Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What becomes of the school bully?

Ever wondered what happened to the school bully? Do they grow out of it and become normal, law-abiding members of society? A new study by researchers from Iowa State University suggests that they don't and that many of them carry on being just as unpleasant in later life. The researchers used information on 43,093 adults taken from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. 6% of the sample admitted to bullying other children and these people were 10 times more likely to lie, six times more likely to get into a fight and two-and-a-half times more likely than other people to harass or threaten someone.

Lots of friends and feeling in control help people stay healthier

 A lot of research concentrates on how people's bad habits - such as smoking, drinking and eating too much - can affect their health but researchers at Brandeis University in Massachussetts have been looking into the influence of more positive factors. They studied 3,626 adults, aged between 32 and 84, who were assessed over two periods about ten years apart. They found that physical exercise, having a good social network and feeling in control of one's life could delay declines in health by up to a decade - above and beyond the negative effects of traditional risk factors.

School grades and suicide risk

People who leave school early with low grades could be more likely to kill themselves. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet and the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare used some of the huge amounts of data which the Swedish state records about its citizens. They looked at the school-leaving grades - at age 16 - of almost 900,000 people born between 1972 and 1981 and tracked who later went on to kill themselves between the ages of 25 and 34. They found that those with the highest grades had the lowest risk of committing suicide while those with the lowest grades had a risk three times higher than average. The researchers took into account the educational level of the sample's parents, whether their parents were on benefit or single, the age of their mothers, their parents' mental health and drug use and whether they had been adopted.

You can find out more about this research here.

Follow-up post boosts care for people with depression

A few follow-up phone calls and tools for people to monitor their symptoms can significantly help people being treated by their GP for depression. Researchers from the University of Michigan studied 186 people who were being treated for the condition; 120 of them received the follow-up care and 66 received 'care as usual.' The follow-up care included interventions such as self-monitoring tools so people could keep an eye on their symptoms and follow-up telephone calls from a care manager. After 18 months 49.2% of the people receiving follow-up care were in remission, compared to 27.3% of people in the usual-care control group.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is happiness more important than education for health?

In general people who are less well-educated tend to suffer from worse health. However, new research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that happiness could be as important as education in determining people's health. The researchers used data from the Survey of Midlife in the United States, a ten-year study of age-related differences in physical and mental-health. They measured the participants' levels of a substance called Interleukin-6, high levels of which are associated with cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers. They found that less well-educated people who had meaningful relationships with others, a sense of purpose, self-acceptance and a feeling that their lives were manageable had similar levels of Interleukin-6 to people who were happy and better-educated.

Smoking and anxiety

People with anxiety problems could be more likely to smoke and may have a harder time giving up when they do. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin studied 1,504 people taking part in a smoking-cessation programme in Madison and Milwaukee. 455 had had a panic attack in the past, 199 had social anxiety disorder and 99 had generalized anxiety disorder with some people having more than one condition. Other research has shown that up to a quarter of the smokers in the U.S. have had at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime. The participants with anxiety disorders were much less likely to succeed on the programme, had higher levels of nicotine dependence and more withdrawal symptoms before quitting.

The science of sleep and genes

Some people seem to manage quite happily on four hours of sleep a night while others turn into zombies. A new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine suggests that this may, in part at least, be down to our genes. They studied 129 healthy adults, 37 of whom, although unaffected, carried a gene called DQB1*0602 which is associatd with narcolepsy. The participants' sleep was restricted to four hours a night and they were given various tests of memory and attention. The people with the narcolepsy gene were sleepier and more fatigued while both fully rested and sleep deprived and they woke up more during the night; they also spent less time in deep sleep. However, there was no difference in their performance on the memory and attention tasks and in their ability to resist sleep during the daytime.

