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Suicide Risk Higher Among Returning Vets Who Are Married

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 13:15

A new study finds that among recently returned veterans, those who are married or living with a partner are at higher suicide risk than soldiers who are single. Moreover, older married female veterans are at the greatest risk.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs discovered that for some veterans, the transition back to a domestic home environment is an overwhelmingly stressful event. They found the pressures, roles, and responsibilities that accompany the transition add to their internal struggles.

Their findings appear in the Archives of Suicide Research.

“It certainly makes sense when you think about it,” said Dr. Crystal Park, UConn psychology professor and one of the study’s co-authors.

“There are added pressures that come with maintaining a relationship and meeting household needs. People may have expectations when they’re away and when they return it’s not what they imagined, the romance may not be there. It’s just the daily grind and that can drive up stress levels and increase feelings of despair.”

Addressing suicidal behavior among veterans is a major public health concern. It is estimated that 20 veterans die daily by suicide and 18 percent of all suicide deaths in the United States are current or former military personnel.

The findings are based on the responses of 772 recently returned veterans who participated in the Survey of Experiences of Returning Veterans (SERV), a longitudinal study overseen by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Given the recent influx of women into the armed services, the survey sought to gauge the experiences of female veterans, in particular. As a result of a targeted recruiting campaign, women represented more than 40 percent of those surveyed, which is more than double the actual representation in the military.

In the survey, the average age of veterans was 35. They had served in Iran, Afghanistan, and surrounding areas as part of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn. Most of them — 62 percent — served in the Army. Seventy-five percent reported exposure to combat.

More than 20 percent of those surveyed reported thoughts of suicide, with six percent reporting a past attempt and current thoughts of suicide. Significantly, the study confirmed prior reports of female veterans, in general, being at increased risk of suicide relative to men.

Younger veterans in their 20s, both male and female, reported much less suicide ideation than older vets in their 40s and 50s who completed the survey. Park suspects the finding may be due to the fact that many older veterans of recent conflicts were members of the National Guard or military reserves who were called into service.

“A lot of the people who went over there weren’t active duty military,” says Park. “They were people who signed up for something but probably never anticipated they would be going to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. They had jobs. They had kids. They had a life that was much different than someone who chooses to enlist in the military.”

The survey also looked at the role veterans’ religious feelings and spirituality might play in increasing or decreasing suicide risk.

Researchers found that veterans who had negative attitudes about religion and spirituality — meaning they felt God was punishing them or that God had abandoned them — were at significantly higher risk for suicide, even after accounting for depression and other variables.

Interestingly, the researchers found that positive feelings about religion and spirituality, such as feelings that God is a partner in your life and someone you can turn to for guidance, support, and strength, did not significantly reduce veterans’ suicide risk.

Most importantly, Park says, the study clearly showed that spiritual struggle among veterans is a separate and independent risk factor for suicide and not just a reflection of people’s depression.

“This suggests that people are experiencing some profound spiritual struggle over and above any depression they might have,” said Park. “What people experience, what they do, and what they witness can have profound negative effects on them when they come back.”

The findings emphasize the importance of religion and spirituality in veteran suicide prevention efforts, the researchers said, and underscore the need for counseling and supports that are both gender specific and tailored to the needs of veterans during their initial reintegration into civilian life.

Source: University of Connecticut

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Short Course of PTSD Therapy Found to Help Vets

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 12:30

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often a debilitating condition requiring several months of treatment, leaving those affected unable to work or care for their families. A new study, however, suggests that many in the military who suffer from PTSD can benefit from an expedited course of treatment.

In the first study of its kind, researchers found that Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy was as effective when administered over two weeks as when it is provided over eight weeks for active-duty military personnel.

The findings from researchers at Penn Medicine, under the leadership of Edna B. Foa, Ph.D., the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and the STRONG STAR Consortium appear in JAMA.

The research team believes that the results obtained among active military personnel also offer possible new treatment options for veterans and civilians.

Experts explain that as many as 10 to 20 percent of military members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks suffer from PTSD.

A constant increase in the number of individuals suffering from PTSD as a result of massive natural disasters, terror attacks, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has prompted an urgent need for effective and efficient evidence-based treatments for PTSD.

“This study not only addresses the pressing need for an effective treatment option for PTSD but also encourages a more speedy treatment and recovery, allowing affected service members to return to active duty sooner and enabling veterans to reintegrate into civilian life more quickly,” said Foa.

“Our findings are good news — about half of those treated achieved remission and many others demonstrated substantial relief from their symptoms. This is critical for the hundreds of thousands of post-9/11 combat veterans affected by PTSD and can do so much to improve lives and assist with military readiness.”

The study was conducted at Fort Hood in collaboration with Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center and was co-led by Alan Peterson, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at UT Health San Antonio and director of the STRONG STAR Consortium. It is the largest and first-ever randomized clinical study of PE for PTSD with active-duty military members.

