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Scientists ID Brain Chemical That Helps Stop Intrusive Thoughts

Sat, 11/04/2017 - 14:35

In a new study, researchers identified a key neurotransmitter in a brain area critical to memory that enables us to suppress unwanted thoughts.

The scientists showed that the ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts relies on the neurotransmitter GABA . GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and its release by one nerve cell can suppress activity in other cells to which it is connected.

The finding helps explain why people who suffer from disorders such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and schizophrenia often experience persistent intrusive thoughts when these circuits go awry, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

“Our ability to control our thoughts is fundamental to our well-being,” said Professor Michael Anderson from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the university. “When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases: Intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations, and pathological and persistent worries. These are all key symptoms of mental illnesses such as PTSD, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.”

He compares our ability to intervene and stop ourselves from retrieving particular memories and thoughts to stopping a physical action.

“We wouldn’t be able to survive without controlling our actions,” he said. “We have lots of quick reflexes that are often useful, but we sometimes need to control these actions and stop them from happening. There must be a similar mechanism for helping us stop unwanted thoughts from occurring.”

The prefrontal cortex is known to play a role in controlling our actions and has more recently been shown to play a similarly important role in stopping our thoughts, according to the researchers. The prefrontal cortex acts as a master regulator, controlling other brain regions — the motor cortex for actions and the hippocampus for memories.

In research published in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists led by Anderson and Dr. Taylor Schmitz used a task known as the Think/No-Think procedure to identify a new brain process that enables the prefrontal cortex to successfully inhibit our thoughts.

In the task, participants learn to associate a series of words with a paired, but otherwise unconnected, word, for example ordeal/roach and moss/north.

In the next stage, participants are asked to recall the associated word if the cue is green or to suppress it if the cue is red. In other words, when shown ordeal in red, they are asked to stare at the word but to stop themselves thinking about the associated word roach.

Using a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the researchers were able to observe what was happening within key regions of the brain as the participants tried to inhibit their thoughts. Spectroscopy enabled the researchers to measure brain chemistry, and not just brain activity, as is usually done in imaging studies, the researchers explained.

The researchers discovered that GABA concentrations within the hippocampus — a key area of the brain involved in memory — predict the ability to block the retrieval process and prevent thoughts and memories from returning.

“What’s exciting about this is that now we’re getting very specific,” Anderson said.  “Before, we could only say ‘this part of the brain acts on that part,’ but now we can say which neurotransmitters are likely important and, as a result, infer the role of inhibitory neurons in enabling us to stop unwanted thoughts.”

“Where previous research has focused on the prefrontal cortex — the command center — we’ve shown that this is an incomplete picture,” he said. “Inhibiting unwanted thoughts is as much about the cells within the hippocampus — the boots on the ground that receive commands from the prefrontal cortex. If an army’s foot-soldiers are poorly equipped, then its commanders’ orders cannot be implemented well.”

The researchers discovered that even within the study’s sample of healthy young adults, people with less hippocampal GABA — the foot soldiers — were less able to suppress hippocampal activity by the prefrontal cortex and, as a result, much worse at inhibiting unwanted thoughts.

The discovery may answer one of the long-standing questions about schizophrenia, the research team say.

Research has shown that people affected by schizophrenia have hyperactive hippocampi, which correlates with intrusive symptoms, such as hallucinations.

Post-mortem studies have revealed that the inhibitory neurons, which use GABA, in the hippocampi of these individuals are compromised, possibly making it harder for the prefrontal cortex to regulate activity in this structure. This suggests that the hippocampus is failing to inhibit errant thoughts and memories, which may be manifest as hallucinations, the researchers explain.

“The environmental and genetic influences that give rise to hyperactivity in the hippocampus might underlie a range of disorders with intrusive thoughts as a common symptom,” Schmitz said.

Studies have shown that elevated activity in the hippocampus is seen in a broad range of conditions, such as PTSD, anxiety and chronic depression, all of which include a pathological inability to control thoughts, such as excessive worrying or rumination.

While the study did not examine any immediate treatments, Anderson believes it could offer a new approach to tackling intrusive thoughts in these disorders.

“Most of the focus has been on improving functioning of the prefrontal cortex, but our study suggests that if you could improve GABA activity within the hippocampus, this may help people to stop unwanted and intrusive thoughts,” he concluded.

Source: University of Cambridge

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Mindfulness Aids Moms Resiliency When Child Has Critical Illness

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 14:30

New research suggests that mindfulness may offer an active coping mechanism for mothers faced with the stress of having a newborn diagnosed with congenital heart disease (CHD).

Mindfulness involves bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. The technique is often mastered through the practice of meditation and other training.

Mindfulness aims to increase a person’s awareness and acceptance of daily experiences and is currently used in a variety of healthcare settings for stress reduction, emotion, affect and attention regulation.

In the new study, a team of nurse-researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing)  gathered perspectives on coping mechanisms from focus groups with 14 mothers of critically ill infants. Investigators used the encounters to explore the feasibility of mindfulness as a stress-reduction technique.

“Mothers of infants with complex congenital heart disease are exposed to increased stress, which has been associated with numerous adverse outcomes,” said Barbara Medoff-Cooper, PhD, RN FAAN, principal investigator.

“The coping mechanisms these mothers use critically impacts the family’s adaptation to the illness, and most likely infant outcomes as well.”

“Thus far, parental interventions in the CICU generally are informative or educational, aiming to increase parental abilities to actively manage the caretaking demands of an infant with CHD,” said Nadya Golfenshtein, PhD, RN, lead author of the study and a researcher at Penn Nursing.

“Mindfulness can be a helpful tool that assists mothers during an incredibly stressful time for them, and for their family by allowing them to pause and be present in the moment rather than wishing something different was happening or worrying about tomorrow.”

The researchers collected data during focus groups between July 2015 and March 2016. The sessions included a short introduction to mindfulness as a stress reduction intervention, led by a moderator who is a psychotherapist experienced in group formats.

“In the study, mothers described the post-diagnostic period, surgery and the cardiac intensive care unit stay as extremely stressful,” said Amy J. Lisanti, PhD, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K, nurse researcher at CHOP and NRSA postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Many expressed concerns regarding the post-discharge period when they would need to independently handle their infant’s condition. Their increased stress often led them to feel out of control, lethargic and not like themselves.

They acknowledged the importance of stress reduction, recognizing that relief from stress could help them sleep better, recharge energy, focus and think clearly.”

Most of the mothers were impressed with the value of mindfulness, particularly in the way in which it helped them manage difficulty times.

After experiencing a brief guided session of mindfulness in a focus group, one mother said, “Most meditation is about clear your mind and lose focus, but this is to focus on now. I think it works for me, I was never able to do the clear mind thing. This is more accessible to me.”

Another noted, “This is something I’m doing for myself, remembering I’m part of this too. Sometimes you are on autopilot, making sure everyone else is ok. Yes, this is a moment when I’m doing something for myself.”

The mothers agreed that mindfulness should start early, preferably immediately after the prenatal CHD diagnosis. That way, they felt, that they would have time to learn and practice the skill by the time the baby is born.

