Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teenage smoking and depression

Teenagers who smoke to cheer themselves up may actually be more prone to depression. Researchers from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre studied 662 teenagers asking them about their smoking habits and their mood. The participants were divided into three groups: those who had never smoked, those who smoked but did not do so to 'self-medicate' and those who smoked to improve their mood. Those who used cigarettes as mood-enhancers had higher risks of elevated depressive symptoms than those teenagers who had never smoked.

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

Even gentle exercise boosts brain power

Even gentle exercise three times a week could help to improve people's cognitive functioning, maintain networks in the brain and fight off the mental decay associated with aging. Researchers from Illinois University studied 100 people, aged between 18 and 35 and 59 and 80. The participants had previously led very sedentary lives. Some of the participants walked three times a week, at their own pace, for 40 minutes while others did toning exercises. The participants had brain scans at the start of the study and after six months and a year and took tests to measure their cognitive function. At the end of the year the older participants who had exercised by walking had better connections in their brain than those who had done toning and stretching and they also did significantly better on cognitive tests, being better at planning, prioritising, deciding on strategies and multitasking.

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

Gateway to drug problems could be legal pills

Gateway drugs are the less damaging substances people start taking before they move on to more damaging drugs like heroin and cocaine. Traditionally alcohol, cannabis and tobacco have been seen as gateway drugs but new research from the University at Buffalo in New York State suggests that prescription drugs could be just as significant. The researchers interviewed 75 people hospitalized for opioid detoxification and found that 31 of them said that they had first become addicted to legitimately-prescribed painkillers. Another 24 people said that they had become addicted to a friend's left-over pills or had stolen drugs from their parents' medicine cabinet. The remaining 20 participants said that they had got hooked on street drugs. However, 92% of the sample said that they had eventually bought illegal drugs because they were cheaper and more effective.

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

Tackling teenage binge drinking

Some teenagers' personalities make them more likely than other teenagers to develop problems with alcohol. Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied 2,506 teenagers with an average age of 13.7. They tested them for sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety-sensitivity and hopelessness. From the initial sample 1,159 were identified as being at high risk for substance abuse. Of these children 624 received two, ninety-minute group sessions on alcohol prevention carried out by a trained teacher while the rest were a control group. The children who had not had the session were 1.7x more likely to report alcohol use while those who went to the sessions had a 55% decreased risk of binge drinking. Those who had had the sessions drank less often and had less alcohol-related problems.

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

Friday, August 27, 2010

Alcoholics, memories and self-delusion

Being an alcoholic is known to have a number of harmful effects on people's cognition and new research suggests that it damages people's memory without them being aware of it. Anne-Pascale Le Berre from the Universite de Caen/Basse-Normandie in France studied memory and people's awareness of it in a sample of 56 people, half of whom were alcoholics. The participants were given a memory test and also asked to predict their performance. The alcoholics did less well on the memory tests but had a tendency to overestimate their capacities, thinking that their memory was as effective as the healthy controls despite their worse performance.

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

Abused women's long-term suffering

The psychological ill effects of being in an abusive relationship can last for years after the relationship has finished. Researchers from Ohio State University studied 2,400 mothers over three years. Some were in relationships where there was no abuse, others were in controlling relationships (where there was no violence but where fathers were extremely critical and insulting and controlled women's actions) while others were in physically-violent relationships. Both those who stayed in violent and controlling relationships and those who left them showed significantly greater increases in depression and anxiety although abused women who had the support of friends and family did not suffer quite as much. The researchers pointed out that even after leaving their partners the abused women still saw them as they attempted to reach custody agreements with them. Of the abused women who had left their partners about half talked to, or saw them once a week. Only about a quarter were in contact with the father a few times a year or less.

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

Memory, child abuse and depression

Autobiographical memory is our memory of events and experiences from our own past rather than of skills like how to make a cup of tea, or facts like what the capital of Sweden is. Psychologists divide autobiographical memories into a number of different kinds. They can be of specific events, extended periods of time or of different categories of events e.g. all the times I have done embarrassing or stupid things. Psychologists call the last kind of autobiographical memory 'categorical' and there is evidence that too much of this kind of autobiographical memory - 'overgeneral memory' - can be linked to depression. There is also evidence that childhood sexual abuse can lead to people being more likely to experience overgeneral memory. Researchers from the universities of Manchester and Oxford studied this issue in a sample of 103 women aged between 25 and 37. The researchers found that overgeneral memory was associated with childhood sexual abuse even in women who weren't depressed. However, the women who were depressed and who had suffered childhood sexual abuse were more likely to have more overgeneral memories.