PE is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves exposure to trauma memories and daily life trauma reminders. Previous studies have proven PE is quite effective for treating civilians and veterans with PTSD.

In this five-year (2011-2016) study, the researchers sought to determine whether PE could have similar success with active-duty military personnel. The researchers examined the benefit of various methods for delivering PE.

Options include:

  • Massed-PE, (10 therapy sessions administered over two weeks) and Spaced-PE (10 sessions administered over eight weeks);
  • Present Centered Therapy (PCT), a non-trauma-focused therapy that involves identifying and discussing daily stressors in 10 sessions over eight weeks;
  • And Minimal Contact Control (MCC), which included supportive phone calls from therapists once weekly for four weeks.

Of the 370 military personnel with PTSD who participated in the single-blind randomized clinical trial, 110 received Massed-PE, 110 received Spaced-PE, 110 received PCT, and 40 received MCC.

Outcomes were assessed before treatment, at two weeks and 12-weeks after treatment, and at six month follow up. Patients who received Massed-PE therapy, delivered over two weeks, saw a greater reduction in PTSD symptoms than those who received MCC.

Importantly, Massed-PE therapy was found to be equally effective to Spaced-PE in reducing PTSD symptom severity. The researchers also found that PCT might be an effective treatment option for PTSD in active military personnel although it was less effective than PE in veteran and civilian PTSD sufferers.

While all participants in the study saw some reduction in PTSD symptoms, the researchers say these symptom reductions were relatively modest, indicating there is still more work to be done with treating active military personnel with PTSD.

“This seminal study validates that combat-related PTSD can be effectively treated in active duty military personnel, and it sets a high benchmark to which future studies will be compared. However, we need to do more,” said Peterson, a retired lieutenant colonel and clinical psychologist with the U.S. Air Force.

“Even with our most effective PTSD treatments, we’re seeing greater challenges to successful recovery from combat-related PTSD.”

The researchers plan to expand their work with the Department of Defense by conducting additional studies: to determine the best methods for training military mental health providers to deliver PE therapy, and; by further tailoring PE treatments to better meet the unique obstacles to successful treatment for combat PTSD.

Source: Penn Medicine/EurekAlert

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Health-Ed Programs on Depression Can Help Teens

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 13:15

A “depression literacy” program for ninth or 10th graders appears to help teenagers speak up and seek adult help for themselves or a peer, suggests a new study.

Johns Hopkins University researchers assessed the effectiveness of Adolescent Depression Awareness Programs (ADAP) that provides selected high school teachers a curriculum geared to students in ninth or 10th grade in the required health education classes.

The program was designed to prevent suffering at a time when adolescent depression rates are on the rise and many believe awareness, early recognition and effective therapies can lead to better outcomes.

Study results appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

“We believe that early treatment and self-recognition of depression are essential for reducing suffering in young people, and our results validate the overall effectiveness of the program,” said Karen Swartz, M.D. Swartz is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and founder of ADAP at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The curriculum focuses on how to recognize symptoms of depression and how clinical depression is diagnosed and treated. It also seeks to take the stigma out of acknowledging and treating depression and recognizes that suicide can be a consequence of depression.

Approaching its 20th year, ADAP has been taught to more than 80,000 high school students. The six-hour training for ADAP instructors is in-person and the three-hour program is taught to students in two to three consecutive classes. Tools include lectures, videos, group activities and homework.

For the evaluation, Swartz and her team looked at data collected from 2012 to 2015 from 6,679 high school students in 54 high schools in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Oklahoma.

Schools were matched and paired for analysis, with one school teaching the curriculum and the other school not teaching it, to serve as a control group for comparison. In all, 2,998 students were in the control group and 3,681 students were taught the ADAP curriculum.

All students filled out the Adolescent Depression Knowledge Questionnaire and the Reported and Intended Behavior Scale just before starting the curriculum, six weeks after taking the course, and four months after the classes to assess improvements in depression literacy and mental health stigma.

Students in York County, Pennsylvania, were also asked to take a modified online version of the Child and Adolescent Services Assessment to determine how many students sought treatment.

Sixty-five teachers participated in an online survey to assess their experience with the curriculum and whether students sought help for depression.

Researchers discovered students who received the ADAP curriculum were more likely to be depression-literate as defined by scoring an 80 percent or more on the 17-question Adolescent Depression Knowledge Questionnaire.

More than 54 percent of students were depression-literate four months after the curriculum, compared with 36 percent of students who weren’t exposed to the curriculum.

Two hundred and one students (average age 16) completed the online Child and Adolescent Services Assessment survey and got parental consent to participate in the study. Of these, 64 percent were girls, and 77 percent identified as white.

Sixteen percent of students said they had sought help for depression or another emotional concern after completing the ADAP curriculum. When asked if they needed treatment, 19 percent of these students said they needed help, and out of these, 44 percent ultimately received treatment for their depression within four months of taking the ADAP curriculum.

