Swedish researchers have discovered a link between genetic changes in the so-called CRH gene, which affects the regulation of the body’s stress system, and suicide risk and psychiatric illness.
Investigators believe epigenetic changes — genetic changes influenced by the environment — in the body’s hormone-based stress system, influence both serious suicide attempts in adults and psychiatric illness in adolescents.
The research study, which is a collaboration between researchers at Umeå University, Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University in Sweden, appears in the journal EBioMedicine.
Previous studies have indicated an overactive stress system in individuals with increased suicide risk. In the current study, researchers report that epigenetic changes in the CRH gene are linked to serious suicide attempts in adults. The genetic changes are also found in adolescents with high risk of psychiatric illness.
Recently published research reveals that serious suicide attempts are associated with a reduced lifespan including an increased suicide risk and risk of mortality from natural causes (particularly in adolescents).
Moreover, the incidence of mental health issues among teens and young adults is on the rise. In the last 10 years, it has become twice as common for Swedish adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 to suffer from psychiatric illness.
In the study, researchers examined 88 individuals who had attempted suicide. The participants were divided into high and low risk groups based upon the severity of their suicidal behavior.
Through blood samples of the participants, epigenetic markers in the form of DNA methylation in the stress system-related genes were analyzed. In the next step, the discovered epigenetic changes in the CRH gene were studied in blood samples from two other cohort studies including 129 and 93 adolescents respectively in the age span of 14 to 17.
The adolescents were divided into high and low risk groups based upon assessments of their psychiatric symptoms. The results show that epigenetic changes in the CRH gene were more prevalent in the group of adolescents with an increased risk of psychiatric illness.
“Since psychiatric illness is a serious and growing public health problem, it’s important that we take early signs of psychiatric illness and suicidal behavior into consideration in suicide prevention,” said Dr. Jussi Jokinen, professor in psychiatry at Umeå University, who led the current study.
“Our environment affects our genetic expression, which is usually referred to as epigenetic change. Even if we aren’t able to draw distinct parallels between the findings in these cohort studies, our results still point towards the importance of an optimal regulation of the stress system for psychiatric illness.”
Source: Science Direct
New research suggests the desire to be perfect in body, mind, and career may be taking a toll on college students’ mental health. Investigators discovered the excessive desire to succeed and compete with others has significantly increased compared with prior generations.
This study is the first to examine group generational differences in perfectionism, according to lead author Thomas Curran, Ph.D., of the University of Bath. He and his co-author Andrew Hill, Ph.D., of York St. John University suggest that perfectionism entails “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.”
The researchers analyzed data from 41,641 American, Canadian and British college students from 164 samples who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, a test for generational changes in perfectionism, from the late 1980s to 2016.
Three types of perfectionism were assessed: self-oriented, or an irrational desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or perceiving excessive expectations from others; and other-oriented, or placing unrealistic standards on others.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, found that more recent generations of college students reported significantly higher scores for each form of perfectionism than earlier generations.
Specifically, between 1989 and 2016, the self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed increased by 33 percent and other-oriented increased by 16 percent.
The rise in perfectionism among millennials is being driven by a number of factors, according to Curran. One relatively new factor involves exposure to social media; data suggests social media may pressure young adult to excessively compare themselves to others, which makes them dissatisfied with their bodies and increases social isolation.
This has not been tested and further research is needed to confirm this, said Curran. The drive to earn money, pressure to get a good education and setting lofty career goals are other areas in which today’s young people exhibit perfectionism.
Completion and merit based evaluations are also encouraged in academia. Curran cites college students’ drive to perfect their grade point averages and compare them to their peers.
These examples represent a rise in meritocracy among millennials, in which universities encourage competition among students to move up the social and economic ladder.
“Meritocracy places a strong need for young people to strive, perform and achieve in modern life,” said Curran. “Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves. As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials.”
