Friday, July 30, 2010

Bipolar disorder - more episodes = more unhappiness

For people suffering from bipolar disorder episodes of mania and depression can come and go throughout their lives. Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain looked at the psychiatric histories of 108 people diagnosed with bipolar disorder and have concluded, not surprisingly perhaps, that the more episodes people have the worse their quality of life. More than three previous manic episodes, current depression, smoking and being less well-educated were associated with problems in finding and holding down a job. Difficulty with social function increased with the number of hospitalizations, with multiple previous episodes of depression, in those who had lack of social support, and with current depression.In addition, individuals with bipolar disorder who were older, who showed potential signs of alcohol abuse, who had been hospitalized more often, or who had had repeated manic episodes, had more difficulty with family life.

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

Diet and ADHD - is junk food a risk factor?

Researchers from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, Australia, have been looking into the links between diet and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and have found that children who eat a healthier diet are less likely to develop it. The researchers looked into the diets of 1,800 teenagers and classified them into 'healthy' diets - high in fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, omega-3 fatty acids, folate and fibre - and 'Western' ones which featured more takeaways, sweets and junk food and were higher in total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. Having a 'Western' diet was found to be linked to a greater risk of ADHD.

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

Crystal meth and pregnancy - not a happy combination

Taking crystal meth is never the greatest of ideas and a new study by researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles shows how harmful it can be for women to take it while they are pregnant. The researchers compared 276 women who were taking crystal meth while they were pregnant with 34,055 other women; all the women gave birth at a hospital in Phoenix between 2000 and 2006. The meth users were nearly three times as likely to have a premature birth and more likely to have a caesarean section. 20% of them had uncontrolled high blood pressure while nearly 10% of them suffered placental abruption in which the placenta separates from the uterus before delivery. The babies of the meth users were six times more likely to suffer ill health and four times more likely to die.

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

Nitric Oxide - the prime suspect for brain-cell death

Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease are all characterized by the early death of brain cells but what makes brain cells give up the ghost? Researchers from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in the U.S. have been looking into the role of a gas called nitric oxide. The gas attaches itself to other molecules in the brain and was found to 'leap' from one set of proteins, called caspases, that normally start cell death to another protein XIAP that normally inhibits it. This is a double whammy for brain cells which are 'programmed' to die when either XIAP has nitric oxide attached to it or when caspases don't. If the scientists can find out how to stop nitric oxide transferring from one molecule to another that could be a breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's.

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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Background music at work? Turn that racket down for better performance

Background music at work is either an aid to concentration, a pleasant distraction or a pain in the neck according to who you ask but does it actually help people to concentrate? Nick Perham from the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff studied people as they attempted to recall a list of eight consonants in the order they were read out. Five different 'conditions' were used. In one participants had catchy pop music as a background, in another they had thrash metal, in a third they had a series of constantly changing numbers being read out and in a fourth they heard the same number being repeated over and over again. Finally some luckier participants got to carry out the task in silence. The participants listening to pop music, thrash metal and a changing series of numbers all did equally badly with the participants listening to an unchanging background and working in silence doing best. No doubt parents will be glad of some evidence to back them up as they tell their children to turn that &*%^ racket down.

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

Could new tests help suicide prediction?

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among adults under 65 in the U.S. so predicting who might kill themselves could save a considerable number of lives. At the moment most attempts at prediction are based on people's answers to a series of questions and - because people might not wish to own up to thoughts about suicide - are scarcely better than tossing a coin. Researchers at Harvard University have developed two tests that they hope will improve this process. In the first test the participants had to identify the colour of different words on screen, the idea being that suicidal individuals would pay more attention to words relating to suicide than other words. In the second test participants were tested on how strongly they associated themselves with words related to either life or death/suicide. The first test predicted suicide within the next six months more accurately than well-known risk factors such as a history of suicide attempts, patients' reported likelihood of an attempt and doctor's predictions. In the second test those participants with strong associations between themselves and death/suicide were six times more likely to attempt to kill themselves within the next six months.

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

CBT shows long-term gains for childhood phobias and anxiety

Phobias and anxiety disorders in childhood do not always go away over time and can increase the risk of worsening mental-health problems, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of high school and not going on to college and university. There is now quite a lot of evidence that exposure-based cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) which aims to gradually get people used to what they are frightened of and change their thinking about it is effective at treating these problems but little research has been done into its long-term effectiveness. A team of researchers led by Lissette M. Saavedra from RTI International in North Carolina studied 67 people who had received exposure-based CBT as children and followed them up between eight and 13 years later to see how they were getting on. The study found that the participants' problems were still under control a long time after treatment.