Of the 65 teachers who completed the teaching survey, 30 said at least one student reached out to them for help for themselves or a friend.

“In participating schools, ADAP is delivered as part of the standard health education curriculum, which facilitates its sustainability,” said Holly Wilcox, Ph.D., M.A., associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

“We are hoping to adapt this program for middle school students, as the earlier we can reach those at risk, the earlier we can intervene and link them to services.”

The study did have limitations in that the component of the trial that studied which students sought help for depression did not have a control group.

Thus, the researchers don’t know conclusively whether the proportion of students exposed to ADAP who sought help for depression is higher than would occur in those who did not receive ADAP.

Swartz says the goal is to design a web-based program to train a greater number of instructors more quickly. The team also hopes to expand its partnership with states, rather than local and county governments, to increase the reach of the program.

Source: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

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More Than Hour a Day of Screen Time Tied to Teen Unhappiness

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 12:30

A new study suggests teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier, according to  lead author and San Diego State University professor of psychology Dr. Jean M. Twenge.

Twenge, along with colleagues Gabrielle Martin at SDSU and W. Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia, analyzed data from the Monitoring the Future (MtF) longitudinal study, a nationally representative survey of more than a million U.S. 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders.

The survey asked students questions about how often they spent time on their phones, tablets and computers, as well as questions about their face-to-face social interactions and their overall happiness.

Investigators discovered that on average, teens who spent more time in front of screen devices — playing computer games, using social media, texting and video chatting — were less happy than those who invested more time in non-screen activities. Non-screen activities included sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction.

Twenge believes this screen time is driving unhappiness rather than the other way around.

“Although this study can’t show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use,” said Twenge.

Twenge is the author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

Nevertheless, total screen abstinence doesn’t lead to happiness either, Twenge found. The happiest teens used digital media a little less than an hour per day.

But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time, the researchers report today in the journal Emotion.

“The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use,” Twenge said.

“Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising— two activities reliably linked to greater happiness.”

Looking at historical trends from the same age groups since the 1990s, the researchers found that the proliferation of screen devices over time coincided with a general drop-off in reported happiness in U.S. teens.

Specifically, young people’s life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness plummeted after 2012.

That’s the year that the percentage of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50 percent, Twenge noted.

“By far the largest change in teens’ lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep,” she said.

“The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens’ psychological well-being.”

Source: San Diego Stae University/EurekAlert

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Female Relatives May Be Most Difficult – Because They Care

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 14:00

Investigators at the University of California, Berkeley, and Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that when it comes to toxic relationships, blood can be thicker than water.

Participants surveyed for the study were more apt to report that the most difficult people in their lives were female family members such as wives, mothers, and sisters.

That said, close female kin may be disproportionately named as difficult because they are more likely to be actively and emotionally involved in people’s lives, researchers said.

“The message here is that, with female relatives, it can be a two-sided thing. They may be the people you most depend on, but also the people who nag you the most,” said study senior author Dr. Claude Fischer, a sociology professor at UC Berkeley.

“It’s a testament to their deeper engagement in social ties.”

Overall, the findings show that, on average, about 15 percent of the relationships that survey takers talked about were categorized as difficult. Moreover, the conflicts were most often with close kin such as parents, siblings and spouses.

Friends were least likely to be difficult, representing about 6 or 7 percent of the annoying members of social circles for both younger and older adults.

“The results suggest that difficult people are likely to be found in contexts where people have less freedom to pick and choose their associates,” said study lead author Dr. Shira Offer, a professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University.

The researchers analyzed relationship data from more than 1,100 younger and older adults in the San Francisco Bay Area, more than half of whom are female, using the University of California Social Networks Study (UCNets).

Launched in 2015, the multiyear UCNets survey uses face-to-face and online interviews to assess how people’s social connections affect their health and happiness.

“It’s commonly agreed that maintaining strong social ties is healthy,” Fischer said. “But social ties can be as much a source of stress as a source of joy, and so it’s important to understand how different relationships affect our health and well-being.”

For their investigation, Offer and Fischer studied more than 12,000 relationships that ranged from casual friendships to work relations to close family bonds.

Participants were asked to name the people with whom they engaged in different social activities and, of those, identify the ones they found difficult or burdensome.

The relationship categories were divided into two categories.

The first, “difficult only,” characterized ties that participants mentioned solely as difficult. The next, “difficult engaged in exchange ties,” described relationships that are considered difficult but that also include confiding in, and giving and/or receiving emotional and practical support.

Younger people aged 21 to 30 named more “difficult engaged” people in their lives (16 percent) than the older cohort. They most frequently described sisters (30 percent), wives (27 percent), and mothers (24 percent) as being burdensome, and to a lesser degree fathers, brothers, boyfriends and roommates.

Older people in their 50s, 60s and 70s identified about 8 percent of the people in their social networks as “difficult engaged.” Topping their list were mothers (29 percent), female romantic partners (28 percent) and fathers and housemates tied at 24 percent.

