Thursday, August 27, 2009

Apathy and executive function in psychosis

While the 'positive' symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions and hallucinations, are more dramatic and well-known people with this condition often suffer from a number of negative symptoms too. These include apathy, a lack of pleasure in anything (anhedonia), alogia (answering questions with the bare minimum of information rather than taking part in a conversation), asociality, flat mood and a lack of attention. Scientists think that these negative symptoms might be associated with the cognitive problems also experienced by people with psychosis and schizophrenia. Researchers at the University of Oslo looked into the links between apathy and cognitive function in 71 people suffering from their first episode of psychosis. They assessed the participants' levels of apathy and gave them a series of neuropsychological tests. They found that apathy was associated with poorer semantic fluency, phonetic fluency and working memory - all aspects of cognition related to executive function. Executive function has already been associated with apathy in people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington disease and in people with traumatic brain injury.

Faerden, Ann - Apathy is associated with executive functioning in first episode psychosis BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9(1)

Sedatives and suicide risk in older people

Researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University looked into the links between antidepressants, antipsychotics and sedatives/hypnotics and suicide risk in elderly people. Although antidepressants increase the risk of suicide in young people they are thought to decrease the risk in older adults. Antipsychotics have been linked to a number of physical health problems and sedatives/hypnotics are often prescribed to older people suffering from depression, anxiety and sleep problems but little is known about the effects of these drugs on suicide rates. The researchers study of 238 people found that all three types of drugs were associated with an increased rate of suicide. However, once people's mental-health problems were taken into account neither antidepressants nor antipsychotics were found to raise the risk of suicide over and above people's psychological troubles. Sedative treatment was associated with an increased risk of suicide though and even when mental-health problems were taken into account hypnotics led to a fourfold increase in suicide risk.

Carlsten, Anders and Waern, Margda - Are sedatives and hypnotics associated with increased suicide risk ofsuicide in the elderly? BMC Geriatrics 2009, 9, (20)

Heroin and alcohol abuse

People who take heroin often drink heavily as well and in one study a third of patients attending a clinic for opiate use in the UK were identified as 'problem drinkers, hazardous drinkers or alcohol dependent.' Heavy drinking can worsen liver function in people already at risk of hepatitis C, can worsen treatment outcomes and can lessen the effectiveness of methadone sometimes playing a part in fatal overdoses. Researchers from University College and Trinity College (both in Dublin) looked at the prevalence of alcohol problems in people being treated in primary care (family doctors or GPs). From a sample of 196 patients 55% had hepatitis C. 35% were classified as being problem drinkers and these people were more likely to have attended a hospital emergency department in the last year. 14% of the sample could be classified as alcohol dependent.

Ryder, Niamh - Prevalence of problem alcohol use among patients attending primary care for methadone treatment BMC Family Practice 2009, 10(42)

Drug deaths in England and Wales: latest data

Deaths from drug misuse in England and Wales rose to 1,738 in 2008, according to the latest report from the Office of National Statistics, the highest level recorded since 2001. The most deaths were among men aged 30-39 but female deaths rose by 17% from 2007 to a total of 853. Male deaths also rose by 8% over the same period. Cocaine caused 235 deaths (up 20% from 2007), heroin and morphine 897 (up 8%) and antidepressants 381.

You can download the full Office of National Statistics report from

Risk-taking and white matter in teenagers

Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta looked into the links between brain development and risk-taking behaviour in a sample of 91 teenagers. They used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to measure the development of white matter in the teenagers' brains. White matter is the part of the brain that connects neurons to each other and it becomes denser and more organized as the brain matures. The study found that risk-taking was associated with more highly-developed white matter. It could be that engaging in risky behaviour and coping with tricky situations helps the brain to develop, or that those teenagers with more highly-developed brains are keener to engage in adult activities.

You can find out more about this research at

Musical training and background noise

Older people often have difficulty in distinguishing what people are saying in crowded rooms or where there is lots of background noise. Poor readers - including people with dyslexia - have similar problems as, although they have normal hearing, their brain poorly transcribes sounds that are important for good reading skills. New research from Northwestern University in Illinois suggests that musical training - which includes the ability to hear particular notes within a framework of melodies and harmonies - could help with these problems. The researchers studied 31 people, some of whom had musical training, who had to listen to sentences presented in increasingly noisy conditions and repeat back what they heard. The participants with better working memory and a better ability to distinguish between notes did better on the test implying that musical training enhances the ability to hear speech in challenging listening environments.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Concussion and cognition

Every year more than a million Americans sustain a concussion mainly as a result of car accidents or falls. While most people recover with no lasting ill effects as many as 30% suffer permanent impairment. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, New York compared 20 people known to have suffered a concussion with 20 healthy controls. Although conventional brain imaging was unable to spot any differences in the brains of the two groups the people who had suffered a concussion performed significantly worse on tests of executive function. However, a new more sensitive type of brain-scanning called diffusion tensor imaging, which measures water moving around in the brain did find abnormal brain regions in 15 of the concussion patients. The damaged areas were located mainly in the prefrontal cortex, which is essential for normal executive function and is susceptible to injury in concussion. The presence of major areas of structural damage in concussion patients predicted low scores on the executive function tests.

You can find out more about this research at

Obesity and cognitive decline

Obese people are already at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure and new research suggests that they could also be at more risk of dementia too. Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Pittsburgh scanned the brains of 94 people in their 70s who were healthy and didn't suffer from cognitive impairment. They found that the brains of overweight people were eight years 'older' and the brains of obese people 16 years older than those of people of normal weight. Obese people had 8% less brain tissue and overweight people 4% less. Obese people had less brain tissue in the frontal temporal lobes (important for planning and memory), the anterior cingulate gyrus (attention and executive functions), the hippocampus (long-term memory) and the basal ganglie (movement). Overweight people showed brain loss in the basal ganglia, the corna radiata, white matter and the pariental lobe

You can read more aobut this research at
Testosterone enhances competitiveness and dominance, reduces fear and is associated with risky behaviour like gambling and alcohol use. Men have more testosterone than women and a study of M.B.A. students has shown that only 36% of female students go into high-risk careers such as trading or investment banking compared to 57% of male students. Researachers from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois and the University of Chicago measured testosterone levels and risk-taking in around 500 M.B.A. students. Risk-taking was measured by a computer game in which the participants could either bank a relatively small amount of money or take part in a lottery to win a much larger amount. Overall men were much more likely than women to take risks and had significantly higher levels of testosterone. Higher levels of testosterone were associated with a greater appetite for risk in women, but not in men. Men and women with similar levels of testosterone had similar levels of risk-taking. When the participants were followed up after their course finished those who were high in testosterone and low in risk aversion chose riskier careers in finance.

You can find out more about this research at

Military service and suicide risk

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health have been comparing suicide rates in military veterans to rates in the rest of the population. They compared suicide rates in 337,637 male veterans and 161,719 male non-veterans between 1982 and 2004. The average age of the sample was 57. The rate of suicide was similar in both groups (0.4%) and remained the same once age, religion, race, area of residence, smoking, body-mass index, physical activity level, alcohol and medication use were taken into account. The only difference was that veterans were more likely to kill themselves with firearms and less likely to use other methods.

You can find out more about this research at

Researchers from the University of Washington, in Seattle, meanwhile, studied 407 veterans who had served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They found that 46% of them had had suicidal thoughts in the month before they thought of seeking psychiatric help and that 3% had made an actual suicide attempt in the four months before seeking care. Those veterans who had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were four times more likely to report suicide-related thoughts.

You can find out about the University of Washington research at

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

ADHD and insomnia

People with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often report trouble sleeping. It is thought that this relationship works both ways with ADHD making it harder for people to sleep and poor sleep contributing to the symptoms of ADHD. At the same time people with ADHD tend to smoke more and drink more coffee (both of which can cause insomnia) and are more likely to be overweight leading to sleep apnoea. Most of the drugs prescribed for ADHD are stimulants although the evidence is mixed as to whether they make the problem better or worse. Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine studied the effect of the ADHD drug lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (LDX) on sleep quality in adults with ADHD. LDX is different from other drugs for ADHD as it is taken in an inactive form and only becomes active as it is metabolised in the body. The researchers studied 420 people taking either a placebo or varying amounts of LDX. The study found that for most of the participants LDX was not associated with an overall worsening of sleep quality and significantly improved daytime functioning.

