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Use of Technology Has Mixed Effects for At-Risk Teens

Anxiety - Thu, 05/04/2017 - 13:00

New research discovers the use of technology is associated with positive and negative outcomes among high-risk teens.

Duke University researchers found that more use of technology is linked to later increases in attention, behavior and self-regulation problems for adolescents already at risk for mental health issues.

“On days at-risk adolescents use technology more, they experience more conduct problems and higher ADHD symptoms compared to days they use technology less,” said Madeleine J. George, a Duke Ph.D. candidate and the lead author of the study.

The research looked at associations between adolescents’ mental health symptoms and how much time they spent each day texting, using social media and using the Internet.

Study results are published in a special issue of the journal Child Development.

For the study, 151 young adolescents completed surveys on smartphones about their daily digital technology use. They were surveyed three times a day for a month and were assessed for mental health symptoms 18 months later.

The youth participating were between 11 and 15 years old, were of a lower socioeconomic status and were at a heightened risk for mental health problems.

The adolescents spent an average of 2.3 hours a day using digital technologies. More than an hour of that time was spent texting, with the adolescents sending an average of 41 texts a day.

The researchers found that on days when adolescents used their devices more — both when they exceeded their own normal use and when they exceeded average use by their peers — they were more likely to experience conduct problems such as lying, fighting and other behavioral problems.

In addition, on days when adolescents used digital devices more, they had difficulty paying attention and exhibited attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder symptoms.

The study also found that young adolescents who spent more time online experienced increases in conduct problems and problems with self-regulation — the ability to control one’s behavior and emotions — 18 months later.

It’s unclear whether high levels of technology use were simply a marker of elevated same-day mental health symptoms or if the use of technology exacerbated existing symptoms, said Dr. Candice Odgers, the senior author of the study and a professor in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

On the positive side, the researchers found evidence that digital technology use may be helpful to adolescents experiencing depression and anxiety. More time spent texting was associated with fewer same-day symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“This finding makes sense when you think about how kids are commonly using devices to connect with their peers and social networks,” said Odgers, a faculty fellow at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy.

The findings suggest contemporary youth may be using digital technology to connect in positive ways versus isolating themselves, the authors said.

In the past, some research found that teenagers using digital technology were socially isolated. But at that time, only a small minority of youth were frequently online.

Odgers noted that the adolescents in the study were already at an increased risk for mental health problems regardless of digital device use. It’s therefore unclear if the findings would apply to all adolescents.

Researchers also note that because this was an observational or correlational study, it is possible factors other than technology use could have caused the increase in mental health problems.

As rates of adolescent technology use continue to climb, more work is needed to investigate its effects, the researchers say.

Odgers and George are now conducting a large study of more than 2,000 N.C. adolescents to determine how and why high digital device use predicts future problems among some adolescents.

The study also looks at whether being constantly connected during adolescence could provide opportunities to improve mental health.

Source: Duke University/EurekAlert

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Involving Parents May Be Best for Disruptive Behavior Therapy

Anxiety - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 13:00

New research shows that therapy for children with disruptive behavior disorders is more effective when parents participate.

Researchers found that this approach showed the best results compared to more than 20 other therapeutic methodologies.

Disruptive behavior disorders (DBDs) are characterized by a range of challenging symptoms that put a child frequently at odds with peers, family members, and authority figures.

The new study appears in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, a journal of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

In a comprehensive review of 64 studies that analyzed 26 forms of treatment over nearly 20 years, the researchers found only two methods that they categorized as “well-established” for evidence-based success.

They were: 1) group therapy focused on parent behavior, and 2) individual parent behavior therapy, with child participation. The researchers classified 13 other treatments as “probably efficacious.”

“Parents seeking help for their children with disruptive behavior problems can play an active role in their children’s treatment,” said lead author, Jennifer Kaminski, Ph.D., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These therapies can provide parents the tools to serve as their child’s best advocate and guide their child’s behavior during their everyday interactions. Given the range of therapies in practice, this update provides information about the most effective approaches to ensure families are receiving evidence-based care.”

