Thursday, January 28, 2010

Drivers deluding themselves

Most drivers think that they are better than average despite the fact that this is statistically impossible. Researchers from Ottawa University polled nearly 400 drivers who were asked to rate how they would cope with different driving conditions such as poor weather, emergency stops and fast roads with heavy traffic. They were also asked how likely they thought they would be to have a crash compared to the average motorist of the same sex. All the drivers rated themselves above the average motorist with drivers over 65 being particularly looked down on. Young men had the greatest feelings of superiority while middle-aged men felt themselves to be better than both older and younger drivers. But even the older drivers felt that they were better than other drivers of the same age.

You can find out more about this study at

At last, an excuse for the student coffee break

Scientists know that sleep plays an important part in memory but new research from New York University suggests that even a short break can help people remember things. The researchers showed the participants in the study images of faces, followed by a series of random objects. The participants did not know they would be tested on their memory of the objects later. The levels of activity in a part of the brain called the hippocampus - which plays an important part in memory - were measured while the participants were being shown the images and during a subsequent rest period. The hippocampus was found to be equally active while people were resting as it was when they were being shown the images and the more active people's hippocampi were when they were resting the better they did during a subsequent test of recall.

Prosody and empathy

Prosody refers to the intonation - the up and down quality - of people's speech and is distinct from, though usually related to, speech's content. Researchers from the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology looked into prosody by playing and getting people to speak, nonsense phrases with a happy or sad intonation. They found that a part of the brain called Broca's Area became active when the volunteers both heard and produced the different intonations. The participants were also tested on their levels of empathy and it was found that those with the most active Broca's Area were the most empathetic. Interestingly people with Asperger's Syndrome, who tend to lack empathy with others often speak in a monotone.

You can find out more about this research at

Figures show scale of alcohol abuse in U.K.

The number of alcohol-related deaths in the U.K. rose to 9,031 in 2008, up from 8,724 the year before although the amount being drunk has fallen slightly. Middle-class professionals drink more (13.8 units per week) than those on lower incomes (10.6 units). U.K. alcohol consumption started to fall in 2002 but because of the long-term damage caused by alcohol there is a lag in the number of deaths. The percentage of people buying alcohol from an off licence fell from 37% in 1998 to 27% in 2009 but the percentage buying from a supermarket rose from 25% to 29%. Meanwhile a separate reply by public-health minister Gillian Merron to a question in Parliament revealed that 12,832 children were admitted to hospital with alcohol-related conditions in 2008/9 down from 14,501 the year before. The highest number of admissions were in the North-West where there were 2,548 alcohol-related cases. Separate figures from the NHS Information Centre revealed how much children who do drink consume, ranging from an average 17.7 units (two bottles of wine) a week in the North East to 13.5 units in the South-East.

You can find out more about alcohol in the U.K. at

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review of the evidence backs psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy (PP) has lost out to cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and medication over the last few years but a review of the research by Jonathan Shedler of the University of Colorado suggests that it may be just as effective and have long-lasting benefits. PP focuses on the psychological causes of people's problems and uses self-reflection and self-examination. The relationship between the client and the therapist is seen as very important as this is thought to mirror problems the client might have in their other relationships. Shedler reviewed eight meta-analyses covering a total of 160 studies and found that PP had a significant effect that was longer lasting than that of CBT or medication. PP was found to be effective for a wide variety of conditions including depression, anxiety and personality disorders.

You can find out more about this research at

Ambidextrousness - why mixed hands are a mixed blessing in the classroom

Ambidextrous children are more likely to have mental-health, language and schoolwork problems than those who are left- or right-handed. One would have thought being able to use both hands equally well would be an advantage but a study of 7,871 children from Northern Finland by a team of researchers led by Alina Rodriguez from Imperial College London suggests otherwise. The team used questionnaires to assess the children at 7/8 and and 15/16. 87 of the children were ambidextrous and at 7/8 these children were twice as likely as their right-handed peers to have difficulties with languages or to perform poorly in school. At the age of 15/16 they were at twice the risk of showing symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and more likely to have severe symptoms.

You can find out more about this research at

Time flies when you're having fun - or is it the other way around?

Time flies when you're having fun is a tried and tested proverb but it could work in the other direction too according to researchers from the University of St Thomas in Minneapolis. They got students to carry out a mundane task and told them it would take ten minutes to do. Although the clocks in the rooms where the students carried out the tasks were manipulated to show that ten minutes had passed in reality some spent five minutes working on it and others twenty giving the illusion that time had flown by or dragged. Those participants who thought that time had flown rated the task as much more enjoyable than those who thought it dragged even though both groups had spent exactly the same amount of time on it.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Prevention programmes for eating disorders

Many schools use prevention programmes aimed at stopping children from developing eating disorders. Some target children considered to be most at risk of developing eating problems while others are aimed at all children. A team of researchers from Barcelona looked into the effectiveness of a universal school-based eating-disorder-prevention programme aimed at secondary-school students. The 349 students in the study received either the full version of the programme, a partial version of it or no programme at all. They were also assessed for known risk factors for anorexia: early menarche (periods), being overweight, dieting, negative attitudes to food and perceived pressure to be thin. Both the full and partial prevention programmes reduced the perceived pressure to be thin and improved eating attitudes and the knowledge of nutrition in all the participants. However, there was a greater benefit in girls thought to be at risk because they had started their periods early, were overweight or were unduly influenced by the 'thin is beautiful' message.

