

Antidepressants and diabetes risk

Long-term use of antidepressants could be linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers from University College London studied more than 150,000 Finnish adults over an average of five years. 1.1% of the participants who were not using antidepressants were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the course of the study compared to 1.7% of people who had taken between 200-400 daily doses of an antidepressant and 2.3% among those who had taken 400 or more daily doses. This could be because people taking the antidepressants have the poor health and lifestyle that often go hand-in-hand with type 2 diabetes. However, when the researchers looked at the participants who were suffering from severe depression those taking antidepressants were two-three times more likely than non users to be diagnosed with diabetes, even when taking into account the effects of long-term health conditions, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.

Why are Indian children better behaved than White ones?

Previous research has shown that, on average, British Indian children are better behaved than White ones but no one knows why. A team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tried to get to the bottom of this in a study of 14,197 children aged between five and 16, 361 of whom were British Indian. The British Indian children had less behaviour problems although they were just as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Part, although not all, of the British Indian children's advantage was that they were more likely to live in two-parent families and had better academic performance. While less well-off White families were more likely to have badly-behaved children less well-off Indian ones were not.

Goodman, Anna, Patel, Vikram and Leon, David A. - Why do British Indian children have an apparent mental health advantage? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry October 2010, 51(10), 1171-1183

Postnatal depression and exam results - boys suffer but not girls

It is estimated that around 15% of mothers suffer from postnatal depression. Postnatal depression is associated with significant difficulties in mothers' communication with their children including reduced responsiveness and sensitivity and more withdrawn, or at the other extreme more intrusive, behaviour. Several long-term studies have found poor cognitive functioning in children whose mothers suffered from postnatal depression but its long-term effect on academic outcome is unknown. A team of researchers from the universities of Reading and Cambridge studied 89 children, 50 of whose mothers had suffered from postnatal depression. They looked at the effects on GCSE (the post 16 exam qualification in the UK) performance of mothers' depression, IQ, the sex of the child and their earlier cognitive development. Boys, but not girls, whose mothers had suffered from postnatal depression did worse at GCSE. This was mostly accounted for by the effects of childhood cognition problems which persisted throughout the children's childhood. Post-natal depression carried on having negative effects on the mothers' interactions with their children and these also contributed to poorer GCSE performance. Neither recent nor long-term exposure to later maternal depression had significant effects on GCSE results.

Murray, Lynne ... [et al] - The effects of maternal postnatal depression and child sex on academic performance at age 16 years: a developmental approach Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry October 2010, 51(10), 1150-1159

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Weight loss surgery and suicide risk

Very fat people sometimes have surgery to make their stomachs smaller and stop them eating so much. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied 16,683 people who had had weight-loss surgery between 1995 and 2004. By 2006 31 of these people had killed themselves, a rate of 14 per 10,000 men per year and 5 per 10,000 women - a rate substantially higher than that for other men (2.5 per 10,000) and women (0.6 per 10,000). The researchers were unclear why more people should kill themselves after weight-loss surgery although previous studies have shown that people who have the operation are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety beforehand.

Dealing with rows and preventing divorce

How couples resolve their rows can have an impact on how long their relationships last. Researchers already know that destructive patterns, such as yelling at one another or calling one another names, lead to a higher chance of divorce but researchers from the University of Michigan have been looking into the influence of other patterns of behaviour. They studied 373 couples who were interviewed four times over a 16-year period, beginning in the first year of their marriage. They found that 29% of husbands and 21% of wives reported having no conflicts at all in their first year of marriage yet by the end of the study 46% had divorced. Whether or not couples reported any conflict during the first year of their marriage was not associated with whether they had divorced or not by the end of the study. Couples where both partners dealt with conflict constructively, by calmly discussing the situation, listening to their partner's point of view and trying hard to find out what they were feeling had the lowest divorce rate. Over the whole course of the study men were more likely to use constructive strategies, however, their behaviour stayed the same over the years whereas wives became much more likely to use constructive methods over time.

35-44 is gloomiest decade

35-44 has emerged as the unhappiest decade in a survey carried out by the U.K. relationship charity Relate. More people between the ages of 35 and 44 said they felt lonely or depressed than in any other age group. 21% of people in this age group said that they felt lonely a lot of the time and a similar percentage said that bad relationships - either at work or home - had left them feeling depressed. The same proportion said they felt closer to friends than family and a quarter said that they wished they had more time for their family. 28% of 35-44 year-olds said that they had left a job because of a bad working relationship with a colleague while one in five were worried about the current financial climate. Working long hours, arguments, chores and poor sex were the most common sources of relationship problems.

You can find out more about this survey here

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

U.K. Government clamps down on chemical cosh for dementia

Over the years the Mental Health Update blog has featured a number of posts about the damaging effects of antipsychotic drugs prescribed as a 'chemical cosh' for people with dementia and now the U.K. Government (probably not, to be honest, influenced by this blog!) has decided to clamp down on their use. Doctors will be told to stop the over-prescribing of the drugs; something that has been linked to 1,800 premature deaths a year. 180,000 patients are prescribed the drugs each year despite the fact that they do not benefit three-quarters of the people given them and can cause strokes. The clamp down on the over use of the drugs comes as part of a dementia plan backed by £200m of funding aimed at diagnosing sufferers earlier and making sure they receive better care in hospitals and care homes.

