Thursday, May 27, 2010

Britain - the land that sleep forgot

Britain's sleep deprivation crisis is getting worse with serious effects for the economy and the workplace. Researchers surveyed the sleep patterns of 6,000 adults on behalf of the hotel chain Travelodge. They found that 28% of workers said they had taken a day off work following a bad night's sleep - equivalent to 8 million sick days a year and something estimated to cost employers £1bn. More than half of the sample (56%) said that they had felt like they had a bad hangover when they had not had enough sleep and 45% said it had taken a couple of days to recover. A third said they had found it difficult to concentrate driving to and from work after a bad night's sleep while 70% admitted that they were a horrible person to work with when they had not had enough sleep. A quarter of adults claimed to take a catnap at work with 16% dozing at their desk and 10% retreating to the toilet for forty winks. The top three causes of sleep deprivation were money worries (38%), work-related stress (25%) and noisy family members or neighbours (23%).

You can find out more about this research at

The happy bird catches the earworm

Most people have had the experience, at one time or another, of getting a piece of music stuck in their head. 'Ear worms,' as they are known, are a relatively under-researched phenomenon but Andrea McNally-Gagnon from the University of Montreal has been looking into them. She asked French-speaking Internet users to rank 100 songs in terms of their ability to get stuck in one's head and you can find the top 25 at
She also asked 18 musicians and 18 non-musicians to hum and record their earworms and note their emotional state before and after. The study found that earworms lasted longer in musicians than non-musicians. They tended to occur when the participants were in a positive emotional state and keeping busy with non-intellectual activities such as walking. Not surprisingly musicians could recall songs better than non-musicians but both groups were able to 'replay' songs with a remarkable degree of accuracy.

You can find out more about this research at

Top Gear or top trouble?

Macho men are a liability behind the wheel. Julie Langlois, a doctoral student at the University of Montreal, studied 22 men as they attempted to overtake another vehicle; the men were told that other people had caught up with it in seven minutes. Before taking the test the men also answered a questionnaire - the Auburn Differential Masculinity Inventory - to assess how 'macho' they were. The questionnaire included statements such as "men who cry are weak," and "generally speaking men are more intelligent than women," which they had to agree or disagree with on a scale of 1 to 5. The study found that the more 'macho' a man was the quicker he drove and the more rules he broke and risks he took doing so.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alcohol in the UK: prescriptions rise but dependency falls

The number of prescriptions for medication to deal with alcohol abuse in the U.K. has risen over the last few years but the number of people with symptoms of alcohol dependency has fallen. A total of 150,445 prescriptions for Acamprosate Calcium and Disulfiram were dispensed in 2009, up 12% from the year before. 95,000 prescriptions were written for Acamprosate Calcium which helps restore the brain's chemical balance to reduce people's withdrawal symptoms. 55,500 prescriptions were written for Disulfiram which causes a severe and unpleasant reaction in people when they drink alcohol. Together the prescriptions of the two drugs cost £2.38m. However, the number of people with symptoms of alcohol dependency fell from 11.5% of men in 2000 to 9.3% of men in 2007. The percentage of women with alcohol-dependency problems was steady over the same time at 4%.

You can find out more about this issue at

SHANK2 gene linked to learning disabilities and autism

Variations in a gene called SHANK2 could be linked to both learning disabilities and autism. Researchers from Heidelberg University Hospital studied 396 people with autism and 184 with learning disabilities. They found more variations in the gene in people with learning disabilities and autism none of which were present in an unaffected control group. The gene is partially responsible for linking nerve cells together via synapses.

You can find out more about this research at

Young adults' attitudes to mental illness

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S. has been surveying people's attitude to mental illness as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. Overall the survey found that less than half (40%) of Americans believe someone with mental illness can be as successful at work as other people. The survey paid particular attention to the opinions of young adults (18-25) as this age group is the most likely to have a serious mental illness yet are the least likely to seek treatment. In this age group 72% thought that someone with mental illness would improve if given treatment and support, however, only a third (33%) thought that they would eventually recover. Nearly two thirds of young adults who knew someone with a mental illness thought treatment would help them but only 22% thought that people were generally caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.