Raich, R.M., Portell, M. and Pelaez-Fernandez, M.A. - Evaluation of a school-based programme of universal eating disorders prevention: is it more effective in girls at risk? European Eating Disorders Review January/February 2010, 18(1), 49-57

Antipsychotics for anorexia

Admissions to U.K. NHS hospitals with a diagnosis of anorexia have risen by 80% in the last 10 years. Anorexia is notoriously difficult to treat and there is no evidence that antidepressants are effective for it. Antipsychotic drugs are sometimes used to treat anorexia. They reduce agitation and anxiety, increase appetite and lead to weight gain and may tackles some of the psychosis-like characteristics of anorexia. But do they really work?! Researchers from Oxford University reviewed 43 studies into the use of antipsychotics in anorexic patients. The most studied drugs were olanzapine, quetiapine and risperidone. The study concluded that the antipsychotics appeared safe and that there was some evidence that they had a positive effect on depression, anxiety and 'core-eating disordered psychopathology.' However, there was insufficient evidence, for the moment, to say that they actually enhanced weight gain.

McKnight, Rebecca F. and Park, Rebecca J. - Atypical antipsychotics and anorexia nervosa: a review European Eating Disorders Review January-February 2010, 18(1), 10-21

Family mental illness and schizophrenia

A family history of schizophrenia is the strongest single indicator of individual schizophrenia risk. Bipolar affective disorder and schizoaffective disorders have been found to occur more frequently in the parents and siblings of schizophrenia patients but it is less clear what the relationship is between schizophrenia and other mental illnesses in relatives. Researchers from the University of Aarhus in Denmark studied the records of everyone born in the country between 1955 and 1991 of whom 9,324 people developed schizophrenia. Schizophrenia was found to be strongly associated with schizophrenia and related disorders in first-degree relatives (siblings or parents) but almost any other mental disorder in people's close family increased their risk of developing the condition. Although the influence of relatives' schizophrenia was stronger the influence of other mental illnesses was greater overall because they are more common. The risk of developing schizophrenia was found to be 2.16x greater for people born in Copenhagen than for people born in rural areas but this risk dropped to 1.8x when familial mental illness was taken into account suggesting that this is something which needs to be allowed for when people are studying the links between urbanization and schizophrenia.

Mortensen, P.B., Pedersen, M.G. and Pedersen, C.B. - Psychiatric family history and schizophrenia risk in Denmark: which mental disorders are relevant? Psychological Medicine February 2010, 40(2), 201-210

Weight gain and antipsychotics

Weight gain has long been recognised as one of the side effects of antipsychotic drugs. Weight gain can lead to other illnesses or health problems, such as glucose intolerance, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnoea and cardiovascular diseases. At the same time fear of weight gain can lead to patients not taking their drugs which may lead to a failure to recover. It can be hard to pinpoint the effects of the drugs particularly if patients have been taking them for some time or if they are on other medication. A team of researchers from Bologna University in Italy reviewed 11 studies into people who were taking antipsychotic drugs for the first time. They found that, on average, the patients put on 3.8kg. Weight gain occured rapidly in the first few weeks and continued during the following months.

Tarricone, I. ... [et al] - Weight gain in antipsychotic-naive patients: a review and meta-analysis Psychological Medicine February 2010, 40(2), 187-200

Friday, January 22, 2010

Early learning problems and schizophrenia

People who develop schizophrenia have often had cognitive problems in their childhood. Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina used data from a long-term study of 1,000 New Zealanders, born between 1972 and 1973. By the time they had reached the age of 32 1% of the participants had been hospitalised with schizophrenia and put on antipsychotic medication and another 2.5% met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder but had not received any treatment. Looking back at the childhood test scores of the participants who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia the researchers found that their verbal skills were poor at the start of the study and that they developed other problems as time went on including difficulties with memory and verbal processing. The children who went on to develop schizophrenia had early deficits in verbal and visual learning, reasoning and conceptualization that remained with them as they grew up. They also showed slower development than their peers in processing speed, attention, visual-spatial problem-solving and working memory. However, while 20% of children have some degree of cognitive problems only 1% of them go on to develop schizophrenia. So mass medication of children with learning difficulties would definitely do more harm than good. But if the link is substantiated it could add more weight to the arguments in favour of early intensive interventions for pupils struggling at school.

You can find out more about this research at

Blueberry juice is latest memory booster

Last year researchers from the University of Cincinnati found that purple grace juice could help with memory loss and now they have found evidence that blueberry juice could do the same. The researchers studied a small group of people who were in their 70s and who had early signs of memory loss. Half the participants drank a pint of blueberry juice every day for 2-3 months while the other half drank a similar placebo. After just 12 weeks those who drank the juice were better at recalling words from a list, scored better on word association tests and were less likely to feel depressed. The results were described as a 'significant improvement.' Blueberries contain a compound of chemicals called anthocyanins which help improve the flow of information to the brain and halt the speed at which cells deteriorate with age.

You can find out more about this research at

Early birds really do catch the worms

Early risers are more likely to grab life by the scruff of the neck than night owls. Christoph Randler from the University of Leipzig studied 367 students and found that early risers were more likely to identify long-range goals and feel responsibility for their own life. The link was weak but still statistically significant. It's not sure whether early risers really have a different personality or whether it's just easier for them to get things done in a society geared to working 9 to 5. Previous studies have shown that night owls tend to be more extrovert, pessimistic and creative while morning people are more consicentious and that genetic differences are quite important in deciding who ends up as a lark or an owl.