As for relationships with co-workers and other acquaintances, younger people named a little over 11 percent of those connections as difficult only. For older people, that number was slightly higher, amounting to 15.5 percent of acquaintances and 11.7 percent of co-workers.

Overall, workplaces were hotbeds of trouble, but not of the “difficult engaged” kind. And, as for why we don’t rid our lives of difficult people:

“Whether it’s an alcoholic father whom you want to cut ties with, an annoying friend with whom you have a long history or an overbearing boss, relationships are complicated, and in many cases unavoidable,” Fischer said.

Their study appears in the American Sociological Review.

Source: University of California – Berkeley

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Learning & Memory Problems Begin Early in OCD

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 01:00

A new study has found that adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge say their findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help they needed at school to realize their potential  — including helping one go on to university.

Almost 90 percent of adolescent patients with OCD have problems at school, home, or socially, according to researchers, who note that difficulties doing homework and concentrating at school are the two most common problems.

And if an adolescent is not doing well in school, they are likely to become stressed and anxious, the researchers add.

The University of Cambridge researchers previously showed that there are problems of cognitive inflexibility in adults with OCD. Since flexibility in problem-solving is an important skill for performance in school, they wanted to study whether adolescents with OCD had difficulty in this area.

Cognitive flexibility becomes important when trying to find the correct solutions to a problem, particularly when your first attempt at solving that problem does not work. To reach the correct solution, you have to switch to a new approach from the one you were previously using.

In healthy individuals, there is a balance between goal-directed control and habit control, and this balance is crucial for daily functioning, the researchers noted.

For example, when learning to drive, we focus on specific goals, such as traveling at the right speed, staying within the traffic lines, and following safety rules. We often have strategies to perform these tasks optimally. However, once we are an experienced driver, we frequently find that driving becomes habitual.

In new situations, healthy people tend to use goal-directed control. However, under conditions of stress, they frequently select habitual learning.

In the new study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, researchers looked at whether cognitive flexibility for learning tasks and goal-directed control was impaired early in the development of OCD.

For the study, researchers had 36 adolescents with OCD and 36 healthy young people complete learning and memory tasks. The computerized tests included recognition memory  — remembering which of two objects they had seen before — and episodic memory  — where in space they remember seeing an object.

A subset of 30 participants in each group also carried out a task designed to assess the balance of goal-directed and habitual behavioral control.

The researchers found that adolescent patients with OCD had impairments in all learning and memory tasks.

The study also demonstrated for the first time impaired goal-directed control and lack of cognitive plasticity early in the development of OCD, the researchers report.

“While many studies have focused on adult OCD, we actually know very little about the condition in teenagers,” said Dr. Julia Gottwald, the study’s first author. “Our study suggests that teens with OCD have problems with memory and the ability to flexibly adjust their actions when the environment changes.”

“I was surprised and concerned to see such broad problems of learning and memory in these young people so early in the course of OCD,” added Professor Barbara Sahakian, senior author. “It will be important to follow this study up to examine these cognitive problems further and in particular to determine how they impact on clinical symptoms and school performance.”

Experiencing learning and memory problems at school could affect self-esteem, the researchers said. They added that some symptoms seen in people with OCD, such as compulsive checking, may result from them having reduced confidence in their memory ability. The stress of having difficulty in learning may also start a negative influence and promote inflexible habit learning.

“This study has been very useful in assisting adolescents with OCD with the help they needed at school in terms of structuring the environment to ensure that there was a level playing field,” said Dr. Anna Conway Morris. “This allowed them to receive the help they needed to realize their potential.”

“One person with OCD was able to obtain good A Levels and to be accepted by a good university where she could get the support that she needed in order to do well in that environment,” she continued.

Future studies will examine in more detail the nature of these impairments and how they might affect clinical symptoms and school performance, the researchers said.

Source: University of Cambridge

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Mental Health Diagnoses Up Among Teens in Finland

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 14:15

An increasing number of adolescents have been diagnosed with a psychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorder, according to a national register study comparing Finnish birth cohorts from 1987 with 1997.

The largest increase was seen among girls who made special health care visits related to depression and anxiety.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Turku, Finland, and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), was published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal.

The study is part of an extensive research project and was led by research professor Mika Gissler, Ph.D., from THL. Their findings show that the share of girls who received a psychiatric or neurodevelopmental diagnosis was 10 percent in the older cohort (1987) and 15 percent in the younger cohort (1997).

For boys, six percent in the older cohort and nine percent in the younger cohort received a diagnosis. The diagnoses were recorded for both cohorts between ages 12 and 18.

In particular, the increase in the number of depression and anxiety diagnoses is a burden on special health care, say the researchers. The main form of treatment for both is psychotherapy, the availability of which is limited, noted the main author of the study, Docent David Gyllenberg.