Saavedra, Lissette ... [et al] - Cognitive behavioral treatment for childhood anxiety disorders: long-term effects on anxiety and secondary disorders in young adulthood Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry August 2010, 51(8), 924-934

Young, free, worried and gloomy

Some research has suggested an increase in depression and anxiety among children and adolescents over the last few decades. But are children really getting gloomier and more anxious or is the increase down to improved awareness and better diagnosis? A team of researchers led by Stephan Collishaw from Cardiff University compared two groups of 16- and 17-year-olds who filled out the same assessment tool in 1986 and 2006. In 1986 4,524 children and 7,120 parents filled out the assessment tool and in 2006 719 adolescents and 734 parents completed it. The study found that girls and their parents reported more emotional difficulties in 2006 than in 1986 and boys' parents did too. Twice as many young people reported frequent feelings of depression and anxiety in 2006 as in 1986. Some symptoms were more prevalent in 2006 than in 1986 such as worry, irritability and fatigue while others - loss of enjoyment and worthlessness - stayed the same. Social class, family breakdown and ethnicity all had no effect on children's increasing gloom and anxiety.

Collishaw, Stephan ... [et al] - Trends in adolescent emotional problems in England: a comparison of two national cohorts twenty years apart Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry August 2010, 51(8), 885-894

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Intensive intervention cuts child abuse

Intensive interventions can dramatically reduce levels of child abuse in at-risk families. Researchers from Southern Methodist University in Dallas studied 35 families on the at-risk register. Half of them received intensive support in which they were taught how to pay attention and play with their children, how to listen and comfort them, how to offer praise and positive attention, how to give appropriate instructions and commands and how to respond to misbehaviour. They were also given access to materials and resources such as food banks and Medicaid. The other families received normal levels of support from social services. Only 5.9% of the families who received the intensive intervention were later referred to social services for child abuse compared to 28% of the other families.

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

Smoking, ADHD and high-school dropouts

Teenagers who smoke or have been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are more likely to drop out of school. Researchers from the University of California, Davis studied 29,662 people asking them about their mental health as teenagers, whether they took drugs, smoked or drank when they were at school and whether they had dropped out of high school. The study found that 28.6% of the students with ADHD had dropped out compared to 26.6% with mania and 24.9% with a mood disorder. However, smoking was even worse with 29% of students who smoked dropping out of school. Using drugs and drinking increased dropout rates but only if pupils smoked as well; once smoking was taken into account drink and drugs had no effect on dropout rates.

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

Bleak outlook for older alcoholics' partners

There has been quite a lot of research into the problems experienced by the spouses of people with drug problems among younger and middle-aged groups but much less on how a partner's drink problem affects older people. A team of researchers from Stanford University in California studied 167 people with an average age of 59.6. They fell into three groups; one group had partners who had never had a drinking problem, one group had partners who had had a drinking problem but had managed to get over it over the course of the 10-year study and the third group had partners who had a drink problem at the start and end of the study. At the start of the study the people whose partners had drink problems drank more themselves, had poorer health, were more depressed and had worse social lives than those whose partners did not drink. The spouses whose partners managed to give up drinking over the course of the study became comparable to the partners of non-drinkers by the end. However, the spouses of people who continued drinking heavily drank more, suffered more as a result of their drinking and had friends who approved more of drinking.

Moos, Rudolf H. ... [et al] - Spouses of older adults with late-life drinking problems: health, family and social functioning Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs July 2010, 71(4), 506-514

Drug use and suicide

In the U.S. suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in adults between 18 and 65. There is a link between drug problems and an increased risk of suicide but the specific risk factors among drug users are poorly understood. A team of researchers from the Ann Arbor Department of Veterans Affairs compared 854 drug users who killed themselves between 2002 and 2006 and 4,228 drug users who didn't. Of those people who killed themselves 70% did so by violent means such as shooting or hanging themselves or jumping off a tall building. Diagnoses of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were all associated with an increased risk of violent and non-violent (e.g. taking a deliberate overdose, gassing oneself) suicide. People who took drugs from the opium family or who took more than one kind of drug were more likely to kill themselves in a non-violent fashion.

Ilgen, Mark A. ... [et al] - Violent and nonviolent suicide in veterans with substance-use disorders Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs July 2010, 71(4), 473-479

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Schizophrenics at greater risk in hospital

People with schizophrenia are already known to suffer from worse health than the rest of the population and now a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that they may also be more at risk when they go into hospital for treatment. The researchers used data from 2002-2007 which covered 269,387 hospitalizations of people with schizophrenia and 37,092,651 hospitalizations of unaffected people. They found that patients with schizophrenia were more likely to have complications such as pressure sores, infections, blood infections, respiratory failure or pneumonia after surgery, deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. The researchers put the disparity down to the difficulties people with schizophrenia have in communicating with other people, the fact that nurses and doctors might ignore them if they complained and put this down to their mental-health problem, and the side effects of the drugs that people take for their schizophrenia.