You can read more about this story here.

Study points to benefits of increasing alcohol taxes

Increasing taxes on alcohol is often seen as a way in which Governments can limit its damaging effects. But does it work? Researchers at the University of Florida have been reviewing a number of studies into this issue. They looked at 50 published research papers and concluded that a 10% increase in alcohol price results in a 5% reduction in consumption while doubling the average state tax on alchol would be associated with a 35% reduction in alcohol-related mortality, an 11% reduction in road-traffic deaths, a 6% reduction in sexually-transmitted diseases, a 2% reduction in violence and a 1.4% reduction in crime.

Friends and family better than tests at spotting Alzheimer's

Researchers devote a lot of time to developing screening tests for Alzheimer's disease but a new study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis suggests that it might actually be more effective to ask people's friends and families. The researchers developed an eight-point questionnaire called Ascertain Dementia 8 (AD8) asking friends and relatives whether people were displaying the following symptoms
  • Problems with judgment, such as bad financial decisions
  • Reduced interest in hobbies and other activities
  • Repeating of questions, stories or statements
  • Trouble learning how to use a tool or appliance, such as a television remote control or a microwave
  • Forgetting the month or year
  • Difficulty handling complicated financial affairs, such as balancing a chequebook
  • Difficulty remembering appointments
  • Consistent problems with thinking and memory
They gave the questionnaire to the friends and relatives of 251 participants and the participants themselves filled out the Mini Mental State test, a traditional dementia-screening tool. The researchers then evaluated biological signs of dementia in the participants designed to see definitively whether they had the condition. The AD8 test actually tallied more closely with the biological diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

Why people think they are depressed and what do they want to do about it

Over the years researchers have devoted a lot of time to working out the causes of depression. However, there has been a lot less research into what sufferers themselves think causes their depression and whether this influences what kind of treatment they choose. Researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands studied 221 people seeking treatment for depression. The participants were divided into three groups those who thought their depression was due to something within themselves (intraindividual), those who thought it was due to their relationship with others (interpersonal), and those who thought it was due to their brain chemistry (biological). The intraindividual group were more likely to choose cognitive behaviour therapy while the biological group were more likely to opt for drug therapy. Those who thought their depression was due to their relationships with other people had no clear preference about their treatment.

Schweizer, Susanne ... [et al] - Does illness attribution affect treatment assignment in depression Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy September-October 2010, 17(5), 418-426

Monday, September 27, 2010

101 blogs for people with depression

The Nursing web site has compiled a useful list of '101 blogs to help you deal with depression.' The site features a number of different sites and resources and you can visit it here

Childhood trauma, cannabis use and psychosis

Although it is still a controversial topic some research has shown that using cannabis in adolescence is associated with an increased risk of developing psychosis. At the same time suffering childhood trauma is associated both with an increased risk of substance misuse and of developing psychosis. A team of Irish researchers tried to get to the bottom of the links between childhood trauma, substance abuse and psychosis in a study of 211 children aged between 12 and 15. They were asked about childhood trauma, cannabis use and any mental-health problems they might be having. The researchers found that both childhood trauma and cannabis use were significantly associated with an increased risk of developing psychosis symptoms. However, the presence of both childhood trauma and early cannabis use significantly increased the risk for psychotic symptoms beyond the risk posed by either factor alone.

Harley, M. ... [et al] - Cannabis use and childhood trauma interact additively to increase the risk of psychotic symptoms in adolescence Psychological Medicine, October 2010, 40(10), 1627-1634

Cognitive problems and schizophrenia - which comes first?

Cognitive problems are considered to be one of the main features of schizophrenia. However, it is unclear whether the problems are already there before people's first experience of psychosis or whether developing psychosis has a deleterious effect on people's cognition. A team of researchers from the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam studied 58 people, 41 of whom were deemed to be at ultra-high risk of developing psychosis while 17 were unaffected controls. Of the ultra-high risk group 17 developed psychosis during the course of the study. The participants' cognitive performance was assessed at the start of the study and again 18 months later. The people who developed psychosis did not perform any worse at the second test than before they became unwell and the ultra-high-risk group actually performed better on the second test. The control group of unaffected people scored significantly better on test of verbal learning, memory and verbal fluency. So this study at least suggests that problems with cognition come before the development of psychosis and not afterwards.