The study does not necessarily indicate an increase in the psychiatric problems of adolescents, even though the findings point out a significant increase in the adolescents’ use of mental health care services, according to Professor of Child Psychiatry Andre Sourander, leader of the University of Turku research group.

It is a good thing that young people seek help, said Sourander, and those who need it receive treatment. The study suggests that the threshold for seeking help has lowered and the stigma related to it has been reduced, he says.

He said it would be important to examine whether adolescents with a certain diagnosis have received evidence-based treatment.

The researchers estimate that the growing burden on mental health care services should be alleviated by developing early identification and low threshold support models for primary health care in particular.

On the other hand, a significant group of adolescents is currently without special health care, as the service system is not very effective at identifying adolescents at risk of suicide. Less than a third of adolescents who died by suicide had received specialized services in the six months prior to their death. This finding is in line with previous study results.

Source: University of Turku

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Does Threat of Climate Change Affect Mental Health

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 12:30

Many people believe climate change is the driving force behind extreme weather events, be it unprecedented flooding, wildfires or hurricanes. Historically, the threat of being directly impacted by these events has been small but times may have changed as reports of such incidents continue to rise.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Arizona set out to learn more about how people’s perception of the threat of global climate change affects their mental health.

Investigators discovered that while some people have little anxiety about the Earth’s changing climate, others are experiencing high levels of stress, and even depression.

While significant research has explored the environmental impacts of climate change, far fewer studies have considered its psychological effect on humans.

In the study, UA researcher Sabrina Helm, an associate professor of family and consumer science found that psychological responses to climate change seem to vary based on what type of concern people show for the environment. Individuals displaying the most concern about the planet’s animals and plants were also experiencing the most stress.

The researchers outline three distinct types of environmental concern:

    • Egoistic concern is concern about how what’s happening in the environment directly impacts the individual; for example, a person might worry about how air pollution will affect their own lungs and breathing.
    • Altruistic concern refers to concern for humanity in general, including future generations.
    • Biospheric concern refers to concern for nature, plants and animals.

The findings appear in the journal Global Environmental Change.

An online survey of 342 parents of young children, found that those who reported high levels of biospheric concern also reported feeling the most stressed about global climate change.

However, among those whose concerns were more egoistic or altruistic reports of significant stress related to the phenomenon were absent.

In addition, those with high levels of biospheric concern were most likely to report signs of depression, while no link to depression was found for the other two groups.

“People who worry about animals and nature tend to have a more planetary outlook and think of bigger picture issues,” Helm said.

“For them, the global phenomenon of climate change very clearly affects these bigger picture environmental things, so they have the most pronounced worry, because they already see it everywhere.

“We already talk about extinction of species and know it’s happening. For people who are predominantly altruistically concerned or egoistically concerned about their own health, or maybe their own financial future, climate change does not hit home yet.”

Those with high levels of biospheric concern also were most likely to engage in pro-environmental day-to-day behaviors. These activities may include recycling or energy savings measures.

Moreover, these individuals were the most likely to engage in coping mechanisms to deal with environmental stress. Strategies utilized ranged from denying one’s individual role in climate change to seeking more information on the issue and how to help mitigate it.

Although not generally stressed about climate change, those with high levels of altruistic concern, or concern for the well-being of others, also engaged in some environmental coping strategies and pro-environmental behaviors — more so than those whose environmental concerns were mostly egoistic.

“Climate change is a persistent global stressor, but the consequences of it appear to be slowly evolving; they’re fairly certain to happen — we know that, now — but the impact on individuals seems to be growing really slowly and needs to be taken very seriously,” said Helm.

The research, Helm said, has important public health implications.

“Climate change has evident physical and mental health effects if you look at certain outcomes, such as the hurricanes we had last year, but we also need to pay very close attention to the mental health of people in everyday life, as we can see this, potentially, as a creeping development,” Helm said.

“Understanding that there are differences in how people are motivated is very important for finding ways to address this, whether in the form of intervention or prevention.”

Source: University of Arizona

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Cognitive Training for Some Older Adults May Improve Memory

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 14:00

A new Canadian study finds that older adults with mild cognitive impairment were able to significantly improve memory with a specific cognitive training program.

The research appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) affects people who are in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI may have mild memory loss or other difficulties completing tasks that involve cognitive abilities.

MCI may eventually develop into dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Depression and anxiety also can accompany MCI, and these conditions can increase the risk of mental decline as people age.

In the study, scientists from research centers in Montreal and Quebec City investigated whether cognitive training, a medication-free treatment, could improve MCI.

Studies show that activities that stimulate your brain, such as cognitive training, can protect against a decline in your mental abilities. Even older adults who have MCI can still learn and use new mental skills.

In the study, researchers recruited 145 older adults around the age of 72 from Canadian memory clinics. The participants had been diagnosed with MCI, and were assigned to one of three groups. Each group included four or five participants, and met for eight weekly sessions for 120 minutes.