There was also a general agreement that the worst time to begin the practice is around surgery, as that is an overwhelming time and mothers are too busy to learn a new skill.

The mothers preferred engaging in mindfulness in a private, quiet room as the sounds of the CICU stress them and may prevent them from relaxing.

“We hope to design a program that draws from these findings and more research on mindfulness meditation is needed in a larger cohort of mothers,” added Golfenshtein.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

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Up in Smoke – Air Quality Affects Mental Health

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 12:15

The link between air pollution and detrimental effects on the human respiratory system has been acknowledged for decades. Dirty air can impair breathing and aggravate various lung diseases and some believe air pollution may impact obesity, diabetes and dementia.

University of Washington researchers now believe psychological distress should be added to the list. A new UW-led study shows the higher the level of particulates in the air, the greater the impact on mental health.

The study is believed to be the first to use a nationally representative survey pool, cross-referenced with pollution data at the census block level, to evaluate the connection between toxic air and mental health.

The research appears in the journal Health & Place.

“This is really setting out a new trajectory around the health effects of air pollution,” said Anjum Hajat, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the UW School of Public Health.

“The effects of air pollution on cardiovascular health and lung diseases like asthma are well established, but this area of brain health is a newer area of research.”

Public health authorities have known that where a person lives can make a big difference to health and quality of life. Scientists have identified “social determinants” of physical and mental well-being, such as availability of healthy foods at local grocers, access to nature or neighborhood safety.

Air pollution, too, has been associated with behavior changes – spending less time outside, for instance, or leading a more sedentary lifestyle – that can be related to psychological distress or social isolation.

The UW study looked for a direct connection between toxic air and mental health, relying on some 6,000 respondents from a larger, national, longitudinal study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

Researchers then merged an air pollution database with records corresponding to the neighborhoods of each of the 6,000 survey participants. The team zeroed in on measurements of fine particulate matter, a substance produced by car engines, fireplaces and wood stoves, and power plants fueled by coal or natural gas.

Fine particulate matter is easily inhaled, can be absorbed into the bloodstream and is considered of greater risk than larger particles. Fine particulate matter is very small with the particles averaging less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter –as compared to human hair which is 70 micrometers in diameter.

The current safety standard for fine particulates, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Between 1999 and 2011, the time frame examined in the UW study, survey respondents lived in neighborhoods where fine particulates measured anywhere from 2.16 to 24.23 micrograms per cubic meter, with an average level of 11.34.

The survey questions relevant to the UW study gauged participants’ feelings of sadness, nervousness, hopelessness and the like and were scored with a scale that assesses psychological distress.

Researchers found that the risk of psychological distress increased alongside the amount of fine particulate matter in the air.

For example, in areas with high levels of pollution (21 micrograms per cubic meter), psychological distress scores were 17 percent higher than in areas with low levels of pollution (5 micrograms per cubic meter). Another finding: Every increase in pollution of 5 micrograms per cubic meter had the same effect as a 1.5-year loss in education.

The study was robust in that investigators controlled for other physical, behavioral and socioeconomic factors that can influence mental health, such as chronic health conditions, unemployment and excessive drinking.

Some interesting patterns emerged from the study, explains Victoria Sass, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology.

When the data are broken down by race and gender, black men and white women show the most significant correlation between air pollution and psychological distress: The level of distress among black men, for instance, in areas of high pollution, is 34 percent greater than that of white men, and 55 percent greater than that of Latino men.

A noticeable trend among white women is the substantial increase in distress — 39 percent — as pollution levels rise from low to high.

Precisely why air pollution impacts mental health, especially among specific populations, was beyond the scope of the study, Sass said. But that’s what makes further research important.

“Our society is segregated and stratified, which places an unnecessary burden on some groups,” Sass said. “Even moderate levels can be detrimental to health.”

Air pollution, however, is something that can be mitigated, Hajat said, and has been declining in the United States. It’s a health problem with a clear, actionable solution. But it requires the political will to continue to regulate air quality, Sass added.

“We shouldn’t think of this as a problem that has been solved,” she said. “There is a lot to be said for having federal guidelines that are rigorously enforced and continually updated. The ability of communities to have clean air will be impacted with more lax regulation.”

Source: University of Washington

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Time on Social Media Not Linked to Mental Health Issues in Young People

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 11:30

Apparently, the way young individuals use social media is more important than the amount of time a person spends online.

A new study provides some assurance that strong social media use is not linked to possible mental health problems such as loneliness, decreased empathy and social anxiety.

In the new research, Chloe Berryman of the University of Central Florida, found no evidence supporting the view that the amount of time spent on social media affects mental health in young people.

The study appears in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly

“We do not deny the potential for some online behaviors to be associated with mental health problems, rather we propose that research focus on the behavior of individuals rather than assume media is the root cause of all socio-personal problems,” says Berryman.

Berryman compares the response or push-back that some people have to social media to a form of “moral panic” such as that surrounding video games, comic books and rock music.

Berryman and her colleagues analyzed the responses of 467 young adults to a variety of questionnaires.

The young adults were questioned about the amount of time per day they spent using social media, the importance it has in their lives, and the way they used social media.

Investigators assessed their current mental health state and levels of social anxiety. Moreover, the quality of their relationship with their parents and the amount of social support that they could count on were also assessed.

Aspects such as general mental health symptoms, suicidal ideation, loneliness, social anxiety and decreased empathy were also considered.

Researchers believe the only worrying trend had to do with vaguebooking — which refers to a person’s tendency to write social media posts that contain little actual and clear information — but are worded in such a way as to solicit attention and concern from potential readers.

Young people who tended to often write such posts were found to be lonelier, and to have more suicidal thoughts than others.

“Vaguebooking was slightly predictive of suicidal ideation, suggesting this particular behavior could be a warning sign for serious issues,” says Berryman.

“It is therefore possible that some forms of social media use may function as a ‘cry for help’ among individuals with pre-existing mental health problems.”

“Overall, results from this study suggest that, with the exception of vaguebooking, concerns regarding social media use may be misplaced,” she adds.

“Our results are generally consistent with other studies which suggests that how people use social media is more critical than the actual time they spend online with regards to their mental health.”

Source: Springer

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Menopausal Hot Flashes, Night Sweats Tied to Type of Sleep Apnea

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 12:15

A new study finds that the hot flashes and night sweats experienced by many middle-aged women may be associated with an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep condition which involves repeated stopping and starting of breathing during sleep.

In fact, the researchers found that the more severe the hot flashes and night sweats were in women, the higher their risk for the sleep condition.

Besides leading to poorer quality of sleep, obstructive sleep apnea may cause serious health problems in women, including increased risks of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is often thought of as a man’s disease, and men’s symptoms are more outwardly noticeable, in large part because of snoring,” said Stephanie Faubion, M.D.

“However, the risk for obstructive sleep apnea in women goes up in their menopausal years. The symptoms they face — headache, insomnia, anxiety, depression, in addition to the more common symptoms of snoring and fatigue — may not be as audible or visible to others, but they pose just as much risk to overall health.”