Approximately half of high school seniors in 1976 expected to earn a college degree and by 2008, that number had risen to over 80 percent. Yet, numbers of those earning degrees has failed to keep pace with rising expectations, according to Curran.
The gap between the percentage of high school seniors expecting to earn a college degree and those with one doubled between 1976 and 2000 and has continued to rise.
“These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations,” said Curran.
“Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth.”
The increase in perfectionism may in part be affecting the psychological health of students, said Hill, citing higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than a decade ago.
A recent study provides new insight into why an antidepressant can alleviate depression in one person but not another.
In the study, researchers developed a mouse model that allowed them to identify blood signatures associated with response to antidepressant treatment. The research design allowed researchers to analyze how an individual’s genetic makeup can affect a medication’s effectiveness.
The study, led by Dr. Marianne Müller and an international team at the University Medical Center Mainz and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, targeted the way in which genetics influence the stress-related glucocorticoid receptor in recovery from depression.
The research is published in the open access journal PLOS Biology.
Major depression is the leading cause of disability according to the World Health Organization, affecting an estimated 350 million people worldwide. Unfortunately, only one-third of patients benefit from the first antidepressant prescribed. Although the currently available treatments are safe, there is significant variability in the outcome of antidepressant treatment.
So far there are no clinical assessments that can predict with a high degree of certainty whether a particular patient will respond to a particular antidepressant.
Finding the most effective antidepressant medication for each patient depends on trial and error, underlining the urgent need to establish conceptually novel strategies for the identification of biomarkers associated with a positive response.
In the new study, the innovative research design allowed scientists to focus on extreme phenotypes in response to antidepressant treatment.
This model simulated the clinical situation, by identifying good and poor responders to antidepressant treatment. The researchers hypothesized that conditions in the mouse model would facilitate the identification of valid peripheral biomarkers for antidepressant treatment response and could potentially apply to humans.
“We were able to identify a cluster of antidepressant response-associated genes in the mouse model that we then validated in a cohort of depressed patients from our collaborators from Emory University, Atlanta,” said Dr. Tania Carrillo-Roa of the Max Planck Institute. This suggests that molecular signatures associated with antidepressant response in the mouse could in fact predict the outcome of antidepressant treatment in the patient cohort.
Additional analyses indicated that the glucocorticoid receptor, which is one of the most important players in fine-tuning the stress hormone system, shapes the response to antidepressant treatment.
Ultimately, identification of biomarkers predictive of individual responses to treatment would dramatically improve the quality of care/treatment for depressed patients by taking the trial and error out of prescribing antidepressants.
In the future, this cross-species approach might serve as a template for the discovery of improved and tailored treatment for patients who suffer from depression.
Postpartum depression is not uncommon — nearly one in five new mothers may experience anxiety, severe fatigue, inability to bond with their children, and suicidal thoughts. Moreover, this depression has also been associated with infants’ developmental difficulties.
A new study by neuroscientists at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston uses a mouse model to explore the role of stress toward development of the condition.
Researchers generated a novel preclinical model of postpartum depression and demonstrated involvement of the neuroendocrine system. This body system mediates how a person responds to stress — in particular the physiological response called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis — which is normally suppressed during and after pregnancy.
The findings in mice provide the first empirical evidence that disruption of this system may create behaviors that mimic postpartum depression in humans. This study, to be published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology and now available online, provides a much-needed research model for further investigation into the causes of and treatment for postpartum depression.
In the past, the scarcity of animal models has led researchers to rely on less robust study designs such as correlational studies. Stress is known to activate the HPA axis, which triggers the fight-or-flight response seen in many species.
During and after pregnancy, such activation is normally blunted which helps to insulate developing offspring from stress. Dysregulation of the HPA axis has been suggested as playing a role in the physiology of postpartum depression.
The effects of stress on postpartum behavior are thought to be influenced by stress hormones because animal experiments show that stress and exogenous stress hormones can induce abnormal postpartum behaviors.