New evidence on smoking and dementia

A large U.S. study of over 21,000 people has added to the considerable pile of evidence linking smoking to dementia. The study - carried out by Dr Rachel Wittmer from the U.S. health organization Kaiser Permanente - found that smoking 40 or more cigarettes a day led to a 157% increase in the risk of Alzheimer's disease and a 172% increase in the risk of vascular dementia. However, there was no increase in risk in those smoking less than ten cigarettes a day and people who gave up smoking by middle age had the same level of risk as people who had never smoked.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jailed parents raise children's drug risk

The prison population of the U.S. has grown from 250,000 in the mid-1970s to about 2.25 million today and it is now estimated that one in eight youngsters in the U.S.  has a father who has done time. Children of fathers who have been in prison are known to be at a greater risk of developing mental-health problems, becoming prisoners themselves, dropping out of high school and being poor and a new study suggests - perhaps hardly surprisingly - that they are at a greater risk of developing drug problems too. Michael E. Roettger, formerly of Bowling Green State University in Ohio and now at the University of Colorado in Boulder looked at data from 150,000 young men and women followed from adolescence into early adulthood as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Half of the young men and 39% of the young women whose fathers had been in jail reported using cannabis compared to 38% and 28% respectively of young people whose fathers had not been imprisoned. Those whose fathers had served time also used the drug more frequently and longer into adulthood. One out of every four young men whose fathers had been in prison had used harder drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine - double the rate of other youngsters. While only 4% of white children have a parent who has been in jail one in four African-American children do so.

New report shows true scale of children's drinking

Although there are now some signs that children's alcohol consumption in the U.K. might be levelling off a new report by the charity Alcohol Concern presents a worrying picture of just how much Britain's children are drinking. The report found that 13 girls were admitted to accident and emergency departments every day with alcohol poisoning, compared to ten boys. Between 2002 and 2007 the number of under 18s admitted to hospital through drink increased by a third. Underage drinkers consume around 6.9 million pints of beer (or equivalent thereof) or 1.7 million bottles of wine each week with an estimated 630,000 11-17-year-olds drinking twice or more per week.

Brain scans shed new light on childhood problems

The symptoms which can lead to children being diagnosed with bipolar disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be quite similar but new research, from a team led by Alessandra M. Passarotti from the University of Chicago at Illinois, suggests that what goes on inside their brains might be completely different. The study involved children between the ages of 10 and 18, some diagnosed with bipolar disorder, some diagnosed with ADHD and others with no mental health problems. The children were wired up to an MRI scanner while they did a memory task involving faces with angry, happy or neutral expressions. Both groups showed dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex which controls executive function, working memory, attention, language and impulsivity. However, the ADHD group showed more severe dysfunction in the areas relating to working memory while the bipolar group showed more dysfunction in areas involved with processing and regulating emotions.

New helpline for parents of children with eating disorders

U.K. charity Care for the Family has launched the U.K.'s first telephone befriending service for parents of children with an eating disorder. It offers parents one-to-one ongoing support from trained befrienders whose own child has had an eating disorder. You can find out more about the befriending service by telephoning 029 2081 0800 or by emailing them at

Autism - a question of diagnosis?

In the U.S. the Centre for Disease Control estimates that rates of autism have gone up by 60% for boys since 2002 and by 48% for girls. But do these increases reflect a genuine rise in the number of children with the condition or simply the fact that more children are being diagnosed with it? Matthew Maenner a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied the levels of autism in Wisconsin. He found that the rate rose from five to nine cases per 1,000 children over a seven-year period. At the start of the study individual schools varied widely in the number of children diagnosed with autism with the highest-diagnosing schools having a rate 24 times greater than the lowest-diagnosing ones. However, over time, the gap narrowed and by the end of the study the highest-diagnosing schools had a rate only twice that of the lowest-diagnosing ones. The schools who had around a 1% rate of autism at the start of the study showed little change in their rate of diagnosis suggesting that it was more-frequent diagnosis in the lower-diagnosing shcools rather than a genuine increase in the condition that lay behind the increased rates of the disease.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do men age better than women?

Researchers from University College London have been looking into ageing and happiness in a sample of 11,000 men and women over the age of 50 who they followed from 2002 to 2009. They found that men became happier after their retirement while older women were more likely to feel lonely and/or live alone. 18.7% of the women had depression symptoms compared to 11.5% of the men. Women aged 75 and over had high rates of depression, low life satisfaction, poor quality of life and high levels of loneliness but men over 65 were actually happier than younger men. Men and women between 50-64 who had frequent contact with friends and relatives were less likely to have depressive symptoms than those who had infrequent contact (13.1% vs 17.9%). More affluent older people had fewer depressive symptoms, greater life satisfaction, better quality of life and lower levels of loneliness.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How babies can boost your brainpower