Adler, Lenard A. ... [et al] - Effect of lisdexamfetamine dimesylate on sleep in adults with
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder Behavioral and brain functions 2009, 5(34)

Aripiprazole and bipolar disorder

Researchers from the University of Thessaloniki and the University of Barcelona reviewed 181 studies into the effectiveness of the antipsychotic drug aripiprazole in treating bipolar disorder. They found that although it had little effect in the depressive phase of the illness it was useful in preventing and treating mania. The most frequent side effect was akathisia (an unpleasant sensation of restlessness with an inability to sit still or remain motionless).

Fountoulakis, Konstantinos N. and Vieta, Eduard - Efficacy and safety of aripiprazole in the treatment of bipolar disorder: a systematic review Annals of General Psychiatry 2009, 8(16)

Child abuse, teenage mums and mental-health problems

Around 270,000 girls under the age of 18 become pregnant each year in the U.S. Such girls are more likely to have experienced abuse from their parents and to suffer victimization (including domestic violence and sexual assault) later. Adolescent mothers are also more at risk of problems such as depression, anxiety, alcohol problems and drug abuse. However, little is known about the pathways between victimization in childhood, victimization later and other problems. Researchers from the University of Washington studied 229 teenage mothers to try and find out more about this. They found that parental child abuse had a negative effect on the teenage mums both in itself and by causing psychological distress and victimization, which in turn led to the girls suffering psychological distress at the end of the two-and-a-half year study. The psychological distress caused by the girls being abused as children was the most important factor leading to psychological distress and victimization at the end of the study rather than substance abuse problems developed in response to being abused by parents.

Lindhorst, Taryn ... [et al] - Mediating pathways explaining psychosocial functioning and revictimization as sequelae of parental violence among adolescent mothers American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 2009, 79(2), 181-190

Socio-economic status and response to treatment

People's socio-economic status was once a major area of interest for scientists researching the effectiveness of drugs and psychotherapy but little work has been done on this in the last 25 years as race and ethnicity have taken centre stage. Yet people with lower socio-economic status tend to have more stress in their lives and less resources to cope with it than better-off people. Lydia Falconnier from the University of Illinois in Chicago looked at how socio-economic status affected the effectiveness of cognitive-behaviour therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and drug therapy using data from the Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program (TDCRP) run by the National Institute of Mental Health. They found that socio-economic status was associated with worse outcomes for all three treatments although it was not associated with attrition (dropping out of treatment).

Falconnier, Lydia - Socioeconomic status in the treatment of depression American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 79(2), 148-158

Happy at work ... and happy at home

People who are more engaged in their work are more likely to have happy home lives as well. Researchers from Kansas State University studied 67 extension agents (people who advise farmers) over a fortnight. They filled out two surveys every day; one at the end of their working day and one just before going to bed. They found that people who engaged in their work more - showing higher levels of vigour, more dedication and absorption in daily activities - had better moods and more satisfaction at home. People's engagement at work was found to vary surprisingly from day to day and the positive effects of engagement did not seem to be influenced by how many hours people worked. The researchers pointed out that there was a difference between positive engagement at work and being a workaholic.

You can find out more about this research at

Multi-taskers not up to the mark

As people acquire more and more gadgets the temptation to do more than one thing at once gets ever stronger. Anyone who commutes to work will have seen people texting, listening to an I-Pod and reading a book all at the same time. However, researchers at Stanford University have found that students who make a habit of doing several things at once actually have less brainpower. The researchers studied 262 college students who filled out a questionnaire about how often they went online, watched TV, read, listened to music, emailed and text messaged and how often they did more than one thing at a time. The students then took a series of cognitive tests. The researchers found that students classified as 'heavy media multi-taskers' were less able to filter out irrelevant distractions, worse at organizing and filing away information and less able to shift their attention from one task to another. So, if you want a job done properly put away your BlackBerry and stick to doing one thing at a time.

You can find out more about this research at

High blood pressure and cognitive problems

A study by researchers from the University of Alabama in Birmingham has added more evidence for the link between high blood pressure and cognitive impairment and dementia. They studied 19,836 people. 1,505 of them (7.6%) had cognitive problems and 9,844 (49.6%) were taking medication for high blood pressure. The researchers found a link between high blood pressure and cognitive problems which held true even when other factors such as age, smoking, exercise, education, diabetes and high cholesterol were taken into account. Other research has shown that high blood pressure can weaken small arteries in the brain leading to damage.

You can find out more about this research at

Monday, August 24, 2009

Depression and anhedonia

Anhedonia - the inability to experience pleasure - is often found in people suffering from depression. Resarchers, from the Lawson Health Research Institute in Ontario studied 31 people, 16 of whom had recently been diagnosed with depression. They were asked to select their favourite music, then played it (along with a more neutral choisce for comparison purposes) while the levels of activity within their brains was monitored. The study found that the non-depressed participants had more neural activity in areas of the brain associated with reward processing and pleasre than the depressed participants.

You can find out more about this research at

ADHD drugs: prescriptions and overdoses on the rise

Researchers from the Cincinatti Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio have found a growing problem with the misuse of stimulant drugs originally prescribed for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). In 1988 there were 317 cases of teenagers overdosing on the drugs but this had risen to 581 by 2005 - a rise of 76%. ADHD is estimated to affect between 8-12% of children and 4% of adults worldwide and prescriptions of amphetamines rose by 133% from 1998 to 2003. Annual U.S. sales of the drugs totaled around $4.8 billion in 2008.

You can find out more about this research at

Combination therapy for psychotic depression

People with major depression sometimes develop psychosis (delusions and hallucinations) as well. Studies have shown that between 15-20% of people with major depression are affected in this way. Major depression with psychosis is associated with poorer short-term outcomes, a longer time to recovery, greater residual disability and greater mortality. A study by 259 people with major depression and psychosis by researchers working on the STOP-PD (study of pharmacotherapy of psychotic depression) project looked into the effectiveness of the combination of the antipsychotic drug olanzapine and the antidepressant sertraline compared to olanzapine on its own. They found that both drugs together led to a greater rate of remission (41.9% vs 23.9%) than olanzapine on its own. The side effects (including weight gain) were broadly similar between the two groups.

Meyers, Barnett S. ... [et al] - A double-blind randomized controlled trial of olanzapine plus sertraline vs olanzapine plus placebo for psychotic depression Archives of General Psychiatry August 2009, 66(8), 838-847

Cognition and schizophrenia: latest findings from neuroscience

Problems with cognition are one of the hallmarks of schizophrenia and there is no established treatment for them. People with schizophrenia have problems with perception, attention, memory, language and intellect. Impaired decision-making is one of the main problems and this has been linked to impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex. Researchers from the University of California, Davis School of Medicine reviewed 41 brain-imaging studies measuring the activity in the brains of people with schizophrenia as they undertook a number of decision-making tasks. They found that both people with schizophrenia and unaffected controls used the same network of brain cells while undertaking decision-making tasks. They also found that the participants with schizophrenia had deficits in their dorsolateral frontal cortex, their anterior cingulate cortex and in the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus. There were increases in activity in other parts of the prefrontal cortex, possibly to make up for deficits elsewhere.

Minzenberg, Michael J. ... [et al] - Meta-analysis of 41 functional neuroimaging studies of executive function in schizophrenia Archives of General Psychiatry August 2009, 66(8), 811-822

Friday, August 21, 2009

Physician heal thyself: doctors and mental-health care

A survey of over 3,500 doctors in Birmingham has found that nearly three-quarters would rather talk psychological problems over with friends and family than see their colleagues in mental-health. Only 13% would choose to disclose their illness to a GP and 79% said that they would opt for treatment in either a private or distant facility. The most-important reasons behind this decision were worries over career implications (33%), professional integrity (30%) and stigma (20%) rather than concerns about the quality of care (25%). 41% said that they would seek informal advice for outpatient treatment but 8% said that they would self-medicate or opt for no treatment at all.