Symptoms of DBDs can include aggression, acting out, defiance, and rule-breaking behaviors. DBDs can lead to serious negative outcomes later in life, such as co-morbid mental disorders, incarceration, or even premature death.

For instance, among those diagnosed with conduct disorder, a disruptive behavior disorder, 40 percent grow up to have antisocial personality or other personality disorders.

Researchers note that children do best with early intervention, but stressed that the choice of an evidence-based form of treatment creates the best chance for success.

This study updated two previous reviews, in 1998 and 2008, of evidence-based psychosocial treatments for children with DBDs up to age 12.

Researchers also conducted a literature search of peer-reviewed journals from 2007-2016 to include all relevant studies on treatments for DBDs, along with the studies in the previous two reviews.

Researchers said the two parent-involved therapies were the only ones they reviewed that demonstrated scientifically supported evidence of effectiveness based on multiple published randomized trials by independent research teams.

The 13 treatment families classified as probably efficacious, included family problem-solving training and individual parent behavior therapy.

Seven treatments were classified as possibly efficacious, including individual child behavior therapy, alone and with parents; and three did not meet criteria for any of the levels of evidence, including self-directed parent behavior therapy, and group child behavior therapy.

“The results of this review add even more support behind the notion that parental involvement in treating disruptive behavioral issues in children is very important,” said Kaminski.

“Parents should consider these two therapies when looking for the right treatment for their child. With the help of trained professionals, they can be an active participant in their child’s treatment.”

 

Source: The Reis Group/EurekAlert

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Brief Meditation Practice Can Relieve Anxiety

Anxiety - Wed, 05/03/2017 - 11:30

If you or someone you know has a problem with repetitive, anxious thoughts, a new study suggests a daily, 10-minute session of mindful meditation may be help.

University of Waterloo (Canada) researchers discovered the daily brief bout of mindful mediation can help prevent your mind from wandering and is particularly effective if you tend to have repetitive, anxious thoughts.

The study, which assessed the impact of meditation with 82 participants who experience anxiety, found that developing an awareness of the present moment reduced incidents of repetitive, off-task thinking, a hallmark of anxiety.

“Our results indicate that mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals,” said Mengran Xu, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at Waterloo.

“We also found that meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their own internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on a task at hand.”

The study, co-authored by Waterloo psychology professors Drs. Christine Purdon and Daniel Smilek and Harvard University’s Dr. Paul Seli, appears in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

The term mindfulness is commonly defined as paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.

As part of the study, participants were asked to perform a task on a computer while experiencing interruptions to gauge their ability to stay focused on the task.

Researchers then put the participants into two groups at random, with the control group given an audio story to listen to and the other group asked to engage in a short meditation exercise prior to being reassessed.

“Mind-wandering accounts for nearly half of any person’s daily stream of consciousness,” said Xu.

“For people with anxiety, repetitive off-task thoughts can negatively affect their ability to learn, to complete tasks, or even function safely.

“It would be interesting to see what the impacts would be if mindful meditation was practiced by anxious populations more widely.”

Source: University of Waterloo/EurekAlert

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UK Group Develops Online Relapse Prevention Tool for Bipolar Illness

Anxiety - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 13:45

British researchers have developed an online tool to provide support for bipolar patients after treatment.

The relapse prevention website offers a “cheap accessible option” for people seeking support after formal care.

Bipolar disorder (BD) is a lifelong mental health condition characterized by alternating swings of depression and mania. It affects one to two per cent of adults worldwide and costs an estimated £5.2 billion annually in England, and more than $19,000 for the initial year of care in the US.

The condition is treated with medication, yet many people continue to experience relapses.

The new U.K. approach is called the Enhanced Relapse Prevention (ERPonline), a psychological strategy developed by the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Lancaster.

The program teaches those with the illness to recognize and respond to early warning signs of relapse.

Lead researcher Professor Fiona Lobban said, “The key elements are identifying your individual triggers and early warning signs for both mania and depression, and developing coping strategies to manage mood changes in everyday life.”