Women sometimes complain about becoming absent-minded while they are pregnant and after giving birth but a new study by researchers at the National Institute for Mental Health in Maryland suggests that their brains might actually get bigger over this period. In a small study the researchers scanned the brains of 19 women who had just given birth and found that grey matter had grown in the hypothalamus, the amygdala, the parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex. The hypothalamus is involved with motivation, the amygdala with reward and emotion processing, the parietal lobe with the senses and the prefrontal cortex with reasoning and judgment. Intriguingly the mothers who were most enthusiastic about their babies - seeing them as special, beautiful, ideal, perfect etc - were significantly more likely than the other mothers to show growth in areas of the brain relating to maternal motivation, reward and the regulation of emotions.

Pet therapy does the trick for children with autism

Specially-trained dogs are sometimes used to reduce anxiety and improve social skills in children with autism. Researchers from the Universite de Montreal studied 42 children with autism to assess the impact of the dogs. They found that the children's behaviour improved while the dog was staying with them and their levels of the stress horminone cortisol - as measured in their saliva - decreased.

Getting to grips with self-harm in Ireland

Deliberate self-harm is recognized worldwide as a major public-health problem with young people being particularly at risk. A team of researchers from Ireland (where the rate of self-harm in adolescents is estimated as between 8% and 12%) examined this issue more closely in a study of 3,881 teenagers in 39 schools. Among both sexes drug use and knowing a friend who harmed themselves were associated with an increased risk of self-harm. In girls poor self-esteem, forced sexual activity, self-harm by a family member, fights with parents and problems with friends increased the risk of self-harm while in boys bullying, problems with schoolwork, impulsivity and anxiety increased the risk.

McMahon, E.M. ... [et al] - Factors associated with deliberate self-harm among Irish adolescents Psychological Medicine November 2010, 40(11), 1811-1819

Turning down the frequency for successful magnet therapy

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) involves placing electrodes on people's heads and passing brief but strong magnetic pulses through their brain. Canada and Israel already use this technology to treat people with major depression and in the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration has recently approved this treatment. The pulses can be fast- or slow-frequency and it has been suggested that slow-frequency pulses may be safer and have fewer side effects. D.J.L.G. Schutter from Utrecht University in the Netherlands reviewed 9 studies into this topic involving 252 participants. He found that slow frequency TMS had a beneficial effect on people and could be just as effective as fast-frequency TMS.

Schutter, D.J.L.G. - Quantiative review of the efficacy of slow-frequency magnetic brain stimulation in major depressive disorder Psychological Medicine November 2010, 40(11), 1789-1795

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Light drinking in pregnancy not so damaging?

Pregnant women are often advised to stop drinking but a new study by a team of researchers, led by Yvonne J. Kelly from University College London suggests that the odd drink while pregnant has no long-term effects on babies' development. The team studied 11,513 children and their mothers - the children were born between September 2000 and January 2002. 6% of the mothers never drank at all, 60% drank but gave up while they were pregnant, 26% said that they were light drinkers (1 or 2 units a week), 5.5% were moderate drinkers (3-6 units a week) while 2.5% were heavy drinkers (more than 7 units a week). Children whose mothers were heavy drinkers were more likely to be hyperactive and have behavioural or emotional problems but there was no evidence to suggest any problems in children whose mothers had been light drinkers and they were actually 30% less likely to have behavioural problems.

Mothers' mental health and children's asthma

Researchers from the Kyushu University Institute of Health Science in Japan have been looking into the influence of mothers' parenting styles and mental health on their children's asthma. They studied 223 mothers who had children between the ages of two and 12. The study found that children over the age of seven suffered more severe attacks if their mothers were overprotective. Mothers who were chronically angry, irritated or who suppressed their emotions also had children who suffered more with asthma.

Anorexia and eyesight

Poor eyesight is a well-known side effect of anorexia and new research from Athens University Medical School had given an indication as to why this might happen. In a detailed study of 33 women, 13 of whom had suffered from anorexia for at least 10 years, they found that the macula - a structure behind the retina, which is responsible for detailed vision - was thinner in the women with anorexia and even thinner in women with bulimia. Neurotransmitters which pass signals from the eyes to the brain were also significantly less active in the women with anorexia.