You can find out more about this research at

The psychological impact of heart attacks

Researchers from the University of Sussex have been studying the psychological health of people who have suffered heart attacks. They studied 74 people who had had a heart attack in the last 12 weeks. They found that 16% met the clinical criteria for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and another 18% reported moderate-severe symptoms. Those people with PTSD symptoms were more likely to have poorer psychological health overall and an impaired social life. The patients' own perceptions of how severe their heart attack had been and the threat to their life were less powerful predictors of whether people went on to develop PTSD than the use of denial and avoidance as coping strategies.

You can find out more about this research at

Online CBT for depression

Computerised CBT has shown promise as a way of offering treatment to people who are unable or unwilling to receive face-to-face treatment and for those in areas where it is difficult to travel to get treatment. It is also significantly cheaper than face-to-face therapy and could be a good way of delivering this service to more people. Researchers from the University of Bristol studied 297 people suffering from depression. Half of them used online CBT while the other half received 'care-as-usual' from their GP. After four months almost two-fifths of those who received the online CBT got better compared to one in four of those receiving treatment as usual. After eight months people were still feeling the benefits of the online CBT.

Why it hurts some people more than others to be left out

A gene called OPRM1 governs the production of the body's natural pain-killers, mu-opioid receptors. People with a rare variation of this gene are more sensitive to pain and researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have found that they may be more sensitive to social rejection as well. The researchers collected saliva samples from 122 volunteers to see which variation of the gene they had. They then gave them a questionnaire to measure their sensitivity to social rejection. Finally the participants took part in a computer game with other people which - unbeknown to them - was deliberately designed to exclude them. As they were experiencing this exclusion their brains were scanned to see which areas were most active. The study found that people with the 'sensitive' variant of OPRM1 were also more sensitive to social rejection and showed greater activity in their dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula in response to social exclusion.

You can find out more about this research at

Getting to grips with childhood headaches

Up to 30% of all children around the world complain of having a headache at least once a week. German researchers have been looking into the factors linked to headaches, studying children between 2003 and 2006. They found that boys who experienced more than one family quarrel a week had a 1.8x greater risk of developing headaches. Lack of free time also played a part with boys who only sometimes had time to themselves having a 2.1x greater risk of developing headaches. Reinforcement from parents - giving the child the idea that rewards could be linked to headaches - was important, leading to a 25% increase in the risk of recurrent headaches in girls. Twice as many girls as boys had headaches.

You can find out more about this research at

Videogame players: older, fatter and more miserable than you might think

Video games are usually thought to be the preserve of children and teenagers. However, a survey of 552 people in Seattle by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta has found that the average age of a video gamer is 35. 45% of the sample identified themselves as game players, 56% of whom were men. The video-gamers weighed more and had a higher number of "poor-mental-health-days" than non-gamers. Women who played video games had higher levels of depression and poorer health. The video-gamers were less outgoing, extrovert, sociable and assertive and more likely to rely on the Internet for social support.

You can find out more about this research at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stress and sick leave in the NHS

A major report into the health and wellbeing of staff working in the NHS has warned that staff are suffering from high levels of mental distress due to work stress, bullying and harrassment. A survey carried out as part of the report found that half of its respondents were 'more stressed than usual' and around a third said that they did not believe that the NHS took a positive interest in employees' health and well-being. NHS staff took an average of 10.7 days sick in a year compared to 9.7 days in the rest of the public sector and 6.4 in the private. Absence rates were higher in mental-health trusts (5.2%) than in the rest of the NHS (4.5%).

You can download the full text of the interim report at

Baby-boomers skew drug figures

The percentage of people between 50 and 59 using illegal drugs in the U.S. rose from 5.1% in 2002 to 9.4% in 2007. The near doubling of the rate is probably due to the "baby-boomer" generation moving into this age bracket and contrast with static or declining use in other age brackets. The rate of drug use among 18-25 year-olds fell over the same period from 20.2% in 2002 to 19.7% in 2007, while usage among 12-17-year-olds fell from 11.6% to 9.5%.

Diacetylmorphine for heroin addicts

Methadone is often given to heroin addicts as a way of reducing crime, infection and the risk of an overdose. However, methadone fails in 15-25% of cases. Researchers from the University of British Columbia looked into the effectiveness of diacetylmorphine - the active ingredient of heroin - in a study of 226 addicts in Montreal and Vancouver. Only 54% of those who received methadone stayed in a treatment for a year, compared to 88% of those who received diacetylmorphine. Those who received diacetylmorphine cut back on illegal drugs by 67% compared to a 48% reduction in those given methadone. Only 5.4% of those receiving methadone and 0.9% of those receiving diamorphine committed crime compared to three-quarters of those receiving neither.

You can find out more about this research at

Social phobia and paranoia

Although social phobia and paranoia are considered to be separate conditions they do share similarities, both in terms of psychology and behaviour. Both groups of patients think that they are the object of other people's interest and that they are being judged by others. They scan their environment for socially-threatening information and both groups conclude that people are talking about them. A team of Dutch researchers looked into the links between the two conditions in a sample of 7,076 people. They were assessed for social phobia and paranoia at the start of the study, and one, and three years later. The study found that social phobia and paranoia were associated. People with paranoia were four times as likely to develop social phobia and the more paranoid people were the more social phobia symptoms they developed. However social phobia did not seem to lead on to people becoming paranoid.

Rietdijk, J. ... [et al] - Are social phobia and paranoia related, and which comes first? Psychosis February 2009, 1(1), 29-38

Cannabis use, child abuse and psychosis

Although there is still some controversy around this issue many researchers think that there is a link between cannabis use and psychosis. There is also a link between childhood sexual abuse and psychosis. Some researchers think that all three factors are linked and studies have found that people with psychosis who also use cannabis are significantly more likely to have suffered childhood sexual abuse. Researchers from the University of Ulster and Nottingham Trent University looked at the links between childhood sexual abuse, cannabis use and psychosis in a sample of 5,877 people. The researchers were particularly interested in the order of the link - i.e. did cannabis use come after sexual abuse or vice versa. The study found that sexual trauma with no cannabis use increased the risk of psychosis by a factor of 2.45, cannabis use before sexual trauma increased the risk by a factor of 4.39 and cannabis use after sexual trauma increased the risk 4.25 times.

Shevlin, Mark ... [et al] - Childhood sexual abuse, early cannabis use, and psychosis: testing the effects of different temporal orderings based on the National Comorbidity Survey Psychosis, February 2009, 1(1), 19-28

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reposession and depression in the U.S.

As a result of the financial crisis in the U.S. a large number of people have experienced repossession (foreclosure). Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied the health of 250 Philadelphia homeowners whose homes were being repossessed and found that nearly half reported depressive symptoms and 37% met screening criteria for major depression. Many also reported skipping meals and being unable to afford prescription drugs.

You can find out more about the effects of the financial crisis on people's health at

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people and mental-health services

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are twice as likely as heterosexual men and women to seek help from mental-health professionals, according to a survey of 2,074 people carried out by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health. 48.5% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people reported receiving treatment in the last year compared to 22.5% of heterosexuals. Overall lesbians and bisexual women were most likely to receive treatment and heterosexual men least likely. The researchers thought that this could be because of the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people, because certain ethnic groups perceived homosexuality to be a psychological problem and because there is more willingness to see a mental-health professional among lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The study also found that ethnic and racial minorities were less likely to use mental-health services.

You can find out more about this research at

Parents' discipline and children's aggression

Parents use a variety of different methods to control their children. As well as using discipline and rewards some parents also use psychological control - which may include emotional manipulation, criticism or excessive personal control - while others use physical punishment. Researchers at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium studied 600 children between the ages of 8 and 10 comparing the way children managed their relationships with the way their parents disciplined them. Parents' use of physical punishment was significantly linked to the children's level of physical aggression both at home and at school. Parental psychological control was significantly linked to the children's use of relational aggression - the purposeful manipulation or damage to relationships through silent treatment, social exclusion or the spreading of malicious rumours - although this was only significant at home.