You can find out more about this study at

Count Me In report shows continuing inequality in U.K.

In the U.K. the Healthcare Commission has produced its fifth Count Me In census of mental-health inpatients in England and Wales. It shows that people from a black and minority ethnic background are still three times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act and that 67% of all patients, and 76% of women are on mixed-sex wards.

You can download the full text of the Count Me In report at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Psychological mindedness and mental health

Psychological mindedness can be defined as "the interest and ability to be in touch with and reflect upon one's psychological states and processes." It has been associated with greater well-being, more flexible and helpful ways of thinking, better relationships with one's peers, more openness and extraversion and better adjustment. However, most of the research on psychological mindedness has been done on students and there has been little work done on how it might affect young adults with mental-health problems. Researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands studied 95 young people who had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. They found that psychological mindedness was linked to positive personality traits such as extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. It was also associated with problem-focused coping i.e. dealing with problems by tackling them rather than avoiding them or turning to drink, drugs etc.

Nyklicek, Ivan, Poot, Joela C. and Opstal, Jan van - Psychological mindedness in relation to personality and coping in a sample of young adult psychiatric patients Journal of Clinical Psychology January 2010, 66(1), 34-45

Mindfulness and child-abuse victims

It is estimated that over a quarter of adult women in the U.S. were victims of childhood sexual abuse. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are common in these survivors and a number of different kinds of therapies are used to treat them. Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine looked into the effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in treating these women. Mindfulness has been described as 'moment-to-moment, non-judgmental attention and awareness actively cultivated and developed through meditation.' As well as meditation MBSR also includes course material that dwells on the impermanent and changeable nature of thoughts and judgments in a way influenced by CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). The researchers studied 27 adult abuse survivors who took an eight-week MBSR programme with daily home practice. The participants also had three refresher courses over a follow-up period of 24 weeks. The study found that after eight weeks depressive symptoms had reduced by 65%. There were statistically-significant improvements in all the measures used by the study, improvements which were sustained over 24 weeks. Symptoms of avoidance and numbing were greatly reduced among people who had PTSD. The intervention was safe and acceptable to the participants and compliance to home practice and class attendance was good.

Kimbrough, Elizabeth ... [et al] - Mindfulness intervention for child abuse survivors Journal of Clinical Psychology January 2010, 66(1), 17-33

Occupational therapy student helps bridge 'digital divide'

Occupational therapy student Jade Nixon from the University of Derby has been looking into the ways people with mental-health problems can overcome the 'digital divide' that separates those people with access to, and mastery of, new technology and those without. Jade got a 2:1 in her degree and her final year dissertation looked at how people suffering from psychosis can be integrated into society more effectively. As part of her study she looked into the difficulties people with psychosis have in accessing new technologies. She wrote “Occupational therapists have been specifically identified as an important point of reference for people with mental health issues wishing to gain information and make changes to their lives. The profession is ideally placed to promote digital inclusion... [and] aims to enable individuals to perform competently and confidently within their daily lives.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Burnout in the Finnish family

Burnout is a condition in which people lose confidence in their abilities, become cynical about their work and see customers or patients as objects to be dealt with as quickly as possible. Some researchers think children can suffer from school burnout which is characterised by fatigue, cynicism about school and a sense of inadequacy as a student. Researchers from the Academy of Finland studied 515 15-year-old schoolchildren and 595 of their parents. They found that experiences of burnout were shared within families particularly between children and parents of the same sex. Parental burnout manifested itself in a negative style of upbringing and a lowered interest in and involvement with children's lives. The greater families financial worries were the higher their level of burnout.

You can find out more about this research at

Look to the side of you to spot threats quickly

People's brains process scared faces more quickly when they are seen in the periphery of one's vision than when they are seen straight ahead. Researchers from the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale in France scanned 11 people's brains while they judged whether faces displayed on a computer screen were happy or not. However, the real point of the experiment lay in subliminally-presented fearful faces either straight ahead on the screen or in the periphery of the participant's vision. The study found that faces in the periphery of people's vision were actually processed much more quickly in a region of the brain known to be involved in processing emotions. This could be, thought the researchers, because fearful faces seen from the side are processed using a quicker, less-sophisticated visual-processing system than faces seen from the front. This might be because unexpected threats are more likely to come from side-on than from straight ahead.

Can't recognise faces? Don't worry you're not stupid

Being able to recognise people's faces is an important skill to have but not everyone is as skilled as others at it. Some people can recognise someone they met briefly years ago while others struggle to recognise even close friends and family. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Beijing Normal University looked into these variations in a study of 102 pairs of identical twins and 71 pairs of non-identical ones. Identical twins share all the same genes and non-identical ones share 50% of genes so twin studies are a good way of seeing what contributions genes make to a particular trait or condition. The participants were tested on their ability to remember and recognise faces they had been shown for a second. The study found that 39% of the variation in people's ability to recognise faces was due to genetic factors. There was no link between the ability to recognise faces and sharpness of vision, general object recognition abilities, memory or other cognitive abilities. In another study of 321 students the researchers found that the ability to recognise faces was not linked to IQ.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Alzheimer's - the eyes have it

Researchers from University College London are working on a way in which eye tests could be used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease. The test works on the basis that the retina is an extension of the brain and involves a chemical marker being either injected into the arm or administered via eye drops. Once the substance is in the body it highlights dying nerve cells which can then be seen with an infrared camera. Anything more than 20 damaged cells could indicate the onset of Alzheimer's disease and once diagnosed treatment could start immediately.

