Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as young children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAMers) are at greater risk for mental health problems, according to new research at Rice University in Houston.
For the study, researchers evaluated the mental health of Mexican immigrants living illegally in the United States in high-risk areas (places with strong opposition and strict laws regarding immigrants living here illegally).
Lead study author Dr. Luz Garcini, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychology at Rice, said that DREAMers are at risk for psychological distress and reduced quality of life as a result of the many complex stressors they face. DREAMers often experience these stressors over a long period of time, under harsh living conditions and with no access to proper mental health services.
The article is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
In the paper, the researchers presented a clinical perspective that emphasizes how living in the country without proper documentation affects mental health as a result of facing constant institutional and societal exclusion.
For the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 260 people. To be eligible, the respondents had to confirm that they were living in the U.S. without proper documentation.
Of all the participants, those aged 18-25 were the most likely to show psychological distress (63 percent). In addition, more than 90 percent of all participants cited the loss of their home, social status, family and symbolic self as reasons for mental health distress.
“DREAMers are often marginalized and discriminated against, and as a result they may become isolated from the larger educational and work communities,” Garcini said.
“Many also experience separation from deported family members, and they do not have the option of traveling internationally to visit them. Finally, they live in constant fear of deportation and experience a sense of voicelessness, invisibility and limited opportunities, due to their conflicting undocumented status.”
Garicini hopes that the new findings will inform the development of interventions and advocacy efforts for this at-risk immigrant subgroup.
“Debates on programs and policies pertaining to DREAMers are complex and multifaceted, and differences of opinion and divisions on policy options are long-standing,” she said.
“However, as clinicians, we may contribute by devising solutions grounded in evidence and developing alternatives designed to facilitate access to culturally and contextually sensitive mental health services for these at-risk youths, which is critical to protecting their mental health and their basic human rights.”
Source: Rice University
A population health study of very preterm and very-low-birth-weight individuals finds that these early births are not associated with anxiety and mood disorders later in life.
The finding challenges earlier research that suggested increased risks. The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and University of Warwick researchers studied nearly 400 individuals from birth to adulthood. Half of the participants had been born before 32-weeks gestation or at a very low birth weight (less than 3.3 pounds), and the other half had been born at term and normal birth weight.
The research team, led by Drs. Julia Jaekel (UT) and Dieter Wolke (UW), assessed each participant when they were 6, 8 and 26 years old using detailed clinical interviews of psychiatric disorders.
“Previous research has reported increased risks for anxiety and mood disorders, but these studies were based on small samples and did not include repeated assessments for over 20 years,” said Jaekel.
Their results? At age 6, children were not at an increased risk of any anxiety or mood disorders, but by age 8–after they had entered school–more children had an anxiety disorder.
By 26, there was a tendency to have more mood disorders like depression, but the findings were not meaningfully different between the two groups.
This study is the first investigation of anxiety and mood disorders in childhood and adulthood using clinical diagnoses in a large whole-population study of very preterm and very-low-birth-weight individuals as compared to individuals born at term.
The team also found that having a romantic partner who is supportive is an important factor for good mental health because it helps protect one from developing anxiety or depression.
However, the study found fewer very-preterm-born adults had a romantic partner and were more withdrawn socially.
“Adults without support from romantic partners are at increased risk to develop anxiety and mood disorders,” said Wolke.
“Social support is important to prevent anxiety or mood disorders.”
It is also the largest study that’s been done following very-preterm-born children from childhood to adulthood.
Researchers believe the large sample size and study design provide compelling and reassuring evidence that very-preterm birth is not associated with an increased risk of psychiatric mood and anxiety disorders.
New research confirms the value of silently talking to yourself in the third person, especially during stressful times.
The first-of-its-kind study discovered third person narrative self-talk helps one their control emotions, and relatively effortlessly.
That is, the third-person self-talk does not require any additional effort than what one would use for first-person self-talk — the way people normally talk to themselves.
The findings are published online in Scientific Reports, a Nature journal.
Say a man named John is upset about recently being dumped. By simply reflecting on his feelings in the third person (“Why is John upset?”), John is less emotionally reactive than when he addresses himself in the first person (“Why am I upset?”).
“Essentially, we think referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similar to how they think about others, and you can see evidence for this in the brain,” said Dr. Jason Moser, MSU associate professor of psychology.
“That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions.”
The study, partially funded by the National Institutes of Health and the John Temple Foundation, involved two experiments that both significantly reinforced this main conclusion.
In one experiment, participants viewed neutral and disturbing images and reacted to the images in both the first and third person while their brain activity was monitored by an electroencephalograph.
When reacting to the disturbing photos (such as a man holding a gun to their heads), participants’ emotional brain activity decreased very quickly (within 1 second) when they referred to themselves in the third person.