You can find out more about this research at

Parents' discipline and children's aggression

Type D personality and artery disease

People with a type D personality have a tendency towards negative affectivity - e.g. worry, irritability and gloom - and social inhibition, showing reticence and a lack of self-assurance. They experience more negative emotions over time but tend not to share them with others because of a fear of rejection or disapproval. Researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands studied 184 people with peripheral arterial disease. This is caused by plaque building up in the arteries which supply blood to the arms and legs and can lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and death. Participants in the study filled in a personality questionnaire at the start and were monitored over the next four years. After adjusting for age, sex, diabetes and kidney disease the participants with a type D personality had an increased risk of death.

You can find out more about this research at

Immigration and suicide in Asian Americans

Asian-American women (who tend to come from the Far East and the Philippines rather than Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) who are born in the U.S. have higher rates of thinking about, and attempting suicide, than other groups. Asian-Americans as a whole have lower rates of suicidal behaviour and a 2006 study found that Asian immigrants had significantly lower rates of psychiatric disorders than American-born Asians and other native-born Americans. Based on a sample of nearly 2,100 people researchers from the University of Washington found that 15.93% of U.S. born Asian-American women had contemplated suicide and 6.29% had made a suicide bid over the course of their lives compared to 13.5% and 4.6% respectively in the population as a whole. The research fits in with the "healthy immigrant" theory which says that immigrants tend to be healthier than the native population at first (because healthier people are more likely to emigrate and/or come from a culture with healthier habits) and then become less healthy as they adopt the habits of the native population.

You can find out more about this research at

Worrying oneself to death

Chronic worrying, anxiety and being prone to depression are important aspects of the personality trait known as neuroticism. Previous research has shown that high levels of neuroticism can lead to an early death and researchers from Purdue University in Indiana looked into this issue more closely in a study of 1,788 people between 1975 and 2005. They found that people with high levels of neuroticism were more likely to smoke, something that explained 25-40% of the association between high neuroticism and mortality. The researchers thought that neurotic people turned to cigarettes, and possibly alcohol and other drugs, to deal with their worry and anxiety. The other 60% of the excess mortality of neurotic people could not be explained by higher rates of smoking but could be due to biological factors or other environmental issues.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuneless people, tone-deaf brains

Experts estimate that at least 10% of people could be tone deaf - unable to sing in tune. Researchers at Harvard Medical School compared the brains of tone-deaf people to other people using a sophisticated imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging. They found differences in the nerve fibres that link the perceptual and motor regions of the brain. These fibres, called the arcuate fasciculus, are known to be involved in linking music and language perception with vocal production. The study found that the arcuate fasciculus was smaller and had less fibres in tone-deaf people and one branch of the arcuate fasciculus in the right hemisphere could not be detected at all in the tuneless.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression, asthma and E.T.

Stressful and depressing events could make certain children's asthma worse. Researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo showed 90 children with asthma scenes from E.T. The children were 7-17 years old and half of them had depression as well as asthma. The children with asthma and depression consistently showed breathing difficulties after watching distressing scenes from the film whereas the children with asthma but no depression were unaffected.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Binge-drinking and cognition

Binge drinking is defined as drinking five (four if you are a woman) or more standard alcoholic drinks within a two-hour interval. Researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain studied the effects of binge drinking on cognition in 95 first-year university students. They found that the students who engaged in binge drinking had problems with their visual working memory and had to pay more attention in a task designed to measure this than the other students. The binge-drinking students also had more trouble distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant stimuli. Although only 12.2% of Spanish university students are thought to be binge drinkers it is estimated that 40% of U.S. students are.

You can find out more about this research at
One of the many amazing things about the brain is its ability to change its structure in response to experience, learning new skills, and memories; something scientists call plasticity. It was once thought that the brain took days or weeks to change its microstructure but new research from Tel Aviv University has shown that the process is much quicker than that. In the study volunteers were scanned using a new technique called Diffusion Imaging MRI. They then played two hours of a race-track video game going over the same virtual race-track 16 times before being scanned again. After two hours the volunteers were scanned again and the researchers observed changes in the hippocampus, motor and visual areas of the brain.

You can find out more about this study at

Epilepsy and cognition

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio looked into the effects of epilepsy on children's cognitive abilities. They compared 282 school-aged children - who had had their first epileptic seizure in the last three months - with 147 of their siblings who had not had any seizures. The scientists also looked at three other risk factors: having had multiple seizures, using epilepsy drugs and having abnormal brain waves. Children with all four risk factors were three times more likely to experience cognitive difficulties. Of the children who had had one seizure 27% showed cognitive problems at or near the time of their first seizure and 40% of the children who had additional risk factors showed signs of cognitive problems. Children who took epilepsy drugs had difficulties in processing speed, language, verbal memory and learning compared to children who did not take them.

You can find out more about this research at

Uncertainty and emotion

Uncertainty can make a bad event feel even worse. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed 36 student volunteers a mixture of neutral and distressing images. Before each image was presented the students were shown three symbols: a circle to indicate an image would be neutral, a cross to indicated that it would be unpleasant and a question mark to denote uncertainty. At the same time brain scans measured the levels of activity in two areas of the brain important for emotional responses, the amygdala and the insula. The study found that the insula and amygdala responded more strongly to the distressing picture if it was preceeded by a question mark (uncertainty) than if it was preceeded by a cross (certainty).

You can find out more about this research at

Binge drinking: it's not just young people

Binge drinking is usually associated with young people but recent research from the U.S. suggests that older adults do it too. Researchers from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina surveyed nearly 11,000 people aged 50 and over. 23% of men and 9% of women between 50-64 admitted binge drinking - defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion - on at least one day in the past month. Of those over 65 14% of men and 3% of women reported binge drinking. Binge drinking can lead to accidental injuries, violent behaviour, neurological damage and increases in blood pressure. The survey also looked at risky drinking, defined as drinking an average of at least two drinks a day. Among 50- to 64-year-olds, 19 percent of men and 13 percent of women were at-risk drinkers. The figures among older men and women were 13 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Birth difficulties in psychosis: hallucinations in Avon

About 15% of the population report experiencing delusions or hallucinations. It is not clear whether these experiences represent the first signs of things going wrong en route to schizophrenia or whether they simply reflect a variation in the way people perceive the world. Difficulties in pregnancy and around birth have been linked to the later development of psychosis and schizophrenia (in the children not the mothers) and a team of researchers from the University of Bristol looked into the links between these factors and psychosis-like symptoms in a sample of 6,356 12-year-olds. They found that psychotic symptoms were associated with maternal infection during pregnancy, maternal diabetes, a need for resuscitation and a child being in a poor state of health five minutes after birth. There was no association between psychotic symptoms and premature birth or pre-eclampsia.

Zammit, S. ... [et al] - Investigating whether adverse prenatal and perinatal events are associated with non-clinical psychotic symptoms at age 12 years in the ALSPAC birth cohort Psychological Medicine September 2009, 39(9), 1457-1467

Depression, genes and childhood trauma

Many mental-health problems have their origins in interactions between people's genes and their environment and depression is no exception. Researchers from Spain and the Netherlands looked into the inter-relationship between adverse childhood events, variations in genes called 5-HTT and Val66Met and depression. 5-HTT governs the level of a substance called serotonin which has been associated with mood and Val66Met regulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) a substance which plays an important part in supporting brain cells and the connections between them. 534 healthy people filled out a questionnaire about their depression symptoms, were asked about their childhood experiences and were tested for the two gene variations. Total childhood adversity, childhood sexual abuse, childhood emotional abuse and childhood emotional neglect were all linked to higher depression scores. The effect of childhood abuse was particularly strong on depression symptoms in people with variations in their 5-HTT and Val66Met genes.

Aguilera, M ... [et al] - Early adversity and 5-HTT/BDNF genes: new evidence of gene-environment interactions on depressive symptoms in a general population Psychological Medicine September 2009, 39(9), 1425-1432

Monday, August 17, 2009

Camomile combats anxiety

Many people with mild-to-moderate anxiety problems use complementary or alternative medicine. Camomile has been used as a traditional herbal remedy for its relaxing and calming effect and causes few side effects. However, there have not been many clinical trials into the effectiveness of camomile for anxiety. In a small trial involving 57 people researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied the effectiveness of camomile at combating anxiety compared to a placebo. They found that the group taking camomile showed a significantly reduced score on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale compared to the placebo group and suffered no more side effects than those taking the dummy treatment.