You can find out more about this research at

Body Dysmorphic Disorder: The Warning Signs - Guest post by Alexis Montgomery

For centuries, women (and some men) have primped, powdered, plucked, and generally fussed over their appearance, sometimes to the point of obsession. But only recently has a syndrome known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) come to light (although cases have been reported as far back as 100 years). It is most commonly recognized in persons who undergo extensive plastic surgery over and over to the point that they barely look human anymore (and certainly look nothing like their original selves), but this occurs in only the most severe cases that go unchecked. So how can you tell if someone you know is suffering from this disorder or merely indulging a bit of harmless vanity?
Most people obsess over small perceived flaws, like a big nose or a flabby belly, but are able to continue living their normal lives despite infrequent unhappiness. Some rely on fad diets and intense exercise to solve their body woes while others resort to heavy make-up, miracle creams, and even plastic surgery to give them an appearance they can feel good about. In a society that places such an emphasis on physical attractiveness, a little of this is to be expected. BDD, on the other hand, is marked by a severe obsession that focuses on an assumed defect in the face or body. This preoccupation can cause a person to become so fixated that they lose interest in their life (work, friends, etc.) to the point that they can no longer function. They suffer from a distorted body image, generally relating to one specific area. It is also very common for people with BDD to be diagnosed with other psychiatric disorders, so if you suspect someone of having BDD, a pre-existing condition like depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) could clue you in.
A few signs of this disorder, beyond an unhealthy focus on a specific facial feature or body part, include ritualistic behaviors like extensive make-up routines, camouflaging (make-up, clothing, even plastic surgery), a compulsive need to look in (or avoid) mirrors, a penchant for comparison with others, and a constant need for reassurance concerning their appearance. And again, withdrawing from outside interests is almost always a strong indicator that something is seriously wrong.
If you think a friend or relative is suffering from BDD, you should try to get them to see a professional. Chances are, they are unaware that they even have a problem, despite obsessive behavior and ongoing depression over their supposed defect. It’s possible that their disorder can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or more likely a combination of the two. If allowed to continue, this disorder can lead to isolation, self-destructive behaviors, and hospitalization.

Alexis Montgomery is a content writer for Online Schools, where you can browse through various online degree programs to find a college that suits your needs.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Parents of autistic children no likelier to split up

Parents of children with autism are no more likely to split up than other parents. A figure of 80% of parents of children with autism splitting up has become common currency in the autism 'community' over the last few years but no one really knows where it comes from, or if there is any truth behind it. Brian Freedman from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger institute in Baltimore used data from a 2007 national survey to look into this issue. The survey included information on 77,911 American children aged between 3 and 17. The study found that 64% of autistic children lived with both parents compared to 65% of children unaffected by autism.

You can find out more about this research at

Cautious thumbs up for Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a low-impact mind-body exercise that has been practised for centuries in the East and is currently gaining popularity in the West. It is believed to improve mood and enhance overall psychological wellbeing but convincing evidence has so far been lacking. Dr Chenchen Wang from Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts reviewed 40 studies into the use of Tai Chi for mental health. The review found that practising tai chi was associated with reduced stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance and increased self-esteem. However, the quality of the studies was generally modest and there is a need for more rigorous well-controlled randomised trials.

You can find out more about this at

Occasional tipple might cut Alzheimer's risk

A Spanish study by researchers from the University of Valencia has found that a moderate consumption of alcohol could lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The study compared 176 people with Alzheimer's and 246 healthy people. The participants - or in the case of the people with Alzheimer's the participants' relatives - were asked about their lifestyle and the study found that moderate alcohol consumption, particularly in women who did not smoke was associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Contrary to previous research the risk of Alzheimer's was unaffected by the amount of cigarettes people smoked.

You can find out more about this research at

PTSD raises diabetes risk

Post-traumatic stress disorder could raise the risk of developing diabetes. Edward J. Boyko of the Department of Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System studied 44,754 service people enrolled in the Department of Defense's long-term Millennium Cohort Study. Three years later 376 of them reported that they had been newly diagnosed with diabetes. Those who developed diabetes were more likely to be overweight or obese, African-American or Asian, to have PTSD symptoms and to have left the military. After taking into account other factors, such as age, weight and race the risk of diabetes was found to be more than twice as high in the presence of PTSD symptoms. There was no increased risk for people with depression although this has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes in previous studies.

You can find out more about this research at

All the lonely people ...

