Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Obesity and depression

Past research has shown that being obese can increase people's risk of depression by between 50 and 150%. However, a new study by researchers from the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle suggests that the relationship can work both ways and that treating fat people's depression can also help them lose weight. The study of 203 women, aged between 40 and 65 divided them into two groups. Both groups focused on weight loss but one group also included a treatment for depression. After six months 38% of the women whose depression symptoms had improved had lost at least 5% of their body weight compared to only 21% of those who showed little improvement. Unfortunately there was little further change in either the women's weight or their depression when they were assessed after 12, 18 and 24 months.

Naltrexone and alcoholism

Naltrexone is used in the treatment of alcoholism. It blocks the pleasurable feelings people get from drinking alcohol and reduces the motivation to drink. Michael Soyka and Suanne Roesner from the University of Munich reviewed 50 studies into the effectiveness of naltrexone covering a total of nearly 7,800 participants. They found that, compared to a placebo, people taking naltrexone were 17% less likely to return to heavy drinking. The trials tested naltrexone used in conjunction with counselling or a 12-step programme, like Alcoholics Anonymous, and the authors of the study warned that although it might help some people, it was not a miracle cure.

Eating disorders and mindfulness

Mindfulness - being aware of the present moment in an open and non-judgmental fashion - has become something incorporated into the treatment of more and more mental-health problems. People with eating disorders often have trouble regulating their emotional, cognitive and physical experiences and an inability to recognise when they feel hungry or full. Natasha Hepworth, who works in a private clinic in Melbourne, Australia, studied the effectiveness of a Mindful Eating Group in a study of 33 patients being treated there. The group was designed to increase the participants' awareness of hunger and satiety cues. After taking part in the group for 10 weeks the participants showed significant improvements in their scores on the Eating Attitudes Test-26 (EAT-26) assessment tool.

Hepworth, Natasha S. - A Mindful Eating Group as an Adjunct to Individual Treatment for Eating Disorders: a Pilot Study Eating Disorders, 19:6–16, 2011

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seniors, side effects and chemical cocktails

Older people who start taking antidepressants may already be taking other drugs for different problems. These drugs can interact with the antidepressants to create a number of side effects which can put people off taking antidepressants. Researchers from Thomson Reuters, the University of Southern California and Sanofi-Aventis studied 39,000 older people who started taking antidepressants between 2001 and 2006. More than 25% were prescribed antidepressants and another drug that could cause a major interaction and another 36% were at risk of less-severe drug interactions. The most common side effects caused by drug interactions were insomnia, somnolence and drowsiness which occurred in 2.6% of people with the next most common being dizziness (1.1%). Only 45% of people who had documented side effects refilled their prescription for the same antidepressant and a quarter stopped taking antidepressants altogether.

Schizophrenia and caeliac disease

People with schizophrenia are more likely to suffer from caeliac disease than the rest of the population. Scientists don't know why but a team of researchers from John Hopkins University in Baltimore looked into the prevalence of antibodies associated with gliadin, transglutinamase and endomysium - which are associated with caeliac disease - in a study of 2,301 people 1,401 of whom had schizophrenia. The researchers found that 23.1% of the schizophrenia patients had moderate-high levels of gliadin antibodies compard to 3.1% of the unaffected people. 5.4% of the schizophrenia patients had high levels of transglutaminase antibodies compared to 0.8% of the unaffected people.

Cascella, Nicola G. ... [et al] - Prevalence of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity in the United States Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of Intervention Effectiveness Study Population Schizophrenia Bulletin 37 (1), 94–100, 2011

Insight and psychosis

In a mental-health context insight can be defined as being aware that you have a mental-health problem; being aware that you need treatment and being aware that your symptoms are due to an illness. A team of Spanish researchers studied insight in a study of 110 patients with psychosis. They found that after two years of illness insight was poorer in people suffering from schizophrenia than in people suffering from other types of psychosis. The more severe people's psychosis the less insight they had. Being depressed when one develops psychosis; having poorer decision-making skills and a lower IQ, and going for a longer time without getting help were all associated with poorer insight as were reductions in frontal and parietal grey matter.