Aglan, Azza ... [et al] - Overgeneral autobiographical memory in women: association with childhood abuse and history of depression in a community sample British Journal of Clinical Psychology September 2010, 49(3), 359-372

Mindfulness, conditional goal setting and depression

People sometimes say to themselves 'I'll be happy when I've got a new car,' or 'I'll have achieved domestic bliss as soon as I've painted the front room.' Psychologists call this way of thinking Conditional Goal Setting and in a number of studies it has been associated with depression. Mindfulness is another way of thinking which derives from Buddhism and which stresses living in the moment, being aware of one's thoughts and surroundings in the present and being open-minded and non-judgmental. Buddhism is also against the idea that happiness is dependent on the achievement of other goals such as material posessions or exam results and a team of researchers from Oxford University and the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied 31 depressed patients to see whether there was a link between people's mindfulness and their conditional goal setting - both of which were measured with questionnaires. They found a significant association between 'increased dispositional mindfulness' and reduced conditional goal setting - an indication of another way in which mindfulness might reduce depression.

Crane, Catherine ... [et al] - The relationship between dispositional mindfulness and conditional goal setting in depressed patients British Journal of Clinical Psychology September 2010, 49(3), 281-290

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Do antipsychotics rot your brain?

Post mortems have shown that people with schizophrenia have changes in their brains compared to people without the condition. A number of studies have shown that their brains are smaller, that they have less grey matter and larger ventricles (gaps) with more cerebrospinal fluid. But there is a debate as to whether these changes are due to the effects of schizophrenia or the antipsychotics used to treat it. Researchers from University College London and Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee reviewed 26 MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) studies into this issue and found that 14 of them showed a decline in global brain or grey-matter volume over the course of drug treatment. Three studies of patients with long-term schizophrenia but who had not taken drugs showed no differences in brain volume. The researchers concluded that 'antipsychotics may contribute to the genesis of some of the abnormalities usually attributed to schizophrenia.'

Moncrieff, J. and Leo, J. - A systematic review of the effects of antipsychotic drugs on brain volume Psychological Medicine September 2010, 40(9), 1409-1422

Stalkers and suicide

Stalking affects hundreds of thousands of people each year yet stalkers themselves often suffer from mental illness. Stalkers tend to be men aged between 20 and 40 who stalk either former partners or women with whom they have become obsessed. They are generally of average to below-average intelligence and suffer from a range of mental disorders. However, there has been no research looking into rates of suicide among stalkers. Researchers from Monash University in Melbourne followed 138 stalkers for three years and found that they committed suicide at significantly higher rates than other people. They called for clinicians working with stalkers to be aware of the risks and incorporate risk assessments and crisis management into their treatment.

McEwan, Troy, Mullen, Paul and MacKenzie, Rachel - Suicide among stalkers Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology August 2010, 21(4), 514-520

Reasoning and rehabilitation helps mentally-ill offenders

The Reasoning and Rehabilitation programme was first developed at the Cognitive Centre of Canada, at the University of Ottawa in 1986. It is a cognitive-behavioural approach which aims to give criminals the values, attitudes, reasoning and social skills they need to behave well in the future. Previous studies have shown it to be effective in helping offenders but there has been no research into whether it can help offenders with a mental-health problem. Researchers from the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied the effectiveness of the programme in 35 male offenders with psychosis, 18 of whom received the programme while the remainder formed a control group. Those who completed the programme showed significantly improved problem-solving abilities and increased coping responses.

Clarke, Amory Y. ... [et al] - A quasi-experimental pilot study of the Reasoning and Rehabilitation programme with mentally disordered offenders Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology August 2010, 21(4), 490-500

Coping with depression - guest post by Maryanne Osborg

Coping With Depression and the Loss of a Loved One
There are times when I’ve looked at people with mental illnesses and wondered how they got that way – if it’s not a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s and dementia, there must be a stressor that caused them to lose their mind and become half the person they were. The most common trigger seems to be the feeling of loss – it could either be the loss of personal possessions or the loss of a loved one. The most devastating effects are caused when a loved one dies, especially if the death is sudden and unexpected. It’s like the survivor’s heart stops and refuses to beat on.

The finality of death makes it hard to accept; and if you’re weak in spirit or beset by other problems simultaneously, you could slip into a depression so deep that only medical intervention can help. Having been around people who suffer from depression, I’ve found that it is a millstone around the necks of the sufferers – it weighs them down even as they try to keep their heads above water. Therefore, the best thing to do is to prevent sadness and the irreparable sense of loss from turning into depression through timely intervention.

If you feel yourself moping around with no interest in anything in life, it’s time to turn to friends and family for support. You may not realize the depths to which you’ve sunk, but if well-meaning friends tell you that it’s time to start living again, seek their help if you’re unable to do it on your own. In my experience, I’ve found that work is salvation when coping with the loss of a loved one. It keeps your mind and body occupied and soothes your tortured soul. Once you start to get back into your routine, vary it a little; go out and meet friends, spend time doing the things you love and with the people you love, and avoid being alone as much as possible.

Sometimes, this feeling of intense loss arises even when a relationship goes sour and you’re left bearing the emotional brunt of it. You know you can never go back to the person you thought was special and that you must move on; however, it is difficult to accept the change and cope with it because your trust could have been betrayed or you could have been abused mentally and/or physically.