British society is becoming increasingly lonely according to a new report - The Lonely Society? - published by the Mental Health Foundation. The report found that 1 in 10 Britons often feel isolated and half think that people are getting lonelier in general. The percentage of households occupied by one person has doubled from 6% in 1972 to 12% in 2008 and the divorce rate has almost doubled in the past 50 years.

You can download a copy of the Mental Health Foundation's report at

Monday, May 24, 2010

CALM programme helps tackle anxiety symptoms

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle have been looking into more flexible ways to help people suffering from anxiety. Their study looked into the effectiveness of an intervention called CALM - Coordinated Anxiety Learning and Management - which offers a choice of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), medication or both together backed up with computerised CBT and training for primary-care clinicians in promoting adherence and 'optimising medications.' 1,004 people between the ages of 18 and 75 took part in the study with half taking part in the programme and the other half receiving 'care as usual.' The anxiety symptoms of the participants taking part in the programme were significantly better after 6,12 and 18 months.

You can find out more about this research at

Smoking cessation and schizophrenia

Death rates for people with schizophrenia are three times those of the rest of the population. The increased risk is largely due to the fact that people with schizophrenia are two to three times more likely to smoke. However, there has not been that much emphasis on smoking cessation in mental health as it is feared that giving up smoking might lead to people's psychological health getting worse. Researchers from the University of York reviewed the evidence on smoking cessation programmes for people with severe mental illness. They found that for people with well-controlled schizophrenia smoking-cessation programmes were effective and did not lead to a deterioration in mental health. However, it was not possible to say how people with a more acute mental illness would respond to a smoking-cessation programme.

You can find out more about this research at

Art therapy, anxiety and asthma

Children with asthma can often also suffer from anxiety; something that tends to make their condition worse. Anya Beebe, an art therapist at the National Jewish Health in Denver led a study into whether art therapy could help children with asthma feel less anxious. The study involved 22 children between the ages of 7 and 14 with persistent asthma. 11 of them received art therapy and the rest received 'care as usual.'The children were tested using several standardized measures for coping skills, anxiety, worry, self-concept, and quality of life before the first therapy session, at the end of the last session and six months later. At the end of seven weeks, the art therapy group had lower anxiety and higher quality-of-life and self-concept scores than the group that didn't have art therapy. The improvements persisted, although they were not as pronounced, six months later.

You can find out more about this research at

Creativity and schizophrenia: is the thalamus the missing link?

Creativity and mental illness have long been linked in the popular imagination and there is also research evidence to suggest that creative people have a higher likelihood of mental illness in their family and a slightly-raised risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm used brain scans to compare people who did well on creative, puzzle-solving problems and people suffering from schizophrenia. They found that both groups had a reduced number of dopamine receptors in a part of the brain called the thalamus. The thalamus acts as a kind of filter for information before it moves on to the cortex region which handles understanding and reasoning. So, in effect, this filter could be weaker in people with higher creativity and/or schizophrenia allowing the former to combine ideas and concepts together in new and original ways and leading the latter to develop bizarre, unusual and sometimes harmful ways of looking at the world.

You can find out more about this research at

Top guns shoot down suicide rate

There has been no decrease in the overall suicide rate in the U.S. since the 1940s. However, one section of society has achieved a reduction in the last few years - the U.S. Air Force. In 1994 the USAF brought in a suicide prevention programme and a study by Professor Kerry L. Knox of the University of Rochester Medical Center found that it had led to a reduction in suicides of about 21%. The prevention programme encourages members of the Air Force to seek help, promotes the development of coping skills and fights the stigma associated with receiving mental health care. The program stresses the absence of negative career consequences for seeking and receiving treatment.

You can find out more about this research at

Expanding waistlines and shrinking brains

Having a pot belly in middle age could raise people's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Dr Sudha Seshadri from Boston University School of Medicine led a study of over 700 people with an average age of 60. The participants had their body-mass index, waist-to-hip ratio and abdominal fat measured and had MRI scans to measure the volume of their brains. The higher people's body-mass index - i.e. the more overweight they were - the lower the volume of their brains was. There was a stronger connection between visceral obesity - a pot belly - and a reduction in brain volume.