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

Affectionate mothers and resilient children

Babies shown lots of affection by their mothers tend to cope better with stresses and strains as adults. Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina studied 482 people. When they were babies the researchers watched how their mothers treated them and rated them as having low, normal or high levels of affection. The participants were then tracked until they were, on average, 34 and assessed on how they dealt with stress, hostility and anger, sensitivity and anxiety. Those people with mothers who had given them high levels of affection handled all types of distress better and were particularly good at dealing with anxiety. The research fits in with attachment theory in which the quality of the attachment between a child and its primary caregiver (usually its mother) is held to influence its subsequent psychology and relationships with others.

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

Shame, trauma and depression

Shame is a powerful emotion rooted in how we think other people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. It can guide our behaviour, influence our feelings about ourselves and shape a sense of our self-identity and our feelings of social acceptability and desirability. Some researchers think that memories of shame can have similar effects to memories of trauma, effects such as intrusiveness, flashbacks, unpleasantness and stressfulness. Two researchers from the University of Coimbra in Portugal looked into this issue in a study of 811 people. They found that shameful memories did indeed share similar qualities with traumatic ones. Shameful experiences in childhood were associated with current feelings of shame as an adult both in relation to other people and oneself. Feelings of shame in the present were significantly related to depression and those people whose shameful memories were more traumatic had more severe depression symptoms.

Matos, Marcela and Pinto-Gouveia, Jose - Shame as a traumatic memory Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy July-August 2010, 17(4), 299-312

Depression and decision making

One of the less well-known symptoms of depression is indecisiveness. People with depression can have problems making decisions because they lack concentration, see things negatively, have less self-confidence and motivation and think things over too much. Researchers from the University of Meunster in Germany studied 85 people, 40 of whom were being treated in hospital for depression. They found that the depressed participants suffered more from 'decisional conflict' (upsetting feelings related to indecisiveness) than those without depression. In the healthy participants decisional conflict was only linked to the complexity of the task whereas in the depressed participants decisional conflict was linked to low self-confidence, lack of concentration and thinking things over too much.

van Randenborgh, Annette, de Jong-Meyer, Renate and Heuffmeier, Joachim - Decision making in depression: differences in decisional conflict between healthy and depressed individuals Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy July-August 2010 17(4), 285-298

Monday, July 26, 2010

Education and Alzheimer's disease

Having a longer education might not stop people's brains decaying physically but it can help them to stave off symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. A team of researchers from England and Finland studied the donated brains of 872 people taking part in the Epidemiological Clinicopathological Studies in Europe (ECLIPSE) study. They found that - as was the case with previous studies - people who had been educated longer were less likely to suffer from Alzheimer's. However, there was no difference in the changes in the brain associated with the condition between well-educated and less well-educated people suggesting that being better educated helps people deal with changes to the brain better rather than preventing them in the first place.

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

Eating disorders and perfectionism

Having perfectionist tendencies is a potential risk factor for developing an eating disorder yet only a few studies have been carried out into this. A team of Portuguese researchers investigated this issue further in a study of 997 middle and high-school students. They found that socially-prescribed perfectionism (not saying the wrong thing or making a fool of oneself) was associated with eating disorders in both boys and girls whereas self-oriented perfectionism (getting 100% in tests) was only associated with eating problems in girls.

Bento, C. ... [et al] - Perfectionism and eating behaviour in Portuguese adolescents European Eating Disorders Review,July-August 2010, 18(4), 328-337

Teenage dieting and eating disorders

Dieting is widely recognised as a risk factor for eating disorders in adolescence. However, not all dieters develop an eating disorder so why do some teenagers trying to lose weight develop problems while others don't? A team of Finnish researchers studied 81 adolescent dieters with an average age of 15 to find out. They found that the children could be divided into four groups. Some dieted for vanity - to achieve what they thought was a desirable body weight. These children dieted by leaving out high-fat foods and sweets. Some children were genuinely overweight and dieted for health reasons and also had a sensible approach to dieting and exercise. However, other children dieted either because they were depressed and thought that losing weight would improve their mood or because they had a feeling that they were fat even though their weight was normal. These children were much more likely to try and lose weight unhealthily by skipping meals, eating very little and exercising intensely and were fifteen times more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Rasmus, Isomaa ... [et al] - Psychological distress and risk for eating disorders in subgroups of dieters European Eating Disorders Review July/August 2010, 18(4), 296-303

Friday, July 23, 2010

Resources for Alzheimer's caregivers

Rachel Davis from the website has compiled a very useful list of the Top 50 online resources for people looking after someone with Alzheimer's disease. You can find Rachel's list here

or by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Daughters of alcoholic mums most at risk

Scientists know that the children of alcoholics are at a greater risk of developing mental-health problems but the effects of gender on this process are not really known. Researchers from Yale University used information from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions to study 40,374 people with and without a history of paternal or maternal alcoholism. They found that the greatest risk was experienced by daughters whose mothers were alcoholics who were more likely to smoke and drink heavily and to suffer from mania and schizoid personality disorder.