The research into ERPonline is published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Investigators followed 96 people split into two groups at random; half could access the ERPonline intervention, while the other half received their usual treatment.

Access to ERPonline was found to be associated with an improvement in beliefs about mood plus increased monitoring of early warning signs of depression and mania compared with patients who did not use the intervention.

Said Lobban, “Online interventions may prove an important cheap, feasible and acceptable step forward in creating a choice of evidence-based interventions for people with BD at different stages of recovery.”

Source: University of Lancaster

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Patient’s BMI May Help MDs Choose Right Drug for Depression

Anxiety - Tue, 05/02/2017 - 13:00

New research suggests personalized and precision psychiatry can guide antidepressant choice and significantly help individuals with depression.

At present, selecting the best antidepressant that will be most effective for a specific person can be a trial and error process. The new study shows that body mass index (BMI), sex of the patient, and symptom profile can be used to determine a personalized pharmacological treatment.

“We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the field of psychiatry, to find specific clinical and biological signals that help clinicians and patients decide what is the best treatment,” explained lead investigator Leanne Williams, Ph.D., VA Palo Alto Health Care System and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine.

“This is the shift to incorporate precision medicine approaches to improve outcomes for patients. Our study adds new knowledge to this effort, and does so for two commonly associated chronic conditions, clinical depression and obesity that need new treatment approaches.

“Our results have the potential for a significant impact on the majority of patients suffering from depression who are seen in primary care and community settings.”

In the study, researchers analyzed data from 659 adults (ages 18-65) with clinical depression who completed the International Study to Predict Optimized Treatment in Depression (iSPOT-D).

They were randomly assigned one of three antidepressants (venlafaxine-XR, sertraline, or escitalopram) and followed for eight weeks of treatment.

Height and weight were recorded and each participant completed the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale (a self-reported depression inventory) before and after treatment to measure change in depression severity.

Patients who improved so substantially that they were no longer experiencing clinical symptoms were defined as “remitters.”

Researchers found that for both men and women, having a larger BMI than patients of “normal” weight, venlafaxine-XR predicted remission. Investigators believe this is associated with a reduction in physical symptoms, including sleep disturbance, somatic anxiety and appetite.

Females with higher BMI were likely to remit regardless of medication type and this effect was related to a change in cognitive symptoms, including thoughts of suicide and guilt.

Researchers believe the findings can be immediately applied in primary care and community settings in which most patients are treated. Primary care doctors have access to information regarding patient sex, BMI (weight relevant to height), along with symptoms of depression.

According to lead author Erin Green, Ph.D., “Although these findings require replication, they are ready for ‘prime time’ translation into clinical practice where there are currently no indicators and algorithms available for guiding treatment choice for patients with both depression and obesity.

“The future of psychiatry is in a precision, personalized medicine approach to refining diagnosis and tailoring treatments accordingly.”

According to Williams, the study demonstrates that currently available markers are poised to improve patient outcomes without introducing new costs. “Markers such as BMI are likely to complement others being developed out of neuroimaging and genomics,” she said.

Source: Elsevier Health Sciences/EurekAlert

 
Photo: Predicted probabilities of remission for each treatment at different levels of body mass index (BMI).Credit: Personalized Medicine in Psychiatry.

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Tips to Reduce Anxiety for Autistic Adults During Physician Visit

Anxiety - Mon, 05/01/2017 - 13:00

Primary care medical visits can pose complex and challenging experiences for adults with autism spectrum disorders, and a new study from the University of Southern California provides suggestions on ways in which both an individual and a provider can better prepare for the encounters.

Researchers offered the following example to describe what often happens:

  • During his first visit to the doctor’s office, Bobby fled from the waiting room, ran outside the building, and hid in the parking lot.
  • During his second visit, the 22-year-old’s anxiety was just as palpable.
  • Bobby began jumping in place, repeating dialogue from his favorite TV show and complaining that the office’s bright, buzzing fluorescent lights hurt his eyes and ears.
  • Because he refused to allow any care providers to touch his body, his initial physical examination again had to be postponed.