The three groups were:

• Cognitive training group. Members of this group participated in the MEMO program (MEMO stands for a French phrase that translates to “training method for optimal memory”). They received special training to improve their memory and attention span.
• Psychosocial group. Participants in this group were encouraged to improve their general well-being. They learned to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and find ways to increase positive situations.
• Control group. Participants had no contact with researchers and didn’t follow a program.

During the time the training sessions took place, 128 of the participants completed the project. After six months, 104 completed all the sessions they were assigned.

People in the MEMO group increased their memory scores by 35 to 40 percent, said Sylvie Belleville, Ph.D., a senior author of the study. “Most importantly, they maintained their scores over a six-month period.”

What’s more, the improvement was the largest for older adults with “delayed recall.” This means memory for words measured just 10 minutes after people have studied them. Because delayed memory is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease, this was a key finding.

Importantly, the instruction instilled a new skill to solidify memory.

Specifically, those who participated in the MEMO group said they used the training they learned in their daily lives. The training gave them different ways to remember things.

For example, they learned to use visual images to remember names of new people, and to use associations to remember shopping lists. These lessons allowed them to continue maintaining their memory improvements after the study ended. The people in the psychosocial group and the control group didn’t experience memory benefits or improvement in their mood.

Source: American Geriatrics Society

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Severe Bullying in Childhood May Hike Teen Mental Health Risk

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 14:00

New research finds that teens who were severely bullied as children by peers are at higher risk of mental health issues including suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Investigators discovered the severity of the victimization is the primary factor toward development of subsequent mental health issues.

Canadian investigators reviewed data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development on 1363 children born in 1997/98 who were followed until age 15 years. Researchers assessed children, based on self-reporting about peer victimization, at ages 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, and 13 years.

Study participants came from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, family structures, with slightly more females (53 percent) than males. They were categorized into none/low victimization, moderate victimization and severe victimization.

The study appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

“Our findings showed a general tendency, in about 15 percent of the children, of being exposed to the most severe levels of victimization from the beginning of their education until the transition to high school,” writes Dr. Marie-Claude Geoffroy, McGill University, Montréal, Quebec, with coauthors.

“Those children were at greater risk of debilitating depressive/dysthymic symptoms or anxiety and of suicidality in adolescence than less severely victimized children, even after we accounted for a plethora of confounders assessed throughout childhood.”

Children who experienced severe peer victimization were more than twice as likely to report depression or low moods at age 15 compared with those who experienced low or no victimization, and 3 times more likely to report anxiety.

Most troubling, the severe victimization group was almost 3.5 times more likely to report serious suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts compared with the none/low group.

Children who experienced moderate victimization were not at increased risk of reporting mental health problems.

About 59 percent of participants had experienced some peer victimization in the first years of elementary school, although it generally declined as the children grew older.

“Although peer victimization starts to decrease by the end of childhood, individuals in the severe trajectory group were still being exposed to the highest level of victimization in early adolescence,” write the authors.

“Our results, along with those of many other studies, suggest that severe peer victimization may contribute to the development of mental health problems in adolescence. Therefore, it is important to prevent severe victimization early in the lifespan,” they say.

They urge starting antibullying initiatives before children enter school.

Source: Canadian Medical Journal

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Review of Genetic Biomarkers Improves Depression Therapy

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:30

Unfortunately, prescription of an effective anti-depressant medication is often a hit and miss proposition as an individual’s genetic make-up often determines if the medication works or not.

New research suggests checking a person’s genetic profile before prescribing an anti-depressant medication can help with the selection of the most effective medication.

The study finds that the failure of the current generation of antidepressant medications — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) occur because of genetic variations within the gene that encodes the CYP2C19 enzyme.

Researchers assessed the effectiveness of the SSRI escitalopram (Lexapro) and discovered variants in this gene results in extreme differences in the levels of escitalopram within a person’s blood profile – often limiting effectiveness.

Accordingly, prescribing the dose of escitalopram based on a patient’s specific genetic constitution would greatly improve therapeutic outcomes. The study, conducted at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden in association with researchers at Diakonhjemmet Hospital in Oslo, Norway, appears in the The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Pharmaceutical treatment of depression commonly makes use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) of which escitalopram is the most frequently administered clinically.

However, escitalopram therapy is currently limited by the fact that some patients do not respond well to the drug, while others develop adverse reactions requiring discontinuation of treatment.

In order to individualize drug therapy, researchers are attempting to establish genetic biomarkers that can predict an individual’s response to drugs.

In a recent study, it was discovered that variation in the gene encoding the enzyme responsible for escitalopram metabolism (CYP2C19) is very important in this respect.

Individuals with a variant of the gene promoting increased enzyme expression had blood levels of escitalopram too low to impact the depression symptoms, whereas patients with a defective CYP2C19 gene reached drug levels which were too high.

Overall, one third of the 2,087 study participants achieved escitalopram blood levels that were either too high or too low.

Interestingly, the researchers found that 30 per cent of the patients carrying gene variants causing excessive or inadequate enzyme levels switched to other drugs within one year, in contrast with only 10 to 12 percent of patients carrying the common gene.