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

Binge drinking and pregnancy - the older the mother the worse the problems

It's never a great idea to binge drink while you're pregnant but new research from the University of New Mexico suggests that the risks for unborn children are greater for older women. The researchers studied 462 children whose mothers were asked about binge drinking, smoking, cocaine, cannabis and heroin use when they were pregnant. When they were seven the children took an intelligence test and their teachers were asked about their performance. The children born to older drinking mothers had more attention problems than those born to younger ones. One reason for this could be that the older drinkers had developed a higher tolerance for alcohol and so drank more at each session.

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

Anxious mums and sickly babies

Mothers who suffer from high levels of stress and anxiety during their pregnancy might be more likely to have sickly babies. Researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands asked 174 women in the last third of their pregnancies to fill out questionnaires about their stress and anxiety levels. They also measured their levels of cortisol - a hormone linked to stress - in their saliva. Even after controlling for other relevant factors, the researchers found that the variance in infant illness and antibiotic use was predicted by prenatal anxiety and stress: 10.7 percent for general illness, 9.3 percent for respiratory problems, 8.9 percent for skin conditions, and 7.6 percent for the use of antibiotics.

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

Stopping schoolkids' summer slipping

Children's reading abilities - for those children who don't read for fun - can often slip back over summer. Researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville have just finished a three-year study into the effects of giving children books to read over the summer holidays. The study was different from previous ones as it lasted for three years rather than one, included younger children than in other studies and allowed the children to choose their own books. The study - which the children started when they were in Years 1 and 2 - compared 852 children who received the books to 478 who didn't. It found that the free books were just as effective at preventing a summer decline in reading skills as a summer school and were much cheaper.

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

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What makes a teenage sex offender?

Some researchers think that adolescent sex offenders commit crimes because they lack the social skills to form more conventional relationships and therapies for them often concentrate on providing such skills. However, a review of the research by Michael Seto of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group and Martin Lalumiere of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta has questioned this view. The researchers looked at 59 independent studies comparing a total of 3,855 male adolescent sex offenders with 13,393 non-offending children. The study found that there was no difference in social competence or social skills between the two groups. The researchers also found that there was no evidence to support connections between family problems, parent-child relationships and attitudes and beliefs about women, and sex offending. Instead having atypical sexual interests such as desiring young children, wanting to rape people or to expose oneself to them were more closely linked with sex offending as were being sexually abused themselves, being exposed to sexual violence in their families and experiencing early exposure to sex or pornography.

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

Trust, accents and truthfulness

People with stronger foreign accents could be seen as less trustworthy than people with native ones. Researchers from the University of Chicago asked participants to judge the truthfulness of statements by native and non-native speakers. To try and get around the problems of prejudice the participants were told that those reading the statements were simply reading out material prepared by other people. The participants gave the native speakers an average score of 7.5 on a 'truthfulness' scale compared to 6.95 for people with mild accents and 6.84 for people with heavy accents. In a second experiment participants were also told the purpose of the experiment. In this study the people with mild accents were rated as being as truthful as those with native accents but the people with stronger accents were still rated as being less truthful.

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

Autistic children's diets adequate

Autistic children are slower to eat solids and are pickier eaters than other children, but, overall, they are just as well nourished. Researchers from the University of Bristol collected information about the eating habits of nearly 13,000 children born in South-West England in 1991 or 1992. The parents of the children who were later diagnosed with autism were more likely to report that their children had feeding difficulties between 15 and 54 months including being very difficult to feed, very choosy and eating non-food objects. For children between the ages of four and five about 26% of parents said their autistic children were difficult to feed compared to only 10% of unaffected children. However, by the time the children reached seven there was no difference in height, weight and body-mass-index between the children with and without autism. The autistic children ate fewer vegetables, salads and fresh fruit but also consumed fewer sweets and fizzy drinks. Overall the children consumed similar amounts of calories, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Apart from small differences in levels of Vitamins C and D the children also got similar levels of nutrients.