“Adults with autism spectrum disorder face unique challenges to receiving optimal medical care due to a number of factors,” said Dr. Leah Stein Duker, assistant professor of research at the University of Southern California Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

These factors include difficulties with communication, challenges making health care decisions, overstimulation within the clinic environment, and a lack of ASD-specific training for providers, she said.

Some physicians interviewed in a 2013 survey, for example, erroneously considered autism as only a childhood disorder.

“There is limited research detailing the specific needs of adults with ASD during primary care health encounters, and even fewer evidence-based strategies to facilitate these experiences,” Duker said.

“They are often fraught with serious difficulties for the patients, their caregivers, and their practitioners — this means that the quality of their medical care is not what it could be or what it should be.”

Unfortunately, there are no professional standards or agreed-upon best practices for primary care encounters with autistic adults.

Researchers explain that this is a population that will only continue growing as the wave of children who were diagnosed with autism beginning in the early 1990s — and which grew exponentially throughout the ’90s and ’00s — comes of age.

Duker hopes to change that with a new research grant she recently received from the American Occupational Therapy Foundation.

The grant will fund a study in which she and her team will conduct interviews with adults with ASD, their caregivers, and their providers to better understand the types of problems they face during primary care.

The interviews will form the basis for a preliminary intervention plan that will likely include target strategies such as physician education, caregiver training, tips for promoting patient–provider communication, and decision-making strategies for patients and caregivers.

“My objective is to improve health care services for adults with ASD, which can ultimately enhance both short- and long-term outcomes for this vulnerable and underserved population,” Duker said.

At a presentation during last month’s annual conference of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Duker and her colleague Beth Pfeiffer, associate professor at Temple University’s College of Public Health, highlighted Bobby’s case to demonstrate how occupational therapy successfully helped Bobby’s primary care providers improve his overall care access and experience.

His occupational therapist and the medical office nursing staff developed a verbal and visual “picture schedule” for each phase of subsequent office visits in order to help Bobby know what to expect.

To reduce his anxiety, Bobby’s family reviewed the picture schedule and did role-playing with him during the week prior to each visit.

The occupational therapist worked with office staff to section off a “quiet area” of the waiting room with dimmed lighting, a sound machine to muffle office noises and walls painted a soothing light blue color.

In-service training was given to the physicians and staff about strategies to support successful visits, including the value of visual cues and alternative methods of communication.

The office also established a scheduling policy to ensure that patients with developmental and sensory needs like Bobby can book appointments when the clinic is not as busy, giving him extra time to complete exams and work with families and caregivers.

Source: University of Southern California

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Childhood Routines, Self-Regulation Reduce Weight Problems in Kids

Anxiety - Mon, 05/01/2017 - 12:15

New research finds that family structure including regular bedtimes, mealtimes, and limited screen time appear to be linked to better emotional health in preschoolers. Moreover, strong emotional health is believed to lower the chances of obesity later in life.

Ohio State researchers say the study is the first to look at the connections between early childhood routines and self-regulation and their potential association with weight problems in the pre-teen years.

“This study provides more evidence that routines for preschool-aged children are associated with their healthy development and could reduce the likelihood that these children will be obese,” said lead author Sarah Anderson, Ph.D.

The study appears in the International Journal of Obesity.

Researchers evaluated three household routines when children were three years old: regular bedtime, regular mealtime, and whether or not parents limited television and video watching to an hour or less daily. Then they compared those to parents’ reports of two aspects of children’s self-regulation at that same age.

Lastly, they investigated how the routines and self-regulation worked together to impact obesity at age 11, defined based on international criteria. (The U.S. criteria for childhood obesity is set lower and would have included more children.)

The research included 10,955 children who are part of the Millennium Cohort Study, a long-term study of a diverse population of children born in the United Kingdom from September of 2000 to January of 2002.

At age three, 41 percent of children always had a regular bedtime, 47 percent always had a regular mealtime, and 23 percent were limited to an hour or less daily of TV and videos. At age 11, about six percent were obese.