Parellada, Mara ... [et al] - Trait and state attributes of insight in first episodes of early-onset schizophrenia and other psychoses: a two-year longitudinal study Schizophrenia Bulletin 37 (1), 38–51, 2011

Spending cuts lead to revolving door for eating disorder patients

Spending cuts meant that many people with eating disorders are not admitted to an inpatient treatment programme until their weight has fallen to dangerously low levels. However, there has been little research into whether waiting this long to admit patients can affect their chances of recovering in the long run. Researchers from St George's Hospital in South London studied 82 people with anorexia being admitted to an eating-disorder ward. They found that people's weight when they were admitted to hospital didn't affect how much weight they put on during treatment. However, people who weighed less when they were admitted were kept in hospital no longer than those who were heavier meaning that, although they put on weight at the same rate, they were still lighter when they were discharged and were more at risk of having to go back to hospital within a year.

Sly, Richard and Bamford, Bryony - Why Are We Waiting? The Relationship Between Low Admission Weight and End of Treatment Weight Outcomes European Eating Disorders Review doi: 10.1002/erv.1061

Friday, December 17, 2010

Job losses and mental health - could they be less damaging than feared?

The economic downturn affecting large parts of the Western world has brought lots of job losses with it but new research from the New York University School of Medicine suggests that they may not have the effects on people's mental health that are sometimes feared. The researchers used data from 774 people in Germany who had been made redundant. The participants were taking part in the German Socioeconomic Panel Data study which collected information between 1984 and 2003. This allowed the researchers to collect data about the participants' happiness in the three years before they were made redundant and for four years afterwards. 69% had high and stable levels of life satisfaction before they lost their jobs. This group were more likely to be harder hit by being laid off but a year later their average life satisfaction had returned to pre-job-loss levels, even though this group was no more likely to get another job by the end of the study. 15% of the participants had actually been getting happier before being made redundant and this group showed only a levelling off of their happiness after losing their jobs. 13% were unhappy before losing work and their levels of happiness also stayed the same after getting laid off. 4% of people were becoming unhappier even before they lost their jobs. These people became even unhappier after they became unemployed but their happiness started rising again - albeit not to their original levels - by the third year of the study; this group was the least likely to be re-employed. Germany's economy is doing much better than many other European countries, however, and it has a reasonably generous welfare system so it would be interesting to see whether this research held true for other countries.

Are we right to go for happiness?

Most politicians and economists work on the assumption that economic growth is in itself a good thing. However, research by Richard Easterlin from the University of Southern California suggests that, whatever its other benefits, it does not bring happiness. Easterlin's study tracked the levels of happiness and economic growth in 37 countries over an average of 22 years. Even in countries such as Chile, China and South Korea were per capita income has doubled in less than 20 years levels of happiness were static, or in some cases slightly declining. Although richer countries, and within countries richer people, had higher levels of happiness there was absolutely no connection between economic growth and happiness over time.

Alzheimer's decay could start earlier than thought

Alzheimer's disease is thought to be caused by the build up of tangles, or plaques, of a protein called beta amyloid in the brain. However, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis have found that in people who have a genetic variation linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease the brain can start going downill even in the absence of amyloid plaques. The researchers studied 100 people with an average age of 62. None of them had amyloid plaques or any sign of the protein in their spinal fluid but half of them had a variation in the gene APOE4 which is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's. The participants with the genetic variation showed different functioning in a region of the brain - centred on a structure called the precuneus - called the default mode network. This region is thought to be connected to what the brain does when it is not thinking about anything in particular - wool-gathering or day-dreaming - but is also connected to lots of other regions so a deterioration here could have widespread effects on other thought processes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cyber-bullying rife but short-lived

Researchers from the University of Valencia have been looking into the incidence of bullying via mobile phones and the internet. They surveyed 2,101 teenagers between the ages of 11 and 17. 24.6% of them had been bullied via their mobile and 29% via the internet. In most cases the bullying lasted for less than a month but in 4% of cases it lasted between three and six month, and in 3% more than a year. Younger children were more likely to experience bullying via this method than older ones and girls likelier than boys. The bullying often took the form of invasions of privacy, spreading of rumours, and social exclusion.

Mothers' depression and babies' health

Up to one in five women experiences depression during pregnancy and postnatal depression is also a common problem. Researchers from the University of Michigan studied 154 pregnant women, over the age of 20, who were tested for depression at 28, 32 and 37 weeks into their pregnancy and again when they gave birth. The researchers took blood samples from the babies' umbilical cords to measure the levels of stress hormones and assessed the babies' motor skills and responses to stimuli and stress when they were two weeks old. The study found that the babies born to women who were depressed had higher levels of stress hormones, decreased muscle tone and other neurological and behavioural differences.