“Our study shows that genotyping of CYP2C19 could be of considerable clinical value in individualizing doses of escitalopram so that a better all-round antidepressive effect could be achieved for the patients,” says Professor Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg who led the study together with Professor Espen Molden.

“Because CYP2C19 is involved in the metabolism of many different SSRIs, the finding is also applicable to other types of antidepressants.”

Source: Karolinska Institutet

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Disruption of Neural Networks May Impact Fibromyalgia Pain

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 14:45

New research finds that hyperreactive brain networks could play a part in the hypersensitivity of fibromyalgia.

The study suggests the human nervous system has common characteristics to an electric power grid whereby a small disruption in one area of the network can cause the entire network to go awry.

Investigators from the University of Michigan and Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea discovered that patients with fibromyalgia have brain networks primed for rapid, global responses to minor changes.

This abnormal hypersensitivity, called explosive synchronization (ES), is a finding that has been observed in other network phenomena across nature. The discovery of ES in the brains of people with fibromyalgia helps to explain why widespread, chronic pain is often experienced.

The paper, published in Scientific Reports, is only the second study to detail ES in human brain data.

“For the first time, this research shows that the hypersensitivity experienced by chronic pain patients may result from hypersensitive brain networks,” said co-senior author Richard Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology at Michigan Medicine.

“The subjects had conditions similar to other networks that undergo explosive synchronization.”

In ES, a small stimulus can lead to a dramatic synchronized reaction in the network, as can happen with a power grid failure (that rapidly turns things off) or a seizure (that rapidly turns things on).

This phenomenon was, until recently, studied in physics rather than medicine. Researchers say it’s a promising avenue to explore in the continued quest to determine how a person develops fibromyalgia.

“As opposed to the normal process of gradually linking up different centers in the brain after a stimulus, chronic pain patients have conditions that predispose them to linking up in an abrupt, explosive manner,” says first author UnCheol Lee, Ph.D., a physicist and assistant professor of anesthesiology at Michigan Medicine. These conditions are similar to other networks that undergo ES, including power grids, Lee says.

The researchers recorded electrical activity in the brains of 10 female participants with fibromyalgia. Baseline EEG results showed hypersensitive and unstable brain networks, Harris says.

Importantly, there was a strong correlation between the degree of ES conditions and the self-reported intensity of chronic pain reported by the patients at the time of EEG testing.

Lee’s research team and collaborators in South Korea then used computer models of brain activity to compare stimulus responses of fibromyalgia patients to the normal condition.

As expected, the fibromyalgia model was more sensitive to electrical stimulation than the model without ES characteristics, Harris said.

“We again see the chronic pain brain is electrically unstable and sensitive,” he said.

Harris noted this type of modeling could help guide future treatments for fibromyalgia. Since ES can be modeled essentially outside of the brain or in a computer, researchers can exhaustively test for influential regions that transform a hypersensitive network into a more stable one. These regions could then be targeted in living humans using noninvasive brain modulation therapies.

George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., co-senior author and professor of anesthesiology at Michigan Medicine, said, “This study represents an exciting collaboration of physicists, neuroscientists and anesthesiologists. The network-based approach, which can combine individual patient brain data and computer simulation, heralds the possibility of a personalized approach to chronic pain treatment.”

Source: University of Michigan

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Early Symptom Patterns May Help ID Young People At Risk of Bipolar Disorder

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 14:00

New research suggests two patterns of early symptoms appear to precede then predict bipolar disorder (BD),  and may help to identify young persons at increased risk of developing the illness.

One pattern of early BD consists mainly of symptoms and features associated with mood disorders – termed a characteristic “homotypic” pattern. The other predictive pattern or “heterotypic” pattern, includes other symptoms such as anxiety and disruptive behavior. Environmental risk factors and exposures can also contribute to BD risk.

The authors reviewed and analyzed data from 39 studies of early symptoms and risk factors for later development of BD. Their analysis focused on high-quality evidence from prospective studies in which data on early symptoms and risk factors were gathered before BD was diagnosed.

BD is commonly preceded by early depression or other symptoms of mental illness, sometimes years before BD develops – often indicated by onset of mania or hypomania.

Nevertheless, the authors note that “the prodromal (early) phase of BD remains incompletely characterized, limiting early detection of BD and delaying interventions that might limit future morbidity.”

The evidence reviewed suggested two patterns of early symptoms that “precede and predict” later BD. A homotypic pattern consisted of affective or mood-associated symptoms that are related to, but fall short of, standard diagnostic criteria for BD.

These symptoms may include mood swings, relatively mild symptoms of excitement, or major depression, sometimes severe and with psychotic symptoms.

The authors note that homotypic symptoms have “low sensitivity;” that is, most young people with these mood symptoms do not later develop BD.

However, this symptom pattern also had “moderate to high specificity;” homotypic symptoms do occur in many patients who go on to develop BD.