You can find out more about this research at

Cognitive fluctuations and Alzheimer's disease

Cognitive fluctuations include: feeling drowsy or lethargic all the time or several times per day, sleeping two or more hours before 7 p.m., having times when the flow of one's ideas seems disorganized, unclear or illogical and staring into space for long periods. This sounds like fairly typical behaviour in older (and not-so-old) people but researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis have found that it could be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers' study included 511 older adults with memory problems who had an average age of 78. 12% of the sample had three symptoms of cognitive fluctuations and these people were 4.6x more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Of the 216 people diagnosed with very mild or mild dementia 25 had cognitive fluctuations whereas of the 295 with no dementia only two did. People with cognitive fluctuations also did worse on tests of memory and thinking than those without.

You can find out more about this research at

Hypnotherapy Directory

Hypnotherapy Directory is an online directory of hypnotherapists in the U.K. which can be searched by town or postcode. All the hypnotherapists on the site have a relevant qualification, insurance cover or proof of registration with a professional body. Each hypnotherapist has a profile giving information about which areas they specialise in, their background and their qualifications. The site has information about the different problems that hypnotherapy can help with and a blog about the latest health news.

You can find the Hypnotherapy Directory at

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cannabis and suicide risk

Smoking cannabis is unlikely to increase your risk of killing yourself. Researchers from Cardiff University looked at data on more than 50,000 Swedish military recruits. Sweden has conscription and the study covered 50,087 men and women who were conscripted between 1969 and 1970 when they were aged between 18 and 20. Over the next 30 years 600 of the sample killed themselves. Those who admitted to smoking cannabis when they were conscripted were 62% more likely to kill themselves during the follow-up period. However, once other factors such as childhood behaviour problems, psychological adjustment, mental-health problems, drinking, smoking and parental drug use were taken into account the link between cannabis use and suicide disappeared.

You can find out more about this study at

Leafy suburbs and later literacy

Where you live when you go to nursery school could affect your reading comprehension years later - even if you've moved somewhere completely different in the meantime. Researchers from the University of British Columbia followed 2,648 children from nursery to Year Seven when they took a test called the Foundation Skills Assessment. The researchers compared the children's scores in this test to information about the kind of area they lived in when they were in nursery school (kindergarten) and in Year Seven. The children who lived in an area with higher socioeconomic status when they were in kindergarten had higher reading skills in Year Seven regardless of where they lived when they took the test. The researchers thought this might be because children would have better access to good schools, libraries, after-school programmes and bookshops in better-off areas.

You can find out more about this study at

Little people hearing voices

Although hearing voices is one of the main symptoms of psychosis there are thought to be many more people who hear voices than who suffer from psychosis. This is particularly true of children and adolescents and the great majority of children who hear voices do not go on to develop psychosis. Researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands looked into the auditory vocal hallucinations of 3,870 seven and eight-year-olds. They found that over the course of the year 9% of the children heard voices. 15% of the children who heard voices suffered psychological distress and/or had problem behaviour. More children heard voices in rural areas but the consequences of doing so were more severe in urban ones. There was no link between the level of the children's development and their propensity to hear voices.

Bartels-Velthuis, Agna A. ... [et al] - Prevalence and correlates of auditory vocal hallucinations in middle childhood British Journal of Psychiatry January 2010, 196(1), 41-46

Drug therapy for borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterised by persistently unstable moods, inability to control one's impulses, problems getting on with other people and a poor self image. People with BPD have difficulty forming relationships, can be aggressive, harm themselves and have suicidal thoughts. It is thought that at any one time about 0.7% of the population have BPD with 5.9% of people getting it at some point in their lives. BPD often goes together with mood, anxiety disorders and substance-abuse problems and suicidal behaviour is reported to occur in up to 84% of people. In an article in the January 2010 edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry a team of researchers reviewed studies into the use of drugs to treat BPD. The team looked at 27 different studies and found that the most effective drugs were the mood stabilizers topiramate, lamotrigine and valproate semisodium and the antipsychotic drugs aripiprazole and olanzapine. However, most of the findings were based on single, small studies and there was little evidence that SSRI (serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants were effective. The review concluded that although some of the symptoms of BPD could be tackled on an individual basis by drugs there was little that could influence the overall severity of the condition.

Lieb, Klaus ... [et al] - Pharmacotherapy for borderline personality disorder: Cochrane systematic review of randomised trials British Journal of Psychiatry January 2010, 196(1), 4-12

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blood pressure medication could help with Alzheimer's

Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are drugs used to treat high blood pressure but they could also help to stave off and slow down Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine studied the records of five million people on the database of the U.S. Department of Health (Veterans Affairs) and compared those who were taking ARBs with those who had similar blood-pressure problems but who were taking different drugs. They found that patients taking ARBs had up to a 50% lower chance of getting Alzheimer's disease or dementia, and those who took another kind of drug, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, as well had a 55% lower risk. Those who already had Alzheimer's disease or dementia had a 67% lower chance of being admitted to nursing homes or dying if they were taking both types of drugs.