Becker, H.E. ... [et al] - Neurocognitive functioning before and after the first psychotic episode: does psychosis result in cognitive deterioration? Psychological Medicine, October 2010, 40(10), 1599-1606

Pro-eating disorder web sites can damage healthy women too

Pro-eating disorder (Pro-ED) web sites are designed to convey the idea that eating disorders are a 'lifestyle choice' rather than a mental-health problem. They contain pro-eating disorder statements, tips and tricks on unhealthy eating behaviours, nutritional (dis)information, pictures of unhealthily-thin women ('thinspiration') and interactive components. Although there have been studies on how these sites influence people's attitudes to food and body weight there has been no research into how they actually affect food consumption. Researchers from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania studied 90 college students who spent an hour-and-a-half looking at web sites. A third looked at a Pro-ED web site, a third looked at a healthy eating/exercise site while the rest looked at travel web sites. None of the women had eating disorders and they were all at a healthy weight. The women were asked to keep food diaries and the ones who had viewed the Pro-ED site consumed significantly less calories in the following week - an average of 9,697 compared to 12,167 for the rest of the women. They reported using techniques on the Pro-ED web site to help them eat less and had strong emotional reactions to the site. The changes caused by seeing the Pro-ED sites lasted for about three weeks after the end of the study.

Scarlett, Jett, LaPorte, David J. and Wanchisn, Jill - Impact of exposure to pro-eating disorder websites on eating behaviour in college women European Eating Disorders Review, September-October 2010, 18(5), 410-416

Who recovers best from eating disorders?

Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental-health problem and can have long-lasting psychological, social and medical consequences. Patients often resist care as recovery threatens some of the things that they believe the eating disorder gives them - identity, attention, maintining control and preventing maturity. A team of researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center studied 33 girls admitted to an eating-disorder programme in an attempt to see which factors helped or hindered them from regaining weight. The girls completed psychological questionnaires at the start of the study and the researchers were able to compare the results of these with who had succeeded in putting on weight. The study found that higher self-esteem and lower perfectionism were both associated with a quicker recovery.

Phillips, Renee ... [et al] - Psychological variables impacting weigh gain rapidity in adolescents hospitalized for eating disorders European Eating Disorders Review September-October 2010, 18(5), 376-384

Friday, September 17, 2010

Young Black women self-harm more but get less help

Young Black women in the U.K. are significantly more likely to harm themselves than people from other ethnic groups but slightly less likely to receive specialist psychiatric assessment and access to follow-up services. Researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Oxford studied 14,997 people who attended emergency departments in Derby, Oxford and Manchester after having harmed themselves. They found that the rate of self-harm among young Black women in Manchester was 10. 3 per 1,000 compared to 6.6 per 1,000 in the White population. The rates of self-harm were not significantly higher among young Black men. The young Black women were slightly less likely to receive a specialist psychiatric assessment after self-harming than White ones.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Diaries take the trauma out of intensive care

On average 1 in 10 patients who stay more than two days in intensive care will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The fragmentary nature of people's memories, which might include isolated moments of clarity between delusions and hallucinations make it difficult for patients to remember what happened to them and make them more likely to develop PTSD. Researchers from the University of Liverpool have been studying the effectiveness of diaries in reducing PTSD. The diaries are compiled by staff and close relatives and feature information about a patient's stay in intensive care, accompanied by photographs. The researchers studied 352 patients from 12 hospitals in six different European countries. 162 of them had the diaries kept for them and these people were found to have half the risk of developing PTSD. The diaries were time consuming for the staff involved but the researchers pointed out that given the cost of treating PTSD this was still cost effective.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Fitter kids have better brains

Children who are fitter tend to have better-developed brains than out-of-shape ones. Researchers from the University of Illinois studied 49 children aged nine to ten. They measured their fitness on a treadmill, used an MRI scanner to measure the volume of their hippocampus and tested their memory. The fitter children tended to have a bigger hippocampus - an area of the brain associated with learning and memory - about 12% larger than the unfit ones. The fitter children also did better on tests of relational memory - the ability to remember and integrate various types of information - but only if their hippocampus was bigger, suggesting that the link between fitness and a larger hippocampus was the crucial one.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Researchers give thumbs up to acamprosate

People who are trying to give up drinking sometimes take drugs to stop them relapsing. Researchers from the University of Munich have been looking into the effectiveness of one of these drugs - acamprosate. They reviewed 24 trials involving 6,915 alcoholics who were also receiving non-medical help. Acamprosate prevented relapse in one in every nine patients and increased the number of days patients spent not drinking by an average of three days a month. The risk of a patient on acamprosate returning to drinking was 86% of that of a patient who took a placebo instead. Diarrhoea was the only side effect which was frequently reported.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brain scans show healing power of nature

Researchers from the universities of Bradford and Sheffield in the U.K. and the Institute of Medicine and Neuroscience at Julich, Germany, have been investigating the effects of tranquil, natural environments and stressful artificial ones on brain activity. They showed participants in their study pictures of waves breaking on a beach and traffic rushing down a motorway with the same background noise designed to sound similar to waves and traffic noise. The participants' brains were scanned while they watched the videos and the study found that the natural, tranquil scenes caused different brain areas to become connected with one another - indicating that these brain regions were working 'in sync.' The people who watched the traffic on the motorway, however, showed disrupted connections within their brain.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Misery in the mountains