Uncovering the roots of unconscious memory

In In Search of Lost Time Proust describes a whole host of memories suddenly brought back to him when he dips a madeliene biscuit into a cup of lime tea. Psychologists call this process unconscious memory and researchers from the University of California Davis believe that they have found the region of the brain responsible for it. The researchers compared people with amnesia who had damage to an area of the brain called the perirhinal cortex to a group of healthy people. They gave the subjects a long list of words and asked them to think of any pleasant associations they brought to mind; later they were asked to think up words in different categories such as 'furniture.' The participants had MRI scans as they took the tests and in the healthy participants, who performed better in the tests, the perirhinal cortex showed increased activity. The study ties in with other research which shows that Alzheimer's disease often attacks the perirhinal cortex before other brain areas.

'Conduct disorder' and juvenile delinquency

12 and 13-year-olds with 'conduct disorder' are much more likely to engage in violent and delinquent behaviour as teenagers. Researchers from the Universite de Montreal studied 4,125 children, following them over a number of years. They found that the 12- and 13-year-olds with conduct disorder who displayed violent behaviour were six times as likely to sell illicit drugs, nine times as likely to join a gang and 11 times as likely to carry a weapon; they were also eight times as likely to be arrested. Children with conduct disorder who weren't violent were also more likely to behave badly being three times as likely to sell illicit drugs, four times as likely to join a gang and three times as likely to mug someone using a weapon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Good' cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease

Researchers from Columbia University in New York have been looking into the links between 'good' cholesterol - high-density lipoprotein (HDL) - and Alzheimer's disease. They studied 1,130 adults in northern Manhattan none of whom had dementia or cognitive impairment at the start of the study. As the participants were followed over time there were 101 new cases of Alzheimer's disease. Having higher levels of HDL cholesterol was associated with a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer's even after adjusting for vascular (blood vessel) risk factors and cholesterol-lowering treatments. Being Hispanic and having diabetes at the start of the study both increased the risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Anger and anxiety

Some researchers think that anxiety and anger are linked and that a genetic predisposition to over-react to things, or to see them as a threat, leads some people to worry and fret, developing an anxiety disorder, while others become angry and lash out. Other people think that the anger felt by people with an anxiety disorder is due to the depression that they often also feel and not their anxiety. Researchers from Florida State University used information from 5,692 people who took part in the National Comorbidity Survey. They found that there was a link between anxiety and anger, independent of depression, but that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder were 'not consistently associated with anger experience and expression.'

Hawkins, Kirsten A. and Cougle, Jesse R. - Anger problems across the anxiety disorders: findings from a population-based study Depression and Anxiety doi: 10.1002/da.20764

Acceptance and anxiety

When James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause is asked 'What are you rebelling against?' he replies 'What have you got?' and people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) feel much the same about worry. Acceptance-based behavioural therapy (ABBT) promotes the acceptance rather than the avoidance of uncomfortable emotions, persuades people that they can usefully channel these emotions and gets them to confront the situations that make them fearful. A team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts studied 31 people, half of whom were put on a waiting list and half of whom received ABBT. The people who received ABBT had significantly fewer difficulties in regulating their emotions and felt less fear about their emotional responses as well as being less bothered by uncertainty; improvements that were maintained when they were followed up after three and nine months.

Treanor, Michael ... [et al] - Acceptance-based behavioral therapy for GAD: effects on outcomes from three theoretical models Depression and anxiety doi: 10.1002/da.20766

Fear and psychopathy

Children with psychopathic traits feel emotions less strongly and have less empathy for other people and recent research suggests that they may feel fear less than other people. A team of researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S. investigated this issue in a study of 42 children aged between 10 and 17, 18 of whom had psychopathic traits. The children were asked to talk about how they felt during five recent 'emotionally evocative' events. The study found that psychopathy was associated with feeling less fear and fewer symptoms of sympathetic nervous system arousal such as a pounding heart or sweaty palms.