You can find out more about this research at

Vaccination and cognition: researchers find no impact

Many parents worry about their children getting a large number of vaccinations at the same time. Researchers from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky looked into this issue in a study of 1,000 children, all of whom were under 13. The children were divided into three groups according to whether they had got their vaccinations on time (all within their first year of life), had had them later or had only had certain vaccinations. The children took IQ, memory, attention and language tests and the researchers found no differences between the groups.

You can find out more about this research at

Legal highs still available

Just weeks after the UK government banned the party drug mephedrone new 'legal highs' are cropping up on the Internet. An investigation by researchers from BBC Wales found 400 other drugs available on the Internet being sold as 'research chemicals' or 'plant food.' The most prominent ones among them were MDAI and NRG-1. Early reports from users have suggested that these drugs may be linked to paranoia, insomnia and 'harsh comedowns' where people feel "severely depressed, even suicidal."

You can find out more about this research at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Social anxiety and alcohol abuse

Social-anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse often go hand-in-hand yet little research has been done into the epidemiology of the two conditions when they occur co-morbidly (together). Researchers from Columbia University in New York used information from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions covering 43,093 people. They found that the lifetime prevalence of comorbid alcohol abuse and social-anxiety disorder was 2.4%. Social anxiety was associated with a 2.8x greater risk of alcohol dependence and a 1.2x greater risk of alcohol abuse. Social anxiety occured before alcohol abuse in 79.7% of co-morbid cases and co-morbid SAD was associated with an increased severity of alcohol dependence and abuse.

Schneier, F.R. ... [et al] - Social anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder co-morbidity in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions Psychological Medicine June 2010, 40(6), 977-988

Learning disabilities, amygdalas and schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia often have cognitive impairment as well and this is evident before, during and after their illness. At the same time people with a mild learning disability - an IQ of between 50 and 70 - are between three and five times as likely to develop schizophrenia as the rest of the population. This could be because learning disabilities could make people more likely to develop schizophrenia as they become overwhelmed by, and fail to make sense of, the world around them or because the factors that make people vulnerable to schizophrenia also cause cognitive problems. Researchers from Edinburgh University compared 28 people with learning difficulties thought to be at risk of schizophrenia, 39 people with learning difficulties not thought to be at risk and 29 people who were neither at risk nor who had learning disabilities. They used brain scans to measure the size of the participants' amygdalas and looked at the relationship between amygdala size and schizophrenia symptoms. They found that those people with learning disabilities at high risk of developing schizophrenia had significantly larger right amygdalas. In the high-risk group the smaller the left side of their amygdalas was the more negative symptoms - depression and lethargy - of schizophrenia they had.

Welch, K.A. ... [et al] - Amygdala volume in a population with special educational needs at high risk of schizophrenia Psychological Medicine June 2010, 40(6), 945-954

Childhood trauma and early drinking

People who have both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a drug-abuse problem often say they suffered trauma during their childhood. Studies have also shown that starting to drink alcohol before adolescence or during early adolescence is also linked to traumatic experiences in early childhood. Researchers from Columbia University in New York studied 1,119 children of Puerto Rican background; some were from Puerto Rico itself while others were from the Bronx. The children - who were aged between 10 and 13 at the start of the study - were monitored over the next two years to see if they started drinking. Children who reported both being exposed to trauma and five or more PTSD symptoms were significantly more likely to have started drinking. However, children who were exposed to trauma but had not developed PTSD symptoms were no more likely to start drinking than children who had not suffered any trauma at all.

Wu, Ping - Trauma, posttraumatic stress symptoms, and alcohol-use initiation in children Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs May 2010, 71(3), 326-334

Self-esteem and psychosis

Recently researchers have been looking as much at the depression and lack of motivation (negative symptoms) associated with schizophrenia as at the delusions and hallucinations (positive symptoms) that are usually associated with it. One factor that may contribute to, or be influenced by, depression and lethargy is low self-esteem. Some researchers think that paranoia actually protects against low self-esteem - 'it's not my fault everyone is conspiring against me' - while others argue that people's self-esteem falls as their symptoms get worse. A team of German researchers studied this issue in a sample of 102 people, 58 of whom had schizophrenia. The people with schizophrenia were much more likely to suffer from low self-esteem. Being depressed at the start of the study and taking more antipsychotic drugs were both associated with lower self-esteem after 4 weeks. Drugs might make people's self-esteem worse because of their chemical effects in the brain or because they lead people to develop unpleasant and undignified side effects such as weight gain and drooling. Paranoid ideas were found not to be related to self-esteem although there was a modest link between grandiose delusions and higher self-esteem.