All three household routines were associated with better emotional self-regulation — a measure based on parents’ responses to questions such as how easily the child becomes frustrated or over-excited. Those children with greater emotional dysregulation were more likely to be obese later.

“We saw that children who had the most difficulties with emotion regulation at age three also were more likely to be obese at age 11,” said Anderson, an associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Public Health.

Anderson and her colleagues also found that the absence of a regular preschool bedtime was an independent predictor of obesity at 11. Obesity risk increased even when children “usually” had a regular bedtime, as opposed to “always.” The risk was greatest for those who had the least amount of consistency in their bedtimes.

How persistent and independent children were at age three — another aspect of self-regulation — was not related to obesity risk, nor were routines associated with these aspects of self-regulation.

The new findings build on previous research by Anderson and her colleagues showing an association between earlier preschool bedtimes and decreased odds of obesity later. The 2010 US national sample showed that obesity prevalence was lowest for children who got enough sleep, had limits on screen time and ate meals with their families.

“This research allows us to better understand how young children’s routines around sleep, meals, and screen time relate to their regulation of emotion and behavior,” Anderson said. “The large, population-based, UK Millennium Cohort Study afforded the opportunity to examine these aspects of children’s lives and how they impact future risk for obesity.”

This research should prompt future work looking at the role of emotional self-regulation in weight gain in children and how bedtime routines can support healthy development, Anderson said.

“Sleep is so important and it’s important for children in particular. Although there is much that remains unknown about how sleep impacts metabolism, research is increasingly finding connections between obesity and poor sleep,” she said.

While it’s impossible from this work to prove that routines will prevent obesity, “Recommending regular bedtime routines is unlikely to cause harm, and may help children in other ways, such as through emotion regulation,” Anderson said.

But competing family pressures including parents’ work schedules don’t always allow for consistency, Anderson pointed out.

“As a society, we should consider what we can do to make it easier for parents to interact with their children in ways that support their own and their children’s health.”

Source: Ohio State

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The Last Ship on hiatus as Eric Dane deals with depression

Depression - Mon, 05/01/2017 - 02:29
The 44-year-old actor has been suffering from depression leading to halt in production of The Last Ship.
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Support from Online Friends Eases Students’ Test Anxiety

Anxiety - Sun, 04/30/2017 - 14:00

Reading supportive comments, “likes” and private messages from social media friends before taking a test may help college students who have high levels of test anxiety significantly reduce their nervousness and improve their scores, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Illinois found that college students with high levels of test anxiety who sought social support from their online friends and read the messages before a simulated exam reduced their anxiety levels by 21 percent.

These students were able to perform as well on a set of computer programming exercises as students who had low levels of test anxiety, said lead author Robert Deloatch, a graduate student in computer science.

Up to 41 percent of students are estimated to suffer from test anxiety, which is a combination of physiological and emotional responses that occur while preparing for and taking tests, the researcher explained.

Test anxiety is associated with lower test scores and grade-point averages, as well as poorer performance on memory and problem-solving tasks. Test anxiety can be particularly acute when students face exams involving open-ended problems, such as those commonly used on computer science exams that require students to write and run code, according to the researchers.

When students’ test anxiety is reduced, their test scores, GPAs, and task performance improve accordingly, the study discovered.

Students with high test anxiety strongly fear negative evaluation, have lower self-esteem, and tend to experience increased numbers of distracting and irrelevant thoughts in testing situations, according to the study’s findings.

For the simulated exam, students had to solve two programming problems by writing and running code. Most of the participants were computer science majors or computer engineering students who passed a pretest that ensured they had basic programming knowledge.

The researchers measured the students’ levels of test anxiety using the Cognitive Test Anxiety scale, which assesses the cognitive problems associated with test-taking, such as task-irrelevant thinking and attention lapses.

The students also completed two other questionnaires that measured their levels of state anxiety — or “state-of-the-moment” unease — and their trait anxiety, which is anxiety that is considered to be a longstanding characteristic or personality trait, the researchers noted.