Marsh, Abigail A. ... [et al] - Adolescents with psychopathic traits report reductions in physiological responses to fear Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02353.x

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mums, dads and social anxiety

Social anxiety disorder can lead to depression and anxiety and can impede people's functioning in jobs and relationships. It is often thought to run in families but the genetic risk is modest suggesting that parenting and environment play a part too. Researchers know very little about how upbringing affects children's chances of developing anxiety disorder but some researchers think that the way in which children interpret what is going on around them and the influence their parents have on this could play a part. A team of researchers from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands looked into this issue further in a study of 144 children aged between eight and 12. The children were presented with a series of ambiguous social scenarios in which either the father or the mother acted anxiously or confidently. In children who were highly socially-anxious the father's behaviour had a greater influence on their levels of confidence or anxiety but for children who had average or low levels of social anxiety the mother's role was more important. The results suggest that fathers could have an important role to play in boosting the confidence of socially-anxious children.

Bogels, Susan, Stevens, Juliette and Majdandzic, Mirjana - Parenting and social anxiety: fathers’ versus

mothers’ influence on their children’s anxiety in ambiguous social situations Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02345.x

Monday, December 13, 2010

Violent crime - keeping it in the family

Violent behaviour can be made more likely by sociological, biological and psychological factors. All of these affect families as well as individuals and it is no surprise that violent crime tends to run in families. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm looked into this in a study of 12.5 million people. They found that first degree (i.e. from the same nuclear family) relatives of people who had committed a violent crime were 4.3 times as likely as average to have been violent themselves while more distant relatives were 1.9 times as likely. By comparing people who lived with their biological families to those who had been adopted the researchers found that both genetic and environmental factors raised the risk of developing violent behaviour. A family risk of violence was stronger among women; in higher socio-economic groups and in those who had behaved violently early in life. Some crimes like arson - where being the sibling of an arsonist made people 22.4 times as likely to commit arson themselves - ran particularly strongly in families.

Frisell, T., Lichtenstein, P. and Langstrom, N. - Violent crime runs in families: a total population study of 12.5 million people Psychological Medicine (2011), 41, 97–105

Ethnicity and PTSD

To be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) people have to have experienced a traumatic event, to have developed symptoms and to have sought help from - and been diagnosed by - medical professionals. Researchers don't really know whether these factors vary between different ethnic groups so a team from Harvard School of Public Health surveyed 34,653 people in an attempt to find out. Black people were most likely to develop PTSD over the course of their life (8.7%) than White people (7.4%) and Hispanic people (7%) with Asian people (4%) being the least likely. Overall White people were more likely to experience trauma but Black and Hispanic people were more likely to have suffered child abuse or domestic violence; and Asians, Black men and Hispanic women had a higher risk of war-related events than White people. Among those who had experienced trauma Black people were 22% more likely and Asian people only two-thirds as likely to develop PTSD. All minority groups were less likely to seek treatment for PTSD than White people and fewer than half of minorities with PTSD sought treatment.

Roberts, A. L. ... [et al] - Race/ethnic differences in exposure to traumatic events, development of post-traumatic stress disorder, and treatment-seeking for post-traumatic stress disorder in the United States (2011), 41, 71–83.
Psychological Medicine

Measuring the burden of care

As more and more mentally-ill people are looked after in the community the responsibility for looking after them tends to fall on their relatives. A team of researchers from Karlstad University in Sweden looked into the 'burden of care' of 226 relatives from the Norwegian National Association for Families of Mentally-Ill Persons. They found that the relatives were 'burdened' and also reported poor health, with women experiencing a greater burden than men. For relatives who were single, divorced or widowed the burden of care was greater and health was poorer - and financial troubles and frequent phone calls with the mentally-ill relative made matters worse. The researchers also looked into the relatives' sense of coherence - the degree to which they found life to be comprehensible, manageable and meaningful - and found that this was lower in people who felt more of a sense of burden and had poorer health.

Weimand, Bente M. ... [et al] - Burden and Health in Relatives of Persons with Severe Mental Illness: A Norwegian Cross- Sectional Study Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 31:804–815, 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Child abuse and alcohol problems

Child abuse is a big public-health problem with 794,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. in 2007. It is a risk factor for a number of different problems including alcohol abuse, but less is known about this link in boys than in girls. Researchers from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles studied 3,527 men aged between 17 and 56. Approximately 9% of the participants reported childhood maltreatment - defined as serious neglect or physical or sexual abuse occurring before the age of 15. Those who had been abused were 74% more likely to develop an alcohol problem.