Whatever the loss, depression is an ominous omen to more severe problems, especially if it persists for days together and affects your ability to function normally. Seek help immediately, for both peace of mind and sound mental health.

This guest post is contributed by Maryanne Osberg, who writes on the topic of RN to MSN Online (you can visit the site by clicking on the title of this post). She can be reached at mary.anne579@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moderate wine drinking and Alzheimer's disease - keep taking the Chablis

Moderate wine drinking could cut people's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from Boston University Medical Center studied 5,033 men and women from Tromso in northern Norway. The participants had an average age of 58 and were followed over a seven-year period. Women who consumed wine at least four times over a two-week period scored better, on average, on cognitive-function tests than those who drank wine once or less while not drinking was associated with significantly lower cognitive performance. The researchers were able to adjust for the effects of age, education, weight, depression and cardiovascular disease in their study but not for those of diet, income or profession. Over the last 30 years there have been 68 studies into the links between moderate alcohol consumption and cognitive function involving 145,308 participants. Most of these studies have shown an association between light-moderate consumption and better cognitive function and a reduced risk of dementia.

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

What makes liver transplant recipients go back to drinking?

People who have had to have liver transplants because of drinking too much sometimes start drinking again after their operation. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center studied 208 people who had had transplants between May 1998 and August 2004. 54% had no reported alcohol use after surgery - a figure much better than for other people who have given up drinking. The length of sobriety before the operation was an important factor with people who had been sober for longer before their transplant less likely to return to drinking. Stress after the operation was also important with people experiencing more problems overall, being more stressed, having worse health, more pain and less energy being more likely to return to drinking.

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

Army wives - depression and deployment

Army wives whose husbands are deployed while they are pregnant, or shortly after they have given birth, are more likely to become depressed. Researchers from the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington studied 3,956 women who were screened for depression when they first visited an obstetrician, at 28 weeks and at six weeks after birth. Women whose husbands were deployed during pregnancy were three times as likely to be depressed as other women and women whose husbands were deployed shortly after they had given birth were twice as likely to be depressed.

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

Heavy drinking and broken body clocks

Heavy drinking could disrupt people's body clocks. Researchers from Taipei Medical University studied some of the genes responsible for governing people's body clocks in a sample of 34 people, 22 of whom were alcoholics. The alcoholics had significantly less of a substance called messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) within their genes relating to their body clock. The reduced level of the substance in these genes did not return to normal once people had stopped drinking suggesting that heavy alcohol drinking could permanently upset people's body clocks.

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bullying and academic performance

Previous research has looked into the mental-health effects of bullying but new research from the University of California Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) suggests that it may also affect their schoolwork as well. The study involved 2,300 pupils in 11 middle schools in Los Angeles. The pupils were asked about their own experiences of bullying and to list which of their fellow pupils were bullied the most. The pupils who were rated as the most bullied performed substantially worse academically than their peers and participated less in class discussions. The students were less likely to speak up in class and more likely to play truant. However, the link also worked in the other direction with children who performed poorly at school being more likely to be bullied.

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

Autistic children's senses not working overtime

Children with autism process information coming from a number of different sources less well than other children. Researchers from Yeshiva University in New York studied 34 children between the ages of 6 and 16, half of whom had autism. The children watched a silent video of their choice while they were presented with unrelated sounds and vibrations. The children's brain activity was measured by EEG (electroencephalogram) and the unaffected children were found to integrate the extra information from the sounds and vibrations much more effectively. It also took longer for the sensory information to reach the cerebral cortex in the autistic children - 310 miliseconds (ms) - than in the unaffected children (100-200ms).

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

Domestic violence and spanking children

People who are violent or psychologically abusive to their partners are also more likely to spank their children. Researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans surveyed mothers and fathers from around 2,000 families with three-year-old children. As many as seven in ten of the families reported some form of abuse between the couples such as slaps, kicks or keeping a partner from seeing his or her family and nearly two-thirds of the toddlers in these families were spanked by their parents within the last month. The children who were most likely to be spanked were those whose parents were aggressive towards each other with mothers more likely to be the ones hitting their children. In a 2008 survey 77% of men and 65% of women agreed that a child sometimes needs a 'good hard spanking.' The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association both discourage spanking children.

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

Are teenagers' real communities online ones?

Peer groups are important for the development of teenagers' identities and values. More and more teenagers are finding a peer group online via social-networking communities and new research suggests that they may feel as much, if not more, loyalty to them than to their real-world communities. A team of Finnish researchers surveyed 4,299 teenagers in the U.K., Spain and Japan who were members of the social-networking site Habbo. The researchers found that the teenagers identified more strongly with their fellow users than their neighbourhood or hobby groups. In Spain the online groups were more likely to be made up of strangers while in Japan the participants were more likely to know their online friends in the real world as well.