The day before the experiment, students in the social support group posted messages on their personal social media pages requesting encouragement — in the form of likes, comments, or private messages — about an upcoming computer programming challenge they planned to participate in.

For seven minutes immediately prior to taking the simulated test, students in the social support group read the responses associated with their online request.

Another group of students wrote about their thoughts and feelings, while a third group of students — the control group — crammed for the exam by reading information on computer programming data structures and answering questions about the text.

Prior to taking the exam, all the students completed a questionnaire to assess their levels of state anxiety. Students were then given 40 minutes to solve two programming problems that had many viable solutions.

“We found that only the students who received supportive messages from their Facebook network showed a significant decrease in anxiety and an increase in their performance on our simulated exam,” Deloatch said.

While prior researchers have found expressive writing to be helpful to some students with test anxiety, Deloatch said he and his team of researchers were surprised to find that the expressive-writing exercise instead increased the pretest jitters of low test-anxious students by 61 percent.

“We hypothesized that might have occurred because focusing on their anxiety as they wrote caused their apprehensiveness to increase rather than decrease,” Deloatch said.

Using social support to alleviate state-of-the-moment anxiety may have implications beyond education, such as helping job applicants quell their nervousness prior to interviews with potential employers, Deloatch said.

While the students who sought social support online felt that reading the supportive messages was helpful, “all of them were uncomfortable with soliciting support from their online friends, perceiving such posts as ‘attention seeking’ and ‘out of place,'” Deloatch said.

“As the majority of the participants in our study were computer science students, the competitive environment of the curriculum may have led to concerns about how others would perceive them. They may have felt that such statuses could harm their relations in group project settings.”

Source: University of Illinois

 
Photo: Supportive social media messages from online friends decreased the state anxiety of students with high test anxiety by 21 percent, University of Illinois computer science graduate student Robert Deloatch found in a new study. The paper, which is being published in the proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, was co-written by computer science professors Brian P. Bailey, Alex Kirlik and Craig Zilles. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer.

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Study Finds Cost to Tying Self-Esteem to Money

Anxiety - Sat, 04/29/2017 - 13:45

A new study suggests a psychological cost to the pursuit of more money.

Although the pursuit of money is not in and of itself bad, when people tie their self-worth to the pursuit of financial success, they are more vulnerable to negative psychological consequences, according to Dr. Lora Park, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and the study’s lead author.

According to the study’s findings, basing self-esteem on financial success led to making more financially-based social comparisons with others, feeling less autonomy and control over one’s life, and experiencing more financial hassles, stress and anxiety. These findings were evident even after accounting for other variables, such as financial status, materialistic values, and importance of financial goals, according to researchers.

“People don’t often think of the possible downsides of wrapping their identity and self-worth around financial pursuits, because our society values wealth as a model of how one should be in the world,” said Park. “It’s important to realize these costs because people are gravitating toward this domain as a source of self-esteem without realizing that it has these unintended consequences.”

For the study, researchers recruited 349 college students and a nationally representative group of 389 participants after developing a scale to measure Financial Contingency of Self-Worth (CSW), or the degree to which people base their self-esteem on financial success.

They then conducted a series of experiments to examine the effects of threatening people’s sense of financial security.

“When we asked people to write about a financial stressor, they experienced a drop in their feelings of autonomy,” Park said. “They also showed more disengagement from their financial problems — they gave up searching for solutions. We didn’t find this in people who didn’t tie their self-esteem to financial success or among those who were asked to write about an academic stressor.”

In the essays, researchers also coded the type of language participants used to describe their financial problems.

“We found that people who highly based their self-worth on financial success used more negative emotion-related words, like sadness and anger,” Park said. “This demonstrates that just thinking about a financial problem generates a lot of stress and negative emotions for these individuals.”

But this effect is eliminated if you get people to self-affirm by giving them an opportunity to think about their personal strengths, according to Park.

“This suggests that self-esteem concerns emerge when people are thinking about financial problems, but if you can repair their self-esteem by having them think about their strengths, then there is no reduction in feelings of autonomy,” she said.