To investigate the condition in middle-aged women, researchers used the Data Registry on Experience of Aging, Menopause and Sexuality, which holds health information on women seen in the Women’s Health Clinic at Mayo Clinic.

Their findings show that, of the patients seen between May 2015 and December 2016, self-reported severe hot flashes and night sweats were linked to an intermediate to high risk of obstructive sleep apnea. Women with high blood pressure and those who were obese were at a particularly high risk, but women with a healthy body mass index were also at risk.

Two years after the clinical check-up when patients self-reported their hot flashes and night sweats, 65 percent of the group that showed intermediate or high risk of obstructive sleep apnea still was not diagnosed with the condition.

“Hot flashes and night sweats may be overlooked as a risk of something more serious,” said Faubion. “The implementation of screening tools during evaluation can help determine what symptoms women are facing, and put us on track to detect and intervene with serious health issues, such as obstructive sleep apnea, sooner.”

Hot flashes and night sweats are experienced by up to 80 percent of women in their menopause years. In addition, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Menopause.

Source: Mayo Clinic

 

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Nightmares May Be Associated with Self-Harm

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 11:30

Emerging research finds a link between nightmares and self-harm such as cutting or burning oneself.

The link between nightmares and self-abuse aligns with prior studies that discovered an association between sleep problems such as nightmares, insomnia and trouble falling asleep, to suicide and attempted suicide.

“We’re seeing sleep disturbances linked to so many psychological disorders, including depression and suicide,” said Florida State University doctoral student Chelsea Ennis. Ennis is the lead author of the paper published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry.

“We found only nightmares were related to self-injury.”

Ennis has seen many forms of self-injury in her work as a therapist at FSU’s Psychology Clinic on campus, including patients who cut, burn or scrape their skin. Some use many different ways to hurt themselves.

One of the main reasons people engage in self-injurious behavior is to deal with a negative emotion or something that has become so upsetting, they don’t know how to cope. As such, Ennis wondered whether that kind of behavior, clinically known as “nonsuicidal self-injury,” was linked to general sleep problems.

In the study, Ennis tested whether nightmares are related to self-injury with data from two samples: patients at the clinic and undergraduate students. Ennis found a specific link between nightmares and self-injury in both samples, even after accounting for depression.

Other sleep problems, such as insomnia, did not show a connection to nonsuicidal injury.

“Dreams function to regulate and process our emotions, so when we have nightmares we are not processing properly,” said Ennis. “It’s a breakdown of what is supposed to happen in our emotional regulation process.”

That breakdown in a person’s ability to normally process negative emotions could cause a surge in emotional dysregulation — including severe mood fluctuations, angry outbursts or aggression — and those volatile emotions can raise the risk of self-injury.

In the research, Ennis tested whether emotional dysregulation might explain the link between nightmares and self-injury.

“We found emotional dysregulation fully accounted for the relationship between nightmares and self-injury,” Ennis said.

The study found people who experienced more intense and frequent nightmares had a 1.1 times higher risk of self-injury, which, Ennis noted, was a small effect. However, another much larger research study found similar results and a larger risk.

Ennis attributes the findings to the fact that nightmares disrupt a person’s normal ability to deal with emotions.

Nightmares take many forms, but certain themes emerge depending on a person’s experience. A traumatic event can trigger vivid, recurrent nightmares that jolt you awake and make your heart pound; other distressing themes might include the sensation of falling off a cliff or trying to sprint away from a threat but moving in slow motion.

If a person experiences those kinds of nightmares a couple of times a week and they’re disruptive, Ennis believes it’s a concern.

“If you have an upsetting nightmare once a week, that’s likely not problematic,” Ennis said. “But if nightmares start to interfere with your sleeping to the point where you’re afraid to go to sleep or you feel like you’re not getting adequate rest, that’s when it is a problem.”

And that’s when it deserves medical attention. Ennis said there are simple, effective treatments for nightmares and other sleep problems, including cognitive behavioral therapy.

With an estimated 17 percent of teenagers and 13 percent of young adults suffering from self-injurious behaviors each year, as well as more than 44,000 Americans dying by suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ennis said the problem demands more study.

“We especially need more longitudinal research because it makes sense that nightmares can cause emotional dysregulation and then later self-injury,” Ennis said. “It fits in the puzzle, but more research is needed at this point.”

Source: Florida State University

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Specific Brain Region Linked to Arousal & Reactivity in PTSD

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 13:45

A new study links over-activity in a small part of the brainstem to heightened arousal and reactivity, core symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Swedish researchers discovered the PTSD symptoms were associated with excessive brain activity in the locus coeruleus (LC), which is involved with physiological responses to stress and panic.

Dr. Christoph Mueller-Pfei and colleagues at the University of Zurich correlated brain imaging data with body responses. The new paper is the first to provide direct human evidence for a theory over 30 years old.

Pinpointing the origin of symptoms in the brain is a major step in efforts to improve treatment options for patients with the disorder.

“The authors are to be congratulated on imaging this part of the brain,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, the journal in which the study appears.

“Demonstrating the presence of LC hyperactivity in PTSD sets the stage for clarifying the relationship of LC activity to stress response, resilience, PTSD symptoms, and the treatment of PTSD,” he added.

In the study, first author Christoph Naegeli, also of University of Zurich, and colleagues analyzed 54 participants who had been exposed to trauma, about half of whom developed PTSD.

When the participants listened to random bursts of white noise, those who were diagnosed with PTSD had more frequent eye blinks, and increased heart rate, skin conductance and pupil area responses — indicators of the body’s autonomic response — than participants without PTSD.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity, Naegeli and colleagues found that patients with PTSD had larger brain responses in the LC and other regions wired to the LC that control alertness and motor preparation.

Researchers believe the increased brain activity and autonomic responses measured in the participants provides a biologically plausible explanation for hypervigilance and exaggerated startle responses in PTSD.

However, LC activation was not directly associated with arousal symptoms. Thus, direct links between LC hyperactivity and PTSD symptom severity still need to be demonstrated.

The study may also reveal new avenues for treating these common and disabling symptoms of PTSD.

“Our results suggest that targeting locus coeruleus system hyperactivity with new pharmacological or psychotherapeutic interventions are approaches worthy of further investigation,” said Mueller-Pfeiffer.

Source: Elsevier

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Bilingual Kids May Be Less Impulsive

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 13:00

New research discovers that for students in preschool, speaking two languages appears to be associated with improved inhibitory control.

University of Oregon researchers discovered young students with bilingual abilities were better able to stop a hasty reflexive response and instead select a more adaptive response.

The study used a longitudinal approach to examine the bilingual advantage hypothesis, which suggests that the demands associated with managing two languages confer cognitive advantages that extend beyond the language domain.

The study appears in the journal Developmental Science.

Researchers looked at a national sample of 1,146 Head Start children who were assessed for their inhibitory control at age 4, and then followed over an 18-month period.

The children were divided into three groups based on their language proficiency: Those who spoke only English; those who spoke both Spanish and English; and those who spoke only Spanish at the start of the study but were fluent in both English and Spanish at the follow up assessment.