Amsterdam, Jay D. ... [et al] - A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral matricaria recutita (chamomile [sic]) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder Journal of Clinial Psychopharmacology August 2009, 29(4), 378-382

Naltrexone hits the target for drinking problems

The drug naltrexone is used in the U.S. for the treatment of alcohol dependence. The largest study of its effectiveness so far showed that it decreased the risk of a relapse into heavy drinking by around 36%. However, naltrexone also has a number of unpleasant side effects including nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Researchers from the University of Connecticut looked into the effectiveness of 'targeted' doses of naltrexone i.e. taking it when cravings were particularly strong or before 'triggering' situations. Half of the 163 people in the study took naltrexone daily and half took it on a targeted basis and within the two groups half of the participants were given a placebo. The men taking targeted naltrexone drank less drinks per day on average and both sexes taking targeted naltrexone dranks less drinks per drinking day.

Kranzler, Henry R. ... [et al] - Targeted naltrexone for problem drinkers Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology August 2009, 29(4), 350-357

Borderline personality disorder and invalidating childhoods

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is marked by a chronic pattern of instability in personal relationships, impulse control, moods and self-image. Compared with other mental-health problems people with BPD are much more likely to attempt suicide (75%) and to actually succeed in killing themselves (10%). No-one is quite sure about the causes of BPD although it is often linked to child abuse and neglect. Some researchers think it can be linked to what is known as an invalidating childhood environment which is one in which there is a constant rejection of the child's feelings or behaviour, emotional display is punished but tantrums are sometimes rewarded and there is an over-simplification of the skills involved in problem-solving. As a result of this environment children learn not to trust their feelings, have difficulty recognising and regulating their emotions and tend to cope with distress in an unhelpful way. Because people who have been exposed to an invalidating childhood environment have a low tolerance for strong emotions or moods they often turn to impulsive behaviour - such as self-harm and drug-taking - to deal with them in a process known as avoidance of affect. Researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University looked into this theory in a sample of 141 people ranging in age from 18 to 71. They found that those people who said that they had had invalidating mothers were much more likely to display avoidance of affect and BPD features. The study found, in accordance with the theory, that maternal invalidation produced avoidance of affect, which in turn lead to BPD symptoms.

Sturrock, Bonnie A., Francis, Andrew and Carr, Steven - Avoidance of affect mediates the effect of invalidating childhood environments on borderline personality symptomatology in a non-clinical sample Clinical Psychologist July 2009, 13(2), 41-51

IQ and mortality

A long-term study of more than 10,000 people by researchers at the University of Helsinki looked into the links between IQ and early mortality. The study found that people with a low IQ when they were 11 were more than twice as likely (3.4% vs 1.7%) to die as those with a high IQ. Socioeconomic status had only a minor role in explaining this but more influential were whether parents took an interest in their children's education (if they did this reduced early mortality) and childhood problem behaviour which increased the risk of an early death.

You can find out more about this research at

Fish consumption and dementia

A survey of 14,960 adults over the age of 65 in China, India, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela has found that (apart from in India) higher fish consumption was associated with a lower risk of developing dementia. The protective effect of fish is thought to come from Omega-3 fats which protect nerve cells, limit inflammation and help prevent the build up of damaging amyloid protein. The link between fish and a lower dementia risk held true even when other factors such as income, education, smoking and fruit and vegetable consumption were taken into account. Higher meat consumption was associated with a somewhat higher prevalence of dementia. The research was led by Dr Emiliano Albanese of King's College London.

You can find out more about this study at

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sleep patterns, depression and cortisol

Sleep patterns and levels of the stress hormone cortisol could be used to predict which adolescents develop depression. It is known that adults with depression start having REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep earlier in the sleep cycle than adults without depression but it is not clear whether the same relationship exists in adolescents. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center studied 96 adolescents over five years and found that those with a familial history of depression but without a depression diagnosis started REM sleep earlier. Those who started REM sleep earlier in the sleep cycle were more likely to develop depression by the end of the five-year study than those who started it later. The researchers also looked into the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. In adults increased cortisol levels are linked to depression and when people are treated for depression cortisol levels are seen to fall even before people's symptoms improve. The study found that the teenagers with the highest cortisol levels at the start of the study were also more likely to develop depression.

You can find out more about this research at

Seizures and Alzheimer's disease

Seizures are more common in people with Alzheimer's disease but still relatively infrequent. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Centre in New York tracked 453 patients with Alzheimer's over a number of years. During the follow-up period they found that 7 of them (1.5%) developed seizures. This was higher than the rate found among people of the same age without Alzheimer's but still only corresponds to 1 in 200 people with Alzheimer's over the course of a year. Only 'younger' age was associated with an increased risk of seizures.

You can find out more about this research at

Marriage Helps Prevent Mental Deterioration - Guest Post by Emily Thomas

Couples who take the “in sickness and in health” vow can look forward to many more healthy days than their unwedded peers, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal last July. The research showed that those living with a partner when they were 50 years old were less likely to be afflicted by heart conditions or mental decline later in life. On the other hand, those without partners were three times more likely to suffer from age-related ailments two decades later.
Dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, usually affects people over 65, causing confusion, memory loss, and mood swings. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe and can lead to emotional outbursts and social withdrawal. More than 26.6 million people suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in 2006, and that number is expected to more than double in the next decade as the population ages. With slow advances in medicine to halt the disease, discovering the patterns in what causes Alzheimer’s is critical to prevention and knowledge.
Living and social conditions have long been explored as factors in the development of dementia. Those with an advanced education, hobbies, and healthy social lives were less likely to suffer from mental decline. Keeping the brain active is a key factor in holding off cognitive deterioration. In this sense, marriage could be providing the healthy mental stimulation aging minds need to stay fit by providing much-needed company.
Conversely, divorce and spouse death has the opposite effect on health. Those who experienced these events not only suffered from depression initially, but also were 20 percent more likely to develop heart disease, cancer, or diabetes decades later, compared to those still in a relationship, according to a study in last year’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Even individuals who remarried later were more at risk for developing chronic conditions than those who had never been divorced or widowed.
Until the next medical breakthrough for Alzheimer’s treatment arrives, preventing mental deterioration is the best strategy. Married couples can take solace in the fact that thanks to each other’s good company and devotion, they can look forward to many more healthy days together.
This post was contributed by Emily Thomas, who writes about the on line universities. She welcomes your feedback at Emily.Thomas31@

Childhood adversity and depression

Adversity in childhood plays an important role in the development and course of depression and a number of studies have shown links between depression and people's memories of parental indifference, overcontrol and physical and sexual abuse. A team of American researchers led by Daniel N. Klein from Stony Brook University in New York looked into the links between childhood adversity, people's depression symptoms and how well they responded to treatment in a sample of 808 people with chronic major depression. They found that childhood adversity was associated with a longer-lasting illness, an earlier onset of depression, more incidents of depression, more severe symptoms, functional impairment, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, dysfunctional attitudes and a tendency to be self-critical. A history of maternal overcontrol, paternal abuse, paternal indifference and sexual abuse each predicted a lower probability of remission. In a 12-week trial of antidepressant treatment 44% of people without a history of childhood abuse got better compared to 32% of people with a history of childhood adversity.

Klein, Daniel N. ... [et al] - Early adversity in chronic depression: clinical correlates and response to pharmacotherapy Depression and Anxiety August 2009, 26(8), 701-710

In another study on the same theme researchers from the universities of Otago and Canterbury in New Zealand studied 195 people taking part in a clinical trial of the antidepressants fluoxetine and nortriptyline. They found that participants who reported low paternal care were less likely to finish the six-week trial of the drugs. Participants who said that they had had overprotective mothers had a worse response to treatment after six weeks and were less likely to show two-months of sustained recovery after the end of the trial. However, sexual, physical or psychological abuse did not seem to affect people's response to the treatment.