The MSU researchers also measured participants’ effort-related brain activity and found that using the third person was no more effortful than using first person self-talk.
This discovery supports the use of third-person self-talk as an on-the-spot strategy for regulating one’s emotions, Moser said. The finding is salient as many other forms of emotion regulation require considerable thought and effort.
In the other experiment, led by U-M psychology professor Dr. Ethan Kross, participants reflected on painful experiences from their past using first and third person language while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or FMRI.
Similar to the MSU study, participants’ displayed less activity in a brain region that is commonly implicated in reflecting on painful emotional experiences when using third person self-talk, suggesting better emotional regulation. Further, third person self-talk required no more effort-related brain activity than using first person.
“What’s really exciting here,” Kross said, “is that the brain data from these two complementary experiments suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation.
“If this ends up being true — we won’t know until more research is done — there are lots of important implications these findings have for our basic understanding of how self-control works, and for how to help people control their emotions in daily life.”
Moser and Kross said their teams are continuing to collaborate to explore how third-person self-talk compares to other emotion-regulation strategies.
Source: Michigan State University
New research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may ‘age’ more rapidly than those without a history of the disease. However, a common treatment for the disorder may conceal or even reverse the detrimental cellular effects.
Investigators from King’s College London research discovered that bipolar patients treated with lithium have longer telomeres (a sign of slower biological aging) compared to bipolar disorder patients not treated with lithium.
Typical treatment for bipolar entails a combination of at least one mood-stabilizing drug and/or atypical antipsychotic, plus psychotherapy. Lithium is one of the most widely used medications for bipolar showing benefit for mania and perhaps depression.
Researchers believe this finding that bipolar patients treated with lithium show slower signs of aging suggests that the drug may mask the aging effects associated with bipolar disorder, or even help to reverse it.
Faster aging at the biological level could explain why rates of aging-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity are higher among bipolar disorder patients. However, more research is needed in the relatives of bipolar disorder patients to better understand if they are also at a higher risk for aging-related diseases.
Unaffected first-degree relatives represent a group of individuals at risk for bipolar disorder who have not been treated with medications, so studying them may represent a truer reflection of the relationship between ageing and bipolar disorder.
Accordingly, researchers studied a feature of chromosomes called telomeres in 63 patients with bipolar disorder, 74 first-degree relatives and 80 unrelated healthy people. Research findings appear in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Telomeres sit on the end of our chromosomes and act like ‘caps’, protecting the strands of DNA stored inside each of our cells as we age. Telomeres shorten each time a cell divides to make new cells, until they are so short that they are totally degraded and cells are no longer able to replicate. Telomere length therefore acts as a marker of biological age, with shortened telomeres representing older cells, and commonly older individuals.
The rate at which telomeres shorten across our lifespan can vary, based on a range of environmental and genetic factors. This means that two unrelated people of the same chronological age may not be the same age biologically.
The researchers from King’s College London and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found that healthy relatives of bipolar patients had shorter telomeres compared to healthy controls (who had no risk for the disorder running in their family).
This suggests that genetic or environmental factors associated with family risk for bipolar disorder are also linked to faster biological aging.
They also conducted MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to explore the relationship between telomere length and brain structure, particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in the regulation of mood. They discovered that higher rates of biological aging (i.e. shorter telomeres) were associated with having a smaller hippocampus.
The study authors suggest that a reduction in telomere length may be associated with a reduced ability of new brain cells to grow in the hippocampus, which can reduce the size of the hippocampus and consequently increase risk for mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.
Dr Timothy Powell, first author of the study, explains: ‘Our study provides the first evidence that familial risk for bipolar disorder is associated with shorter telomeres, which may explain why bipolar disorder patients are also at a greater risk for aging-related diseases.
‘We still need to dissect the environmental and genetic contributions to shortened telomeres in those at high risk for bipolar disorder. For instance, do those at risk for bipolar disorder carry genes predisposing them to faster biological ageing, or are they more likely to partake in environmental factors which promote ageing (e.g. smoking, poor diet)? Identifying modifiable risk factors to prevent advanced ageing would be a really important next step.’
Dr Sophia Frangou, co-senior author of the study, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said:
‘Our study shows that telomere length is a promising biomarker of biological ageing and susceptibility to disease in the context of bipolar disorder. Moreover, it suggests that proteins which protect against telomere shortening may provide novel treatment targets for people with bipolar disorder and those predisposed to it.’
Dr Gerome Breen, a co-senior author summarizes the research: ‘Up to now it has been unclear whether or not bipolar disorder patients are at risk of accelerated aging. This study shows that they are at greater risk of faster aging and drugs commonly used to treat the disorder may actually mask or reverse this effect.’