“At the beginning of the study, the group that entered as already bilingual scored higher on a test of inhibitory control compared to the other two groups,” said the study’s lead author, Dr.  Jimena Santillán.

Follow-up assessments came at six and 18 months. Inhibitory control was assessed using a common pencil-tapping task, in which the participant is instructed to tap a pencil on a desk twice when the experimenter taps once, and vice-versa. This task requires the student to inhibit the impulse to imitate what the experimenter does, and then do the opposite activity instead.

Over the follow-up period, both the bilingual group and the monolingual-to-bilingual transition group showed more rapid inhibitory control development than the group of English-only speakers.

“Inhibitory control and executive function are important skills for academic success and positive health outcomes and well-being later in life,” said study co-author, Dr. Atika Khurana, a professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services.

“The development of inhibitory control occurs rapidly during the preschool years,” she said. “Children with strong inhibitory control are better able to pay attention, follow instructions and take turns. This study shows one way in which environmental influences can impact the development of inhibitory control during younger years.”

Students in this study came from low socioeconomic status families, as is typical of Head Start samples. Such children are in a group known to be at-risk for poorer outcomes related to executive function skills. This population allowed the researchers to compare students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds but who had different language experiences.

Researchers also were able to control for other variables that could be associated with inhibitory control development, such as a child’s age and parenting practices.

The study’s design allowed researchers to focus on the effects of bilingual experience on inhibitory-control development during preschool years.

Previous studies have examined the effects of bilingualism on inhibitory control, but have done so with a focus on one point in time or development and have focused on smaller samples from mostly middle-class backgrounds, said Santillán.

“Many studies have addressed the bilingual advantage hypothesis,” she said. “However, the findings have been inconsistent. Part of the reason is the difficulty of randomly assigning participants to be bilingual or monolingual, which would be the ideal research design.”

The longitudinal approach allowed researchers to see how inhibitory control changed over time for children who were developing bilingualism during the same time period, as well as for those who were already bilingual with those who remained monolingual.

“This allowed us to get closer to capturing the dynamic nature of the development of bilingualism and inhibitory control, both of which change over time, and rule out other potential explanations for the differences observed between groups,” she said.

It was important, she said, to focus on a sample of children who tend to be at risk for not developing inhibitory abilities at the same rate as their peers from higher socioeconomic backgrounds because of the motivation to find factors that could help buffer such children from these negative outcomes.

“We were able to obtain evidence that bilingualism can be a protective factor that helps children develop these cognitive abilities,” Santillán said.

“Provided that more research studies support our results, the findings we’ve obtained could have implications for policies related to bilingual education and could help encourage families to raise their children as bilingual.”

Source: University of Oregon

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Group Exercise May Help With Quality of Life & Stress More Than Going Solo

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 11:30

In a new study which compared the benefits of group exercise to individual exercise, researchers found that those who exercised in a group were able to reduce their stress levels by 26 percent and achieve significant improvements in quality of life, compared to those who worked out alone.

The findings are published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” said Dayna Yorks, D.O., lead researcher on this study. “The findings support the concept of a mental, physical and emotional approach to health that is necessary for student doctors and physicians.”

For the study, researchers at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine recruited 69 medical students — a group known for high levels of stress and self-reported low quality of life — and allowed them to self-select a 12-week exercise program, either within a group setting or as individuals. A control group abstained from exercise other than walking or biking as a means of transportation.

Every four weeks, the students participated in a survey asking them to rate their levels of perceived stress and quality of life in three categories: mental, physical and emotional.

At least once a week, students in the group exercise cohort participated in a 30-minute exercise program called CXWORX, a core strengthening and functional fitness training program. At the end of the 12 weeks, their mean monthly survey scores showed significant improvements in all three quality of life measures: mental (12.6 percent), physical (24.8 percent) and emotional (26 percent). They also reported a 26.2 percent reduction in perceived stress levels.

By comparison, students in the solo fitness cohort were allowed to engage in any exercise schedule they preferred, which could include activities like running and weightlifting, but they had to work out alone or with no more than two partners.

On average the solitary exercisers worked out twice as long, and saw no major improvements in any measure, except in mental quality of life (11 percent increase). Similarly, the control group saw no significant changes in quality of life or perceived stress.

“Medical schools understand their programs are demanding and stressful. Given this data on the positive impact group fitness can have, schools should consider offering group fitness opportunities,” said Yorks. “Giving students an outlet to help them manage stress and feel better mentally and physically can potentially alleviate some of the burnout and anxiety in the profession.”

Source: American Osteopathic Association

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Teen Depression in US Jumps By Nearly Half in 10 Years

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 13:45

A new study finds a startling rise in depression among all Americans, with youth demonstrating the most rapid increase over the last decade.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy found that from 2005 to 2015, depression rose significantly among Americans age 12 and older. Young people between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced a 46 percent increase in reported depression over this time span.

The findings appear online in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Researchers say this is the first study to identify trends in depression by gender, income, and education over the past decade.

“Depression appears to be increasing among Americans overall, and especially among youth,” said Renee Goodwin, Ph.D., of the Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, who led the research.

“Because depression impacts a significant percentage of the U.S. population and has serious individual and societal consequences, it is important to understand whether and how the prevalence of depression has changed over time so that trends can inform public health and outreach efforts.”

The results show that depression increased significantly among persons in the U.S. from 2005 to 2015, from 6.6 percent to 7.3 percent. Notably, the rise was most rapid among those ages 12 to 17, increasing from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 12.7 percent in 2015.

Researchers reviewed data captured from 607,520 respondents to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual U.S. study of persons ages 12 and over. The researchers examined the prevalence of past-year depression annually among respondents based on DSM-IV criteria.

The escalation of depression followed an interesting pattern. Specifically, the increase in rates of depression was most rapid among the youngest and oldest age groups, whites, the lowest income and highest income groups, and those with the highest education levels.

Experts say these results are in line with recent findings on increases in drug use, deaths due to drug overdose, and suicide.

“Depression is most common among those with least access to any health care, including mental health professionals. This includes young people and those with lower levels of income and education,” noted Goodwin.

“Despite this trend, recent data suggest that treatment for depression has not increased, and a growing number of Americans, especially socioeconomically vulnerable individuals and young persons, are suffering from untreated depression.

“Depression that goes untreated is the strongest risk factor for suicide behavior and recent studies show that suicide attempts have increased in recent years, especially among young women.”

Sadly, depression frequently remains undiagnosed, yet it is among the most treatable mental disorders, noted the researchers.

“Identifying subgroups that are experiencing significant increases in depression can help guide the allocation of resources toward avoiding or reducing the individual and societal costs associated with depression,” said Goodwin.

Source: Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health/EurekAlert

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New Twist on Dangerous Trend: Cyberbullying Oneself

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 13:00

Teen self-harm in the form of cutting, scratching or even self-inflicted burns has gained a lot of attention over the last several years. The behaviors obviously cause physical damage and represent internal turmoil. Even more importantly, the actions have been linked to suicide.

More recently, a new form of self-harm in youth has emerged and is a new warning sign, explains a researcher and bullying expert from Florida Atlantic University.