However, clinical data on stress hormones in women with postpartum depression has been inconsistent. To date, research has not directly demonstrated a role for corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), the main driver of the stress response.
This hormone is primarily secreted by a cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus called the paraventricular nucleus (PVN). Moreover, prior research has determined that inappropriate activation of the HPA axis occurs in postpartum depression.
“Some clinical studies show a relationship between CRH, HPA axis function and postpartum depression, but others fail to replicate these findings. Direct investigation into this relationship has been hindered due to the lack of useful animal models of such a complex disorder,” said Jamie Maguire, Ph.D.
“Using a mouse model that we developed, our new study provides the first empirical evidence supporting the clinical observations of HPA axis dysfunction in patients with postpartum depression. The animal model also shows for the first time that dysregulation of the HPA axis and a specific protein in the brain, KCC2, can be enough to induce postpartum depression-like behaviors and deficits in maternal care,” she continued.
Identifying molecular targets and biological markers for postpartum depression is a challenge.
“Pregnancy obviously involves great changes to a woman’s body, but we’re only now beginning to understand the significant unseen adaptations occurring at the neurochemical and circuitry level that may be important to maintaining mental health and maternal behavior in the first few weeks to months following delivery,” said Laverne Camille Melón, Ph.D., first author on the paper.
“By uncovering the role for stability of KCC2 in the regulation of CRH neurons, the postpartum stress axis, and maternal behavior, we hope we have identified a potential molecular target for the development of a new class of compounds that are more effective for women suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety.”
Melón and Maguire do not believe that HPA axis dysfunction is the only pathological mechanism at work. “Many psychiatric and neurological disorders are a constellation of symptoms and represent an unfortunate synergy of heterogeneous maladaptations. The mechanisms underlying one woman’s postpartum depression may differ from another’s,” said Melón.
The researchers hope that continued work will enable them to identify a biological marker that characterizes women who may be vulnerable to postpartum depression because of dysregulation of the stress axis, potentially leading to new treatment options.
Source: Tufts University
A new study has discovered that high-stakes tests are a likely factor in the performance gap between male and female students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classes.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that while male students tend to do better on high-stakes tests in biology courses, it’s not because they are better students. Instead, gaps in performance change based on the stakes of the test, say researchers Sehoya Cotner, an associate professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota, and Cissy Ballen, a postdoctoral associate in Cotner’s lab.
They base their findings on a year-long study of students in nine introductory biology courses. They found that female students did not underperform in courses where exams count for less than half of the total course grade.
In a separate study, instructors changed the curriculum in three different courses to place higher or lesser value on high-stakes exams, such as midterms and finals, and observed gender-biased patterns in performance.
“When the value of exams is changed, performance gaps increase or decrease accordingly,” Cotner said.
These findings build on recent research by Cotner and Ballen that showed that, on average, women’s exam performance is adversely affected by test anxiety.
By moving to a “mixed model” of student assessment — including lower-stakes exams, as well as quizzes and other assignments — teachers can decrease performance gaps between male and female students in science courses.
“This is not simply due to a ‘watering down’ of poor performance through the use of easy points,” Cotner said. “Rather, on the exams themselves, women perform on par with men when the stakes are not so high.”
The researchers point to these varied assessments as a potential reason why the active-learning approach, which shifts the focus away from lectures and lecture halls to more collaborative spaces and group-based work, appears to decrease the performance gap between students.
“As people transition to active learning, they tend to incorporate a diversity of low-stakes, formative assessments into their courses,” Cotner said. “We think that it is this use of mixed assessment that advantages students who are otherwise underserved in the large introductory science courses.”
The researchers also see their findings as a potential to reframe gaps in student performance.
“Many barriers students face can be mitigated by instructional choices,” Cotner said. “We conclude by challenging the student deficit model, and suggest a course deficit model as explanatory of these performance gaps, whereby the microclimate of the classroom can either raise or lower barriers to success for underrepresented groups in STEM.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been associated with violent behavior, particularly among military personnel who have returned from combat. But little is known about whether intensive PTSD treatments might be able to reduce such violent behavior.