Moritz, Steffen ... [et al] - Course and determinants of self-esteem in people diagnosed with schizophrenia during psychiatric treatment Psychosis June 2010, 2(2), 144-153

Optimism and psychosis

Some researchers think that people with a severe mental illness - such as schizophrenia - who are optimistic are more likely to find means to redefine themselves, to accept their condition, to overcome stigmatising beliefs and to actively function in the community. Others think that optimism means that people are 'in denial' about their illness and that it is not necessarily a good thing. But what makes some people with a severe mental illness more optimistic than others? Researchers from the University of Montreal looked at information from two studies. One was of 150 patients with early psychosis and the second was of 143 people with severe mental illness engaged in a vocational rehabilitation service. They found that in the first sample increased optimism could be explained by higher self-esteem, a higher capacity for leisure activities, low depression and less belief that one's problems constituted an illness. In the second study high self-esteem, low depression and high levels of social support were associated with increased optimism.

Lecomte, Tania, Corbiere, Marc and Theroux, Laurence - Correlates and predictors of optimism in individuals with early psychosis or severe mental illness Psychosis June 2010, 2(2), 122-133

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mental Health Social - new networking site

The mental health social site is a social-networking site for people who have a mental illness, people who work in mental health and all those who are concerned about, or interested in it. You can chat or make comments and follow the debate in the forums. The site has 1,564 members and you can find it at

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How genes affect Alzheimer's symptoms

Variations in a gene called APOE are known to affect people's chances of developing Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School studied 91 people with Alzheimer's disease. They found that people with one variation of the gene - the one linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease - performed worse on memory tests and had more abnormalities in the part of the brain that deal with memory. People with the other variation did worse in tests of attention, language and executive function and had more prominent abnormalities in the relevant areas of their brains.

You can find out more about this research at

Postnatal depression - it's not just mums

Between 10-20% of new mums develop postnatal depression and new research suggests that one in ten dads could also suffer from the condition. James Paulson from Eastern Virginia Medical School reviewed 43 different studies involving 28,004 new parents about fathers' postnatal depression and came up with the 1 in 10 figure. The symptoms were most common in the first six months after a baby's birth and men were more likely to develop them if their partners developed them too. The upheaval caused by the arrival of a new baby and feelings of apprehension about fatherhood both contributed towards the development of depression. The children of depressed men were twice as likely to suffer from behavioural problems - including hyperactivity - as they grew older.

You can find out more about this research at

Weekend course tackles fear of blushing

One of the symptoms of social anxiety can be a fear of blushing. A fear of blushing develops when people feel self-conscious, this makes them blush and feel even more self-conscious leading to a vicious circle developing. Researchers from Dresden Technical University used a weekend course of 'task concentration training' to help people suffering from a fear of blushing. Through reading stories, role-playing and watching themselves on video the participants practiced turning their focus away from themselves and to the task in hand - either the words of a conversational partner or the reading of a story. The participants were also given advice on how to practice re-directing their attention over the next six weeks, first in non-threatening situations and then in more difficult ones. At the end of the weekend 37% of the participants showed clinically significant improvement in their fear of blushing and at a six-month follow-up this had risen to 56%.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Early child care shapes kids' chances

The effects of high-quality child care for toddlers can last well into children's teenage years. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. studied 1,364 children who were followed from the age of 1 month to 15 years as part of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), the largest, longest running and most comprehensive study of child care in the United States. The researchers reported the type, quantity and quality of child care the children received during their first 4 1/2 years with high quality child care being characterised by the caregivers' warmth, support and cognitive stimulation of the children they were looking after. Even at the age of 15 the children who had been in higher-quality child care as a toddler scored slightly higher on measures of academic and cognitive achievement and were slightly less likely to behave badly. However, the teenagers who had spent the most hours in child care in their first 4 1/2 years were slightly more likely to behave impulsively and take risks at 15 than those who had spent less time in child care.

More evidence for antipsychotic risk in older people

Despite growing evidence of side effects antipsychotic drugs (originally developed to deal with the symptoms of schizophrenia, psychois and bipolar disorder) are still prescribed to older people without these conditions. The American company Prescription Solutions studied 78,450 elderly people. None of them had schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or diabetes at the start of the study. The participants were followed for a five-year period over which time 13,075 developed diabetes. The study showed that the participants who had received at least one prescription for an antipsychotic drug had a 32% greater chance of developing diabetes.