The behavior: “digital self-harm,” “self-trolling,” or “self-cyberbullying,” occurs when adolescents post, send or share mean things about themselves anonymously online. The concern: it is happening at alarming rates and could be a cry for help.

A new study is the first to examine the extent of this behavior and is the most comprehensive investigation of this understudied problem.

“The idea that someone would cyberbully themselves first gained public attention with the tragic suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith in 2013 after she anonymously sent herself hurtful messages on a social media platform just weeks before she took her own life,” said study author Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D.

Hinduja is a professor in FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the College for Design and Social Inquiry, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

“We knew we had to study this empirically, and I was stunned to discover that about 1 in 20 middle- and high-school-age students have bullied themselves online. This finding was totally unexpected, even though I’ve been studying cyberbullying for almost 15 years.”

Hinduja and his collaborator from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., recently published results of their study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The researchers used a nationally representative sample of 5,593 middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 years old living in the United States to find out how many youth participated in digital self-harm, as well as their motivations for such behavior.

The investigators also examined if certain characteristics of offline self-harm also applied to digital forms of self-harm.

Results of the study show that nearly 6 percent of the teens reported that they had anonymously posted something mean about themselves online. Among these, about half (51.3 percent) said they did it just once, about one-third (35.5 percent) said they did it a few times, while 13.2 percent said they had done it many times.

Boys were more likely to participate in this behavior (7 percent) compared to girls (5 percent). Their reasons, however, varied dramatically.

Boys described their behavior as a joke or a way to get attention while girls said they did it because they were depressed or psychologically hurt. This finding is especially worrisome for the researchers as there may be more of a possibility that this behavior among girls leads to attempted or completed suicide.

To ascertain motivations behind the behavior, the researchers included an open-ended question asking respondents to tell them why they had engaged in digital self-harm.

Most comments centered around certain themes: self-hate; attention-seeking; depressive symptoms; feeling suicidal; to be funny; and to see if anyone would react. Qualitative data from the study showed that many who had participated in digital self-harm were looking for a response.

Age and race of the respondents did not differentiate participation in digital self-harm, but other factors did.

Teens who identified as non-heterosexual were three times more likely to bully themselves online. In addition, victims of cyberbullying were nearly 12 times as likely to have cyberbullied themselves compared to those who were not victims.

Those who reported using drugs or participating in deviance, had depressive symptoms, or had previously engaged in self-harm behaviors offline were all significantly more likely to have engaged in digital self-harm.

“Prior research has shown that self-harm and depression are linked to increased risk for suicide and so, like physical self-harm and depression, we need to closely look at the possibility that digital self-harm behaviors might precede suicide attempts,” said Hinduja.

“We need to refrain from demonizing those who bully, and come to terms with the troubling fact that in certain cases the aggressor and target may be one and the same. What is more, their self-cyberbullying behavior may indicate a deep need for social and clinical support.”

Source: Florida Atlantic University/EurekAlert

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Neuro-Emotional Therapy Can Help Cancer Survivors Manage Stress

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 11:30

An integrative medicine study examines how the brain is activated when a neuro-emotional technique (NET) is used to help cancer patients process traumatic memories.

Investigators explain that patients diagnosed and treated for a long-term potentially fatal disease, such as cancer, can accumulate distressing and traumatic experiences along the way. For some cancer survivors, the memories and physical effects of their experience can last long after their final treatments.

The neuro-emotional technique (NET), is a mind-body therapy which uses exposure techniques along with nervous system feedback. This biofeedback combination allows therapists to gauge the patient’s subjective distress and how the body is reacting to it.

In a prior study, researchers found that in just four to five brief sessions, patients who received NET reported much less distress, their overall emotional state improved significantly and the way their brains reacted to stress cues normalized.

The new study discovered NET activates the cerebellum, an area of the brain known to be responsible for balance, movement and coordination.

Researchers from the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadephia say their findings add to the basic understanding of the pathophysiology of traumatic stress.

Moreover, the investigators believe the new findings will help inform both providers and patients on the underlying mechanisms involved with resolving traumatic stress.

The research appears in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

“The results of this study are a breakthrough in understanding how an intervention like NET works, particularly in regard to the cerebellum’s role in the regulation of emotional experiences, said Daniel Monti, M.D., M.B.A.

“We now understand that the cerebellum does much more than coordinate motor activity.”

This provides information that is not usually part of standard interventions, and is what potentially makes NET an especially efficient and efficacious therapeutic solution for traumatic stress.

By showing the link between the cerebellum, limbic (emotional) centers, and autonomic nervous system, the present study expands current understanding of traumatic memories and how and intervention like NET can significantly alleviate the suffering associated with them.

“This is the first study that offers a demonstrable solution for cancer patients with traumatic stress symptoms. It also expands our understanding of the importance of the cerebellum in coordinating traumatic emotions, and the body’s response to them,” said Monti.

This new data suggests that a brief therapeutic course of the NET intervention substantially alters the brain’s response to traumatic memories. The results show the potential importance of the cerebellum in regulating the brain and body’s response to traumatic stress.

“Just four to five brief NET sessions result in significantly less emotional and physical distress, and these improvements are associated with connectivity changes throughout the brain,” said Monti.

“Patients, even those who were skeptical at first, have reported the NET intervention as ‘defusing a bomb’ on ‘the worst anxiety ever.’”

Source: Thomas Jefferson University/Newswise

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1 in 4 Young Adults With Pot Problems Had Anxiety Disorders

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 14:00

https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/media/154193_web.mp4
New research from Duke University has found that about one-quarter of adults whose marijuana use is problematic in early adulthood had anxiety disorders in childhood and late adolescence.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, also shed light on an estimated four percent of adults who endured childhood maltreatment and peer bullying without resorting to chronic marijuana abuse, only to develop problems with the drug between the ages of 26 and 30.

“Given that more states may be moving towards legalization of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes, this study raises attention about what we anticipate will be the fastest growing demographic of users — adults,” said lead author Sherika Hill, Ph.D., an adjunct faculty associate at the Duke University School of Medicine.

“A lot of current interventions and policies in the U.S. are aimed at early adolescent users. We have to start thinking about how we are going to address problematic use that may arise in a growing population of older users.”

The findings are based on data from 1,229 participants in the Great Smoky Mountains Study, a long-term study of residents in 11 counties near the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina, where Hispanics and Latinos are underrepresented and Native Americans are overrepresented compared to the rest of the U.S.

Children were enrolled in the study as young as age nine and have now reached their 30s. From 1993 to 2015, researchers tracked data in numerous areas, including mental health, education, employment, and the use of drugs and alcohol.

The researchers defined problematic marijuana use as daily consumption or a habit that meets diagnostic guidelines for addiction.

They tracked participants’ patterns of use from the college years (ages 19-21) into adulthood (ages 26-30).

The study found that more than three-fourths (76.3 percent) of participants didn’t use or develop a problem with marijuana during this period.

The remaining quarter developed problems that researchers grouped into three profiles: Those with limited problems, persistent problems, and delayed problems.

Limited problematic users, which made up 13 percent of the remaining quarter, had trouble with marijuana either while in school before age 16 or in their late teens and early 20s, but their habits dropped off as they aged.