Study questions fish oils for pregnant women

Women sometimes take fish-oil tablets when they are pregnant in the hope that the omega-3s in them could help to boost their baby's cognition and stop them developing postnatal depression; however, a new study by researchers from the University of Adelaide suggests that they could be wasting their time. The study involved 2,400 women in five Australian maternity hospitals between 2005 and 2009. Half of the women took fish-oil capsules and half took vegetable-oil ones. The study found that there was no difference between the two groups in either their babies' cognition at 18 months or the women's incidence of postnatal depression.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Herbal remedies for anxiety - what works and what doesn't

Researchers from the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, a non-profit organisation based in Los Angeles, have been reviewing research into nutritional supplements for treating anxiety. They pooled the results of 24 studies involving more than 200 participants. They found that extracts of passionflower and kava were effective as were L-lysine and L-arginine but that St John's Wort and magnesium supplements were not. There were no serious side effects from any of the herbal remedies.

Young students more responsible drinkers than young workers

A survey by the U.K. alcohol charity Drinkaware of 1,715 18-24 year-olds has found that students have a more responsible attitude to drink than people of a similar age in full-time work. The survey found that only 3% of students and 5% of young adults at work thought it was acceptable to end up in hospital after drinking too much although 30% of students still admitted blacking out or losing their memory after drinking too much. Only one in ten students said they had drunk more than 16 units (eight pints of beer) in a night compared to one in eight young workers. More than half (54%) of students admitted they drank at least double the daily-limit guidelines. 29% of the students and young workers said that their friends would ridicule them if they chose soft drinks on a night out.

Men, women, dopamine and drink problems

Men are twice as likely to become alcoholics as women but it is unclear whether there is a biological basis behind this statistic. Researchers from Columbia and Yale University studied students giving them an alcoholic drink and then scanning their brains to see how much dopamine had been released. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that creates pleasurable effects when it is released by experiences such as alcohol and sex. The men and women drank similar amounts of alcohol but the men released more dopamine than the women. The dopamine was released in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum which is strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement and addiction formation.

Vitamin B12 and Alzheimer's disease

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have added further evidence to the theory that vitamin B12 could help to prevent Alzheimer's disease. The researchers followed 271 people, aged between 65 and 79 at the start of the study, for seven years. Those with high levels of vitamin B12 were at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's over the course of the study. One of the ideas behind this theory is that vitamin B12 - which is found in meat, fish, eggs and milk - reduces the level of a harmful chemical called homocysteine which is known to raise the risks of both strokes and dementia and the study found that those with higher levels of homocysteine were at greater risk.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A little of what you suffer does you good

"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" has become something of a cliche lately but new research - led by Mark Seery from the University at Buffalo - suggests that, like a lot of other cliches, there may be a grain of truth behind it. The researchers studied 2,398 people who were repeatedly assessed from 2001 to 2004. They found that people who had experienced some, but not too many, adverse events reported better mental health and wellbeing than those who had experienced no adversity or higher amounts of it. People with a history of some life-time adversity were less negatively affected by recent adverse events than other individuals. However, it is well established that too much adversity can lead to higher overall distress, more functional impairment and post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Are autistic brains less well-connected?

A team of researchers led by Jeffery S. Anderson from the University of Utah have been using MRI scans to investigate differences in the brains of people with autism. They scanned 80 people, aged between 10 and 35, with the condition and found that there were differences in people with autism in the way the two hemispheres of the brain - left and right - connected with one another. The deficiencies in the connections in the people with autism were in areas to do with motor skills, attention, facial recognition and social functioning, all areas that people with autism have difficulty with.

You can find out more about this research here.

Dissection and depression

Scientists from Yale University have been dissecting dead people's brains in an attempt to find out more about depression. They analysed brain-tissue samples from 21 people who had been diagnosed with depression and compared them to 18 depression-free individuals. They found that a gene called MKP-1 was twice as active in the people who were depressed. The gene blocks a molecular pathway crucial to the survival and function of neurons.

You can find out more about this research here.