You can find out more about this research at

Helping the weakest where money is scarce

Being brought up in a harsh environment can lead to delays in the development of children's motor skills, social skills and cognition. To intervene effectively health workers in developing countries, where resources are scarce, need straightforward ways of assessing which children are at risk of delayed development. Amina Abubakar from Tilburg University in the Netherlands studied 85 children in Kilifi, a poor rural area on the Kenyan coast. The children were between 2 and 10 months at the start of the study and were monitored over the next 10 months. Five factors were found to be associated with developmental delay: stunted growth, being underweight, ill health, little maternal education and mothers having been pregnant more often.

Abubakar, Amina ... [et al] - Children at risk for developmental delay can be recognised by stunting, being underweight, ill health, little maternal schooling or high gravidity Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry June 2010, 51(6), 652-659

Bristol study suggests autism still going undiagnosed

Previous research has found that lots of children with psychological problems remain undiagnosed by health services. However, there has been little research into how many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) fail to receive a diagnosis. A team of researchers led by Ginny Russell from the University of Exeter looked at information from a long-term study of 14,536 children in the Bristol area. By using information from the study they were able to see which of the children showed symptoms of autism. They found that 55% of children with autistic traits at the same levels as those who had an autism diagnosis had not been identified as needing extra support from education or specialist health services. Of those who were identified as having special needs only 37.5% had been formally diagnosed with an ASD. For children with impairment at the same level as that associated with an Asperger's syndrome 57% had no special provision at school and were not accessing specialised health services. 26% of the children in this group had an ASD diagnosis.

Russell, Ginny ... [et al] - Identification of children with the same level of impairment as children on the autistic spectrum, and analysis of their service use Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry June 2010, 51(6), 643-651

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Duration of psychosis and negative symptoms

Early interventions for people with psychosis is increasingly recognised as important. Psychologists call the time between people first developing symptoms of psychosis and the start of their treatment duration of untreated psychosis (DUP). The evidence about the links between longer DUP and the negative symptoms of psychosis - flat emotions, poverty of speech, inability to experience pleasure, lack of desire to form relationships and lack of motivation - is inconsistent so a team of researchers from Helsinki University studied 41 people going through their first episode of psychosis. The study found that a longer DUP was associated with more negative symptoms.

Grano, Niklas ... [et al] - Duration of untreated psychosis is associated with more negative schizophrenia symptoms after acute treatment for first-episode psychosis Clinical Psychologist March 2010, 14(1), 10-13

What makes stalkers keep on stalking?

One of the most important factors in dealing with stalkers and protecting their victims is the likelihood of stalkers persisting in their behaviour. A team of researchers led by David V. James from the North London Forensic Service studied 275 people who had come to the police's attention for stalking members of the royal family and 211 people who had been referred to a community forensic mental health clinic as a result of their stalking. They found that the most important factors associated with persistence were psychotic illness, intimacy-seeking motivation and using multiple or intrusive forms of communication.

James, David V. ... [et al] - Persistence in stalking: a comparison of association in general forensic and public figure samples Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology April 2010, 21(2), 283-305

STAIR helps patients climb out of reoffending

The Service for Treatment and Abatement of Interpersonal Risk (STAIR) is a cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) programme originally designed for prisoners and adapted for offenders with chronic mental illness. A team of researchers led by Kathy F. Yates from the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in New York studied 145 patients who had completed the programme and who were followed for between six months and five years after being discharged. The team found that significantly fewer arrests, hospitalisations and days institutionalised occurred after people had been through the STAIR programme. Whether people continued to take their medication was the single most important factor associated with people staying well and the prevention of criminal behaviour.

Yates, Kathy F. ... [et al] - Psychiatric patients with histories of aggression and crime five years after discharge from a cognitive-behavioral program Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology April 2010, 21(2), 167-188

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mozart effect? There isn't one.