You can find out more about this research at

Flu and schizophrenia - is there really a link?

Scientists still do not really know what causes schizophrenia although it is likely that there are lots of different factors, including environmental and genetic ones, involved. One of the suspects is exposure to infectious diseases as a child in the womb and some studies have pointed to a link with influenza. Researchers from the University Medical Center, Utrecht, in the Netherlands looked at studies of children whose mothers lived through the Asian flu pandemic of 1957-1958. The researchers looked at 11 international studies comparing the rates of schizophrenia in children who were in the womb during the pandemic and those who were born before or after it. They also analyzed two studies of women who were pregnant and had the flu during the outbreak. Overall they found no increase in the risk of schizophrenia for those who had been in the womb while their mothers suffered from, or lived through, the pandemic.

You can find out more about this research at

Diabetes and dementia

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is often seen as a precursor to dementia but there is no real way of knowing which people with MCI will go on to suffer from dementia. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, followed 103 men and women with MCI over four years and found that 19 of them developed dementia over the course of the study. People who had diabetes - which has previously been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's - were nearly three times as likely to develop dementia as those without.

You can find out more about this research at

The pushchair pill poppers

Toddlers in the U.S. are being prescribed powerful antipsychotic drugs and the number has doubled over the past decade. Mark Olfson from Columbia University in New York studied the records of children with private medical insurance between 2000 and 2007. He found that the number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed antipsychotics doubled over the course of the study. About 1.5% of all children between the ages of 2 and 5 received some sort of psychotropic drug - either an antipsychotic, a mood stabilizer, a stimulant or an antidepressant - in 2007. Of the children diagnosed with bipolar disorder about half were prescribed an antipsychotic. Antipsychotics - which can have severe side effects - were prescribed to about 1 in 3,000 2 year-olds.

Army wives feel the strain

Needless to say serving on the front line can have adverse effects on servicemen and women's mental health but new research from the University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Global Public Health has shown the effect war can have on the wives of servicemen too. The researchers studied the medical records of 250,000 army wives between 2003-2006. Roughly a third each had husbands who were not deployed during that period, who were deployed for between one and eleven months and who were deployed for longer. Relative to the group of wives whose husbands had not been deployed there were 3,500 extra diagnoses of mental-health problems in wives whose husbands served for 1-11 months and 5,300 more diagnoses among wives whose husbands served for longer. Depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, acute stress and adjustment disorders were the most common diagnoses. As well as the natural worry over loved ones, maintaining a household, coping as a single parent and dealing with the marital strain of a prolonged separation all took their toll.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mind the Difference

Mind the difference is an Italian non-profit organization which aims to reduce the stigma around mental illness. They are launching a competition for short videos, between three and five minutes in length exploring the differences between 'normality' and 'insanity.' The competition is international, open to everyone and free to enter.

You can find out more about it at

Reasons to Go on Living

The Reasons to Go on Living Project is an initiative by McMaster University and St Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario which aims to collect the stories of people who have thought about killing themselves but decided not to. The site aims to help the medical profession understand the changes that take place between people wanting to die and them wanting to live and so develop better ways to help people who are suicidal. You can share your story, in strictest confidence, and find out more about the Reasons to Live initiative at

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cocaine and sudden death

More than 3% of sudden deaths in Europe are caused by cocaine use. Researchers at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Seville studied sudden deaths in South-West Spain between 2003 and 2006 and found that 3.1% of them were related to taking cocaine which can damage people's hearts and arteries. All of the sudden deaths due to taking cocaine were in men aged between 21 and 45, 81% of whom also smoked and 76% of whom had drunk alcohol as well as taking the drug. It is estimated that about 12 million Europeans use cocaine - about 3.7% of the total adult population between 15 and 64. More than 5% of adults in the U.K., Spain and Italy say they have taken cocaine at least once in their lives.

You can find out more about this research at

High blood pressure and Alzheimer's disease

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have added more evidence to support the link between high blood pressure and Alzheimer's disease. They studied 1,424 women aged 65 or over who had their blood pressure checked every year and who had regular MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans of their brains. The women who had high blood pressure at the start of the study had significantly more lesions on the white matter in their brains than those with normal blood pressure. The lesions were more common in the frontal lobe of the brain which controls emotions and plays an important part in people's personality.

You can find out more about this research at

Gene is linked to reduced Alzheimer's risk

Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have found a gene that is associated with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. People with two copies of the gene - which is called CETP - had a 70% reduced risk of developing the disease compared to those without it. Those people who had two copies of the gene and Alzheimer's disease had a 50% slower decline in their memory over the course of the study.

You can find out more about this research at

Mephedrone is the new drug on the U.K. club scene

People who want to get high and the authorities often engage in a game of cat and mouse with new drugs emerging as old ones are clamped down on. The latest 'legal high' to appear on the U.K. club scene is mephedrone which is usually snorted, although it can also be taken in pill form, mixed with drinks or injected. The drug is sold on the Internet as 'plant food' (it won't improve your geraniums) and is said to produce an effect like a cross between cocaine and ecstasy. In a poll for the dance music magazine Mixmag one in three readers said they had taken the drug. The poll was carried out on behalf of the National Addictions Centre at King's College London and found that 51% of users suffered from headaches, 43% from heart palpitations, 29% from nausea and 15% from cold or blue fingers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

FDA warning reduced antipsychotic use in dementia patients

Antipsychotics are often used as a 'chemical cosh' to control behaviour problems in people with dementia. Studies have shown that this can have damaging effects on people's health and in 2005 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about them. Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York have been monitoring the prescription of antipsychotics to this group and have found that there has been a 19% fall since 2005.