Poor drug taking sends people into crisis

In the U.K. people who might previously have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital are now often referred to Crisis Resolution Home Treatment (CRHT) services who decide whether to treat people themselves or send them on to hospital. CRHTs are an expensive service so finding out what factors make people likely to be referred to them is quite important. One factor that leads people's mental health to go downhill is not taking their medication but there has been little research into how this affects referrals to CRHTs so far. A team of researchers from Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust and Newcastle University looked at this issue in a study of 172 referrals to a CRHT. They found that 30% of the referrals had not taken their medication properly in the last month. These people were significantly more likely to have a dual diagnosis - i.e. a drug problem as well as a mental-health problem.

Sreenath, San ... [et al] - Medication adherence in crisis? Journal of Mental Health October 2010, 19(5), 470-474

Friday, October 15, 2010

Missing self-harm in girls with eating disorders

Teenagers with eating disorders could also be cutting themselves. Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine studied 1,432 eating-disorder patients, aged between 10 and 21, who were admitted to the hospital's eating-disorder programme between 1997 and 2008. They found that 40.8% of them were physically harming themselves. The average age of those who engaged in self-harm was 16, many of them had a history of bingeing and purging and 85.2% of them cut themselves. However, less than half of the girls' medical records showed that they had been asked about self-harm indicating that elsewhere a number of patients with eating disorders could go without this aspect of their behaviour being picked up.

New research claims Reboxetine is useless

Reboxetine - sold as Edronax by Pfizer - is no more effective at countering major depression than a placebo. Researchers from the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care reviewed trials of the drug and found that the risk of taking it far outweighed the benefits. The researchers found that three-quarters of the studies into the effectiveness of the drug - essentially the ones which showed it to be useless - were not published leading them to question the current National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines on its use in the U.K. which claim that "reboxetine is superior to placebo and as effective as other antidepressants."

Sober living houses help addicts clean up

People being treated for drug and alcohol problems in the community often experience problems because they still live in an environment where they are surrounded by drugs. One way around this is Sober Living Houses which are alcohol- and drug-free environments. They don't offer any formal treatment services but encourage, or require, attendance at self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Residents are free to stay as long as they like and the houses are financed by residents' fees, some of which at least can be payed by welfare. A team of researchers from the Alcohol Research Group in Emeryville, California studied 55 people living in Sober Living Houses. The participants showed significant improvement on measures of alcohol and drug use, arrests and days worked, got into less trouble with the law and did better in the jobs market. They did well as far as their drug and alcohol use was concerned and involvement in self-help groups was associated with reductions in alcohol and drug use.

Polcin, Douglas L. ... [et al] - Eighteen-month outcomes for clients receiving combined outpatient treatment and sober living houses Journal of Substance Use October 2010, 15(5), 352-366

Methampetamine and violent women

Methamphetamine is widely recognised as being linked to violence and aggression and rates of methamphetamine-related violence among women are equal to, or even higher than, those among men. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles studied 30 women in a residential treatment programme. 80% had experienced violence in their lifetime, 67% as victim and 57% as perpetrator. Most participants descibed being violent when they were withdrawing from methamphetamine use. Five of the women said  they would never have been violent if they hadn't taken methamphetamine but 10 said that they had pre-existing 'anger issues' that had been made worse by the drug.

Hamilton, Alison B. and Goeders, Nicholas E. - Violence perpetrated by women who use methamphetamine Journal of Substance Use October 2010, 15(5), 313-329

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Drug-free ways of improving older people's mental-health

Researchers from the Australian National University Centre for Mental Health Research have been looking at ways to improve the mental wellbeing of older adults which don't involve drugs. Their two-year study, which had 900 participants, looked into the effectiveness of encouraging physical activity; folate and vitamin B12 supplements and educating people about mental health and depression. The first intervention was a wash out as people did not respond to encouragement to exercise more but the folate and vitamin B12 supplements led to an improvement in cognitive functions and in long- and short-term memory. The group who had been given information about depression - including what it is, what works for treating it and where to go for help - had a reduction in depressive symptoms suggesting that this could be a cheap and effective way to tackle depression among this group.

Implant could help heroin users

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles have been studying the effectiveness of implants in improving the lives of heroin addicts. The implants are inch-long rods that sit just underneath the skin on people's arms. They last for six months and release a steady trickle of buprenorphine, an anti-addiction medicine which is chemically-related to heroin but less harmful. The study involved 163 participants, half of whom received dummy implants and half of whom received buprenorphine ones. After four months urine samples showed that 40% of those with the buprenorphine implants tested negative for illegal drugs compared to only 28% of those with the dummy implants. The drug did have side effects such as nausea, vomiting and constipation.