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

Americans turn to pills not counselling

More Americans are being treated with drugs for their mental-health problems and less with psychotherapy. Researchers from Columbia University in New York compared data from two government surveys carried out in 1998 and 2007. In both years 3% of the sample said that they had had at least one session of psychotherapy but among people receiving outpatient care for mental-health problems 57% were being treated with drugs alone in 2007, compared to 44% in 1998. Combined treatment with drugs and psychotherapy declined from 40% to 32% and the use of psychotherapy alone fell from 16% to 10%. While overall spending on mental health care remained fairly constant the amount spent on psychotherapy fell from $11bn in 1998 to $7bn in 2007.

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

Yoga and mental health

A study by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine has added more evidence to support the psychological benefits of yoga. Participants in their study were divided into two groups. One group practiced yoga three times a week for an hour while another group walked for the same length of time. The participants were asked about their mood and levels of anxiety throughout the study and the researchers measured the levels of a substance called GABA in their brains, low levels of which are associated with depression and anxiety. Those who practiced yoga reported a more significant decrease in anxiety and greater improvements in mood than those who walked and over time positive changes in the participants' mental states - whether they walked or did yoga - were associated with increased levels of GABA.

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

Binge drinking and high blood pressure - a fatal combination

High blood pressure and binge drinking could be a fatal combination. Researchers from Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul studied more than 6,100 people, aged 55 and over, for 20 years. They found that people with high blood pressure had three times the risk of death from a heart attack or stroke. People with high blood pressure who consumed six or more drinks on one occasion had four times the risk of heart attacks and stroke, and people who had 12 or more drinks in a session had 12 times the risk.

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

Mediterranean drinking causes fewer problems

One of the things which often strikes visitors from the U.K. about Spain and Italy is the lack of young people staggering around being drunken idiots and throwing up in the gutter. This has often been put down to the fact that young people in Mediterranean countries are introduced to alcohol in a family setting and usually over a meal. Researchers from Boston University School of Public Health have backed up this theory in a study of 160 Italian adolescents and young adults. The participants came from the Italian regions of Abruzzo and Umbria; half were between 25 and 30 and half were 16-18. Those participants who were allowed alcohol with their meals when they were growing up were more likely never to drink five or more drinks or to get drunk.

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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Keep calm and get married

Past studies have shown that people who are married or in a long-term relationship tend to be healthier than those who are single and new research suggests that they are also better at dealing with stress. Researchers from Chicago University studied 500 students, about half of whome were married or in a long-term relationship. The students were asked to play an economic computer game which they thought could affect their course marks and chances of getting a good work placement later. After the tests the researchers measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the participants' saliva and found that the students who were married or had a partner produced much less of it.

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

Stress and dementia

Stress in middle age could lead to an increased risk of dementia later in life. Researchers from the University of Gothenburg studied 1,415 women who were assessed in 1968, 1974, 1980, 1992 and 2000. The women were asked about their levels of stress in 1968,1974 and 1980 and those who suffered from stress during this period had a 65% higher risk of developing dementia. Those women who reported feeling stressed at all three time points had more than double the risk. The study - published in the scientific journal Brain - is the first to link stress in middle age with dementia in old age.

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

Pesticides and ADHD

Children who are exposed to pesticides in the womb could have an increased risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) later. Researchers from the University of California Berkeley tested the levels of organophosphate pesticides in the urine of pregnant women and then assessed their children at the ages of three and five. The children had few symptoms when they were three but by the time they were five a tenfold increase in pesticide residues in the women's bloodstreams was associated with a 5x greater risk of ADHD - a trend that was stronger in boys. Another study in May found that children with high levels of organophosphates in their urine were almost twice as likely to develop ADHD.

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

Hallucinogens and happiness

Although hallucinogenic drugs can have harmful effects there is evidence that controlled administration of them in supportive settings can be helpful. Researchers from Bristol University and Imperial College London carried out an internet survey on the positive and negative aspects of these drugs and received over 600 responses. They found that people reported less harm from LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) than other drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy), cannabis, ketamine and alcohol. A wide range of benefits was reported including help with mood disorders, addictions and migraine. Some people - particularly those using LSD - reported ongoing hallucinations but few regarded them as troubling. 81% of users reported having had a spiritual experience while using a hallucinogenic drug and over 90% considered 'access to the unconscious mind' to be a specific property of LSD and psilocybin.

Carhart-Harris, R.L. and Nutt, D.J. - User perceptions of the benefits and harms of hallucinogenic drug use: a web-based questionnaire study Journal of Substance Use, August 2010, 15(4), 283-300

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to really make life better for people? Spend more on nurseries

Boosting nursery (kindergarten) education could have a huge impact on people's prospects later in life. Researchers from Harvard University used data from a study into the effect of class sizes on nursery children carried out in the mid-1980s. They studied 12,000 people who took part in the original study and were now in their 30s. The study found that those who progressed from average to above-average over their last year of nursery school made $1,000 more a year by the time they were 27 than those whose scores remained average. They were more likely to go to college, less likely to be a single parent, more likely to own their own home and more likely to be saving for their retirement. Being in a smaller class had improved outcomes in the original study and was found to have increased the probability of attending college by 2%.