Living at high altitude could increase people's risk of committing suicide. Researchers from the University of Utah studied suicide rates in different US states. Those with the highest average altitudes - Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon - were all in the top 10 for suicide rates. Although these states both have high levels of gun ownership and sparse populations (both risk factors for suicide) this did not explain the whole of the increased rates of suicide. A similar study in South Korea found that suicide rates increased by 125% in areas over 2,000m in altitude. Other research has shown that lack of oxygen at higher altitudes can lead to worsening mood which can last for up to 90 days - something which might be significant in people already suffering from mood disorders.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

Heart disease and depression

There has long been known to be a link between heart disease and depression but new research from the University of Versailles and University College London shows what a deadly combination the two can be together. The researchers followed the health of nearly 6,000 civil servants for an average of five-and-a-half years. They found that people with heart disease had a 67% higher chance of dying than those without heart disease or depression. However, having heart disease and depression triple the risk of death from any cause and quadrupled the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Children with autism's progress over time

Children with autism have different cognitive skills and weaknesses to other children. They find it harder to assess other people's thoughts and feelings and have problems controlling their behaviour but can be better at noticing details. However, there has been little research into how these skills and weaknesses change over time. Researchers from the Institute of Education in London studied 68 children when they were aged 5-6 and again three years later. 37 of the children had autism and 31 were unaffected. The children were tested on their ability to predict other children's behaviour based on their mental state (theory of mind), their ability to plan ahead and show flexibility (executive function), and their ability to make patterns from wooden blocks and search for shapes hidden in pictures (central coherence). The study showed that the strengths and weaknesses of the autistic children did not change much over time. However, not all of the autistic children had similar patterns of weaknesses with some being weak in just theory of mind while others were weak in theory of mind and executive function. The study also found that most of the children's skills in these areas improved over time - they were better able to plan, regulate and control their thoughts and actions and had a better appreciation of other people's thoughts and actions.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease - shedding more light on the link

There has already been a lot of research linking type 2 diabetes with Alzheimer's disease but it can be difficult to assess which people with type 2 diabetes go on to develop Alzheimer's. Researchers from the University of Alberta studied 499 people aged between 55 and 81, 41 of whom had type 2 diabetes. They found that having high blood pressure, problems with walking and balance and reporting oneself as being in a poor state of health all increased the risk of people with type 2 diabetes developing Alzheimer's disease.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Supervised injections help drug users

Sometimes people who inject drugs are provided with supervised facilities where they can do this on the basis that this allows them to use clean needles and brings them into contact with health professionals who may persuade them to seek treatment for their drug use. One of the places where this happens is Vancouver, in a project called Insite. Researchers from St Paul's Hospital in British Columbia and the University of British Columbia studied the effectiveness of the Insite programme and came up with some encouraging results. Of 902 Insite clients who visited the facility between December 2003 and June 2006 95 reported quitting injecting drug use for at least six months, 78% of whom had recently taken part in addiction treatment. The Insite clients who went into treatment were more likely to have been regular users of the service and to have had contact with on-site addiction counsellors.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Starving mothers and ageing brains

During the winter of 1944 German forces restricted food deliveries to the people of the northern Netherlands and by April 1945 it was estimated that 20,000 people had died from malnutrition. Scientists have been following babies who were conceived at this time in order to assess what effects malnutrition in pregnant mothers could have on children. They studied 300 people who were conceived in the 'Hongerwinter' and gave them a series of tests to measure their cognition. In the 1970s there were no differences between the Hongerwinter babies and other adults of the same age but more recent tests showed that their perfomance in tasks designed to measure attention was worse. Attention often declines with age so it could be that the brains of those people conceived during the Hongerwinter are ageing faster than those of other people.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

Life is very short when you're lonely

Researchers from the universities of Utah and North Carolina have been reviewing the research into the effects of loneliness on people's health and have found that it can be as dangerous as smoking and alcohol and probably a lot less fun. The researchers analysed data from 148 studies carried out over three decades and involving more than 300,000 people. They found that people who have no social life are 50% more likely to die early than those who are well connected and those who socialise regularly with family and friends live an average of 3.7 years longer. People with little social support have a mortality rate as high as alcoholics while the impact of making friends is comparable to the effect of giving up smoking.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shocking therapy for major depression

Electrical stimulation of one of the main nerves going into the brain could be an alternative to antidepressants for people suffering from major depression. Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles used a stimulator about the size of a large mobile phone to send an electric charge to the trigeminal nerve via electrodes on people's foreheads. The participants in the trial used the device for around eight hours each night while they were asleep. The participants achieved an average of a 70% reduction in symptom severity over the eight weeks of the study and 80% of them achieved remission. This compares to a 30% recovery rate among people taking drugs which can also have side effects such as obesity, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, drowsiness and nausea.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Psychological bullying and postnatal depression

Psychological bullying during pregnancy could be linked to an increased risk of postnatal depression. Researchers from the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco in Brazil studied 1,045 women who were interviewed while they were pregnant and after they had their child. 28% of them said that they had experienced psychological victimization during their pregnancy and those who reported the highest frequency of psychological bullying had more than twice the risk of developing postnatal depression.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Are men more likely to have senior moments?