Mozart might sound divine but unfortunately it does little to raise people's cognitive performance. In 1993 the journal Nature reported findings of enhanced performance among college students after listening to Mozart piano sonatas. However, researchers have been unable to reproduce these results since and a team of researchers from the University of Vienna have been conducting a review of research into the 'Mozart effect.' After reviewing around 40 studies covering more than 3,000 people they concluded that there was 'no support for gains in spatial ability specifically due to listening to Mozart music.' But, as Keats reminds us 'a thing of beauty is a joy for ever'!

Sickle-cell disease and brain function

Sickle-cell disease is a blood condition that affects people's red blood cells. The cells are less able to carry oxygen, become stiff and sticky and can clump together blocking blood flow, causing severe pain and potential organ damage. A new study of 196 people by researchers at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the U.S. suggests that even people with few or mild complications of the disease could have worse cognitive function than unaffected people. The study compared 149 adult sickle-cell patients aged between 19 and 55 with 47 healthy participants. On average the scores for the sickle-cell patients were in the normal range but twice as many of the sickle-cell patients scored below normal levels in tests of intellectual ability, short-term memory, processing speed and attention. Those sickle-cell patients who scored lower were more likely to be older and have lower haemoglobin levels but none of the differences in brain function could be explained by the influence of other diseases (as the sickle-cell patients were otherwise relatively healthy) or changes to brain structure.

You can find out more about this research at

Telephones, hugs and stressed little girls

Psychologists often do strange things in the name of research and researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been making little girls stressed to see what happens when their mothers comfort them. Nobody was hurt but 61 girls aged between 7 and 12 were asked to give a speech and solve a maths problem in front of a panel of strangers. Their heart rates and stress were monitored and these began to climb. Some of the girls were then given a hug from their mums, others were allowed to telephone them while a third group watched an 'emotionally neutral' video. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol fell and levels of the social-bonding hormone oxytocin rose by the same amount in the girls who had had a cuddle and those who had spoken on the telephone suggesting - that in this situation at least - a telephone call can be just as good as a hug.

You can find out more about this research at

Want to get cracking at work? Start with a coffee break

A coffee break really does keep you going at work. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reviewed 13 separate studies from around the world involving shift workers in simulated working conditions. Participants in the studies were given tests of their memory, concentration, use of words and reasoning and also of how prone they were to making simple errors. Some were given a placebo while others were given caffeine. Whatever form the caffeine was given in - a cup of coffee, an energy drink or a pill - those who had been given the caffeine scored moderately better than those given a placebo. Taking caffeine had a similar effect to taking a "power nap."

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Dozy drinkers less likely to be drunkards

People who feel sleepy after a few drinks might be less likely to develop an alcohol problem. A gene called ADH1B*3 is associated with a lower risk of alcoholism and is found almost exclusively in people with African ancestry. Researchers from the University of Missouri studied 91 African Americans between 21 and 26. Some of them had the ADH1B*3 gene while others didn't. The participants were given a moderate amount of alcohol and those with the ADH1B*3 gene were more likely to have higher levels of sedation and a raised pulse rate. The researchers though that people with the gene might be less likely to drink if it made them feel sleepy rather than stimulated or disinhibited, or, if they are like me they might just fall asleep before they drink too much!

You can find out more about this research at

New gene added to schizophrenia risk factors

Although there is no single 'gene for schizophrenia' some genes are known to raise people's risk. Researchers from the Universite de Montreal have carried out a detailed analysis of a large database of patients and added another gene to the list - SHANK3. The gene has previously been linked to autism and is involved in maintaining the physical structure of nerve cells. Mutations in the gene result in abnormalities in cell shapes - abnormalities that have been observed in some schizophrenia patients.

You can find out more about this research at

Dementia spouses have increased risk

People married to someone with dementia are six times more likely than other people to develop the condition themselves. Researchers from Utah State University studied elderly couples where one of the partners had dementia. They took into account environmental factors and suggested that it was the stress of looking after someone with dementia that raised the risk in the spouses. Carers often report that looking after someone with dementia is more demanding than caring for someone with physical disabilities.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New research shows psychosis is not just for the grown ups

Schizophrenia is usually thought of as something that develops during adolescence when the first symptoms such as antisocial behaviour, self-harm and delusions begin to show up in an obvious way. However, a new study of 2,232 British 12-year-olds suggests that nearly 6% of them may be showing at least one definite symptom of psychosis. The children who showed psychosis symptoms had many of the risk factors for adult schizophrenia including genetic, social, neurodevelopmental, family and behavioural risks. A previous study of children in New Zealand found that half of those who showed psychosis symptoms in childhood went on to develop the condition in adulthood. 6% of children is more than the estimated 1% of adults who suffer from psychosis but other studies have shown that many adults hear voices or have hallucinations without developing mental-health problems.