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

Are nasty people more at risk from stroke and heart attack?

People who are antagonistic, competitive and aggressive may be at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Researchers from the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore studied 5,614 Italians from Sardinia who ranged in age from 14 to 94. The participants answered a standard personality questionnaire that included six facets of agreeableness: trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty and tender-mindedness. The researchers then measured the thickness of their carotid (neck) arteries - the thicker people's arteries the greater their risk of stroke or heart attack. Those who scored highest for antagonistic traits had greater thickening of their neck arteries and three years later they continued to be at more risk - especially if they were manipulative and quick to express anger. Those who scored in the bottom 10% of agreeableness and were the most antagonistic had a 40% greater risk of arterial thickening. In general men had more thickening of their arterial walls than women but if women were antagonistic they had the same risk as men. The researchers also measured the participants' blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar and used statistical tools to take these variables 'out of the equation' in their analysis.

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

Troubled children stay troubled, poorer at greater risk

Behavioural problems in late childhood and early adolescence carry on into later adolescence and young adulthood and children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more at risk. Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle studied 800 children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24. Children from low-income backgrounds were twice as likely to report having had early sexual intercourse (by age 11) and early delinquency (by age 10) than those from middle-income backgrounds although children from middle-income backgrounds were 1.5 times more likely to say they started drinking early. Far from it being a phase that children grew out of those children who showed an early and frequent involvement with risky sex, delinquency and alcohol use showed an increase in long-term crime, drink problems and risky sex in young adulthood.

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

More evidence for meditation benefits

Researchers at the University of Oregon have added further evidence about the beneficial effects of meditation. The researchers had previously shown that meditation can reduce levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue. In their latest study they tested the effectiveness of a meditation technique called Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT). Based on Taoist and Confucian concepts of harmony with nature, it combines different mind-body techniques including body relaxation, breath control, mental imagery, and ''mindfulness'' - calmly paying attention to moment-to-moment feelings and experiences. The study involved 45 people, half of whom received 11 hours training in the technique while the other half received training in relaxation techniques. The participants had their brains scanned and by the end of the study those who had been meditating showed significant changes to a part of the brain which is important for regulating emotional behaviour and dealing with conflict.

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

Trust and truthfulness. Why thinking the best of people helps you to spot the worst

People who are more trusting are actually better at spotting liars than those who are more cynical. Researchers from the University of Toronto showed people job interviews of 2nd year M.B.A. students. Some of them were telling the truth while others were telling lies to improve their chances. Before they watched the videos the participants filled out questionnaires asking them how much they agreed with statements such as 'Most people are basically honest,' and 'Most people are basically good-natured and kind.' The participants who had a more optimistic view of human nature were less willing to hire liars and better able to spot them than those who were more pessimistic.

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

Children and parents' mental health - not just a one-way process

Most psychological research concentrates on parents' effects on their children but of course things can work the other way around too. New research from Purdue University in Indiana has backed up the old adage that parents never stop worrying about their children and also suggests that this worry may have a significant effect on parents' mental health. The researchers asked 633 middle-aged parents in the Philadelphia area to rate each of their grown-up children's achievements in the areas of relationships, family life, education and their careers compared to other adults of the same age. Most of the parents had more than one child so there were a total of 1,251 adult children involved in the study. 68% of the parents had at least one grown child suffering from at least one physical, emotional or behavioural problem over the last two years. 49% of the parents said they had at least one highly-successful child while 60% said they had a mixture of successful and less-successful children. 17% had children who had had no problems over the last two years but 15% said that they had no children they rated as above average. Parents who had more than one highly-successful child reported better well-being but having a 'problematic' child had a negative impact on parents' mental health even if all their other children were successful. However, having 'only' one successful child was not associated with better wellbeing.

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

Only children just as popular

Some people think that only children lack social skills because they grow up without practice at getting on with their siblings. Researchers from Ohio State University have been looking into this theory in a study of 13,000 11-18 year-olds and have found that only children are just as popular as their peers. The researchers asked the children to name up to five boys and girls who they thought of as friends and the results were analyzed. There was no significant difference between only children and other children in terms of how often they were named as friends although socioeconomic status, parents' age and race and whether a child lived with both biological parents did affect how popular children were.

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

Helpline calls show toll of parents' drinking

Calls to the U.K.'s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children's (NSPCC) Childline helpline paint a worrying picture of the way in which parents' drink and drug problems affect their children. In the year up to March 5,700 children called to say they were worried about their parents' drinking or drug use - over 100 a week. 35% said that they had suffered physical abuse, more than three times the rate among other children who called. 20% mentioned issues with family conflicts while 10% spoke of sexual abuse.