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition in which people have problems with memory or thinking beyond that explained by the normal rate of ageing. It can lead on to Alzheimer's disease and a new study suggests that it could be more common among men than women. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota studied 2,050 people between the ages of 70 and 89 in Olmstead County, Minnesota. They were interviewed about their memory and their medical history and the researchers tested their memory and thinking skills. 14% were found to have MCI, 10% had dementia and the rest had normal memory and thinking skills. However 19% of the men had MCI, compared to only 14% of the women. People in the study who had a low level of education or who had never married also had a higher rate of MCI.

Surviving the tsunami in Sweden

Lars Wahlstrom from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet has been looking into the mental health of Swedish people who survived the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. His study surveyed around 1,500 people from Stockholm who had been in the disaster area. Around 70% reported that they had recovered relatively well and most were satisfied with the support that they had received, the most important source of which was family and friends. However, about 30% of those who were in the disaster area continued to experience pyschological symptoms including post-traumatic reactions, mood disturbances and sleep problems. 20% of those who were still unwell had NOT been directly exposed to the wave, severely injured or lost a loved one but had still experienced the situation as life-threatening - something that was enough to still be causing psychological problems over a year later.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Anxiety and insomnia drugs linked to increased risk of death

Taking drugs to fight anxiety or insomnia could significantly increase people's risk of death. Researchers from the Universite Laval in Quebec analysed 12 years of data on over 14,000 Canadians from the National Population Health Survey. They found that respondents who said they had used drugs to treat insomnia or anxiety at least once in the month before the survey had a mortality rate about 50% higher than those who did not use them. After allowing for alcohol and tobacco consumption, physical health, exercise and depression the researchers concluded that the drugs were associated with a 36% increase in the risk of death. The increased risk of death could be due to a number of causes including: the drugs' effect on reaction times, alertness and concentration leading to more falls and accidents; their effect on people's breathing particularly during sleep and a possible increased risk of suicide after taking the drugs.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Why your liver could affect your Alzheimer's risk

Low levels of a substance called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in people's brains have been associated with Alzheimer's disease but new research from the University of California Irvine suggests that the problem might lie in people's livers not their skulls. Previous studies have shown that most DHA in the brain is actually made in the liver and the university's post-mortem research suggests that the Alzheimer's patients' livers were unable to synthesize DHA from shorter molecules found in leafy plants and other foods. DHA occurs naturally in cold-water fatty fish (like salmon) and seaweed and is essential for the proper functioning of adult human brains and the development of the nervous system and vision during the first six months of life. Alzheimer's is a complicated disease with a huge number of risk factors but monitoring DHA levels in people's blood and dietary supplements for those in the early stages of the disease could prove helpful.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Stress could be big killer in over 65s

People aged 65 and over are five times more likely to die if they are suffering from high levels of stress. Researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Medical Centre in Amsterdam studied 861 people aged 65 and over over a six-year period. They measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in people's urine at the start of the study and their health was monitored over the next six years. Those with the highest levels of cortisol in their bloodstream were five times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those with the lowest levels. The results took into account the influence of socioeconomic status, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Feeling stressed - help yourself to a book

In 2003 it was estimated that the equivalent of 13.4m working days were lost in the U.K. because of workplace stress. The U.K.'s National Health Service is one of the biggest employers in the world so anything that reduces the number of days lost through stress could have a huge impact. The usual way of dealing with workplace stress is by using one-to-one, face-to-face counselling but telephone counselling can be cheaper and easier for people to use and bibliotherapy (giving people self-help books) can also be effective. A team of researchers, led by Catherine Kilfedder from the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Service in Edinburgh compared these three approaches in a 4-month study of 90 NHS employees. Their study concluded that overall the three methods were equally effective. As bibliotherapy is significantly cheaper than the other two options it was suggested that this was used first with people only moving on to telephone or face-to-face counselling if this proved unsuccessful.

Kilfedder, Catherine ... [et al] - A randomized trial of face-to-face counselling versus telephone counselling versus bibliotherapy for occupational stress Psychology and Psychotherapy: theory, research and practice September 2010, 83(3), 223-242

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Extra help boosts schizophrenia victims

Receiving non-medical help as well as antipsychotic drugs could substantially improve outcomes for people suffering from the early stages of schizophrenia. Researchers from the Central South University in Hunan, China studied 1,268 people with early-stage schizophrenia treated between January 2005 and October 2007. 633 of them had extra, non-medical help (psychosocial intervention) while the rest just took drugs. The extra help included instruction for families and caregivers about mental illness, family therapies designed to teach coping and socializing skills, skills training and cognitive therapy. The rates of treatment discontinuation or change were lower in the group getting the extra help (32.8% vs 22.5%). The participants getting extra help also showed greater improvements in insight, social functioning, activities of daily living and quality of life and a higher proportion of them were employed or in education.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Levels and causes of postnatal depression