You can find out more about this study by clicking on the link within the title of this post

Loathsome oaths leave nurses feeling blue

Despite the fact that psychiatric nurses are often exposed to swearing there has been little research into its effect on them. A team of researchers from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales surveyed 107 nurses working in three different environments about swearing. They found that around a third of the nurses said they were sworn at between one and five times a week with 7% saying they had continuous exposure to bad language. Swearing was frequently described as a normal part of behaviour between colleagues with male nurses being more likely than female ones to report it. Sexually-based swear words were seen as more offensive than blasphemy. Nurses suffered high levels of distress caused by being sworn at but had few effective strategies to deal with it.

Stone, T.E. ... [et al] - Swearing: its prevalence in healthcare settings and impact on nursing practice Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, August 2010, 528-534

Friday, July 16, 2010

Insulin and Alzheimer's

People with Alzheimer's disease could be helped by squirting insulin up their nose. Insulin is important for communication between brain cells and is needed for brain function but several studies have shown that people with Alzheimer's have reduced levels of it in their brain. Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle studied 109 people who had Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment which can develop into the condition; none of the participants had diabetes. A third of the patients received a placebo, a third a lower dose of insulin and a third a higher dose; all the participants used a nebulizer which they squirted up their nose twice a day for four months. The patients who got the lower dose of insulin showed significant improvements in their thinking, memory and ability to do daily activities.

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

Surviving stress in Sri Lanka

Children in Sri Lanka have been exposed to a lot of stress over the last few years with the tsunami of 2004 being followed by a civil war between the Buddhist Sinhalese in the south and the Muslim Tamils in the North. Two recent studies have looked into the psychological effects of this. In the first study researchers from California State University in Los Angeles, Harvard School of Public Health and Claremont Graduate University studied more than 400 people, aged between 11 and 20, who had survived the tsunami. They found that while the children had been affected by the tsunami and the war more 'everyday' sources of stress such as poverty, family violence and a lack of safe housing also had an effect. Another study carried out by researchers from Bielefeld University in Germany looked at 1,400 Tamil children aged between 9 and 15 living at home or in a temporary shelter for refugees. 80% of the children had been directly affected by the wave and between 60-90% also reported war-related experiences such as bombings or seeing dead bodies. The study found that all the adverse experiences had an effect on the children with very severe exposure to trauma, loss of family members and domestic violence being particularly stressful.

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

Meditation and attention

Buddhist meditation can help people to be more attentive. Katherine MacLean, a graduate student from the University of California, Davis studied 60 people who were already involved in meditation. Half of them studied meditation for three months at a retreat in Colorado while the other half went onto a waiting list for the retreat. During the retreat the participants took a test on a computer where they had to identify the occasional shorter line displayed on the screen after a series of other ones which were of the same length. The participants who were practising meditation at the retreat got better as time went on whereas those on the waiting list stayed the same.

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

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chronic fatigue syndrome and global functioning

Over the last 20 years research has found that people with chronic fatigue syndrome often have cognitive problems as well. However, different studies have found different cognitive problems and the studies themselves have often had very different methodologies. Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia reviewed 50 studies into this issue and found that cognitive problems mostly occured in the areas of attention, memory and reaction time; there was no evidence of deficits in 'fine motor speed,' vocabulary, reasoning and global functioning.

Cockshell, S.J. and Mathias, J.L. - Cognitive functioning in chronic fatigue syndrome: a meta-analysis Psychological Medicine, August 2010, 40(8), 1253-1267

Review of studies backs meditation - up to a point

Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation in which people pay total attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental awareness of their experiences and is characterized by an open and receptive attitude. It has received growing attention in recent years and two researchers from the University of Bologna in Italy reviewed some of the studies carried out on it. They found that the meditation led to a significant increase in the alpha and theta brain waves that are associated with relaxation. It also found that it activated the prefrontal cortex and that it was associated with "an enhancement of cerebral areas related to attention." Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was effective in reducing relapses in patients with depression; Zen meditation significantly reduced blood pressure and Vipassana meditation was effective in reducing alcohol and drug use in prisoners. However, the review found that the studies were of a low quality and that it was difficult to disentangle the positive effects of the meditation from the fact that it also made people take time out and relax.