Researchers said they were somewhat surprised that this group reported the highest levels of family conflict and instability during childhood as compared to others in the study as these factors are often associated with more drug use.

“When this group of children left home, they seemed to do better,” Hill said. “They didn’t have as many children at a young age, and they went further in their education when they were 19 to 21 compared to those with persistent and delayed profiles.”

Persistent users (seven percent) had trouble with marijuana beginning as young as nine years old and their chronic use continued into their late 20s and early 30s, the study discovered.

Large portions of this group had anxiety disorders in both childhood (27 percent) and at ages 19-21 (23 percent).

They also had the highest rates of psychiatric disorders and involvement in the criminal justice system, and most said the majority of their friends were drug users, too.

“This suggests that a focus on mental health and well-being could go a long way to prevent the most problematic use,” Hill said.

Delayed users (four percent) was a small but unique group that made it through adolescence and early adulthood without problematic marijuana use, only to become habitual users between ages 26 and 30.

Blacks were five times as likely as whites to be delayed problematic users in the late 20s and early 30s after not having trouble between the ages 19-21 — a peak time for most marijuana users.

More than half of delayed users were bullied by peers and mistreated by caregivers as children, yet also had lower rates of anxiety, alcohol use, and other hard drug use compared to persistent users.

“What we don’t yet understand is how childhood maltreatment didn’t prompt earlier problematic use of cannabis between ages 19 and 21 —w how individuals could be resilient to that kind of adverse experience for so long,” Hill said. “One theory is that they were somewhat protected by having fewer peers in late adolescence who were substance users, but this is one of the questions we will continue to seek answers for.”

Source: Duke University

 
Photo: Duke Health researchers tracked a group of children in western NC into adulthood and studied their pot use. Anxiety was a significant risk factor for persistent problematic use. Credit: Duke Health.

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Story-Based Psychotherapy May Ease Refugees’ Trauma

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 13:15

A type of therapy called narrative exposure therapy (NET) may be able to improve the mental health of the hundreds of thousands of traumatized refugees coming into Germany, many of whom suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, depression, and/or anxiety disorders. NET has been successfully applied over the last 15 years in conflict zones from East Africa to Sri Lanka, and patients tend to show significant improvement in only a few sessions.

The key principle of NET is a highly valued practice in every culture: telling stories.

“Whenever we have gone through an emotional experience, we try to tell stories. This is how we try to make what we have experienced comprehensible to others,” said NET co-developer Professor Dr. Frank Neuner from Bielefeld University in Germany.

“Refugees have experienced a whole series of traumatic events. We talk together with them about their entire life history and build up a kind of autobiography that enables them to embed the single traumatic experiences in a meaningful context and work out the significance they have in their own personal lives.”

Together with their therapist, traumatized persons work their way repeatedly and chronologically through the negative and positive events in their lives. “The idea is to historicize the traumatic events. This permits closure, so that they no longer threaten the present,” said Neuner.

Neuner designed and tested NET together with Dr. Maggie Schauer and Professor Dr. Thomas Elbert from the University of Konstanz. By working with this method, hundreds of child soldiers, victims of political violence, and war refugees have been able to process their traumatic experiences.

“Realistic estimates state that up to 40 percent of refugees have mental problems. Hence, for the period since 2015, we are talking about several hundred thousand people who are in real need of psychological support,” Neuner said.

“I believe that a large part of the general population is willing to accept that we now need to invest substantially in dealing with these traumatized refugees and that the state must make money available for this. Due to the threats in their home countries, many refugees will be staying with us for a long time. By helping them now, we shall be warding off problems that will otherwise confront us unavoidably in 20 or 30 years time.”

To deliver therapy to people in crisis zones, Neuner and colleagues from the University of Konstanz along with other supporters founded the aid organization Vivo, which trains lay therapists in countries such as Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo. Unlike Germany, the health systems of these countries do not provide access to professional therapists.

“However, even Germany does not have enough therapists to treat all the refugees with traumatic disorders. Many people in Germany already have to wait months for a treatment slot with a therapist,” Neuner said.

“One step towards a solution could be to give NET training to refugees and migrants here in Germany and to employ them within a stepped care model supervised by psychotherapists. However, the German legal situation does not permit this at present.”

NET is already being practiced by professional therapists in Germany. Bielefeld University’s psychotherapy clinic is applying the method in therapy studies not only with refugees but also with survivors of child abuse, rape victims, and veterans.

Source: Bielefeld University

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Sharing Challenges Can Improve Health Care Staff’s Well-Being

Sun, 10/29/2017 - 12:30

Health care workers who regularly share the emotional, social, or ethical challenges they face in the workplace experience less psychological distress, improved teamwork, and increased empathy and compassion for patients and colleagues, according to a new U.K. study.

Researchers from the University of Surrey, Kings College London, the University of Sheffield and the King’s Fund examined the impact of Schwartz Center Rounds on both clinical and non-clinical staff. Rounds are monthly forums that offer a safe space for staff to share experiences with colleagues and to discuss the challenges they face in their work and its impact on them, researchers explained.

For the study, the psychological wellbeing of 500 staff members was measured over an eight-month period, using the clinically validated GHQ-12questionnaire.

Researchers found that the well-being of staff who attended rounds regularly significantly improved, with the proportion of those with psychological distress dropping by half; down from 25 percent to 12 percent.

There was little change in the psychological well-being of staff that did not attend rounds over this period.

When asked of the benefits of rounds, participants noted that attending led to greater understanding, empathy, and tolerance towards colleagues and patients and positive changes in practice.

“Delivering care to patients at some of the most challenging times in their lives has an emotional impact on staff, which undoubtedly impacts on their own well-being and on their work,” said Dr. Jill Maben, professor of nursing at the University of Surrey and formerly of Kings College London.

“Our study is the first in the U.K. to demonstrate that those who regularly attend rounds see significant benefits. Their symptoms of anxiety and depression are reduced, they are better able to cope with the issues they face and have more empathy towards patients and colleagues, which undeniably has a positive impact on those in their care.”

“NHS and hospice staff are the unsung heroes of our society, but the physical and emotional demands placed on them often go unnoticed, leading to high rates of burn out and people often leaving the profession,” added Dr. Cath Taylor, reader at the University of Surrey and formerly of King College London. “Rounds are a unique organizational-wide intervention that we found benefitted many attendees.”

“The rounds offer a unique space for all staff in organizations to come together as equals, to share experiences and listen to one another,” noted Jocelyn Cornwell, Chief Executive of The Point of Care Foundation, which holds the license to promote and support Schwartz Rounds in the UK and Ireland. “In environments in which staff are under tremendous pressure, the rounds offer a much-needed space for reflection and renewal.”

Source: The University of Surrey 

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Stress, Rewards and Even Surprises For Caregivers of Relatives With Dementia

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 14:00

The latest results from the National Poll on Healthy Aging finds that 78 percent of families and friends who are caregivers for up to 5 million Americans with dementia find it stressful.

But the poll also reveals the positive side of caregiving, with 85 percent of family caregivers calling it a rewarding experience.