In a new study, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University analyzed the data of more than 35,000 U.S. military veterans who had been treated in specialized intensive Veterans Health Administration (VHA) PTSD programs.
The researchers analyzed the veterans’ sociodemographic and biographical information, program participation, and clinical factors such as PTSD symptom severity and substance use. Information was collected at program entry and again four months after discharge. Violence was assessed by a self-report measure that addressed property damage, threatening behavior and physical assault.
The findings, published online in the journal Psychiatric Services, show that combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD had a significant reduction in violent behavior during the PTSD program; the reduction lasted through four months after discharge.
In particular, veterans with PTSD who reported the most violent behavior at baseline showed the greatest reductions four months after discharge. The drop in violence strongly correlated with reductions in the veterans’ PTSD symptoms and substance use, rather than with their incarceration history or other sociodemographic and biographical variables.
The researchers noted that although an observational study is unable to identify the specific causes of reductions in violent behavior, the findings suggest that the short-term support, shelter, and asylum that formed part of intensive treatment may have contributed to the reduction in violent behavior. Such services may play a vital role in the spectrum of care for patients with combat-related PTSD.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans with PTSD varies by service era: Among veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, about 11-20 out of every 100 (between 11-20 percent) have PTSD in a given year.
Among veterans of the Gulf War (Desert Storm), about 12 of every 100 (12 percent) have PTSD. Among Vietnam veterans, around 15 in 100 (15 percent) were diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s. However, it is estimated that about 30 of every 100 (30 percent) of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
Symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the traumatic event, anxiety, aggression, sleeplessness, loss of interest, and feelings of numbness, anger or irritability, or being constantly on guard.
Source: Yale School of Medicine
A new study has found that non-invasive brainwave mirroring technology significantly reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress in military personnel.
“Ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, whether clinically diagnosed or not, are a pervasive problem in the military,” said the study’s principal investigator, Charles H. Tegeler, M.D., a professor of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, a part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
“Medications are often used to help control specific symptoms, but can produce side effects. Other treatments may not be well tolerated, and few show a benefit for the associated sleep disturbance. Additional non-invasive, non-drug therapies are needed.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, and 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan experience PTSD. Symptoms can include insomnia, poor concentration, sadness, re-experiencing traumatic events, irritability, or hyper-alertness, as well as diminished autonomic cardiovascular regulation.
The neurotechnology used in this study — high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring (HIRREM) — is a non-invasive, closed-loop, acoustic stimulation approach, in which computer software algorithms translate specific brain frequencies into audible tones in real time, the researchers explain.
Figuratively speaking, this provides a chance for the brain to listen to itself through an acoustic mirror, according to Tegeler.
Likely through resonance between brain frequencies and the acoustic stimulation, the brain makes self-adjustments towards improved balance and reduced hyperarousal, with no conscious, cognitive activity required, he elaborated. The net effect is to support the brain to reset stress response patterns that have been rewired by repetitive traumatic events.
HIRREM is a registered trademark of Brain State Technologies of Scottsdale, Ariz., and has been licensed to Wake Forest Baptist for collaborative research since 2011.
In the study, 18 service members or recent veterans who experienced symptoms over one to 25 years received an average of 19½ HIRREM sessions over 12 days. Symptom data were collected before and after the study sessions, and follow-up online interviews were conducted at one-, three-, and six-month intervals, researchers report.
In addition, heart rate and blood pressure readings were recorded after the first and second visits to analyze downstream autonomic balance with heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity, researchers add.
“We observed reductions in post-traumatic symptoms, including insomnia, depressive mood, and anxiety that were durable through six months after the use of HIRREM, but additional research is needed to confirm these initial findings,” Tegeler said.
“This study is also the first to report improvement in heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity — physiological responses to stress — after the use of an intervention for service members or veterans with ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress,” he continued.