Chiesa, A. and Serretti, A. - A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, August 2010, 40(8), 1239-1252

Review flags up drug-driving problems

A review of Britain's drink and drug driving laws has concluded that the official figures hugely underestimate the scale of the problem. The official figures recorded 56 fatal accidents and 207 serious injuries due to 'drug-driving' but a survey of 1,184 road-accident victims between 1996 and 2000 found that 18% of them had illegal drugs in their system - six times the official figure. The three most common substances were cannabis, cocaine and benzodiazepines. The report calls for a zero-tolerance approach to drug-driving and you can download a copy by clicking on the link in the title of this post.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Comorbidity and OCD: Inseparable entities - guest post by Alexis Bonari

As documented in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers have found that all four recognized dimensions of obsessive-compulsive symptoms are associated with other anxiety and mood disorders. Comorbidity implies the incidence of two or more disorders in a given patient, so the fact that all instances of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) occur with additional health concerns should alert diagnosed individuals to the probability of latent and possibly untreated problems. Research findings showed that the most common comorbid concerns for OCD sufferers were post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder. These results suggest that traumatic life experiences influence the development of OCD and related psychological problems, a connection that could be valuable in both diagnostics and treatment of OCD. Future inquiry is likely to address the possibility of treating OCD through its comorbid disorders, which can appear to be exaggerated manifestations of obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

Stein, Murray B. “Worrying About Obsessions and Compulsions.” The American Journal of Psychiatry March 2009, 166(3), 271-273

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at and performs research surrounding online colleges and education. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop. You can see Alexis' web site by clicking on the title of this post.

Monday, July 12, 2010

By their blogs shall ye know them

Despite stories of seedy middle-aged men pretending to be teenaged girls and frumpy couples passing themselves off as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in Second Life it turns out you can tell a lot about people's personalities from their blogs. Tal Yarkoni from the University of Colorado at Boulder analysed the content of 694 blogs and matched them with their authors' answers to an online personality questionnaire. The questionnaire used the OCEAN or Big Five descriptions of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism to describe people's personalities. The neurotic bloggers used more words associated with negative emotions while extrovert bloggers were more likely to talk about positive emotions. People with high scores for agreeableness avoided swear words and used more words associated with communality while conscientious bloggers used more words related to achievement. Openness was associated with more use of prepositions, more formal language and longer words.

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

Dog bites and post-traumatic stress

Post-traumatic stress disorder is usually associated with military action or car crashes but a new study from China suggests that, for children at least, it could also be triggered off by dog bites. Researchers from the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing studied 358 children aged between 5 and 17 who had been treated in casualty following an animal bite. The children were assessed for symptoms of PTSD when they arrived in casualty and a week and three months later. The study found that around 5% of the children had developed PTSD but of those children who had been hospitalized for severe bites (38) nearly a third (10) had developed PTSD. The study's authors said that developing PTSD during childhood could be particularly harmful as it could delay the normal processes of child development such as learning to read.

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

Friday, July 09, 2010

Study backs use of methadone

Methadone is often used as a substitute for heroin in drug-treatment programmes, the idea being that it stops users from stealing to pay for their drug habit and stops them from overdosing, using contamintated heroin and storing dirty needles. Defenders of methadone say that it cuts crime and reduces the danger to addicts while opponents say that drug users are just 'parked' on methadone without moving on to rehabilitation programmes. Researchers from Edinburgh University studied 800 heroin users, of whom 571 were still alive when the research was followed up. The study found that methadone treatment reduced the frequency of drug use and led to a drop in the risk of death by 13% each year. The drug did not prolong the number of years users continued to inject heroin but those who took it led less chaotic lives and lived for longer. Overall the researchers concluded that "suggestions that methadone prescribing should be cut back or confined to the short-term are clearly misplaced and would lead to poorer health for drug injectors."

You can find out more about this research at

Getting to the bottom of bullying

Bullying is a big problem in schools but what makes children become either a bully or a victim? Researchers from Louisiana State University and the University of California at Riverside reviewed 153 studies into this issue carried out over the last 30 years. They found that boys were more likely to bully than girls and that both bullies and victims have poor social problem-solving skills. But the strongest predictor of bullying was poor academic performance. The typical bully was found to have negative attitudes and beliefs about others, to feel negatively about themselves, to come from a family environment characterized by conflict and poor parenting, to perceive school as negative and to be negatively influenced by their peers. Typical victims are likely to be aggressive, lack social skills, come from troubled family, school and community environments and be noticeably rejected and isolated by their peers. Other children were both bullies and victims. These children had trouble with social interaction, do not have good social problem-solving skills, perform poorly academically and are often rejected and isolated by their peers.

You can find out more about this research at

Brief intervention reduces college drinking

College drinking is a big problem in the U.S. It is estimated that 1,800 college students die each year in car accidents and more than 750,000 are involved in alcohol-related physical and sexual assaults. One of the ways people use to tackle this problem is a Brief Motivational Intervention which compares how much students drink to what other students are drinking and aims to correcth their ideas about this. Most students usually think their peers are drinking much more than they actually are leading them to drink more as they attempt to 'keep up' with their peers; past studies have shown that correcting these mistaken ideas can lead to a reduction in drinking. Researchers from the University of Rhode Island studied 1,000 college students beginning in 2004 when they started university. The students who received the Brief Motivational Intervention were significantly less likely to start drinking heavily or experience alcohol-related problems. 28% of the students did not drink at all at the start of the study but for those who were already drinking Brief Motivational Intervention reduced heavy drinking and alcohol problems.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Vitamin E and Alzheimer's disease