One in five U.S. teenagers may have a mental-health problem

Dr Kathleen Merikangas from the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S. has been leading a team of researchers looking into the mental health of children in the U.S. The team carried out face-to-face interviews with 10,123 children aged between 13 and 18. They found that 22.2% of them suffered from a mental-health problem severe enough to cause them distress in their day-to-day lives. Anxiety disorders were the most common problem, being found in 31.9% of the children with a mental-health problem, followed by behaviour disorders (19.1%), mood disorders (14.3%) and drug problems (11.4%). 40% of the participants with mental-health problems suffered from more than one disorder.

You can find out more about this study here

Short walk could cut dementia risk

Walking six miles a week could help to prevent brain shrinkage and protect people against dementia. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied 299 people, none of whom had dementia at the start of the study asking them how much walking they did in a week. Nine years later they took brain scans of the participants to measure their brain size and after four more years they were tested to see if they had developed cognitive impairment or dementia. After nine years people who walked between six and nine miles a week had greater grey matter volume than people who walked less, although walking more than this had no beneficial effect. Four years later 40% of the participants had developed cognitive impairment or dementia, however, those who walked the most cut their risk of developing memory problems in half.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mind the gap - changing from young people's to adults' mental health services

At some point children and teenagers with mental-health problems move from being treated by child and adolescent mental-health services (CAMHS) to being treated by adult services. A new study by researchers at the University of Warwick suggests that this transition might not always go as smoothly as it should. The study looked at 154 people who were making the move from CAMHS to adult services. It found that only 58% of participants actually moved across from one service to another. People with a history of severe mental illness, being on medication, or who had been admitted to hospital were more likely to make the transition than those with neurodevelopmental disorders, emotional/neurotic problems and emerging personality disorders. A fifth were discharged without being seen. Information transfer was hampered by a lack of understanding of each other's services, inconsistent documentation, mismatched computer systems and lengthy waiting lists.

'Screen time' and children's mental health

Spending long hours in front of a flickering screen could damage children's mental health even if they aren't couch potatoes in the rest of their life. Researchers from the University of Bristol studied 1,000 children aged between ten and 11. They measured the time they spent in front of the screen, used child-friendly questionnaires to assess their mental health and fitted them with an activity monitor to measure their levels of activity. The study found that more than two hours a day of 'screen' time -either watching TV or playing computer games - was related to higher psychological difficulty scores regardless of how active children were the rest of the time. Interestingly the children who spent more time sedentary had better psychological scores overall. The children who did more moderate physical activity felt better in certain areas, including emotional health and how well they got on with other children but did worse in some areas related to behaviour, including hyperactivity.

Social difficulties and psychosis

People who go on to develop psychosis often have difficulties in getting on with other people. But are these problems a risk factor for developing the condition? A new study (lead author Eva Velthorst from the University of Amsterdam) looked at 245 people who had sought help for their psychological problems and who were thought to be at risk of developing psychosis. The participants were followed for 18 months to see which of them developed psychosis and their problems in getting on with other people were assessed with a questionnaire at the start of the study. The participants who went on to develop psychosis had significantly greater difficulties in making new friends, maintaining friendships, dealing with people they did not know and joining community activities. Using statistical analysis the researchers found that difficulties in getting on with other people significantly predicted whether people developed psychosis.

Velthorst, Eva ... [et al] - Disability in people clinically at high risk of psychosis British Journal of Psychiatry October 2010, 197(4), 278-284

Antipsychotics and diabetes

More people are being prescribed antipsychotic drugs these days and more people are developing type 2 diabetes. But is there a link between taking antipsychotic medication and developing diabetes? So far the evidence is unclear but a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen studied 1,772,425 people (about a third of the total Danish population) in an attempt to find out. 345,937 people had been prescribed antipsychotics and 50,739 developed diabetes over the course of the study, which ran from 1996 to 2005. Treatment with 'first-generation' antipsychotics led to a 53% increase in risk and 'second-generation' antipsychotics had a 32% increase. The incidence of diabetes increased in line with the number of prescriptions and the number of different drugs people were prescribed.