A final study found that people who based their self-esteem on financial success — and were led to believe that they would experience financial instability in their future — became more cautious when it came to extravagant spending decisions. This could be interpreted as a desire to protect their self-esteem following this financial threat,  Park suggested.

The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Source: University at Buffalo

 
Photo: Credit: University at Buffalo.

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Global Data Suggests Food Insecurity Can Impact Mental Health

Anxiety - Sat, 04/29/2017 - 13:00

A new study has found that food insecurity is linked to poorer mental health and specific psychosocial stressors.

The new study finds that food insecurity (FI) — which affects nearly 795 million people worldwide — may be a key contributor to common mental disorders through several different mechanisms.

First, by generating uncertainty over the ability to maintain food supplies or to acquire sufficient food in the future, FI can provoke a stress response that may contribute to anxiety and depression. And getting food in socially unacceptable ways can induce feelings of alienation, powerlessness, shame, and guilt that are associated with depression.

FI may also magnify socioeconomic disparities within households and communities that could increase cultural sensitivities and influence overall mental well-being.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity means that a household’s economic and social conditions make access to adequate food limited or uncertain — and can lead to hunger.

The study was conducted by Andrew D. Jones, Ph.D., of the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. He used data from the 2014 Gallup World Poll (GWP). FI data were available for 147,826 individuals across 11 world regions encompassing 149 countries. The extent of FI ranged from 18.3 percent in East Asia to 76.1 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the data.

Mental health status was determined using the Negative Experience Index (NEI) and the Positive Experience Index (PEI), two five-question surveys that examine topics such as pain, sadness, enjoyment, feelings of respect, and other factors. Data for the mental health indices were available for 152,696 individuals, Jones noted.

The PEI was highest in Latin America and the Caribbean region (79.4) and lowest in Russia and the Caucasus (59.2), while the NEI was lowest in Central Asia (17.4) and highest in the Middle East and North Africa region (34.9).

Jones found that FI was associated with poorer mental health status in a dose-response fashion, comparing NEI vs. FI for multiple age ranges. An inverse effect was found for PEI vs. FI data.

The consistent dose-response trend suggests a causal association between FI and mental health status, according to Jones.

“This trend suggests that the psychosocial stressors that underlie the mental health indices examined may be amplified with increasing FI,” he said. “For example, anxiety related to one’s ability to acquire sufficient food in the future may be provoked even under conditions of mild FI, and is likely to increase with moderate and severe FI. Alternatively, multiple pathways from FI to poorer mental health may be invoked with increasing severity of FI.

“Under conditions of more severe FI, for example, individuals may resort to acquiring food in socially unacceptable ways as a coping strategy. The feelings of shame and guilt associated with this behavior could compound pre-existing anxiety precipitated by mild FI to yield even poorer mental health conditions.”

Jones acknowledges the possibility that the direction of the association between FI and mental health status could be the reverse — that poor mental health could drive FI.

He notes, however, that this is the first study to carry out a global analysis of this association and so further research is needed.

“Developing robust monitoring systems and strengthening the measurement of both FI and mental health to more comprehensively understand their relation across contexts may help to inform interventions that can effectively address the mental health consequences of FI,” he concluded.

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 

Source: Elsevier

 
Photo: These are adjusted mean values of the Negative Experience Index by level of food insecurity for distinct mean ages. Credit: American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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General Pubic Ill-Informed on Common Mental Health Issues

Anxiety - Fri, 04/28/2017 - 13:45

A new national survey finds that less than half of Americans can recognize anxiety. Moreover, most people don’t know what to do about depression even when they spot it.

And remarkably, nearly eight in 10 don’t recognize prescription drug abuse as a treatable problem.

Michigan State University scholars explain that these are just some of the findings of the survey on issues surrounding mental-health literacy.

“Our work is designed to help communities think about how to address behavioral health challenges as they emerge, whether that’s drug abuse, anxiety, or other issues, and the challenges such as suicide that can accompany them,” said Mark Skidmore, a Michigan State University professor and co-investigator on the project.