You can find out more about this study at

Brain waves, attention and ADHD

Researchers from the University of California Davis have been analyzing brain activity in children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The children were led to expect either a visual or auditory signal and their brain activity was monitored. In unaffected children signals are sent from the frontal cortex to the parts of the brain that deal with visual or auditory stimuli to prepare them for action, as it were. These signals led to a drop in alpha waves (the brain's 'screensavers') in the appropriate region. However, in the children with ADHD there was no drop in alpha waves indicating a disconnection between the part of the brain that allocates attention and the parts attention is being allocated to.

Exercise and memory problems: more new evidence

Two studies from the U.S. have added to the evidence that exercise can help to stave off memory problems as we get older. In the first study researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine compared two groups of 70-year-olds with mild memory problems. One group took an hour of high-intensity exercise with a trainer four days a week while the other group did gentle stretching. After six months the group doing the high-intensity exercise showed improvements in their thinking skills; something that was more marked among the women. In another study researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, found that older people who had exercised since middle age were 39% less likely to have memory problems while those who exercised into old age were almost a third less likely. Unfortunately light exercise such as bowling, slow dancing or golf with a buggy did not reduce the risk of memory problems.

Counting the cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland

A report by economists at York University has attempted to put a price on the cost of alcohol abuse in Scotland and has put the price of the nation's bar tab at a hefty £900 a year for every adult. The report estimated the cost of drinking at between £2.4bn and £4.6bn. The report's 'mid-point' estimate of £3.5bn was made up of £268.8m costs to the health service, £230.5m to social care, £727.1m in crime and £865.7m to the economy. The cost of premature death caused by alcohol was estimated at £1.46bn. The report comes as the ruling Scottish National Party attempts to impose a minimum price for alcohol in the teeth of opposition from the Labour and Conservative parties.

You can find out more about this story at

Monday, January 11, 2010

Measuring the effects of respite care

Carers of people with mental illness often suffer from an increased burden, distress, health problems and lower life satisfaction. Respite care involves relieving carers of their duties by employing professional carers and volunteers for a short time. Researchers from Queensland University in Australia studied 20 carers, 10 of whom used respite care and 10 of whom did not. Over the course of the 3-month study the group receiving respite care showed a decrease in burden but an increase in stress while the other group did not change over time.

Jardim, Claudia and Pakenham, Kenneth I. - Pilot investigation of the effectiveness of respite care for carers of an adult with mental illness Clinical Psychologist November 2009, 13(3), 87-93

Friday, January 08, 2010

How effective are antidepressants?

Antidepressants could be little better than a placebo for all but the most severe depression. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia carried out a data analysis combining information from six different trials covering a total of 718 participants. They found that true advantages of antidepressants over placebos were 'non-existent to negligible' among depressed patients with mild, moderate and even severe symptoms. However, the drugs were very effective among patients with severe depression. The authors of the study pointed out that many studies used by drug companies to publicise the benefits of antidepressants only included severely-depressed people as participants.

You can find out more about this research at

Self-perception and reflection

Some people have a more positive self-image than others. Researchers love playing around with brain scanners and scientists at the University of Texas studied 20 people as they were asked about how they compared to their peers in tact, modesty, likeability, maturity, materialism, messiness, unreliability and narrow-mindedness. Those participants who had a more positive view of themselves than others used their orbitofrontal cortex less than the other subjects. This is a region of the brain generally associated with reasoning, planning, decision-making and problem-solving. People with a more negative view of themselves showed four times more activity in this area than those with the rosiest view of themselves. In a separate, though related, study people who were given more time to think about their answers rated themselves more harshly than those who were asked for a snap judgment. Taken together the studies suggest that the more we think about ourselves the less we like what we find.

You can find out more about this study at

U.K. M.P.s call for alcohol clampdown

The U.K. Parliament's Health Select Committee - which has an advisory but not executive role - has called for a steep rise in alcohol prices to tackle the country's drink problem. The report claims that a minimum price of 50p a unit would save 3,000 lives a year while one of 40p would save 1,100. The report says that in some shops alcohol can be bought for 10p a unit and that the average moderate drinker would pay just 11p a week more if a minimum price of 40p a unit was set. Three times as much alcohol a head is drunk now than in the mid 20th century and ten million adults drink more than the recommended limits. Around 30-40,000 deaths every year could be alcohol-related and the total cost of alcohol to society has been estimated at £55bn. Other recommendations of the Committee included
  • mandatory labelling of cans and bottles with warning details of units
  • restrictions on advertising where children can see it and a ban on advertising before the 9pm watershed
  • incentives for GPs to detect more problem drinkers
  • targets for hospitals to reduced alcohol-related admissions
  • Stronger enforcement by the police against serving people who are drunk

You can see a full copy of the report at

Milkshakes for memories

A milkshake to improve people's memories could be on the shelves within two years. The milkshake - produced by French company Danone who also make Shape and Actimel yogurts - was found to improve the memories of people with the early stages of the disease after just 12 weeks. The shake contains omega-3 fatty acids, uridine and choline and works by targeting the synapses that carry signals between brain cells. Large-scale trials are underway and Danone hope that the shake could be sold over the counter in pharmacies.