According to the poll’s findings, 45 percent rated it as “very rewarding,” compared to 19 percent who called it “very stressful.”

However, 40 percent of those who called dementia caregiving very stressful also said it was not rewarding.

Another potential benefit? Perspective — 91 percent of caregivers said they had thought about their own future care needs because of their experience taking care of someone with dementia.

In the present, however, 66 percent of caregivers say their duties interfere with their own life and work, including 27 percent who said they had neglected something related to their own health because of caregiving’s demands on their time.

Only one in four had taken advantage of resources designed to help caregivers, but 41 percent of those who didn’t expressed interest in such support.

The poll, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, collected data from 148 people between the ages of 50 and 80 who take care of a loved one over age 65 with dementia.

The group made up 7 percent of a nationally representative sample, so it represents a sizable number of older adults across the general population, researchers say.

The researchers hope the findings can form the basis for further exploration of caregiving issues specific to dementia.

“We need to understand the challenges, benefits and barriers that dementia caregivers face, because of the important role they play for their loved ones, in their families, and in our society and economy,” said Erica Solway, Ph.D., associate poll director and IHPI senior project manager. “We can see from this report that better support to these family caregivers is needed, which health care providers, family, friends, social service organizations, clergy and policymakers can all help to address.”

Caregivers were most likely to be women, under age 65, and taking care of a parent. Nearly half were employed in addition to being caregivers. They took care of medical needs, household tasks, and other activities to keep their loved one safe. About 25 percent said the person they were caring for couldn’t be left alone for more than an hour.

Solway pointed out that the experience of caregiving may actually help encourage the kind of planning that many Americans haven’t attended to but should, such as completing advance directives, designating someone to make medical decisions in case of serious illness, or engaging in conversations about their wishes as they age.

“Caregiving is a complex experience that affects people across every demographic,” says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “Providing family caregivers with resources to support them in balancing work and life pressures and reducing their stress is critical not only for them but also for those that might care for them in the future.”

The rise in the number of people with dementia has led to the creation of many resources for caregivers that can provide vital support. These range from self-help tools and classes for learning new skills that may be needed in the role, to support groups and respite care that can help give caregivers a break from their duties.

Although the poll didn’t ask why caregivers had or had not turned to such resources, the findings suggest that many caregivers who are not currently doing so want to access them. A lack of time may be a key factor, since two-thirds of the caregivers in the poll said that their caregiving duties had interfered with work, family time, or even getting to the doctor when they had a health problem.

Organizations such as AARP are developing and deploying more local and online resources for caregivers. Health care providers who tend to dementia patients’ medical needs could be a key gateway to specific local and electronic resources for their patients’ caregivers, Solway noted.

But she also observes that health care providers should routinely ask patients if they serve as a caregiver to a loved one, so they can identify and address needs and concerns during the caregiver’s own appointments.

Source: University of Michigan

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Canadian Study: New Immigrant Families Face Many Challenges

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 12:15

New Canadian research shows that many recent immigrants, particularly those who are parents, are at greater risk of mental health problems and financial challenges, and their children are more likely to experience learning setbacks before kindergarten.

Researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto conducted two new studies on the topic, and their findings come as the Canadian government prepares to release its 2018 immigration policy, which it says will boost the economy and help refugees.

The first study, published in the journal PLOS One, finds that parents who are new to Canada have higher rates of depression and emotional problems than new Canadians who are not parents. This finding is particularly strong among immigrants who are single, female or refugees.

In the second study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, the researchers found that the children of many Canadian immigrant families lag behind their peers in learning and development before kindergarten. This includes early reading and math knowledge, attention, and social skills.

The researchers say this happens because many recent immigrant parents are socioeconomically disadvantaged compared to the rest of the population, and many are unable to provide their young children with sufficient learning opportunities before they begin kindergarten.

“When we look at the results of these two studies together, we can see that immigrant families are particularly vulnerable,” said Dr. Dillon Browne, who led the studies during his Ph.D. at OISE.

“Not only are the parents at higher risk for mental health issues and financial challenges, but their kids’ learning development is impacted before they have even reached the classroom — this could have long-term implications,” he continued. “These studies show that it’s important to look at how we as a society can better support new Canadian families.”

In the first study, researchers tracked the self-reported rates of emotional and mental health of 7,000 immigrants to Canada during their first four years in the country. The findings reveal that Canadian immigrants had a high rate of emotional problems, with one-in-three reporting significant challenges by their second year in the country. These rates were even higher among those who were parents.

“When we saw the impact on parents in particular, it prompted us to dig further — we needed to see how their kids were doing,” said Browne.

In their second study, researchers followed 500 immigrant and non-immigrant families in the Greater Toronto Area from the time a child was born until school entry. They found that two-thirds of the struggling families were headed by immigrant parents living in poverty, and whose children were behind in social, emotional and academic skills by the time they entered kindergarten.

“In other words, there were gaps in learning before children entered school due to the family’s living circumstances after arriving in Canada” said Browne.

“One reason is families struggle to provide their children with enrichment and learning opportunities in the early years. Another reason is parents become stressed by economic and employment challenges and struggle to create a household environment that promotes learning.”

The new findings are particularly important given the recent spike in refugees in the country. The researchers say they hope the Canadian government, which will release its 2018 immigration plan on Nov. 1, takes notice.

“Policies need to facilitate socioeconomic success and mental health following arrival in Canada, given the effects of poverty and stress on early learning, and the effects of early learning on society,” said Browne.

Dr. Jennifer Jenkins, Chair of Early Child Development and Education at the Atkinson Centre at OISE, said, “As a society, it is imperative that every child and every family has the opportunity to grow and thrive. This cannot happen unless there is equal opportunity for economic stability and mental health.”

Source: University of Toronto

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Changes in Daylight Savings Time Influence Aggression

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 11:30

While many people greatly anticipate gaining an extra hour sleep when Daylight Saving Time officially ends, new research finds that time changes may be accompanied by increased acts of aggression.

Intuitively, becoming more aggressive after losing an hour of sleep (which happens in the Spring) could be rationalized. However, researchers discovered increased acts of aggression actually happen in the Fall when we gain extra snooze time, and then lessen in the Spring.

Experts note that much has been studied about long-term effects of sleep deprivation. For instance, work by University of Pennsylvania’s Adrian Raine, a Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry and Psychology, connected daytime drowsiness at age 15 to violence at age 24.

In a new study, fourth-year criminology doctoral student Rebecca Umbach wanted to better understand what happens immediately following sleep loss in the short term.

Working with Raine and criminologist Greg Ridgeway, Umbach hypothesized that after a night with an hour less sleep–like what happens the Monday starting DST in the Spring–people would become more antagonistic.

“In the spring, the day after we move into Daylight Saving Time, there are more car accidents, greater stock market losses, more workplace injury, reduced test scores, and higher suicide rates,” Ridgeway says.

Their research, however, told a different story: On Mondays after the start of DST, the overall assault rate dropped by about 3 percent, findings the researchers published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology.

Investigators then looked at the fall time change, when we regain that hour of sleep. To their surprise, they found that assaults rose by about 3 percent the next day–a mirror image of the spring findings. However, they say their supporting evidence here isn’t as robust.