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

Friday, August 13, 2010

Students in counselling more distressed but less suicidal

College students going for counselling are more depressed and lonely than they were ten years ago but less likely to think of killing themselves. Researchers from Hofstra University in New York State looked at the records of 3,256 college students who had had college counselling at a mid-sized private university between September 1997 and August 2009. They found that the percentage diagnosed with a mental disorder rose from 93% in 1998 to 96% in 2009. The percentage of students with moderate-severe depression rose from 34% to 41% and these students were frequently socially isolated, depressed and on medication. In 1998 11% of those who attended counselling took psychiatric drugs - mostly for depression, anxiety and ADHD - while in 2009 24% did so. However, the number of students seeking counselling who had thoughts about killing themselves in the last couple of weeks fell from 26% in 1998 to 11% in 2009. The researchers did, however, stress that the results applied to students who had sought out counselling and that there was no evidence that students in general had become more unhappy over the course of the study.

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

Good fathers and happy sons

Most psychological research into parenting concentrates on the role of mothers but having a good relationship with one's father can also help people to cope better in later life. Researchers from California State University, Fullerton studied 912 people between the ages of 25 and 74. Over eight days they interviewed the participants about that day's experiences asking them about their mental state and any stressful events. The participants were also asked about the quality of their childhood relationships with their parents. The study found that more people were likely to say their childhood relationship was better with their mother than with their father; a difference that was more pronounced among men. People who had had a good relationship with their mother reported 3% less psychological distress compared to those who reported a poor relationship. Men who had had a good relationship with their father also reported less psychological distress but this effect was not as strong among women.

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Can't sleep? Blame your spindles

Some people seem to be able to sleep through an earthquake while others wake up when someone treads on a squeaky floorboard. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have been looking into this phenomenon and measuring people's brain waves to see if they hold the clue to it. When we are asleep sensory information passes through a part of the brain called the thalamus before passing on to the cortex which deals with thinking. Previous research has shown that brief rapid pulses of brain waves called spindles keep sensory information from passing through the thalamus and disturbing the cortex. In their study the researchers measured the brain waves of 12 people who spent three nights in the lab. The first night was quiet but on the next two nights the participants were exposed to increasing amounts of noise until their brain waves showed they were awake. The study found that those participants with the highest rates of spindle activity on the quiet night stayed asleep through higher levels of noise than the other participants.

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

Drug company pays out in diabetes cases

Anglo-Swedish drug company AstraZeneca is to pay out £125m to people who developed diabetes after taking its schizophrenia and bipolar drug Seroquel. Seroquel had worldwide sales of $4.9bn last year, representing 15% of AstraZeneca's total revenue. The payment settles 17,500 claims against the company.

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

Monday, August 09, 2010

What drives doctors to drink?

Researchers from the University of Sydney have been looking into the factors that lead doctors to develop a mental-health and/or drink problem. They studied 2,999 doctors and found that factors associated with developing a mental-health problem were: being involved in legal action, not having had a holiday in the previous year, working long hours and having the personality traits of neuroticism or introversion. The factors associated with developing a drink problem were being a man, training in Australia, being between 40 and 59, being neurotic or extrovert, failing to meet continuing medical education requirements and being a one-person practice.

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

Young adults pay price for mental illness

People who have mental-health problems in early adulthood are likely to be much less well-off when they get to 30. Researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand studied 950 people born in Christchurch. At the ages of 21 and 25 the participants were asked whether they suffered from symptoms of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, phobias and drug and alcohol misuse; the participants were also asked about their employment, income and educational achievements. Those yound adults who had experienced mental-health problems were significantly less likely to be in paid employment, were more likely to be working part time, were more likely to be receiving welfare and were earning less money than those who had had good mental health. Those people who had had four or more episodes of illness between 18 and 25 were 4X more likely to be welfare-dependent than those who had had no mental-health problems, on average they worked 6 hours fewer per week and earned NZ$166 less.

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

New programme helps fostered children

Children who have been placed in foster care after being abused are at a much higher risk of developing mental-health problems and it has been estimated that as many as 57% of them might have a psychological problem such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociation, suicidal behaviour, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and 'conduct disorders.' Researchers from the University of Colorado studied the effectiveness of a programme called Fostering Health Futures in a study of 156 children aged between 9 and 11. The programme has two main elements; skills training which aims to help the children develop skills in emotion recognition, problem-solving, anger management, healthy relationships and dealing with peer pressure and a mentoring programme with a social-work student which helped them put the skills into practice. Compared to a control group the children who had taken part in the intervention had fewer symptoms of dissociation and reported a better quality of life. They had fewer symptoms of mental-health problems and were less likely to report symptoms of PTSD.