Researchers from the Medical Research Council in the U.K. have been looking into the levels of postnatal depression experienced by mothers and fathers and what might make some people more vulnerable to suffering from it. They looked at data from 86,957 families seen in primary-care clinics between 1993 and 2007. They found that more than a third of mothers and about a fifth of fathers had an episode of depression between their child's birth and their 12th birthday. In any one year 7.53% of mothers and 2.69% of fathers suffered from depression but there was a greater risk - 13.93% in mothers and 3.56% in fathers - in a child's first year. Depression was most likely to occur in parents with a history of depression, those who were aged 15 to 24 when their child was born and those who were more socially deprived.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Vitamin D and schizophrenia

Levels of vitamin D in newborn children's blood could be linked to their risk of developing schizophrenia in later life. A team of researchers, led by John J. McGrath of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, studied blood samples taken from 848 new-born babies, half of whom were later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Those babies who had low or very high levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream were found to be at an increased risk of schizophrenia.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Vitamin B - a new breakthrough in Alzheimer's treatment

Vitamin B supplements could turn out to be the most effective way of fighting Alzheimer's disease so far discovered. Researchers at Oxford University studied 168 people who were all over 70 and who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment - memory problems that are often the forerunner of Alzheimer's disease. Over two years half of the participants were given a daily tablet containing high doses of the B vitamins folic acid, B6 and B12 and half were given a placebo. The participants' brains were scanned and on average taking the B vitamins slowed the rate of brain atrophy by 30% - in many cases the shrinkage was reduced by 53%. It is thought that vitamin B reduces the levels of a harmful protein called homocysteine - which has been linked to brain shrinkage - in the bloodstream. Vitamin B is relatively inexpensive and fairly safe although the doses used in the trial were much higher than those found in food or most vitamin supplements and there is some evidence that high folic acid intake could be linked to cancer. Nevertheless this could be an exciting breakthrough, even if more research is needed to confirm the beneficial effect of vitamin B.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Bipolar disorder and violence

Previous research into bipolar disorder and violent crime has found that those with the condition are more likely to engage in acts of violence. However, it is unclear whether the disorder itself, or some of the problems that go with it are behind the link. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Oxford University carried out research in Sweden where the state keeps a huge amount of information about people. They compared 3,700 patients with bipolar disorder, cared for in Swedish hospitals between 1973 and 2004, with 37,000 unaffected people from the general public. They found that the number of people committing violent crime was about the same in people with bipolar disorder and no substance-abuse problem and unaffected people (5% vs 3%). However, people with bipolar disorder and a substance-abuse problem were much more likely (21%) to commit violent crimes. The findings mirror similar research into schizophrenia which also found that it was schizophrenic's drug problems not their condition in itself that lead to an increased risk of violence.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Eye movements, shifting shapes and autism

Researchers spend a lot of time looking into different ways of diagnosing autism in the hope that early treatment can help to mitigate at least some of the effects of the condition. One of the methods scientists use is to look at what children pay attention to. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, studied 110 toddlers aged between 14 and 42 months. 37 of them had autism, 22 of them had another learning disability while 51 were unaffected by either. The scientists showed the toddlers two videos at the same time - one was of moving geometric shapes while the other was of children dancing, jumping, smiling and playing. While the children watched the videos their eye movements were tracked to see which one they were looking at. 40% of the children with autism spent more than half of the time staring at the geometric patterns while only one of the typically-developing toddlers preferred them. All of the children who had the strongest preference for the geometric pattern, who spent more than two-thirds of the time looking at it, had autism.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

What's the best way to tackle loneliness?

Loneliness is a known risk factor for heart disease and has also been linked to high blood pressure, poor quality sleep, dementia and other health problems. But what is the best way of helping people to overcome it? Researchers from the University of Chicago reviewed 20 studies into the effectiveness of different interventions aimed at tackling people's loneliness. Some worked on means, improving people's ability to make friends and socialise while others worked on opportunity, providing participants with chances to meet new people. However, it was the interventions that worked on motive - people's thoughts about their own likeability and other people's friendliness - that were the most successful. The researchers also found that studies which used techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) were particularly effective.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Design it yourself offices boost productivity

Workers who have more control over the design and layout of their offices are more likely to be happy, healthy and productive. Researchers from the University of Exeter surveyed more than 2,000 office workers. They asked them about the level of control they had over their office space and about how they felt about their working environment and jobs. The results showed that the more control people had over their offices the happier and more motivated they were. They felt physically more comfortable at work, identified more with their employers and felt more positive about their jobs in general. The same researchers also got participants to work on a series of tasks in a variety of different office environments. Some were bare and functional, some were decorated with plants and pictures, some were designed by the participants themselves while in others the individual's design was 'redesigned' by a manager. The participants who worked in an enriched (decorated) environment were 17% more productive than those who worked in a bare one while those who were allowed to design their own environment were 32% more productive.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Drunken mums and screwed-up kids

Psychologists sometimes use the maximum number of drinks people can remember having in one evening as a 'proxy' measure of alcohol problems. Not surprisingly women who can remember downing eighteen rum and cokes in an evening don't always make perfect mothers and a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities have been looking into the relationship between mothers' maximum drinks ever consumed in 24 hours and their children's mental-health problems. They found that having a higher maximum consumption, even just at one point in a mother's life, was associated with conduct disorder, disruptive disorder and early substance use and misuse in their children.