According to the researchers, limitations of the study include the small number of participants and the absence of a control group. It also was an open-label project, meaning that both researchers and participants knew what treatment was being administered.
The study was published in the journal Military Medical Research.
Children and teens who are abused, bullied, suffer the loss of a loved one, or who face other types of traumas are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease in adulthood, according to new findings published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.
The findings are based on a review of existing studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals that have shown a strong link between traumatic experiences in childhood and adolescence and a greater chance of developing risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes at an earlier age than those who were trauma-free.
In turn, these risk factors lead to greater odds of developing heart and blood vessel diseases and other conditions in adulthood, such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, obesity, and type II diabetes.
According to research, nearly 60 percent of Americans report an adverse event during childhood.
Adversity is defined as anything children perceive as a threat to their physical safety or that jeopardizes their family or social structure. This includes emotional, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, bullying by peers, violence at home, parental divorce, separation or death, parental substance abuse, living in a neighborhood with high crime rates, homelessness, discrimination, poverty, and the loss of a relative or another loved one.
“The real tragedy is that children are exposed to these traumatic experiences in the first place,” said Shakira Suglia, Sc.D., the writing group chair for the statement and an associate professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
“We are talking about children and teens experiencing physical and sexual abuse and witnessing violence. Sadly, the negative consequences of experiencing these events does not end when the experience ends, it lasts many years after exposure.”
“Ideally, we want to prevent these things from happening in the first place as well as preventing the health consequences that arise from having these experiences.”
Exactly how adversity fuels cardiovascular and metabolic problems remains unclear, but the current evidence suggests that behavioral, mental health, and biological reactions to increased stress all play a role.
For example, unhealthy reactions to stress, such as smoking or overeating, may underlie the higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes among this group. In addition, recurrent and chronic childhood stress is known to increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders among children and teens, which in turn lead to unhealthy behaviors that often lead to cardiovascular and metabolic illnesses.
Furthermore, chronically high stress levels or repeated spikes could disrupt normal immune, metabolic, nervous and endocrine development and function.
Not all children who grow up facing adversity develop diseases of the heart and blood vessels, however. This suggests the existence of a range of biological, environmental, cultural, and social factors that may help reduce risk and prevent disease development. Further research to better understand these factors may one day lead to the development of preventive strategies, the researchers note.
Currently, there are no national guidelines for healthcare providers to monitor children and teens for adversity.
“We need more research to better understand how to help people who have had adversity in childhood prevent or delay the development of heart and blood vessel diseases.”
The researchers warn that the findings are observational and do not necessarily prove cause and effect. However, they add, the rapidly growing body of research is an important indicator that childhood adversity is a potent and critical modulator of disease and health.
Source: American Heart Association
Singing in groups may bring greater happiness to people with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the United Kingdom.
Researchers found that people who participated in a community singing group improved or at least maintained their mental health. The findings also show that the combination of singing and socializing was a major factor in recovery as it gave participants a feeling of belonging and well-being.
Lead researcher Professor Tom Shakespeare from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and his researcher Dr. Alice Whieldon worked in collaboration with the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project, based in Norfolk.
SYHO offers weekly singing workshops, aimed at people with mental health conditions as well as the general public. It originally began at Hellesdon psychiatric hospital in 2005, but later moved into the community. Around 120 people now attend four free workshops each week across Norfolk, two-thirds of whom have had contact with mental health services.
The researchers followed the group for six months and put together interviews and focus groups with participants, organizers, and workshop leaders.
“We found that singing as part of a group contributes to people’s recovery from mental health problems,” said Shakespeare. “The main way that Sing Your Heart Out differs from a choir is that anyone can join in regardless of ability. There’s also very little pressure because the participants are not rehearsing towards a performance. It’s very inclusive and it’s just for fun.