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

No evidence for SSRIs and autism

Serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) anti-depressants are often prescribed for people with autism as it is thought that improving the amount of serotonin in the brain might improve some of the psychological problems associated with the condition. Katrina Williams from the University of New South Wales has been leading a team reviewing the evidence for SSRIs for autism on behalf of the Cochrane database. The team reviewed seven studies involving 271 patients and found that SSRIs had no benefits for children and could cause serious harm. One child, who had been taking citalopram, had had a prolonged seizure. There was some slender evidence of improvement in the trials involving adults but not enough for the treatment to be recommended.

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

Friday, August 06, 2010

Brothers and sisters boost mental health

Children between the ages of 10 and 14 could be protected from depression if they have a sister. Researchers from Brigham Young University in Utah studied 395 families with more than one child, at least one of whom was an adolescent between the ages of 10 and 14. The researchers gathered a range of information about the families and followed them up again one year later. Having a sister was found to protect the adolescents from feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful regardless of whether the sister was younger or older or how far apart they were in age. Having a loving brother or sister promoted good deeds such as helping a neighbour or looking after other children at school and in fact the relationship between sibling affection and good deeds was twice as strong as that between parenting and good deeds.

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

Smokers' brains show subtle changes

Researchers from Yale University have been studying the brains of people trying to give up smoking. The participants in the study were using cognitive therapy to try and give up, a treatment which stresses the long-term benefits of not smoking. The participants showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex - an area associated with cognitive control and rational thought - and decreased activity in the striatum, a part of the brain associated with drug-craving and reward-seeking behaviour.

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

Slowing down the dementia epidemic

Researchers estimate that 820,000 people in the U.K. have dementia - a number predicted to double by 2050. A team of researchers in France and the U.K. have been looking at the best ways to prevent more people developing the condition and have concluded that fighting diabetes and depression, eating more fruit and vegetables and having a better-educated population are the way forward. The researchers studied 1,433 people, all over 65, in the South of France. They tested their cognition two, four and seven years after the start of the study and asked the participants a number of questions about their lifestyle and education. They then used the results to estimate how much different measures could reduce the percentage of people developing Alzheimer's. They found that a combination of eliminating depression and diabetes and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption would lead to a 21% drop in new cases of dementia. Eliminating depression would have the most powerful effect leading to a 10% fall in the number of cases. Increasing education could lead to an 18% reduction in new cases of Alzheimer's more than double the effect of eliminating the main, known genetic risk factor which would only lead to a 7% fall.

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

Deleted genes and schizophrenia

Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta have been looking into the links between genetics and schizophrenia among Ashkenazi (from Germany and Europe) Jews. They compared people with and without schizophrenia and analyzed their genetic makeup. A deleted gene on the 3rd chromosome was linked to a seventeen-fold increase in the risk of schizophrenia.

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

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Gum disease and Alzheimer's disease

People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as other people and new research suggests they may also be at risk of lower brainpower too. Researchers from New York University studied 152 70-year-old people measuring their IQ and assessing them for periodontal disease. They found that people with gum disease were nine times more likely to score in the lower range of the test compared to people with little or no gum disease. The research follows a 2008 study by the same team in which people with Alzheimer's were found to have a higher level of antibodies and inflammatory molecules associated with the disease in their bloodstream than healthy people.

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

Depression and Alzheimer's

People with Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which usually precedes it often have depression as well and some studies suggest that having a history of major depression can double the risk of developing dementia. But it is unclear whether depression is an early symptom of Alzheimer's disease or whether it actually plays a part in causing it. Researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago studied 357 people who were taking part in a long-term study of the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. Every three years the sample completed a brief questionnaire about their levels of depression and were evaluated to see whether they had Alzheimer's disease. The study found no change in the level of people's depression before, during and after their development of Alzheimer's disease suggesting that it was depression which caused people's dementia rather than vice versa. The other implication of the research is that depression does not automatically go hand-in-hand with dementia and should be treated just the same in people with Alzheimer's as those without.

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

Children with OCD - what's the long-term prognosis?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a long-term condition that often starts in childhood. Researchers estimate that between 0.5-4% of children and teenagers develop the condition and between 30-50% of adults with OCD say their symptoms first started when they were children. However, there have been few long-term studies into how children with OCD get on in later life. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied 142 children who had been treated for OCD over a nine-year period. 41% still had OCD by the end of the study and 40% had another mental-health problem instead of, or as well as, OCD. People who had been iller for longer when they first started treatment were more likely to still have OCD nine years later. Around half the participants were still receiving and/or felt a need for further treatment by the end of the study.

Micali, N. ... [et al] - Long-term outcomes of obsessive-compulsive disorder: follow-up of 142 children and adolescents British Journal of Psychiatry August 2010, 197(2), 128-134

The true cost of mental illness

Mental illness can be a big financial cost both to individuals with mental-health problems and society as a whole. Most studies into the effects of mental illness on wages have been done in higher-income countries but mental illness is a problem all over the world and the World Health Organization surveyed 44,561 people in 19 different countries about their mental health and their earnings. The respondents were in countries all over the world with widely different incomes. The study found that, on average, respondents with serious mental illness earned on average a third less than median earnings.