Malone, Stephen M., McGue, Matt and Iacono, William G. - Mothers' maximum drinks ever consumed in 24 hours predicts mental health problems in adolescent offspring Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry September 2010, 51(9), 1067-1075

Empathy, autism and accidents with hammers

Children with autism usually have less empathy with, and sympathy for, other people. Autism is usually diagnosed at around three years of old but children's empathetic responses to other people's distress usually develops between one and two. So, could this be used to provide an early diagnosis of, and interventions for, autism? A team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles tested this theory in a study of 158 children. One of the researchers pretended to hit their finger with a hammer and the children's responses were measured at 12, 18, 24 and 36 months, with the children being tested for autism at three. 103 of the children had brothers or sisters with autism and 14 were diagnosed with it at three. The children who went on to be diagnosed with autism paid less attention to, and showed less change in mood after, the researcher's 'accident' leading to hopes that such a test could be used to flag up those at risk of developing the condition.

Hutman, Ted ... [et al] - Response to distress in infants at risk for autism: a prospective longitudinal study Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry September 2010, 51(9), 1010-1020

Searching for a psychopath? Mind the gap!

In Philip Kerr's novel A Philosophical Investigation the authorities scan people's brains and those thought to be at risk of behaving violently or antisocially are monitored closely by the authorities. A team of researchers, led by Adrian Raine from the University of Pennsylvania, have brought this scenario a small step closer in a study of 87 people. They looked for the presence, or absence, of a gap between areas of the brain which closes over in most people but can remain open if the brain develops abnormally. The gap is called the cavum septum pellucidum and 19 of the participants had it. Those who had the gap had significantly higher levels of antisocial personality, psychopathy, arrests and convictions, even if they had not been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Those who had been charged or convicted of an offence had a bigger gap than other participants and the results could not be attributed to prior trauma, head injuries, demographic factors or mental illness.

Raine, Adrian ... [et al] - Neurodevelopmental marker for limbic maldevelopment in antisocial personality disorder British Journal of Psychiatry September 2010, 197(3), 186-192

Antidepressants for psychosis

As well as suffering from delusions and hallucinations people with schizophrenia often experience so-called negative symptoms such as flat mood, lack of interest in being sociable and an inability to experience pleasure, as well as many cognitive problems. Psychiatrists often prescribe antidepressants for these symptoms but there are reports of negative effects as well as positive ones. Researchers from the University of Wolverhampton reviewed 23 studies into the use of antidepressants for people with psychosis. They found a moderate positive effect from the antidepressants and significant responses for the drugs fluoxetine, trazodone and ritanserin.

Singh, Surendra P., Singh, Vidhi and Chan, Kelvin - Efficacy of antidepressants in treating the negative symptoms of chronic schizophrenia: meta-analysis British Journal of Psychiatry September 2010, 197(3), 174-179

Friday, September 03, 2010

Sleepless teenagers store up mental-health problems

On average - and what a blissful prospect this sounds - young people between the ages of 17 and 24 sleep between eight and nine hours a night. However, as more youngsters stay awake using the internet, playing computer games and fiddling with gadgets they are getting less sleep - something which could have profound implications for their mental health. Researchers from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney looked at the sleeping habits of nearly 20,000 people aged between 17 and 24. They found that over half of those who got fewer than six hours sleep had high levels of psychological distress - more than double the rate of people who got eight or nine hours of sleep.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

Cannabis and other drugs. Is the gateway closing?

Opponents of the legalisation of cannabis often suggest that it is a 'gateway' drug from which people move on to more damaging substances such as heroin or cocaine. However, new research from the University of New Hampshire has called this idea into question. The researchers used information from surveys of 1,286 youngsters carried out in the Miami area in the 1990s. The study found that teenagers who did not graduate from high school or go to college were more likely to have used cannabis as teenagers and other illegal drugs as young adults. However, once the effect of unemployment was taken into account the 'gateway effect' diminished; in other words once people had got a job they were much less likely to move on from cannabis to a more harmful drug. Once the young adults had reached the age of 21 the gateway effect had subsided completely. The strongest predictor of people moving on to other drugs was race with White people being more at risk of doing so than people of Hispanic or African descent.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

What makes a happy teacher?