Johnstone, Jeannette M. ... [et al] - Childhood neglect and abuse as predictors of antidepressant response in adult depression Depression and Anxiety August 2009, 26(8), 711-717

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Imaginary friends and creativity

In the past a child who had an imaginary friend could sometimes be seen as compensating for timidity and shyness. By some estimates nearly half of all younger children have an imaginary friend at some point and modern research has found that children with imaginary friends are just as sociable and popular as children without one. Researchers from Clark University in Massachusetts studied 48 mothers and their five-and-a-half-year-old children, 23 of whom had had or had an imaginary friend. The children with imaginary friends performed significantly better on a storytelling task than those without one but it is not known whether telling stories about an imaginary friend develops children's storytelling skills or whether children with good storytelling skills use their creativity to invent imaginary friends.

Autism, motion and body language

Researchers from Durham University in the U.K. have been looking into the way people with autism perceive movement and body language. They showed adults with autism and an unaffected control group short video clips of body movement and the participants had to identify the emotions being displayed. The clips had no images of faces or sound. Autistic people had more trouble in identifying the emotions in the clips and also did poorly in a task in which they had to determine the direction of a group of dots on a computer screen. The study suggests that visual processing problems and a difficulty in perceiving or attending to motion could explain some of the problems autistic people have in interpreting body language.

Why women sleep worse than men

Women tend to report more sleep problems than men. Researchers, led by David Maume from the University of Cincinatti, examined this issue in a study of 583 people, 62% of whom were women. The researchers found that gender differences in health status accounted for 27% of the gap between men and women's sleep as women were more likely to report that health problems disturbed their sleep. Women were also more likely to report trouble balancing work and family requirements than men and this accounted for 17% of the sleep gap. Having children was also a factor and this lay behind 5% of the gap. Women were more likely than men to report more sleep disruption when they were concerned about their marriages, worked unsociable hours and when work and family life negatively affected one another. Men whose wives worked full-time reported more sleep disruption as did men who saw their work/family roles as being on an equal footing with their partner.

You can find out more about this research at

Cognitive reserve and Alzheimer's disease

People with severe brain pathology can show almost no signs of Alzheimer's disease while others with only mild brain lesions exhibit a considerable degree of clinical symptoms. Researchers put this down to cognitive reserve - the amount of spare capacity in the brain which can be used when other parts are damaged. Researchers from Munich Technical University scanned the brains of 270 people with Alzheimer's disease and found that people who had had more years of formal education showed less loss of cognition even when their brains had obviously lost volume. The results of the study took into account other factors such as genetic characteristics, age, gender and brain infarction.

You can find out more about this research at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Psychosocial therapy for stroke victims

A third of people who have had a stroke develop clinical depression. This can hinder their recovery, worsen cognitive functioning and impair social functioning. Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle studied 101 people who had had a stroke and been diagnosed with clinical depression. Some received a combination of psychosocial therapy and antidepressants while others received 'treatment-as-usual' which included antidepressants. After eight weeks those participants receiving the psychosocial therapy - nine one-to-one sessions with a nurse covering topics such as how to increase pleasant events, problem-solving and identifying and modifying negative thoughts - showed a 47% reduction in their depression 'scores' compared to a 32% reduction in the treatment-as-usual group.

You can find out more about this research at

Even the word 'smile' can make you do it

Psychological research has shown that simply seeing a smile or a frown can activate the muscles in the face that make that expression whether we are aware of it or not. Researchers from the universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht decided to try and see whether words would have the same effect. They asked participants to read a series of verbs and adjectives on a monitor while they measured activity in muscles responsible for smiling and frowning. They found that verbs produced activity in the relevant muscles - e.g. 'smile' produced activity in the 'smile' muscles - but that this effect was much weaker for adjectives such as 'funny' or 'frustrating.' In another experiment the participants watched a series of cartoons and were subliminally shown 'smiling' or 'frowning' words after each one. Those participants who saw 'smiling' words after being shown the cartoons rated them as funnier than those who saw 'frowning' ones. However, in those participants who were prevented from smiling (by being made to hold a pen in their teeth) being shown the 'smiling' word after the cartoon had no effect on how funny they felt the cartoon to be.

You can find out more about this research at

Narcissism in the workplace

Researchers from Florida State University have been looking into the effects of narcissism in the workplace. They asked more than 1,200 people about their managers and found that

  • 31% said that their boss exaggerated their accomplishments to look good in front of others
  • 27% said that their boss bragged to other people to get praise
  • 25% said that their boss had an inflated view of himself or herself
  • 24% said that their boss was self-centred
  • 20% said that their boss would only do a favour if they were guaranteed one in return

Those people with a narcissistic boss had lower levels of job satisfaction, higher stress, were less appreciative of their work and organization, reported lower levels of effort and performance and were more prone to sadness and frustration at work. Narcissists can often end up in managerial roles as they are seen as outgoing and confident.

You can find out more about this research at

Working memory and distractions

Working memory is the kind of memory we use in everyday life to remember things such as phone numbers on a short-term basis and is different to our long-term memories of facts, knowledge and events in our life. Researchers at the University of Oregon looked into the effects of people's working-memory capacity on their attention and found that the more working memory they had the less easily they were distracted. The researchers monitored the participants' brain activity as they studied images on a computer screen, recognizing a shape with a missing component and then identifying the object as it moved to a different location. As the task went on the participants were increasingly distracted by split-second flashes of light. As the distractions mounted some participants were able to maintain their performance while others slipped. People who can focus more intently tend to have higher 'fluid intelligence'; they score more highly on achievement tests, do better in maths and tend to learn second languages more easily. The researchers are currently looking into whether easily-distracted people might be more creative and imaginative.

You can find out more about this research at

Cheating in the classroom - why too many exams may make things worse

Cheating in schools and exams has always gone on but it seems to be a growing problem. 80% of 'high-achieving' high-school students and 75% of college students admit to cheating - a percentage that has been rising for the last 50 years. Eric Anderman from Ohio State University spoke about this issue at the recent annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. He said that boys are more likely to cheat than girls. Also more likely to cheat are children with competitive 'type A' personalities and those with impulsive tendencies. Children became more likely to cheat as they moved through school and were subject to more frequent and 'high-stakes' testing. The more importance that was attached to passing exams the more likely children were to cheat. Children were less likely to cheat when the emphasis of teaching was on learning and understanding what was being taught, an approach which has also been found to help students learn better and remember things for longer.

You can find out more about this research at

Was Larkin right? Up to a point ...

Man hands on misery to man
It deepens like a coastal shelf
So get out early while you can
And don't have any kids yourself

That was Philip Larkin's rather gloomy view on parenting but was he right? Researchers at Ohio State University looked at how often parents in the 1990s spanked, read to and showed affection to their children and compared that to how the parents were treated by their own mothers. They found that while mothers tended to follow the same practices their own mothers did fathers were much less influenced by their mothers' parenting in how they brought up their own children. However, the study also showed significant changes in parenting between the generations with increases in the amount of reading and affection shown to children and decreases in the amount of spanking. Mothers who were spanked at least once a week were 50% more likely to spank their own children than mothers who weren't spanked at all whereas fathers who were spanked as kids were less likely to spank their own children. More mothers (43%) than fathers (28%) spanked their children. Interestingly, fathers who spanked their children also showed the highest levels of affection perhaps feeling that being a strict disciplinarian was part of their love for their children.

You can find out more about this research at

Antidepressants and suicide risk

In 2003 research found that antidepressants increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour in people under 18. In February 2005 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a 'black-box' warning on the use of all antidepressants for people under 18 and in May 2007 it extended this warning to people between 18 and 24. Many psychiatrists have criticised these warnings saying that they scare people away from getting treatment and pointing to an 8% rise in suicides among young people in 2004. The FDA have now reviewed the results of 372 clinical trials of the drugs involving nearly 100,000 people. They found that antidepressants did increase the risk of suicide among people under 25. They made no difference to suicide risk in people between 25 and 64 and lowered the risk in people aged 65 and over. Sertraline halved the risk of suicide while citalopram and escitalopram increased the risk.

You can find out more about this research at

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Age, class and cognitive decline

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles have been looking into the links between socio-economic status and cognitive decline in older people. They studied 6,476 adults born before 1924. The participants were tested five times between 1993 and 2002 on various memory and cognition tests. There was a link between higher socio-economic status and better education and higher scores on the initial test but as time went on the rate of decline was similar across all demographic groups. People who were older at the start of the study, whose partner had died or who had never married declined more quickly over the course of the study.

You can find out more about this research at

Happiness classes in school. Do they really work?