You can find out more about this story at

Comments on the Mental Health Update blog

I am changing the settings on my blog so that I can approve comments before they are added. This is to stop a number of people posting links to Viagra, car insurance, mobile phones and hot chicks etc. I am still very happy to receive comments about the posts themselves and on issues about mental health and won't be attempting to censor any such comments. But there may be a slight delay before your comments appear if the notifications about them get caught up in my email backlog.
Best Wishes,
John Gale,
Mental Health Update

Why We Stay In Emotionally Destructive Relationships - Guest Post by Susan White

When we think addiction, we associate the term with alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. But there is another thing that that most of us are addicted to – relationships. Think about it – you’ve fallen in love and you cannot do without your significant other; you think that he or she is the only one who can make you happy; you feel lost without them; you want to spend every minute together; and you can’t get enough of your lover no matter how much time you spend together – does this not count as addiction?
If you still don’t agree, try staying away from your loved one for a day or two, or go even a few hours without texting, calling or emailing them. If you feel withdrawal symptoms and crave a fix so badly that you break your resolution, there’s no other way to say this – you are addicted. Addiction to a relationship is not that bad a thing as long as it is reciprocated; if your partner feels the same way that you do, then there’s no need to press the panic button. But if your feelings become more intense and his/her feelings swing the opposite way, then you have a problem.
It’s a cruel twist of fate, but the more they withdraw from you, the more you seem to want them. You begin to stalk them, hound them, harass them, and even threaten them with dire consequences if they don’t respond the way you want them to. You don’t understand why and how this relationship deteriorated to this level. And you end up becoming a doormat and allow yourself to be used by your partner just because you’re scared that they might leave you.
When this happens over a period of time, you begin to lose a part of your soul; you become someone else, and your natural enthusiasm and zest for life come down by notches. You know in your heart that this relationship is destroying you emotionally and stressing you out, yet you persist, because it’s like a drug that you can’t get out of your system.
Just as an addiction ruins your life and leaves you a shell of your former self, emotionally destructive relationships too cause havoc in your life and drain your vitality and strength. So the sooner you get out, the better. But it’s easier said than done as most of us who have been there and done that know. It’s takes a great deal of determination and willpower to wrest control of your life and start afresh, but the first step to doing so is to recognize and admit that you do have a problem and that you need help.
Once you’re able to do that, it’s time to get your support network of family and friends (who have all been trying to get you out of this vicious rut you’re stuck in all this while) to help you become your former self, gain some self confidence and live life the way it should be lived. Because we’re human, we need relationships; but when relationships threaten to dehumanize us, it’s time to say goodbye to them.
This post is written by Susan White, who writes on the topic of Becoming a Radiologist . She welcomes your comments at her email id: .

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Thrill-seeking, disruptive behaviour and cannabis use

High-intensity pleasure seeking refers to a tendency in teenagers to look for physical and social thrills. Broadly speaking it's what makes some kids go for raves and snowboarding while others go for hanging around in shopping centres and watching TV. A team of researchers from the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam looked into the links between high-intensity pleasure seeking, disruptive behaviour and the early onset of cannabis use. They found that both early-adolescent high-intensity pleasure seeking and disruptive behaviour (naughtiness and attention-deficity hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)) were linked to an early start smoking cannabis. However, there was little interaction between the two factors suggesting that thrill-seeking and disruptive behaviour lead on to cannabis use by different 'pathways.'

Creemers, Hanneke E. ... [et al] - Predicting onset of cannabis use in early adolescence: the interrelation between high-intensity pleasure and disruptive behavior: the TRAILS study Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs November 2009, 70(6), 850-858

Older people and drink problems

Alcohol misuse by older adults is associated with poorer mental health, an increased risk of suicide and a greater chance of falls as well as an overall increase in the death rate of heavy drinkers. Researchers from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, studied a sample of 4,646 people over 60. They found that nearly 90% of them could be classified as low-risk drinkers, nearly 10% were moderate-risk drinkers and just over 1% could be classified as genuine problem drinkers. Being a woman, older and African-American were associated with a decreased risk of alcohol problems whereas being the adult child of an alcoholic and being an ex- or current smoker were linked to an increased risk as was having major depression. People in the high-risk category had significantly worse mental and physical health than those people who drank less.

Sacco, Paul, Bucholz, Kathleen and Spitznagel, Edward L. - Alcohol use among older adults in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions: a latent class analysis Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs November 2009, 70(6), 829-838

Psychopathic children and antisocial adults

A number of studies have linked psychopathy with antisocial behaviour but there has been little research as to whether psychopathic tendencies in childhood and adolescence lead on to antisocial behaviour in adulthood. There has also been little research into whether the relationship might work in the other direction with antisocial behaviour such as rule-breaking and fighting leading on to the development of psychopathy. A team of researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden studied 2,255 people involved in the Swedish twin study following them from childhood into adulthood. They found that psychopathic personality in mid-adolescence predicted antisocial behaviour in adulthood but not vice versa. However, persistent antisocial behaviour in childhood was associated with psychopathy. Psychopathic personality predicted both rule-breaking behaviour and aggressive behaviour. Genetic factors were also found to influence whether the children who were psychopathic earlier in the study went on to display antisocial behaviour later.