Researchers at the University of Kent have been looking into what makes a happy teacher. They surveyed 197 of them twice over a three-month period and found that those with career aspirations and a goal to learn were happier than those facing unrealistic standards. Teachers who set high performance standards for themselves had higher levels of wellbeing and those who had a goal of advancing their professional development had higher levels of mental energy and were more committed to their work than those whose goal was to outperform their colleagues. However, teachers who felt that other people demanded more from them than they were capable of giving had higher levels of stress, stress-related ill health and burnout and lower levels of wellbeing.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

Brain training might stave off dementia but it won't stop it

Playing 'brain-training' games, doing crossword puzzles or learning a language might cover up the brain degeneration caused by dementia but can't stop it when it gets past a certain stage. Researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago studied almost 1,200 older people over a 12-year period. They developed a scale to measure people's cognitive activity and tracked them to see whether they developed Alzheimer's. The researchers found that increased cognitive activity was associated with a 52% drop in mental decline over the first six years of the study. However, once people developed dementia their rate of decline accelerated by 42% for each point on the cognitive activity scale. The researchers thought that the cognitive activity allowed people to compensate for their brain's degeneration early on. However, by the time they developed symptoms their brain was in a much worse state and so they appeared to decline more quickly.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Compatibility - the key to group therapy?

Day-hospital programmes are often recommended for people suffering from eating disorders. They often use group therapy to treat people but there has been little research into which aspects of this are the most important for people's recovery. One aspect of this that researchers are particularly interested in is group cohesion - the 'forces acting on the members of the group to remain in the group.' Group cohesion is, in turn, made up of components such as commitment to the group, compatibility of the group and the extent to which the content of the programme stimulates members. Researchers from Westmead Hospital in New South Wales looked into this issue in a study of 36 women going through an eating disorders day treatment programme. They found that the programme did lead to an improvement in the women's condition and of the aspects of group cohesion it was compatibility that was associated with attendance and treatment response.

Crino, Natalie and Djokvucic, Ivana - Cohesion to the group and its association with attendance and early treatment response in an adult day-hospital program for eating disorders: a preliminary clinical investigation Clinical Psychologist, July 2010, 14(2), 54-61

How many sessions does it take to get better?

Many governments, and private-sector medical companies, limit the number of sessions of psychotherapy that people are entitled to. This is done on financial grounds but there is a lack of research into how many sessions people actually need to get better. A team of researchers, led by Paul Harnett from the University of Queensland, studied this issue by tracking the progress of 125 people as they started psychological treatment. The researchers found that it took 8 sessions for 50% of the clients to show some signs of recovery and 21 sessions for 85% of people to do so. To make a full recovery it took 14 sessions for 50% of the clients to have recovered and 23 sessions for 70% of them to get better. This was much less than the present policies of both the public and private sector in Australia and the researchers recommended a minimum number of 20 sessions for people.

Harnett, Paul, O'Donovan, Analise and Lambert, Michael J. - The dose response relationship in psychotherapy: implications for social policy Clinical Psychologist July 2010, 14(2), 39-44

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Health visitors and postnatal depression

With governments all over the world looking to make cuts in expenditure health visitors can often be seen as an easy option for cuts. However, research from the universities of Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield have found that they can play a role in preventing post-natal depression. The researchers studied more than 2,000 women; 767 received normal care from a health visitor while the rest received support from health visitors trained in assessing mental-health problems and giving psychological support. Six months after childbirth the women who had been seen by the health visitors with additional mental-health training were 30% less likely to develop depression.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.

PTSD and dementia

Military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be at an increased risk of dementia. Researchers from the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Texas studied 10,481 veterans, aged 65 and over, who had been seen at the centre between 1997 and 1999, following their progress until 2008. 11.1% of those who had PTSD but who had not been injured in combat developed dementia and 7.2% of those who had PTSD but who had been injured did so compared to 4.5% and 5.9% respectively in those who did not have PTSD. The results remained significant even after other risk factors for dementia, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease were taken into account.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

Depression and heart problems

Depression is both a risk factor for developing heart disease and makes things worse for those who already have it. Researchers from the University Medical Centre in Groningen, in the Netherlands have been looking into this issue in more detail. They studied 1,019 people with an average age of 67 who had stable coronary heart disease asking them about their depression symptoms. They found that those who had somatic (bodily) symptoms of depression were more likely to have health problems with fatigue, appetite problems and sleeplessness increasing the risk most. However, the cognitive symptoms of depression, such as difficulty in concentrating, were not found to increase people's risk.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

New figures show extent of U.K.'s drink problem

New figures from the North West Public Health Observatory in the U.K. have revealed the shocking extent of the U.K.'s alcohol problem. The figures show that there were 954,469 alcohol-related admissions to English hospitals in the year ending March 2009, a rise of 9.5% on 2007/8 and which translates to two admissions per minute. Over five years the number of admissions has grown by 65% and the figure excludes those treated only in Accident and Emergency Departments. People in northern cities like Newcastle and Liverpool were three times more likely to be admitted than those in southern areas like the Isle of Wight and the Chilterns. Around 15,500 people die as a result of alcohol each year and over one in four people go over the safe weekly limit.

You can find out more about this research by clicking on the title of this post.