“The format is also different to a therapy group because there’s no pressure for anyone to discuss their condition. We heard the participants calling the initiative a ‘life saver’ and that it ‘saved their sanity.’ Others said they simply wouldn’t be here without it, they wouldn’t have managed — so we quickly began to see the massive impact it was having,” he said.
Shakespeare added that all of the interviewed participants reported positive effects on their mental health as a direct result of participating in the singing workshops. For some it represented one component of a wider program of support, and for others it stood out as key to their recovery or maintenance of health, he said.
“But the key thing for everyone was that the Sing Your Heart Out model induced fun and happiness.”
The findings, published in the BMJ journal Medical Humanities, show how a combination of singing and social engagement can give participants a feeling of belonging and well-being, as well as improved social skills and confidence.
The program also provided structure, support and contact to help people improve their mood, feel good, and function better in day-to-day life.
“The Sing Your Heart Out model offers a low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community,” said Shakespeare.
Source: University of East Anglia
People with rare diseases are at high risk for experiencing poor quality of life, including increased levels of anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue and a limited ability to participate in society, according to a new study.
“These findings suggest that the quality of life needs of people with rare diseases are not being met and that more work is needed to provide psychosocial support for this group,” said De. Kathleen Bogart, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University. “There is a disparity here and intervention is needed.”
About 350 million people around the world live with at least one rare disease, and there are about 7,000 diseases classified as rare because they affect small numbers of people, the researchers noted. Rare is defined in the U.S. as fewer than 200,000 Americans at one time; in Europe, fewer than 1 in 2,000 people.
The new study is part of a larger, multi-part study, the Adults with Rare Disorders Support project, designed to assess the psychosocial support needs of people with a variety of rare diseases and disorders.
While each disease may have its own set of characteristics and health impacts, researchers have found that people with rare diseases often share similar characteristics and experiences, including little information or treatment, lengthy times to diagnosis, and isolation.
Because of this shared experience, they may also benefit from similar types of psychosocial supports, according to Bogart.
“Even though their diseases are different, their experience is similar,” she said. “There is some benefit to looking at this group collectively, rather than trying to work with each small rare disease group independently.”
For the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,200 U.S. residents with rare diseases, asking them to complete questionnaires about their disease and their quality of life.
The survey group represented 232 rare diseases, including ataxia, Bell’s palsy, Ehlers Danlos syndrome, mast cell disorders, and narcolepsy. Researchers discovered that 13 percent of the group had more than one rare disease.
Compared to a representative sample of U.S. residents, people with rare diseases experienced:
- worse anxiety than 75 percent of the population;
- worse depression than 70 percent of the population;
- worse fatigue than 85 percent of the population;
- worse pain than 75 percent of the population;
- worse physical functioning than 85 percent of the population, and;
- worse ability to participate in society than 80 percent of the population.
Those with rare diseases also had poorer quality of life than U.S. residents with common chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis, Bogart said.
“There is something specific about having a ‘rare’ disease that contributes to poorer quality of life,” she said. “Many people struggle with getting an accurate diagnosis, which also can lead to a constant de-legitimization of their experience, with people wondering if it is ‘all in your head.'”
According to the study’s findings, participants waited, on average, nine years before receiving a correct diagnosis.
Study participants with systematic and rheumatic diseases had the poorest quality of life profiles, and those with neurological diseases also had very poor quality of life, according to the study’s findings. People with developmental anomalies experienced fewer quality of life problems than the other groups.
The study’s findings suggest that quality of life issues, such as psychosocial support, should receive more priority from organizations and funding agencies that support people with rare diseases and disorders, Bogart said.
Supporting quality of life is especially important for people living with one of the 95 percent of rare disorders that have no effective treatments, she said.
Including psychosocial support in organizational mission statements, providing psychosocial support through support groups or conferences, and making funding for psychosocial support a priority could help address quality of life issues for people with rare diseases, in part by helping reduce stigma and isolation and improving access to information and treatments, the researchers said.
The study was published in Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases.