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More research on genes and autism

A study co-authored by Ning Lei from Princeton University has shed a little more light on the genetics of autism. The study compared 943 families who had children diagnosed with autism with 6,317 unaffected people and looked at the prevalence of 25 gene mutations. It identified two additional genes that could be linked to autism, one of which, NCAM2, affects the hippocampus, a brain region previously associated with the condition. A lot of the genes implicated in autism are known to affect the synapse - the link between brain cells.

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Childhood cancer and PTSD

People who survived having cancer as a child could still end up suffering psychological trauma years later. Dr Margaret Stuber from the Jonsson Cancer Center studied 6,542 people who had, as children, undergone cancer treatment between 1970 and 1986. Some of the subjects reported extreme anxiety, feeling on edge, becoming easily startled, developing phobias and avoiding things that might trigger memories of having cancer - all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the study pointed out that treatments for cancer are much less traumatic these days so that these problems should not occur as much in future.

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Magnets make a difference for depression

Magnets could be used to help people suffering from depression. Researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina studied the technique of transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy which applies magnets to people's heads to stimulate certain parts of their brain. The study divided 190 people, who were depressed and had not responded to medication, into two groups. One group received the genuine treatment while another group received a sham 'placebo' treatment. 14% of the group receiving the genuine treatment showed an improvement compared to only 5% of the group receiving the sham treatment. However, 12 people would need to be treated using the new technique for one to be cured of their depression.

Why a walk, a park and a pond could be the perfect recipe for good mental health

Green exercise is defined as physical activity in the presence of nature and can include walking in the countryside, exercising in a park, gardening or doing conservation work. There is lots of scientific evidence to show that green exercise is beneficial for people's mental health and wellbeing but no-one knows how much you need to do to get the benefits of it. Jules Pretty and Jo Barton from the University of Essex studied 1,252 people using information from ten existing studies including activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming and found that just five minutes of green exercise can benefit mental health. The greatest health changes occured in the young and the mentally ill but people of all ages and social groups benefited. All natural environments were beneficial including parks in cities but green spaces with water were particularly therapeutic.

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Schizophrenia: negative symptoms and poorer outcomes

As well as the so-called 'positive' symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations, delusions and unusual thoughts there are also a number of 'negative' symptoms which are marked by the absence of things rather than their presence. These negative symptoms can include things such as a reduction in the ability to express emotion, experience pleasure, initiate activities and follow through with a course of action and are now seen as just as damaging as 'positive' symptoms. Previous research has shown that people with high levels of negative symptoms and poor attention can suffer from low self-esteem and feelings of 'internalised stigma.' A team of researchers from Indiana University studied 77 people with schizophrenia to see how they got on over a period of five months. They found that those who had high levels of negative symptoms and poor attention were significantly more likely to have poorer social functioning, lower self-esteem, higher anxiety and a higher preference for ignoring problems rather than tackling them.

Tsai, Jack, Lysaker, Paul H. and Vohs, Jenifer L. - Negative symptoms and concomitant attention deficits in schizophrenia: associations with prospective assessments of anxiety, social dysfunction and avoidant coping Journal of Mental Health April 2010, 19(2), 184-192

Early intervention for bipolar disorder - reviewing the evidence

Treating people early, as soon as they start to show signs of distress, is now seen as the best way of dealing with mental-health problems. A team of researchers, led by Michael Berk from the University of Melbourne in Australia, has been reviewing the evidence supporting such early intervention for treatment with bipolar disorder. They found that in the early stages of bipolar disorder there are few changes to people's brain structure and that it is only with repeated incidences that there is a loss of brain volume. The review found that both drug and talking therapies were more effective when given earlier in the course of the condition and that the longer people are ill the less well they respond to treatment. Overall the review backed early intervention for bipolar disorder and suggested that it is particularly important to start treatment before people's brains suffer irreparable changes.

Berk, Michael ... [et al] - Evidence and implications for early intervention in bipolar disorder Journal of Mental Health April 2010, 19(2), 113-126