There are a number of different programmes for school children aimed at teaching them resilience, positive thinking and a sense of purpose. The Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) was designed to prevent depression. It aims to increase students' ability to handle day-to-day stress and problems that are common for adolescents. It promotes optimism by teaching students to think more realistically and flexibly about the problems they encounter and teaches assertiveness, decision-making, relaxation and other coping skills. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania reviewed 19 studies into the effectiveness of PRP which included more than 2,000 8-15-year-olds. The review found that PRP increased optimism and reduced depressive symptoms for up to a year and reduced hopelessness and clinical levels of depression and anxiety. The researchers also looked into the effectiveness of the Positive Psychology Program (PPP). The programme seeks to help children identify their signature character strengths (e.g. kindness, courage, wisdom, perseverance) and incorporate these strengths into their day-to-day life. In a study of 347 high-school students those who took the programme reported more enjoyment of, and engagement in, school. The teachers reported that the children who took the programme were more curious about what they were doing, loved learning and showed more creativity. The children in the PPP group also had more self-control and empathy and a greater desire to co-operate with others and assert themselves.

You can find out more about this research at

Self-harm in Northern Ireland

Researchers from Queen's University and the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland have been asking 941 sixteen-year-olds about self-harm. One in ten had self-harmed in the past year and another 14% had thought about it but had not done so. Girls were much more likely than boys to say that they had thought about harming themselves (18% vs 7%) or had actually done so (13% vs 5%). There were strong links between self-harm and high levels of stress, high expectations the youngsters felt they could not fulfil and experiences of bullying in school. 25% of the sample said that they had suffered from serious mental and emotional health problems in the past year for which they felt they needed professional help although only 9% had actually asked for it. Youngsters from less well-off backgrounds were significantly more likely to be affected by mental-health issues and to have self-harmed or considered self-harming.

You can find out more about this research at

Temping and mental health

People doing temporary work or on fixed-term contracts could be at an increased risk of mental-health problems. Researchers at McGill University in Montreal used information from a national survey which followed people born between 1957 and 1964. They found that people in temporary work reported more symptoms of depression and psychological distress. It is estimated that 4.1% of people in the U.S. workforce - around 5.7 million people - are in such temporary work.

You can find out more about this research at

Young People in Focus

U.K. charity Young People in Focus (formerly the Trust for the Study of Adolescence) has been researching the mental health of young people. It found that young people in custody were eight to ten times more likely than their peers to commit suicide and three times as likely to have a mental-health problem. For all those between 15 and 24 suicide was the second most common cause of death after road-traffic accidents.

You can download the full text of this research and visit the Young People in Focus web site at
Psychopaths often violate social norms, are manipulative, impulsive and sensation-seeking and appear to feel no empathy or remorse. Previous studies have found that the amygdala - a part of the brain that processes emotions - and the orbitofrontal cortex (which handles impulses and decision-making) are structurally and functionally different in psychopaths. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London used brain-scanning technology to compare the brains of nine criminal psychopaths (who had been convicted of a variety of offences including murder and rape) with nine normal, law-abiding people. They found that the connections between the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex were much weaker in the psychopaths. It is not known whether the brain differences are present from birth or whether they develop throughout the psychopaths' lives. More studies are needed but the psychopaths are not the most amenable of participants in research.

You can find out more about this study at

Optimism and health: it pays to look on the bright side of life

A study of 97,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has found that those with an optimistic outlook are less likely to develop heart disease. Over the eight years of the study those with generally optimistic dispositions were 14% less likely to die, 9% less likely to develop coronary heart disease and 30% less likely to die of heart complications. Women with high scores on a measure of "cynical hostility" had higher risks of dying. The optimistic women were less likely to smoke, be obese or sedentary and had lower rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. However, even when these factors were taken into account there was still a positive effect for optimism and of course it could be the case that optimism is what motivates people to adopt healthier behaviour in the first place.

You can find out more about this research at

Depression and bulimia: which comes first?

Research has shown that eating disorders and depression often go together in girls and women. One study found that 46% of inpatients with bulimia also had depression. However, it is not known whether depression causes bulimia, bulimia causes depression or if the relationship works both ways. Researchers from Southern Methodist University in Dallas studied 496 adolescents over an eight-year period. They found that depression predicted bulimia and bulimia predicted depression i.e. the relationship worked both ways. However, the relationship was weak in both directions suggesting there might be a third factor behind the link.

Presnell, Katherine ... [et al] - Depression and eating pathology: prospective reciprocal relations in adolescents Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy July-August 2009, 16(4), 357-365

Monday, August 10, 2009

Emotional intelligence and anorexia

Emotional intelligence relates to the abilities of knowing one's emotions, managing them, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others and handling relationships. There are now thought to be quite strong links between how people manage their emotions and eating disorders but little is known about the relationship between emotional intelligence and eating problems. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London and King's College London studied this issue in 40 women; 20 of them had eating disorders and 20 of them formed an unaffected control group. The women were presented with 36 photos showing only people's eyes and had to pick, from four words, one which matched what the person was thinking or feeling. The women also filled out a questionnaire designed to measure how well they were able to regulate their emotions. The women with anorexia were significantly worse at working out what people were thinking from their eyes and at regulating their emotions. The worse people were at recognising others' moods the worse they were at regulating their own emotions and vice versa.

Harrison, Amy ... [et al] - Emotion recognition and regulation in anorexia nervosa Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy July-August 2009, 16(4), 348-356

Overweight, adolescence and antipsychotics

It is estimated that 16% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese. Antipsychotic agents can lead to weight gain and an increase in the health problems associated with it and researchers from the University of Texas looked into this issue in a sample of 49 adolescents. The children had an average age of 13 and were treated for - on average - 27 days. Half of them took olanzapine and the other half took risperidone. The study found that both groups showed a significant increase in body-mass-index. Seven of the children taking olanzapine and four of the children taking risperidone became overweight or at risk of overweight over the course of their treatment. Those children taking olanzapine also showed a significant increase in their risk factors for diabetes and the metabolic syndrome.

Khan, Rais A., Mican, Lisa M. and Suehs, Brandon T. - Effects of olanzapine and risperidone on metabolic factors in children and adolescents: a retrospective evaluation Journal of Psychiatric Practice July 2009, 15(4), 320-328

Testosterone and depression

People with depression often have low levels of testosterone. Researchers from West Virginia University reviewed seven studies into the use of testosterone for depression which covered a total of 364 people. They found that testosterone significantly improved people's depression symptoms, particularly if they suffered from low testosterone or HIV/AIDS. Testosterone gel was found to be more effective than intramuscular injection.

Zarrouf, Fahd Aziz ... [et al] - Testosterone and depression: systematic review and meta-analysis Journal of Psychiatric Practice July 2009, 15(4), 289-305

Friday, August 07, 2009

How binge eating alters the brain

Overconsumption of fatty, sugary foods can lead to changes in brain receptors. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that continuous eating or binge-eating of foods high in fat and sugar altered opioid receptor levels in an area of the brain that controls food intake. Opioids are a family of chemicals with actions similar to those of morphine - they occur naturally in the brain and have been linked to feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

You can find out more about this research at

New gene linked to Alzheimer's

People with a gene called ApoE-4 are three to eight times as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine have now found another gene that they believe is linked to the condition. The researchers found that a harmful form of the gene TOMM40 appears twice as often in people with Alzheimer's disease as in people without the condition. Having the harmful form of TOMM40 and ApoE-4 significantly increased people's susceptibility to Alzheimer's.

You can find out more about this research at

Is group therapy the way forward for anxiety disorders? Maybe not.

It is thought that between 15-25% of people have an anxiety disorder at some point during their lives. Anxiety disorder sufferers are often treated in groups despite their being a limited evidence base for this. They often use relaxation, cognitive-behavioural techniques and the group process. In 1990 a taught, anxiety-management package for groups using cognitive behaviour therapy called Stress Control was developed that can be given to 60 people at a time and the early trials of this have shown it to be effective. Researchers from Cardiff University studied 73 people with anxiety disorders. The participants were divided into three groups. One group received the Stress Control package in an evening class, one group attended an anxiety-management group and a control group was put on a waiting list. There was no significant long-term effect for either anxiety-management or Stress Control. Being depressed at the start of the study was associated with a poorer outcome at the end of it.