“Sleep problems have previously been associated with increased antisocial and criminal behavior, so we were surprised to find that increased sleep was associated with increased offending,” Raine says.

“This discrepancy is likely due to the fact that 40 to 60 minutes of lost sleep in one night is just not the same as months, or even years, of poor sleep.”

Regardless, the researchers say it is challenging to explain why these results occurred. Umbach surmises it may relate to internal biases.

“You think, ‘If I don’t get a lot of sleep, I’m going to be cranky and angry.’ You assume that’s the way you would react,” she says.

“Your intention is to act more aggressively, but your behavior does not reflect that because you’re tired. You’re too lethargic and sleepy to act.”

Daylight Saving Time made for a logical study subject. For one, research has shown that we tend to lose sleep because of the time switch, as opposed to anticipating the shift and going to bed early.

Secondly, nearly any other Monday of the year could, in theory, act as a control; to isolate sleep as the explanatory variable–rather than changes in weather or daylight, say–the Penn researchers chose the Monday the week after each time switch.

Finally, a large database called the National Incident-Based Reporting System tracks the time, date, and details of individual crimes for many cities across the country. The researchers supplemented this with data from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

Though the researchers don’t currently have plans for follow-up, Raine says anyone who ignores the morning alarm ring might take heed.

“Before we hit that snooze button, perhaps we should stop and think,” he says. “Hit the button and we might end up at least a little grumpier at work, and possibly more aggressive.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania/EurekAlert

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Assessing Risk and Protective Factors for Depression In African-American Men

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 13:45

New research has identified the risk and protective factors that contribute to depressive symptoms in African-American men.

Georgia State University investigators found that African-American men report an average of eight depressive symptoms in a month. They also found that family support, locus of control, self-esteem, chronic stressors and discrimination were significant factors for an African-American male’s psychological health.

Although African-Americans are less likely than whites to meet the criteria for major depressive disorder, they are at increased risk for depressive symptoms. In the new study, researchers focused on identifying the risk and protective factors that contribute to depressive symptoms in African-American men.

Investigators determined the stress process model, a framework for understanding health and health inequalities, was useful for identifying psychosocial risk and protective factors in African-American men.

They found the model explained about half (50 percent) of the depressive symptoms. Investigators believe the findings could be beneficial for directing health initiatives and policies aimed at improving the psychological health of this population.

Interestingly, researchers discovered some of the risk and protective factors influence each other.

For instance, self-esteem and mastery (how people perceive control over things that happen to them) play an important role in mitigating the negative psychological harm associated with lower-income neighborhoods.

Family support also was a buffer for the harmful mental health effects of stress exposure. In fact, investigators discovered family support helped to reduce depressive symptoms associated with higher levels of chronic stressors and daily discrimination.

The findings appear in a special issue of the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

“The factors that contribute to the mental health of African-American men are consistent with research on the factors that are important for the psychological well-being of the general population: coping resources, stress exposure and economic conditions,” said Dr. Mathew Gayman, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Georgia State.

“However, African-American men report, on average, fewer coping resources, greater stress exposure and poorer economic conditions than the general population. It is the systematic disparities in these factors that contribute to race inequalities in psychological health.

Ultimately, if we want to address the increased risk for mental health problems (and mental health generally) experienced by African-American men, we must address the social conditions and forces that shape race disparities in coping resources, stress exposure and economic conditions.”

Using data from a community-based study of Miami-Dade County (Fla.) residents that was linked to neighborhood census data, the researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 people from different ethnic groups between 2000 and 2001. Analysis for this study was limited to only African-American men, a sample of 248 participants.

Depressive symptomatology was assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale. Participants were presented with statements such as “You felt depressed” and “You felt that you could not shake off the blues” in the past month and asked to give responses ranging from 0 (not at all) to 3 (almost all the time). Higher scores represented more symptoms.

Various scales were also used to assess socioeconomic status (individual-level and neighborhood-level), social stressors, daily discrimination, perceived social support, mastery and self-esteem.

About 11 percent of the African-American men reported 16 or more depressive symptoms, a cutoff often used to estimate for clinical-level depression, although depressive symptoms in these men might be underreported because of gender differences in the expression of depression.

Consistent with previous research, this study found individual socioeconomic status in African-American men was not associated with depressive symptoms, possibly because of the often-unrealized rewards associated with higher income and education among African-Americans.

However, the researchers determined African-American men living in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods experienced significantly more depressive symptoms, highlighting the significance of neighborhood socioeconomic status in their psychological health.

Researchers believe that since African-American men are more likely than white counterparts to live in lower-income neighborhoods, public health policies should address specific social determinants associated with certain neighborhoods.

The findings also indicate that while self-reliance through mastery and self-esteem may be important for mitigating the psychological consequences associated with living in relatively poor neighborhoods, the ability to perceive support from one’s family is important.

Indeed, this perception of support is necessary for minimizing the negative mental health consequences of stress exposure for African-American men.

Source: Georgia State University

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Probing Roles of Guilt & Shame in Vets’ PTSD

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 12:15

New research investigates the role of guilt and shame on the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among current and former members of the armed services.

Investigators explain that veterans and military service members have increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and consequent problems with health, psychosocial functioning, and quality of life.

In this population and others, shame and guilt have emerged as contributors to PTSD, but there is a considerable need for research that precisely demonstrates how shame and guilt are associated with PTSD.

The new study, published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, examined whether trauma-related shame or trauma-related guilt play more of a role in PTSD symptoms.

The study, conducted at the University of Tulsa, included analysis of data collected from an online survey. The survey targeted PTSD symptom severity as well as trauma-related guilt and trauma-related shame among 61 American service personnel and veterans.

The research was led by Dr. Katherine C. Cunningham from the Department of Veterans Affairs Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, Durham, N.C.

Study results showed that both shame and guilt predicted the presence of PTSD, jointly accounting for 46 percent of the variance in its severity. However, the research team also found that trauma-related shame accounted for significantly more of that variance than trauma-related guilt.

In this study, the feeling of guilt was defined as being associated with having done something wrong. For instance, “I didn’t keep my friend safe in combat” or “I killed civilians during the war.”

Shame was defined as a belief that one is intrinsically and irrevocably flawed, for example “I’m a failure” or “I’m a monster.”

In other words, guilt arises from the belief that you have done a bad thing and shame from the belief that you are a bad person.

Cunningham believes that guilt may result in more prosocial behavior, because the underlying attributions are tied to a specific harmful action and not to one’s identity.

“Feeling guilty can motivate an attempt to repair and strengthen social relationships by making amends, while feeling shame can lead people to withdraw from society,” Cunningham said.

Researchers believe the study findings provide additional evidence that shame and guilt should be viewed as distinct emotions with unique roles in PTSD.

Moreover, the results highlight the importance of assessing and addressing trauma-related shame and guilt in PTSD treatment among military populations.

Cunningham and her colleagues suggest that emotion- and compassion-focused techniques may be particularly relevant for addressing trauma-related shame and guilt.

Source: British Journal of Clinical Psychology/EurekAlert

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