Kessing, Lars Vedel ... [et al] - Treatment with antipsychotics and the risk of diabetes in clinical practice Britsih Journal of Psychiatry October 2010, 197(4), 266-271

Monday, October 11, 2010

Are You Becoming an Addict? - Guest Post by Rachel Davis

The worst part of any addiction is that by the time you’re aware of the fact that you’re an addict, you’ve also steeled your mind to believe that you’re not one. Denial is the first sign of any addiction, be it to tobacco, alcohol, drugs or even people. The truth about addiction is a bitter pill to swallow, but unless you accept it, you’re never going to able to seek help and get it in a timely manner. When your brain sends warning signals to show you’re on the verge of becoming an addict, it’s time to start kicking the habit, if not alone then with a little help. So how do you know you’re in danger?

• When you tend to hit the bottle every time you feel a little sad or depressed

• When you drink alone

• When you cry or when your emotions swing wildly after you’ve had a few drinks

• When you wake up in the morning to regret drinking the night before, yet you go back to the bottle when dusk sets in.

• When you start drinking to fall asleep


• When you get angry if you cannot have a smoke for any reason

• When you wake up craving a cigarette

• When you tell yourself you’re smoking just to give your friends company

• When you avoid non-smoking establishments


• When you expect more than you get, yet you accept what you get because you don’t want your partner to leave you

• When you stay on in abusive relationships

• When you feel paranoia if they don’t call or text you ever so often

• When you’re insanely possessive

• When ordinary events make you lose your cool

With drugs, it’s the beginning of an addiction when you even try it. Any narcotic substance is extremely addictive, so it’s best you avoid it altogether.

Addictions can spell ruin in more ways than one – you may lose not just your money and your job, but even your sanity and physical health. While money can be earned and jobs found in time, it’s extremely hard to go back to the same level of health you were in before the addiction. It takes its toll on your body, it ravages you mentally and physically, and it leaves you a weaker person prone to diseases of all kinds.

You can beat addictions by switching to healthier alternatives – exercise boosts your mental and physical health and provides you with a sound sleep every night; if you’re not too keen on working out, get involved in other activities that you find interesting and which make you feel good about yourself.


This guest post is contributed by Rachel Davis, she writes on the topic of Radiology degree . She welcomes your comments at her email id:

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Family therapy does the trick for anorexia

Psychologists have sometimes seen parents as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution when it comes to dealing with their children's eating disorders. However, a new study led by Dr James Lock from Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that family therapy - which involves parents in their children's treatment - might be more effective than individual therapy. The study involved 121 teenagers, mostly girls, who received 24 hours' worth of either family therapy or individual therapy over the course of a year. At the end of their treatment both those receiving family and individual therapy had similar remission rates. However, six months after treatment the family-therapy group had a better remission rate (40% vs 18%) and the difference remained after a year (49% vs 23%).

Testosterone and Alzehimer's disease

A study led by Leung-Wing Chu from Queen Mary Hospital at the University of Hong Kong has concluded that low levels of testosterone could be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. The study looked at 153 Chinese men over the age of 55. 10 of the men in the study developed Alzheimer's disease and they all had low levels of testosterone, high levels of a protein called apolipoprotein E and high blood pressure. Previous research has shown that low testosterone is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's so the next step could be a medical trial of testosterone supplements.

Teenage drunkenness - more level playing field than slippery slope?

Researchers from Addiction Info Switzerland in Lausanne have been looking into the levels of teenage drunkenness across different countries. They found that rates of drunkenness were converging among different groups with a relative increase among girls and people in Eastern Europe and a relative decrease among boys and people in Western Europe and North America. The researchers surveyed 77,586 15-year-olds across different countries. Overall the sample had been drunk on average two or three times. In Eastern Europe the average frequency of drunkenness increased by about 40% over the ten-year period of the study - the increase was more consistent among girls. In Western countries the frequency of drunkenness declined by an average of 25% - a decline particulary notable among boys in North America, Scandinavia and Ireland.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Internet use and depression

Teenagers who are obsessed with the internet could be more likely to suffer from depression. Researchers from the University of Notre Dame in Australia and Sun-Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China looked at the mental health and internet use of 1,041 students in Guangzhou. The students were asked about their internet use including questions such as "How often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend on-line?" and "How often do you fear that life without the internet would be boring, empty and joyless?" and about their mental health. 8% of the teenagers developed symptoms of depression over the course of the study while 6% of them were classified as having 'pathological' internet use. Those teenagers who had an unhealthy relationship with the internet were two-and-a-half times more likely to have developed depression by the end of the study. But it is still not clear whether heavy internet use makes people feel depressed or whether teenagers who feel depressed are more likely to be heavier internet users.