Young-Wolff, K.C. ... [et al] - Accounting for the association between childhood maltreatment and alcohol-use disorders in males: a twin study Psychological Medicine (2011), 41, 59–70

Coping style and psychotherapy

People tend to cope with problems and difficulties in different ways. Some people bottle things up and become anxious and depressed while others show less sympathy to others, behave insensitively and become angry. Psychologists call these techniques internalizing and externalizing respectively. Psychotherapists are increasingly trying to tailor their treatments to individual patients - whether it be their preferences about treatment, or cultural, social or religious background - and a team of researchers from the University of Palo Alto looked into whether tailoring treatment to coping style would make it more effective. They reviewed 12 studies, covering a total of 1,291 people and found that people who externalized their problems did better with treatments that targeted their behaviour while people who internalized them did better with treatments designed to help them get insights into their thought processes.

Beutler, Larry E. ... [et al] - Coping style Journal of Clinical Psychology: in session 67(2), 1-8 

Psychosis and suicide

The long-term risk of suicide after a first episode of psychosis is unknown although most researchers think it is probably higher than the rate in the rest of the population. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied 2,723 people in Camberwell, London; Nottingham and Dumfries and Galloway (Scotland) following them for 11 years after their first episode of psychosis. They found that although the rate of suicide was highest in the first year after becoming ill the increased risk persisted for years. Over the course of the study suicide among the participants occured nearly 12 times more than would be expected among the general population. 53 of the participants killed themselves over the course of the study, 49 more than would have been expected in a similar group of unaffected people. Even after ten years the suicide rate among the participants was four times as high as in the general population.

Dutta, Rina ... [et al] - Reassessing the long-term risk of suicide after a first episode of psychosis Archives of General Psychiatry 67(12), December 2010, 1230-1237

Bipolar disorder and recovery from depression

Some researchers think that people with depression who also show some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder are less likely to respond well to treatment. A team of researchers led by Roy H. Perlis from Harvard Medical School looked into this issue in a study of 4,041 people taking part in the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study. They found that irritability and symptoms of psychosis (delusions and hallucinations) at the start of the study were significantly associated with poorer treatment outcomes but other symptoms of bipolar disorder and a family history of the condition weren't.

Perlis, Roy H. ... [et al] - Association between bipolar spectrum features and treatment outcomes in outpatients with major depressive disorder Archives of General Psychiatry doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.179

Monday, December 06, 2010

Charting the path from childhood delusions to mental illness

Although only around 1% of people suffer from full-blown schizophrenia or psychosis hallucinations or delusional beliefs - psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) - are more common and some psychologists think they are a risk factor for developing mental illness. One study found that 11-year-olds who reported a PLE were 16 times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia when they were 26. For most people PLEs decline as they grow up but in a few people they persist, or even get worse. A team of researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London looked into this is in a study of 409 teenagers who were studied four times at six-month intervals. They found that the teenagers whose PLEs were persistent suffered frequent victimization and higher levels of depression and anxiety. Those whose PLEs increased were more likely to smoke and use cannabis and cocaine.

Mackie, C. J., Castellanos-Ryan, N. and Conrod, P.J. - Developmental trajectories of psychotic-like

experiences across adolescence: impact of victimization and substance use Psychological Medicine (2011), 41, 47–58

Child poverty and mental distress

Adults who are poor are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, however, despite what common sense might suggest the research into how poverty affects the mental health of children and young people is inconclusive. A team of French researchers used information from a study of 941 people. The participants in the study were aged between four and 18 when it started in 1991 and were followed up in 1999. The study found that the children from low-income families in 1991 were 74% more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression in 1999. Children in families whose income either decreased or stayed persistently low between 1991 and 1999 were 2.44 times more likely to suffer from psychological distress.

Melchior, Maria ... [et al] - Family income and youths' symptoms of depression and anxiety: a longitudinal study of the French Gazel youth cohort Depression and anxiety 27(12), 1095-1103

Tough childhoods, emotional reactivity, depression and anxiety

To some extent everybody suffers from stress but some people seem to get more worked up about it than others, something psychologists call emotional, or stress, reactivity. Psychologists have known for a long time that adverse childhood experiences can make people more prone to suffer from depression and anxiety as adults and some think that increased emotional reactivity is one of the ways it might do this. A team of researchers from Harvard School of Public Health looked into this in a study of 268 men who were studied from late adolescence over a seventy-year period. They found that people with better overall childhood environments and a greater number of environmental strengths were at a smaller risk of developing depression or anxiety as adults. Families from poorer backgrounds and with childhood environments characterized by greater conflict and adversity had higher emotional reactivity and higher emotional reactivity in turn predicted the development of adult mood and anxiety disorders.