Source: Oregon State University
Children with mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms exhibit distinct anatomical differences in the cerebrum, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal).
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, may positively impact the development of prevention strategies for long-term mental health disorders.
Mild symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are far more common among children and adults than the more serious cases of the disorder that require medical and psychological attention. While OCD affects between 1 and 2 percent of the population, mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms may be present in up to nearly one-third of the population.
These milder symptoms may include, for example, recurrent thoughts about catching a disease after being in contact with objects in public spaces, fear of having inadvertently carried out some potentially dangerous behavior (such as leaving the door open when leaving home), or the need to place the objects of house or the workspace in perfect order and symmetry.
Likewise, these fears are often accompanied by compulsions such as repetitive and unnecessary cleaning and checking or organization behaviors that, although they are generally perceived as excessive, are difficult to control.
Although the majority of these mild cases do not interfere with daily life and do not require special attention, some cases — such as after a prolonged stressful situation — can lead to the appearance of a more severe condition than requires specialized treatment.
Childhood is a period particularly sensitive to the presence of obsessive-compulsive symptoms. For example, it is relatively normal for children to “need” to touch each and every one of the bars of a fence, line up their shoes in a certain way, or add up or repeat aloud the numbers of car license plates.
“In a small percentage of cases, however, these symptoms may be indicators of an increased risk of developing an obsessive-compulsive disorder that requires treatment, during childhood or in adulthood,” said Dr. Carles Soriano-Mas, lead author of the study.
For the study, 255 boys and girls aged 8 to 12, all healthy, and without any diagnosis of any mental health disorder, were asked to answer a questionnaire about the presence of mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
The most frequently observed symptoms were those related to behaviors of checking, ordering and looking for symmetry, the unnecessary accumulation of objects, as well as the repeated presence of negative and disturbing thoughts.
The children also underwent structural magnetic resonance, a harmless technique that allowed researchers to explore in great detail the cerebral anatomy. The cerebrum is the largest and most prominent part of the brain, where things like perception, imagination, thought, judgment and decision-making occur.
“When comparing the results of the questionnaire to the cerebral anatomy, we found out that the different symptoms observed, in spite of their mild character, could be associated to specific anatomical characteristics,” said Soriano-Mas.
“Interestingly, these same anatomical characteristics have also been observed in patients with more severe symptoms, with a diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
The findings suggest that some mental disorders, including OCD, can be considered an extreme manifestation of certain characteristics that frequently appear among the healthy population.
“It is also necessary to consider other factors of a diverse nature, such as social, educational and general welfare ones, to determine why in some cases these symptoms remain mild and under control, and in others they evolve to more severe forms that require specialized attention,” said Soriano-Mas.
The results may also have an impact on prevention strategies for mental health disorders. For example, brain anatomy could be more closely monitored in high-risk individuals (the children of parents with psychiatric disorders, for example), so that the probability of developing a condition that interferes with their normal development can be estimated.
Mindfulness training can help support students at risk of mental health problems, according to a new study.
While anxiety and depression among first-year college students is lower than the general population, it increases during their second year, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge in the U.K.
The researchers note that the number of students accessing counseling services in the U.K. grew by 50 percent from 2010 to 2015, surpassing the growth in the number of students during the same period.
There is little consensus as to whether students are suffering more mental disorders, are less resilient than in the past, or whether there is less stigma attached to accessing support, the researchers noted. Whatever the reason, mental health support services for students are becoming stretched.
“Given the increasing demands on student mental health services, we wanted to see whether mindfulness could help students develop preventative coping strategies,” said Géraldine Dufour, head of the university’s Counseling Service.
A total of 616 students took part in the study, randomized into two groups. Both groups were offered access to comprehensive centralized support at the University of Cambridge Counseling Service, in addition to support available from the university and its colleges, and from health services, including the National Health Service.
Half of the students — 309 — were also offered the Mindfulness Skills for Students course. This consisted of eight, weekly, face-to-face, group-based sessions based on the book “Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World,” adapted for university students.