Source: Kings College London/EurekAlert
If you told most people that after a traumatic event, they could feel stronger, more open to new experiences, more appreciative of life, a deepened sense of spirituality and closer, more authentic relationships, they might tell you that it sounds unbelievable.
But according to the authors of The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook Richard Tedeschi and Brett Moore, what I am describing is indeed very real, and very relevant.
In the mind-nineties, Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun identified posttraumatic growth as “the positive psychological change that results from the attempt to find new meaning following a traumatic event.”
Since then, several others, such as Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile), Tim Harford, (Adapt), and Ryan Holiday (The Obstacle Is The Way) have written about the ways in which adversity, challenges, obstacles and trauma can make us stronger, more resourceful and more able to adapt in the face of challenges.
The Posttraumatic Workbook: Coming Through Trauma Stronger, Wiser, And More Resilient is designed to show us just how we can learn and use the powerful concepts of posttraumatic growth to our advantage.
Tedeschi and Moore begin by saying that struggling with life’s losses and tragedies can help humans develop in ways that would not have been possible without them. The concept of growth through adversity, they remind readers, is centuries old.
“From the ancient Greeks to today, tragedy has been a common theme in many great works of literature,” they write.
And the concept of posttraumatic growth is backed up with research. According to the authors, studies show that sixty percent of people who experience trauma also report posttraumatic growth. And posttraumatic growth doesn’t only exist in the absence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) either. In fact, it is many of the same challenges that create PTSD that also set the stage for posttraumatic growth. And while trauma can be debilitating, posttraumatic growth will not eliminate suffering.
According to the authors, psychological distress following trauma is not an abnormal reaction, but rather a normal reaction to an abnormal event. The symptoms of trauma can include anger, frustration, mood swings, racing thoughts, disorientation, impulsive behavior, fatigue and headaches. To help readers identify their symptoms, the authors present exercises such as describing the traumatic event in detail and labeling the emotional, physical, mental and behavioral symptoms. They also provide a comprehensive definition of PTSD complimented by several helpful exercises to identify the risk factors, maintenance factors and protective factors that influence it.
Of particular importance is the way trauma affects a person’s brain.
“Just as the city comes to a halt when its infrastructure is damaged, so it is with your brain in the aftermath of trauma: without it functioning the way it should, you come to a halt,” they write.
It is this halt, however, that incites the process of reflective thinking, which leads to a re-examination of the beliefs about the self, others, and the world – what is known as the assumptive world – and allows trauma survivors to constructively develop a new belief system in the aftermath of trauma. This new belief system – a rebuilding of the infrastructure – will make a person more resilient much as it would make a city more resilient to future disasters.
“Posttraumatic growth is the reconstruction of your belief system into a new system that did not even exist in any substantial form in the past,” write the authors.
While Tedeschi and Moore incorporate several helpful exercises to identify core beliefs and the ways in which they have been challenged, they also offer numerous exercises to identify the emotions that accompany a traumatic event, as well as specific exercises to take control of them. For example, in an exercise called imagery, they suggest finding a quiet place and creating a vision of a safe, comfortable and peaceful place as a way to temporarily leave the harsh reality that trauma often leaves in its wake. The authors also provide helpful exercises to become a neutral observer of some of the troublesome thoughts that can follow trauma. Readers are asked to evaluate and challenge the evidence for such thoughts, and eventually to create more realistic thoughts.
The work of facilitating and encouraging posttraumatic growth begins by first recognizing our strengths, such as those that we used to cope with the trauma, our family strengths, relationship strengths and positive coping mechanisms – and then building upon them. It’s important to note, however, that this work cannot take place without compassion and companionship. Of particular importance, write the authors, is an “expert companion.”
As expert companions walk with us along the path of posttraumatic growth, helping us sort out what to believe and offering guidance where it is needed, they also help us recognize some of posttraumatic growth’s most profound gifts – gratitude, an openness to new experiences, a more authentic sense of purpose, deepened relationships and a strength we’ve never known. Ultimately, as we look back and venture forward, we may find that the path never taken is the path we should have been on all along.
Filled with exercises, tips, and helpful guidance, The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook is a gift for anyone coping with trauma, ultimately helping them see that not only can they make it through trauma, but they can be stronger for it.
The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook: Coming Through Trauma Wiser, Stronger, And More Resilient
Richard G. Tedeschi, PhD and Bret A. Moore, PsyD, ABPP
New Harbinger Publications (2016)
Softcover, 166 Pages
Mindfulness training and hypnotic suggestion may drastically reduce severe pain in hospital patients, according to new research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The University of Utah study is the first to investigate the effects of mindfulness and hypnosis on acute pain in the hospital setting.