Forsman, Mats ... [et al] - A longitudinal twin study of the direction of effects between psychopathic personality and antisocial behaviour Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry January 2010, 51(1), 39-47

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mini people with mini bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder in children is a controversial topic. It has traditionally been thought to be very rare but the rate of diagnosis has increased dramatically over the last decade. There is a lot of heated debate as to whether this increase reflects past under-diagnosis or present over-diagnosis. The last large-scale study found a rate of 0.1% of mood disturbances in children under 13 but an official diagnosis requires lengthy periods of disturbance. If shorter periods of altered mood are included then the number of children affected by the condition could be much higher. One study found that 25% of children who had the shorter period of mood disturbance went on to develop bipolar disorder within the next two years. Researchers led by Argyris Stringaris from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied 5,326 8-19 year-olds from the general population. They found that while only 0.1% of the sample met the criteria for bipolar disorder, 1.1%-1.5% (depending on whether the parents or children respectively were asked about symptoms) had shorter episodes of mood disturbance. These mood disturbances were associated with social impairments over and above those caused by other mental-health problems but the researchers questioned whether, although they were superficially similar to bipolar disorder, they were actually part of the same condition with the same origin and potential treatments.

Stringaris, Argyris ... [et al] - Youth meeting symptom and impairment criteria for mania-like episodes lasting less than four days: an epidemiological enquiry Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry January 2010, 51(1), 31-38

Burnout, nursing and trauma

Burnout syndrome is characterized by feeling overwhelmed by work, having impersonal feelings towards those one is providing services or care to, negative self-evaluation and a perception of reduced achievement. Burnout syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common in hospital nurses and researchers from the University of Colorado and Emory University in Atlanta looked into this issue in a survey of 332 nurses. They found that 18% could be diagnosed with PTSD and 86% with burnout syndrome and that 98% of those with PTSD also had burnout syndrome. Nurses with burnout syndrome and PTSD were significantly more likely to have difficulty in their life outside work than those with burnout syndrome alone.

Mealer, Meredith ... [et al] - The prevalence and impact of post-traumatic stress disorder and burnout syndrome in nurses Depression and Anxiety December 2009, 26(12), 1118-1126

What works for PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by symptoms such as repeated, intrusive upsetting memories of the trauma; avoidance of similar situations and things which might remind one of them; a feeling of detachment from others; hypervigilance, and overarousal. It is associated with problems at work and at home and it is estimated that between 1% and 14% of people might suffer from it over the course of their lifetime. A team of researchers from New York reviewed 57 studies into treatments for PTSD and acute stress disorder which can often lead to it. They found that there was the strongest evidence for trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). There was some evidence that stress innoculation training, hypnotherapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy were effective for PTSD and that trauma-focused CBT was effective for acute stress disorder. The study also found evidence that trauma-focused CBT was effective for assault- and road-traffic-accident-related PTSD.

Ponniah, Kathryn and Hollon, Steven D. - Empirically supported psychological treatments for adult acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder: a review Depression and Anxiety December 2009, 26(12), 1086-1109

Monday, January 04, 2010

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a teenager much less miserable

Teenagers who go to bed early are more cheerful than ones who stay up late. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York studied data from 15,659 adolescents gleaned from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health which took place between 1994 and 1996. Those children who had a set bedtime of midnight or later were 24% more likely to suffer from depression and 20% more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who had set bedtimes of 10 p.m. or earlier. Teenagers who slept for five or fewer hours per night were 71% more likely to suffer from depression and 48% more likely to think of committing suicide than those who said they got eight hours a night. Those who said they usually got enough sleep were significantly less likely to suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts. Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey is that 70% of the adolescents said that they complied with the bed times set by their parents. On average there was only a five minute difference between the teenagers' 'official' bed times and when they actually went to bed.

You can find out more about this research at

Medics grappling with graphs

Graphs at the foot of patients' beds are a staple of cartoons, TV programmes and films but it might be more helpful if they were replaced with writing. Researchers at Edinburgh University presented 35 nurses and doctors from the neonatal intensive care unit in the city's Royal Infirmary with real data from 24 infant patients. The participants had to look at the data and decide what the next course of action should be. The data was presented in the form of a graph, text written by a medical expert and text generated by a computer from the information in the graph. The decisions made after looking at the graph and the computer-generated text were as good as each other but the medical staff made significantly better decisions after reading the text written by a medical expert. The text made no recommendations merely summarising the data on the graphs. It would be very expensive to write the written summaries for all patients but if the computer-generated texts could be improved that might be a cheaper way of improving patient care.

Unemployment hits mental health of U.K. youngsters

Unemployment is having a damaging effect on the mental health of young people. A poll carried out by YouGov for the U.K. charity the Prince's Trust found that among the 2,000 strong sample of 16-25 year-olds surveyed one in ten of those who had been out of work had turned to alcohol or drugs. Those not in education or training were twice as likely to feel down, depressed, isolated or rejected. 25% of unemployed youngsters believed that joblessness had caused arguments with their parents or other relatives and 15% said that their life lacked direction. The latest Government figures show that almost a million people aged between 16 and 25 are unemployed.

You can find out more about this story at