The national survey examines mental health literacy on four major issues: anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, and prescription drug abuse.

Skidmore said the web-based survey — which involved nearly 4,600 total participants — aims to give health officials and policymakers a better understanding of where to target education and prevention efforts for major societal issues such as prescription drug abuse.

Public health officials are calling the opioid epidemic — which killed more than 33,000 people in 2015 — the worst drug crisis in American history.

According to the survey, 32 percent of all respondents were unable to identify the signs of prescription drug abuse (taking higher doses than prescribed, excessive mood swings, changes in sleeping patterns, poor decision-making, and seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor).

Those percentages were even more concerning for people aged 18-34 (47 percent) and among all men (44 percent).

“Although great strides have been made in the area of mental health literacy in recent decades,” the authors write, “the discrepancies in mental health knowledge, helping behaviors and stigma show the importance of continuing to educate the public about mental health issues.”

Source: Michigan State University

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The Upsides of Worrying

Anxiety - Fri, 04/28/2017 - 12:15

Intriguing new research suggests worrying can be good for your body and mind.

Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, believes there are often benefits to worrying.

“Despite its negative reputation, not all worry is destructive or even futile,” Sweeny said. “It has motivational benefits, and it acts as an emotional buffer.”

In the article, “The Surprising Upsides of Worry,” published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, Sweeny explains the role of worry in motivating preventive and protective behavior.

In fact, she believes worrying leads people to avoid unpleasant events.

For example, Sweeny finds worry is associated with recovery from traumatic events, adaptive preparation and planning, recovery from depression, and partaking in activities that promote health, and prevent illness.

Furthermore, people who report greater worry may perform better — in school or at the workplace — seek more information in response to stressful events, and engage in more successful problem solving.

The motivational power of worry has been studied and linked to preventive health behavior, like seatbelt use.

In a nationally representative sample of Americans, feelings of worry about skin cancer predicted sunscreen use. And participants who reported higher levels of cancer-related worries also conducted breast self-examinations, underwent regular mammograms, and sought clinical breast examinations.

“Interestingly enough, there are examples of a more nuanced relationship between worry and preventive behavior as well,” Sweeny said.

“Women who reported moderate amounts of worry, compared to women reporting relatively low or high levels of worry, are more likely to get screened for cancer. It seems that both too much and too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing.”

In the paper, Sweeny noted three explanations for worry’s motivating effects.

  1. Worry serves as a cue that the situation is serious and requires action. People use their emotions as a source of information when making judgements and decisions.
  2. Worrying about a stressor keeps the stressor at the front of one’s mind and prompts people toward action.
  3. The unpleasant feeling of worry motivates people to find ways to reduce their worry.

“Even in circumstances when efforts to prevent undesirable outcomes are futile, worry can motivate proactive efforts to assemble a ready-made set of responses in the case of bad news,” Sweeny said.

“In this instance, worrying pays off because one is actively thinking of a ‘plan B.'”

Another often unrecognized benefit of worry is its ability to improve a person’s emotional state by serving as an emotional bench-mark.

That is, compared to the state of worry, any other feeling is pleasurable by contrast. Thus, the pleasure that comes from a good experience is heightened if preceded by a bad experience.

“If people’s feelings of worry over a future outcome are sufficiently intense and unpleasant, their emotional response to the outcome they ultimately experience will seem more pleasurable in comparison to their previous, worried state,” Sweeny said.

Research on bracing for the worst provides indirect evidence for the role of worry as an emotional buffer, according to Sweeny.

As people brace for the worst, they embrace a pessimistic outlook to mitigate potential disappointment, boosting excitement if the news is good. Therefore, both bracing and worrying have an emotional payoff following the moment of truth.

“Extreme levels of worry are harmful to one’s health. I do not intend to advocate for excessive worrying. Instead, I hope to provide reassurance to the helpless worrier — planning and preventive action is not a bad thing,” Sweeny said.

“Worrying the right amount is far better than not worrying at all.”

Source: University of California, Riverside

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