Students were encouraged to also practice at home, starting at eight-minute meditations, and increasing to about 15 to 25 minutes a day. They also were encouraged to try other mindfulness practices, such as mindful walking and mindful eating.
The other half of the students were offered mindfulness training the following year.
The researchers then assessed the impact of the mindfulness training on stress during the main annual examination period in May and June 2016, the most stressful weeks for most students. They measured this using the CORE-OM, a generic assessment used in many counseling services.
The study found that the mindfulness course led to lower distress scores after the course and during the exam term compared with students who only received the usual support.
Mindfulness participants were a third less likely to have scores above a threshold commonly seen as meriting mental health support, the study found.
Distress scores for the mindfulness group during exam time fell below their baseline levels — measured at the start of the study, before exam time — while the students who received the standard support became increasingly stressed as the academic year progressed, according to the researchers.
The researchers also looked at other measures, such as self-reported well-being. They found that mindfulness training improved well-being during the exam period when compared with the usual support.
“Students who had been practicing mindfulness had distress scores lower than their baseline levels even during exam time, which suggests that mindfulness helps build resilience against stress,” said Dr. Julieta Galante from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge, who led the study.
“The evidence is mounting that mindfulness training can help people cope with accumulative stress,” added Professor Peter Jones, also from the Department of Psychiatry. “While these benefits may be similar to some other preventative methods, mindfulness could be a useful addition to the interventions already delivered by university counseling services. It appears to be popular, feasible, acceptable and without stigma.”
The study was published in The Lancet Public Health.
Source: University of Cambridge
A new study shows that we tend to overstate our negative feelings and symptoms in surveys.
According to researchers at New York University, this bias wears off over time, but the results point to the possibility that measurements of health and well-being, which are vital in making medical assessments and in guiding health-related research, may be misinterpreted.
“Understanding the magnitude of this bias is essential in accurately interpreting survey results that include subjective reports of feelings and symptoms,” said Dr. Patrick Shrout, a professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and a co-author of the paper, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While researchers have long understood that survey instruments are imperfect measurements of mood and emotions, they do provide insights into people’s preferences, fears, and priorities — information that policy makers, industry leaders, and health-care professionals rely on in their decision-making.
Less clear, however, is the accuracy of capturing our sentiments over time using repeated measurements, which is a common method to gauge changes in symptoms, attitudes, and well-being, the researchers said.
They point to puzzling findings in the psychological literature that reports of anxiety, depression and physical symptoms decline over time, regardless of the circumstances of the people being studied.
To study this decline, the NYU researchers conducted four separate experiments in which the subjects were asked, multiple times, about their anxiety, physical symptoms and energy level.
In three of the four studies, the subjects were facing stressful events and the expectation was that anxiety and physical complaints, such as headaches and sleep disturbance, would be more common as the event drew near.
One of these studies focused on recent law school graduates preparing for the bar examination, while two others centered on college students who were preparing for difficult pre-med science examinations.
The fourth study was a bi-monthly survey of college students over the course of an academic year.
All four studies were designed so that groups of subjects gave their first reports at different times relative to the stressful event or academic year, the researchers explained.
In all the studies, subjects reported more anxiety and symptoms the first time they completed the survey compared to their own later reports, according to the researchers.
This initial elevation was limited to the first survey day, and it was inconsistent with the course of anxiety and symptoms normally associated with a difficult event, the researchers noted.
Although previous researchers assumed the pattern of decline was due to response bias of later reports, the NYU researchers concluded that the pattern of decline over time was likely due to an overstatement of distress and symptoms the first time, rather than an understatement in later times.
This is the only explanation that accounted for the fact that anxiety was more elevated four weeks before the exam than three weeks before, they note.
Moreover, the law school graduates who were asked to report current anxiety and symptoms for the first time one week after the bar exam had elevation similar to others who had not yet taken the exam, the study found.
Source: New York University