After receiving a single 15-minute session of one of these mind-body therapies, patients at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City reported an immediate reduction in pain levels similar to what one might expect from an opioid painkiller.
“It was really exciting and quite amazing to see such dramatic results from a single mind-body session,” said Dr. Eric Garland, lead author of the study and director of the University of Utah’s Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development.
“Given our nation’s current opioid epidemic, the implications of this study are potentially huge. These brief mind-body therapies could be cost-effectively and feasibly integrated into standard medical care as useful adjuncts to pain management.”
The study involved 244 participants who had reported unmanageable pain due to an illness, disease or surgical procedure. Volunteers were randomly assigned to receive a brief, scripted session in one of three interventions: mindfulness, hypnotic suggestion or pain coping education. The interventions were provided by hospital social workers who had completed basic training in each type of treatment.
All three methods of intervention reduced patients’ anxiety and increased their feelings of relaxation; however, patients who participated in the hypnotic suggestion intervention and the mindfulness intervention experienced a 29 percent and 23 percent reduction in pain, respectively.
Patients receiving the two mind-body therapies also reported a significant decrease in their perceived need for opioid medication.
In contrast, patients who participated in the pain coping intervention experienced only a 9 percent reduction in pain.
“About a third of the study participants receiving one of the two mind-body therapies achieved close to a 30 percent reduction in pain intensity,” said Garland. “This clinically significant level of pain relief is roughly equivalent to the pain relief produced by 5 milligrams of oxycodone.”
Previous research by Garland suggests that multi-week mindfulness training programs may be an effective way to reduce chronic pain symptoms and decrease prescription opioid misuse. The new study added to Garland’s work by revealing the promise of brief mind-body therapies for people suffering from acute pain.
Garland and his interdisciplinary research team plan to further investigate mind-body therapies as non-opioid means of reducing pain by conducting a national replication study in a sample of thousands of patients in multiple hospitals around the United States.
Source: University of Utah
Researchers have discovered that an unpredictable childhood appears to be linked to a much higher risk of adult obesity.
In a new study, Florida State University investigators discovered childhood experiences of parental divorce, exposure to crime, or frequent moves were associated with higher risk of becoming obese as an adult.
Professor of Psychology Jon Maner found that people who had an unpredictable childhood tended to overeat, while those who experienced a stable childhood did not.
The study was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Experiencing an unpredictable environment in childhood sensitizes people to the idea that it’s difficult to plan for the future because if you don’t know what’s around the next corner, you live for the now,” Maner said.
“They end up focusing on short-term rather than long-term goals and they’re not good at delaying gratification.”
Past research has confirmed a clear link between low socioeconomic status and obesity, but those studies have not clearly identified the root causes of the problem.
That research has generally concluded too much stress in families can lead to a wide variety of negative outcomes for children when they grow up.
The new research perspective hinges on well-established tenet of the behavioral sciences called “Life History Theory.” This model has been used to predict a wide range of behaviors such as a person’s ability to parent and make financial decisions.
However, the current research is the first time this approach has been used to study obesity.
Life History Theory is rooted in the idea that people have a limited amount of reproductive energy in their lives, and the way they use that energy is influenced by the amount of structure they experience during childhood.
Unpredictable childhoods can cause a “fast-life-history strategy” for adults, Maner said. They live for the now; they often have children at an earlier age; they spend money rather than save; and they seek immediate gratification.
In contrast, predictable childhoods tend to teach that planning for the future is good, and that mindset results in a “slow-life-history strategy.” As adults, they form long-term goals; they often have children at an older age; they are more likely to invest in education and save money for retirement.
“If you don’t know where the next meal is coming from, it would make sense to eat what you can now,” Maner said.
“But people with a slow-life-history strategy feel the future is more certain, and they intuitively know where their next meal will come from. They are inclined to listen to their body and eat based on their current needs.”
More than one-third of American adults and 17 percent of youth, ages two to 19, are obese, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency calls obesity a serious, costly problem that causes heart disease, stroke, cancer, liver disease, type II diabetes, and other health issues.
The detrimental effects of obesity has created a sense of urgency for researchers and health professionals to identify the behavioral factors causing obesity.
One of the main goals of Maner’s research is to identify ways to prevent obesity. While past research vaguely encouraged families to reduce stress without suggesting clear tips on how to make that happen, Maner said his research points toward some potentially valuable prevention ideas.
“Our research suggests it’s not just about reducing stress, it’s more about creating structure and predictability for children,” Maner said.
“For example, have family meals at the same time each night or bedtime rituals every day. Routines teach children to have expectations that, when met, result in a sense of certainty and structure.
Theoretically, that feeling of predictability instills a slower-life-history strategy, which may reduce obesity in adulthood.”
Source: Florida State University