ADHD increases suicide risk

Children who are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in early childhood are much more likely to have suicidal tendencies later. Researchers from Maryland University studied 248 children aged between nine and 18. Half of them had been diagnosed with ADHD as young children and half were unaffected. 12% of those who had been diagnosed with ADHD had thought about the practicalities of killing themselves compared to only 1.6% of the unaffected children.

Mental-health courts prove useful in U.S.

Mental-health courts aim to move people with a serious mental illness out of the criminal-justice system and into community treatment. The courts were first set up in the U.S. in 1997 and now there are around 250 of them. Treatment is usually a condition of appearing before the courts which reserve the right to punish defendants if they do not comply with their terms. Researchers from Policy Research Associates in New York studied 1,047 people in California, Minnesota and Indiana. 447 went through the mental-health courts while 600 appeared before the mormal courts. Those people who participated in the mental-health courts were significantly less likely (49% vs 58%) to be arrested again, had fewer arrests per year (1.3 vs 2.0) and spent less days in jail (82 days vs 152 days).

The true cost of mental illness in England

The Centre for Mental Health has estimated that the cost of mental illness in England is £105.2 bn a year. The cost includes health and social care for people with mental-health problems, sickness absence and unemployment and the human costs of reduced quality of life.

You can see the full report from the Centre for Mental Health here.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Autistic children's siblings show similar symptoms

Researchers from Washington University in St Louis have been looking into the brothers and sisters of children with autism to see if they suffer from any of the symptoms of the condition. They studied nearly 3,000 children in 1,235 families whose brothers or sisters had autism. The researchers found that 20% of the siblings had received a diagnosis of language delay or speech problems early in life and half of them had patterns of speech typical of autism. Symptoms of autism in undiagnosed siblings were more likely to occur in families where more than one child had been formally diagnosed with the condition. It was less common for siblings to be affected with autistic traits than for non-identical twins.

Alexithymia and PTSD

Alexithymia is a term psychologists use for difficulties in identifying, processing and regulating emotions. It has been linked to a number of different mental-health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers from Ghent University in Belgium looked into the links between alexithymia and PTSD a little further in a sample of 136 nurses and ambulance staff working in military facilities. Looking at the different aspects of PTSD the study found that alexithymia was linked to numbing and hyperarousal but not avoidance or re-experiencing symptoms. The most important aspect of alexithymia was a difficulty in identifying feelings which contributed most to numbing and hyperarousal.

Declercq, Frederic,  Vanheule, Stijn and Deheegher, John - Alexithymia and posttraumatic stress: subscales and symptom clusters Journal of Clinical Psychology October 2010, 66(10), 1076-1089

Getting to the bottom of military suicides

Suicide is the second biggest cause of death in the U.S. military with estimates ranging from a rate of nine to 15 deaths per 100,000 service members. The commonest type of traumatic death suffered during military training is suicide and male veterans are twice as likely to kill themselves as non veterans. However, military suicide rates are lower in times of peace than civilian ones. So what is is about combat that makes people more likely to commit suicide? Psychologists now think that three factors have to be in place before people kill themselves: a feeling that one does not belong with other people; a feeling that one is a burden to others or society and the capability of overcoming the fear and pain associated with suicide. A team of researchers led by Craig J. Bryan from the University of Texas looked into these factors in a study of 522 servicemen who had fought in Iraq. They found that a greater experience of combat was linked to an increased capability for killing oneself above and beyond depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, previous thoughts of suicide and other common risk factors. However, combat experiences did not lead to reduced feelings of belonging or a feeling of being a burden on other people. The study suggests that it is the brutalising effect of combat which gives people the capability of killing themselves.

Bryan, Craig J. ... [et al] - Combat experience and the acquired capability for suicide Journal of Clinical Psychology October 2010, 66(10), 1044-1056