McLaughlin, Katie A. ... [et al] - Childhood social environment, emotional reactivity to stress, and mood and anxiety disorders across the life course Depression and anxiety 27(12), 1087-1094

Helping children with autism by teaching them to be copycats

As most children develop they acquire the ability to imitate other people, pay attention to the same things and reflect others' moods - something psychologists call socially-synchronous behaviour. Unfortunately children with autism do not develop in this way and although there is evidence to suggest that early interventions can help children with autism improve their social skills there have been no trials of methods for 'enhancing socially-engaged imitation.' A team of researchers from the U.S., led by Rebecca J. Landa from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, studied 50 toddlers with autism. All the toddlers took part in a programme to improve their social skills but half of them also received extra help with 'interpersonal synchrony.' Those who were taught how to imitate other people doubled the number of times they copied others, made more eye contact and developed better social skills overall.

Landa, Rebecca J. ... [et al] - Intervention targeting development of socially synchronous engagement in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder: a randomized controlled trial Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02288.x

Friday, December 03, 2010

Parenting programme lays firm foundations

The birth of a child can bring stress and conflict to couples as well as joy and happiness. The Family Foundations programme aims to foster attitudes and skills related to positive family relationships such as emotion regulation, temperament and positive parenting. Researchers from Penn State University studied the effectiveness of the programme comparing a group of parents around the birth of their first child who received eight sessions of it (four before birth and four after) to a control group. The study found that the parents who took part in the programme had lower levels of stress and depression and higher levels of confidence in their parenting abilities; they also supported each other more and showed more effective parenting styles with less over-reaction and less use of corporal punishment.

Smoking and mental health - feeling glum and giving up

Giving up smoking could be as good for people's mental health as it is for their bodies despite the fact that people often say they smoke because it makes them feel less anxious or depressed. Researchers from Brown University in Rhode Island studied 236 men and women who were trying to give up. 99 of them never managed to give up at all, 33 managed to give up for the whole 28 weeks of the study and the rest gave up temporarily. Those who managed to quit temporarily had fewer depression symptoms when they weren't smoking but after they had relapsed their mood got worse, in some cases ending up worse than before they had stopped. The participants who never gave up were the unhappiest of all the groups whereas the ones who managed to abstain over the whole course of the study were the happiest to begin with and remained at the same level of happiness throughout.

Brain scan could help with autism diagnosis

A test which can diagnose autism accurately could help children with the condition get help and support as soon as possible. Researchers from McLean Hospital in Boston and the University of Utah used MRI scans to look at how people's brains worked in a study of 60 men and boys aged between eight and 26. Half of the participants had 'high-functioning' autism and half were unaffected. The study found that the participants with autism had differences in their superior temporal gyrus and their temporal stems - areas which are involved with language, emotion and social skills. In autistic participants the white matter fibres in the superior temporal gyrus were more organised on the right-hand side but it was the other way around for unaffected people. The test had an accuracy rate of 94% which is very good compared to other methods although the participants were much older than the usual age for diagnosing autism which is around three.

One in seven young U.S. women suffering from depression

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have been using national data to assess the prevalence of depression and serious psychological distress (SPD) among young, non-pregnant women aged between 18 and 44. They found that 14% of them - about one in seven - suffered from current depression and 2.7% suffered from SPD. Older age, less education, being single and being unemployed were all risk factors for depression and SPD. Women with depression were less likely to be diagnosed if they were aged 18-24, weren't white, had children, lived in an urban area or were employed.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Goals and grief

It's normal to feel grief and sadness after the death of a loved one yet for some people the effects can be much worse. People who go on to develop what psychologists call prolonged grief disorder (PGD) experience persistent yearning for their lost loved ones, difficulty in accepting their loss, numbness and a shattered sense of identity. Paul A. Boelen from Utrecht University in the Netherlands looked into how people's goals and wishes for the future affected their grieving process in a study of 160 bereaved people. The participants in the study were asked to write down seven important personal goals and to complete questionnaires designed to measure their levels of PGD and depression. The study found that more severe PGD was associated with goals which were less specific, felt to be - at least partially - beyond people's control, and which had a lower perceived likelihood of being achieved. Mourners with more PGD had goals that were associated with loss and feelings rather than with work, education or relationships.

Boelen, Paul A. - Personal Goals and Prolonged Grief Disorder Symptoms Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy doi: 10.1002/cpp.731