There has been a lot of interest in the links between Alzheimer's disease and diet over the last few years and now a new study from Sweden suggests that vitamin E could have a protective effect against the condition. A team of researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm studied 232 people who were all over 80 at the start of the study - none of the participants had Alzheimer's at this point. The levels of Vitamin E in the participants' bloodstreams were measured at the start of the study and they were followed over the next six years in which time 57 of them had developed the condition. The participants with higher blood levels of vitamin E at the start of the study had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to those with lower levels.

You can find out more about this research at

Therapist competence and patient improvement

Many studies have shown that cognitive therapy is an effective treatment for depression but it can be hard to tell how much of this is down to the effectiveness of the therapy per se and how much of it is down to the competence of the individual therapist. Researchers from Ohio State University studied videotapes of therapy sessions involving 60 adults with moderate-severe depression and their six therapists. The researchers rated the therapists' skills and the patients completed a questionnaire after each session to measure their depression; the researchers didn't know how the patients were getting on when they assessed the therapists' skills. Patients with high levels of anxiety and early-onset depression benefitted most from the highly-rated therapy sessions. Higher levels of therapist competence were related to more symptom improvement during the first four sessions. After 16 weeks the association between therapists' competence and patients' improvement was still there although it was not quite as strong.

You can find out more about this research at

Want to make teenagers happy? Let them have a lie-in

Giving teenagers a bit more of a lie-in on a school morning could have significant benefits for their mood and health. Researchers from the Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence studied 201 children in Years 9 to 12 who all went to a private high school in Rhode Island. Over the course of the study the start of the school day was put back from eight until half past eight. After putting the start of the school day back the pupils said that they slept much better and were more motivated. Daytime sleepiness, fatigue and depressed mood were all reduced and class attendance improved. The percentage of students getting less than 7 hours sleep fell by 79.4% and those reporting at least 8 hours of sleep rose from 16.4% to 54.7%. Despite having reservations to start with both the students and the teachers voted overwhelmingly to continue with the later start. It is now thought that although teenagers sleep cycle changes so that they get up later and go to bed later they still need the same amount of sleep as children - about 9 1/4 hours a night.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Video games and attention problems

Playing too many video games could lead to children developing attention problems. Researchers at Iowa State University studied 1,323 children in Years 3,4 and 5. The parents and children were asked how much time they spent playing video games and watching television and their teachers were asked about the children's attention spans. The study found that, on average, the children spent nearly four-and-a-half hours a day playing video games or watching television - far above the recommended two hours maximum. The children who had more than two hours 'screen time' were 1.5-2 times as likely to be above average in attention problems and the effect was just as great with video games as it was with television.

You can find out more about this research at

Sweet enough already?

Having a sugary drink could actually make people sweeter tempered. A team of Australian researchers gave half of a group of volunteers some lemonade sweetened with sugar and half lemonade sweetened with a sweetener. The participants were asked to carry out several stressful tasks before giving a presentation which the researchers criticised to try and provoke the participants. The people who had drunk the sugary lemonade were less likely to snap back at the researchers than those who had drunk the sugar-free version. The researchers thought that the glucose in the sugar boosted the brain's executive functioning helping people to control their impulse to snap at people.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, July 05, 2010

Child abuse and suicide

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death worldwide but what causes it is still not well understood. Mental-health problems are an important risk factor but most people with a mental-health problem do not think about killing themselves. There is strong evidence that people's experiences contribute more towards their mental-health problems than their genes and that bad experiences in people's childhood are linked to more thoughts about, or attempts at, killing oneself in later life. However, there has been less research into this than into genetic factors or mental-health problems. A team of researchers led by Ronny Bruffaerts from Gasthuisberg University Hospital in Belgium studied an international sample of 55,299 people asking them about their experiences in childhood and whether they had thought about, or tried to kill themselves. They found that bad experiences in childhood were associated with an increased risk of suicide attempts and thoughts of suicide. Sexual and physical abuse, especially during adolescence, were consistently the strongest risk factors.

Bruffaerts, Ronny ... [et al] - Childhood adversities as risk factors for onset and persistence of suicidal behaviour. British Journal of Psychiatry, July 2010, 197(1), 20-27

CBT for depressed ill people

Depression occurs in 6-14% of people in hospital and is even more prevalent in people with diabetes and cancer. Whatever people's physical health problems depression always dramatically reduces quality of life and is associated with longer hospital stays, higher rates of rehospitalization and increased hospital use. Psychotherapy is thought to be more effective for people with other health complaints as psychiatric drugs can interfere with other medicines. Researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands reviewed 29 studies into the effectiveness of cognitive behaviour therapy for depression in people with physical disease. They found that it 'significantly reduces depressive symptoms.'