Levinson, Daphna ... [et al] - Associations of serious mental illness with earnings: results from the WHO World Mental Health surveys British Journal of Psychiatry August 2010, 197(2), 114-121

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Could 'Special K' be a solution for bipolar depression?

Ketamine could help people with bipolar disorder shake off depression. Ketamine was first introduced in 1962 and is legally used as a human, and animal, anaesthetic. It is also used as a 'party' drug when it is known, among other things, as 'Special K'. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland used much smaller doses of the drug than are used recreationally on 18 patients with severe bipolar depression. The patients had tried an average of seven different drugs to treat their illness and 55% had had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). However, 40 minutes after receiving a ketamine injection the patients depressive symptoms had improved - an effect that lasted for at least three days. Side effects included anxiety, feeling woozy, headaches and a temporary sense of disconnection from reality although there were no 'serious adverse effects.'

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

Brief intervention makes a big difference to teenagers in A&E

Brief motivational interviewing is a technique in which people are encouraged to think about their goals and how their current behaviour does, or does not, contribute towards achieving them. Researchers from the University of Michigan have been carrying out a project using the technique to counsel teenagers attending an A&E department in Flint, Michigan. They offered help to 726 teenagers aged between 14 and 18 who said that they had experienced aggression or had had at least two or three drinks in the past year. The brief interviews resulted in a 34% reduction in peer aggression compared to only a 16% reduction in a control group. The intervention also lead to a 32% reduction in alcohol-related problems over the next six months.

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

Flower arranging and schizophrenia

Schizophrenia can affect people as much from the losses - of memory and cognition - it causes as from the delusions and hallucinations it inflicts upon them. The severity of these losses predicts quality of life, social functioning and how independent people remain so anything that could restore them would have a very beneficial effect. Researchers from the National Institute of Floricultural Science in Japan have been testing out whether flower arranging can help improve cognition in people with schizophrenia. They carried out a small study comparing people who went to flower-arranging classes with a control group. The study found that the group who had done flower arranging had a better working memory and were better at copying complex figures than the other group. This was a very small-scale study though and will need to be replicated in a much larger group of patients to really prove flower-arranging's effectiveness.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Type 2 diabetes hits teenagers' brainpower as well as their health

Type-2 diabetes - caused by being too fat and not taking enough exercise - usually occurs in middle age but more and more teenagers are also being diagnosed with the condition. Researchers from the New York University Langone Medical Center studied 36 obese adolescents comparing those with and without type-2 diabetes. The teenagers with type-2 diabetes had significant reductions in performance on tests measuring overall intellectual functioning, memory and spelling, and, when their brains were scanned with MRIs had 'clear abnormalities in the integrity of the white matter in their brains.'

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

Judging others and revealing ourselves

What we say about other people could actually say much more about ourselves. Researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina studied friends rating one another, first-year students rating others they knew in their dormitories and fraternity and sorority members rating others in their organization. They found that those who judged others most positively were themselves described as enthusiastic, happy, kind-hearted, courteous and emotionally-stable whereas those with negative perceptions of others had higher levels of narcissism and anti-social behaviour. The students were tested again one year later and how people rated others was found to be a highly stable trait that did not change substantially over time.

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

Autism and vision

People with autism can also have problems with their visual perception and new research suggests that their relatives may have difficulty too. Researchers from the University of Chicago studied 97 people, 57 of whom had first-degree relatives (siblings or parents) with autism. They tested the participants' saccades - their ability to move quickly from looking at one thing to looking at another - and their 'smooth-pursuit' eye movements i.e. the ability to follow a slowly-moving object. Compared to the other participants the people with autistic relatives performed more slowly and less accurately. The abnormalities in performance were associated with several brain pathways that have also been linked to autism.

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

Teenage internet 'addicts' at higher risk of depression

Teenagers who are compulsive internet users are more likely to be depressed. Researchers from the School of Medicine in Sydney and Sun-Yat-Sen University in China studied over 1,000 teenagers - who had an average age of 15 - and asked them about their internet use. They found that 6% of the sample felt depressed, moody and anxious when they were not on the internet. Nine months later the teenagers were examined again for signs of anxiety and depression; the 'pathological' internet users were two-and-a-half times more likely to show signs of depression.

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

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sleep, brainpower and health

A lack of sleep can seriously affect people's performance but just one good night's sleep can more or less restore you to normal. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied 159 healthy adults who had an average age of 30. The participants were divided into groups and were allowed different amounts of sleep. Every two hours, while they were awake, they completed a 30-minute computerized test. Those whose sleep had been restricted were found to have a shorter attention span, be less alert and have slower reactions. However, people's performance went back to normal after just one full night's worth of sleep. Another study of more than 30,000 adults in the same journal - Sleep - found that the optimum amount of sleep for good health is seven hours a night. People who had less than five hours a night had double the risk of cardiovascular disease while those getting more than nine hours also had a higher risk.

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