Kitchiner, Neil J. ... [et al] - A randomized controlled trial comparing an adult education class using cognitive behavioural therapy ("stress control"), anxiety management group treatment and a waiting list for anxiety disorders Journal of Mental Health August 2009, 18(4), 307-315

Counting the cost of childhood mental-health problems

Little is known about the long-term economic consequences of child and adolescent mental-health problems. There has been some research into the long-term costs of conduct disorder but few long-term studies into the costs of other conditions. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London and the University of Manchester studied 178 young adults. 129 had deliberately poisoned themselves in adolescence and the other 49 formed a control group for comparison purposes. Compared to the control group the self-poisoners used more service-provided accomodation, special education and hospital services, incurred greater criminal justice costs and received more social-security benefits. Higher costs in the self-poisoning group were significantly associated with conduct disorder, hopelessness, previous suicide attempts, being male and being in care prior to the self-poisoning event.

Byford, Sarah ... [et al] - Lifetime and current costs of supporting young adults who deliberately poisoned themselves in childhood and adolescence Journal of Mental Health August 2009, 18(4), 297-306

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mercury, depression and shellfish

Although common in Western countries depression appears to be virtually absent in countries where people eat a lot of fish. This is thought to be due to Omega-3 fatty acid in seafood. Researchers from the University of Bristol studied the effects of seafood consumption on prenatal depression in a sample of 9,960 pregnant women. Compared with pregnant women who ate 3 or more servings of seafood per week those who ate no seafood were about 50% more likely to report depression. Depression during pregnancy is harmful to both mother and child, however, pregnant women are currently warned to limit seafood consumption due to its mercury content.

You can find out more about this research at

Cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease

High cholesterol in middle age significantly increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia in old age. Researchers from the Kaiser Permanente health organization in Oakland, California studied 9,844 men and women whose cholesterol levels were measured between the ages of 40 and 45. 30 years later the participants' medical records were reviewed. 469 of them had Alzheimer's disease and 127 had vascular dementia, another form of dementia caused by clogged blood vessels and other conditions affecting blood supply to the brain. The study found that in people with high cholesterol the risk of developing Alzheimer's was 57% higher. Even people with only 'borderline' higher cholesterol had a 50% higher chance of vascular dementia. It is thought that nearly 100 million Americans have either high or borderline cholesterol.

You can find out more about this research at

PTSD and childbirth

Most men now accompany their partner in childbirth but there has been little research into what - if any - psychological impact this might have on them. Researchers from the University of Sheffield and Derbyshire Children's Hospital studied 199 men whose partners had recently given birth. They collected details about the mens' background and psychological state and their partners' pregnancy, labour and delivery within three days of the birth. Six weeks later they filled out another questionnaire measuring their levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. None of the men reported significant symptoms of all three aspects of PTSD (intrusive thoughts, avoidance and hyper-arousal) although 12% of them reported some of the symptoms of which the most common was hyper-arousal. PTSD symptoms were predicted by a tendency towards anxiety, having fewer children, the pregnancy being unplanned, being present at the actual delivery and feeling less confident about coping, less prepared and more distressed during the process of childbirth. 8% of the men had clinically-significant depression symptoms and 7% had clinically-significant anxiety; both these symptoms were also predicted by a tendency towards anxiety.

Bradley, Rachel, Slade, Pauline and Leviston, Angela - Low rates of PTSD in men attending childbirth: a preliminary study British Journal of Clinical Psychology September 2008, 47(3), 295-302

Social anxiety and social rejection

An important feature of social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the fear of being negatively evaluated in social situations. Cognitive therapy works by disputing the idea that people with social anxiety are being evaluated negatively but there is growing evidence that socially-anxious people do bring out negative reactions in others. They have been judged by independent raters as less likeable and less comfortable to be around, less friendly, assertive, relaxed and attractive, moodier, more sensitive to demands, more self-pitying and lacking meaning in life. So why do socially anxious people - who are usually desperate to be liked - come across so negatively? It is thought that some of the strategies used by socially-anxious people, such as avoiding eye contact so as not to see others' negative reactions; giving short answers to questions so as not to say anything foolish, or giving long answers so as not to appear boring can backfire leading to socially-anxious people being perceived as socially-inept. There is also the theory that the negativity felt by socially-anxious people might rub off on those they socialize with. It has also been found that socially-anxious people are felt to be somehow less like the people they talk to; something important as people tend to prefer those they see as being similar to themselves. Researchers from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands studied 90 people; 63 of whom had SAD. The participants were monitored as they held a five-minute getting-to-know-you conversation with another person who was also part of the research team and who rated their social performance. The conversations were videoed and shown to other people who rated their own negative emotions towards the participants, how similar they felt to them and how much they would want to meet them again. The results confirmed the theory that the people with social anxiety were more likely to be rejected, evoked significantly more negative emotions and received lower social-performance ratings. The negative emotions created by the people with social anxiety had a stronger effect on whether people thought they were similar to them or not than their social behaviour. A lower feeling of similarity and higher negative emotions on the part of the observers were in turn associated with social rejection of the people with social anxiety.

Voncken, Marisol J. ... [et al] - Social rejection in social anxiety disorder: the role of performance deficits, evoked negative emotions and dissimilarity British Journal of Clinical Psychology November 2008, 47(4), 439-450

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mental activity keeps Alzheimer's at bay - but only temporarily

Keeping mentally active in old age can delay the onset of dementia. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York studied people taking part in the Bronx Aging Study which has been monitoring 488 people since the early 1980s. At the start of the study the participants (none of whom had dementia at the time) were asked about their education and how often they read, wrote, did crossword puzzles, played card or board games, took part in group discussions or played music. The more mentally-active people were the later the onset of their mental decline. People who were in the most-mentally-active quarter of the sample started their mental decline an average of 1.29 years later than people in the least-active quarter. However, mental activity did not prevent people from developing Alzheimer's and the more mentally-active people went downhill quicker once they started showing symptoms of the disease.

Veterans with PTSD and mental-health problems less healthy

A study by researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Centre in San Francisco looked into the links between mental-health problems and unhealthy lifestyles among servicemen and women involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study included over 300,000 veterans; 88% of them were male and their average age was 31. Around a quarter of the sample had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder); among those suffering from PTSD half had depression, more than a quarter suffered from anxiety and around a fifth drank too much. The veterans with PTSD were also twice as likely to smoke and were at increased risk of having high blood pressure and being obese. The veterans with mental-health problems other than PTSD were also more likely to have some or all of these health problems.

You can find out more about this research at

Antidepressant use doubles in the U.S.

The use of antidepressants in the U.S. doubled between 1996 and 2005. About 6% of people (13 million) took the pills in 1996 and this rose to 10% (27m) in 2005. There were significant increases in all demographic groups apart from African-Americans. Not only are more Americans taking the drugs the people that take them are taking more. More than 164million prescriptions were written in 2008, totalling $9.6bn in U.S. sales. Paroxetine and fluoxetine were the most commonly prescribed drugs. People taking antidepressants were more likely to be prescribed antipsychotics as well than they were in 1996. The researchers, Dr Mark Olson of Columbia University and Steven Marcus of the University of Pennsylvania thought that the increase could be due to the fact that there is now less stigma about admitting to being depressed although they noted that the increase in antidepressant use had not halted a rise in suicides among middle-aged people.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Predicting who gets PTSD

Survivors of common traumatic events such as road-traffic accidents, assaults and occupational injury experience a range of emotional reactions which can cause distress and dysfunction. For most people these reactions are temporary but a minority of people can go on to develop anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Early intervention can help but it is impossible to treat everyone who might go on to develop problems. Researchers from Sheffield University studied 823 patients attending an emergency department following accidental injury. They filled out a questionnaire at the time and were assessed again 1 and 3 months later. The researchers found that a previous history of mental-health problems, a high score for neuroticism and having PTSD symptoms after a month all predicted adverse outcomes at 3 months.

Mason, S. ... [et al] - The development of a clinically useful tool for predicting the development of psychological disorder following injury British Journal of Clinical Psychology March 2009, 48(1), 31-45