Beltman, Matthijs W., Oude, Richard C. and Speckens, Anne E. - Cognitive-behavioural therapy for depression in people with a somatic disease: meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Psychiatry, July 2010, 197(1), 11-19

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Eating disorder resources

Natalie Richards from the SR Education Group has compiled a useful page of statistics about eating disorders and a collection of web sites and resources helpful for people either suffering from one of these conditions or caring for someone who does.

You can find Natalie's page of Eating Disorder Resources at

Autism, Asperger's and brain structure

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London have been using a sophisticated brain-imaging technique called voxel-based morphometry to compare the brains of people with autism/Asperger's syndrome and a healthy control group. They studied 39 people with Asperger's, 26 with autism and 33 healthy controls. The participants with autism/Asperger's had a significant reduction in grey matter in their medial temporal, fusiform and cerebellar regions and in their brainstem and cerebellar regions. The people with autism had more grey matter in their frontal and temporal lobe regions; something not found in the people with Asperger's.

Toal, F. ... [et al] - Clinical and anatomical heterogeneity in autistic spectrum disorder: a structural MRI study Psychological Medicine, July 2010, 40(7), 1171-1181

Race, psychosis and brain scanners

Compared to the White population the incidence of psychosis among people from the African-Caribbean community living in the U.K. has been estimated as from anything between two and 18 times higher. The reasons for this are not completely clear but some people have suggested that it reflects institutional racism on the part of mental health services who are more likely to diagnose Black people as suffering from psychosis. A team of researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied 143 people. Half were suffering from their first episode of psychosis and half were healthy controls; within the two groups half were White and half Black. The researchers thought that the Black people diagnosed with psychosis would have less brain abnormalities associated with the condition reflecting the fact that at least some of their diagnoses were due to institutional racism. In fact there were no differences in brain structure between the Afro-Caribbean patients and the White ones and the Afro-Caribbean patients showed a greater loss of grey matter overall than the White ones; showing, that in this sample at least, genuine changes to brain structure may have been behind the diagnoses of the Black patients not just institutional racism. Other conclusions one could draw from this study include: (i) psychosis is a complex social and cultural phenomenon not easily reduced to questions of brain structure (ii) the changes to brain structure observed are the consequences not the causes of psychosis (iii) Afro-Caribbean people aremore vulnerable to psychosis but this is due to poverty, racism, prejudice and, for immigrants at least, isolation and culture shock (iv) Afro-Caribbean people are more vulnerable to psychosis for other reasons. Whatever the theories it will be a long, tortuous and controversial process before the higher rates of psychosis among Black people are properly explained.

Morgan, K.D. ... [et al] - Differing patterns of brain structural abnormalities between black and white patients with their first episode of psychosis Psychological Medicine July 2010, 40(7), 1137-1147

Malnutrition, mothers and depression

Malnutrition early in life has been linked to the later development of psychological problems in childhood and adolescence such as decreased attention, bad behaviour and a lower IQ. Researchers from Harvard Medical School studied 171 children aged between 11 and 17 from Barbados comparing those who had suffered from malnutrition in childhood with a healthy control group; they also looked into the effects of maternal depression. The study found that even taking into account the effects of maternal depression the children who had suffered from infant malnutrition were more likely to be depressed. But, regardless of whether children had suffered from malnutrition or not having a depressed mother was more likely to make children depressed.

Galler, J.R. ... [et al] - Early childhood malnutrition predicts depressive symptoms at ages 11-17 Journal of Child Psychology and PsychiatryJuly 2010, 51(7), 789-798

Life is very long when you're lonely

Loneliness is linked to a number of physical and mental-health problems including anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, poor sleep, a weaker immune system and cardiovascular disease. During adolescence loneliness is thought to peak early on and decline through middle and late adolescence but there has been little long-term research into this. Studies of twins have shown that there is a significant genetic effect on loneliness but no-one knows which genes are involved. Researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands looked into both these issues in a study of 306adolescents. Loneliness was indeed found to reach a peak in early adolescence and decline thereafter. But, people with a certain variation in the 5-HTTLPR gene, which is responsible for transporting serotonin within the brain, were more likely to remain lonely throughout adolescence. For those children with the variation in the 5-HTTLPR gene receiving little support from mothers also increased the risk of loneliness.

van Roekel, Eeske ... [et al] - Loneliness in adolescence: gene x environment interactions involving the serotonin transporter gene Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry July 2010, 51(7), 747-754