The heterotypic pattern consisted of other types of prodromal or potential early symptoms, such as early anxiety and disorders of attention or behavior.

This pattern had low sensitivity and specificity: relatively few patients with such symptoms develop BD, while many young people without heterotopic symptoms do develop BD.

The study findings also associate several other factors with an increased risk of developing BD, including preterm birth, head injury, drug exposures (especially cocaine), physical or sexual abuse, and other forms of stress. However, for most of these risk factors, both sensitivity and specificity are low.

Although many elements of the reported patterns of prodromal symptoms and risk factors have been identified previously, the study increases confidence that they are related to the later occurrence of BD.

The researchers note that the findings of high-quality data from prospective studies are “encouragingly similar” to those of previous retrospective and family-risk studies.

“There was evidence of a wide range of [psychiatric] symptoms, behavioral changes, and exposures with statistically significant associations with later diagnoses of BD,” the authors concluded.

With further study, the patterns of prodromal symptoms and risk factors may lead to new approaches to identifying young persons who are likely to develop BD, and might benefit from early treatment. The investigators add that predictive value might be even higher with combinations of multiple risk factors, rather than single predictors.

The analysis appears in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. The research team was led by Ciro Marangoni, M.D., at the Department of Mental Health, Mater Salutis Hospital, Legnato, Italy; Gianni L. Faedda, M.D., Director of the Mood Disorder Center of New York, N.Y.; and Professor Ross J. Baldessarini, M.D., Director of the International Consortium for Bipolar & Psychotic Disorders Research at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Source: Wolters Kluwer/EurekAlert

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Stigma of Mental Illness Linked to Mix of Beliefs About Causes

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:30

A new study finds that campaigns to treat mental illness as a disease and remove stigma may be lacking because people also tend to believe that other factors such as bad character may play a role, muddying the picture.

Baylor University researchers focused on stigma toward individuals suffering from depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism.

“Individuals who endorse biological beliefs that mental illness is ‘a disease like any other’ also tend to endorse other, non-biological beliefs, making the overall effect of biological beliefs quite convoluted and sometimes negative,” said lead author Matthew A. Andersson, Ph.D.

The study is published in the American Sociological Association’s journal Society and Mental Health.

Findings suggest that beliefs about causes of mental illness could be addressed in public campaigns and by policymakers in different and more beneficial ways than they are now, according to Andersson and co-author Sarah K. Harkness, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at the University of Iowa.

Although many in the mental health community — including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — see the shift in views toward genetic or chemical causes as encouraging, mental illness unfortunately still draws negative social reactions, researchers said.

That reaction often is measured by how much people want to keep a distance from those dealing with mental illness or viewed as being potentially dangerous.

The study analyzed data from the 2006 General Social Survey which presented a random sample of 1,147 respondents with theoretical situations involving individuals suffering from symptoms of depression, schizophrenia or alcoholism.

Respondents then completed six items from the General Social Survey about how likely they thought it was that certain factors had caused the mental health problem. Those factors included:

  • Bad character
  • A chemical imbalance in the brain
  • The way he or she was raised
  • Stressful circumstances in his or her life
  • A genetic or inherited problem
  • God’s will

Researchers then measured stigma by asking respondents how willing they would be to have a person like the one in the vignette (1) move next door; (2) start working closely with them on a job; (3) marry into their family; (4) spend an evening socializing with them; (5) become their friend; or (6) move into a newly established group home in their neighborhoods for people in that condition.

“There’s a debate about whether biological beliefs in genetic causation or chemical causation lower stigma as long as we aren’t blaming bad character, too,” Andersson said. “That’s an unknown and part of the reason for this study. For all three illnesses examined here, how important is it to look at how multiple beliefs about the nature of illness combine to produce stigma? That’s what we were trying to figure out.”

What the study found was that the most common combination of viewpoints about both depression and schizophrenia was that they are caused by chemical imbalance, stressful life circumstances and genetic abnormality. Not included as root causes were bad character, upbringing or religious or divine causes, the authors said.

That combination of opinions was held by about 23 percent of respondents who considered the scenario about a depressed individual; and 25 percent of those who were presented with the scenario about a schizophrenic, the researchers said.

In contrast, among respondents who were presented with the scenario about an alcoholic, the most common combination of beliefs about causes included bad character, chemical imbalance, the way one was raised, stress and genetic abnormality. That combination — held by 27 percent of respondents — attributes alcoholism to all causes except for religious or divine forces.

“One specific piece of advice is clear for combatting stigma toward depression or alcoholism: Bad character or personal weakness needs to be absolved explicitly for biological explanations to reduce stigma effectively,” Andersson said. “But for schizophrenia, the role of an individual’s character in stigmatization is far less clear, likely because of the relative severity and rarity of the illness.”

The study adds to the knowledge of how subtle but widely held theories about mental health may contribute to stigmatizing the mentally ill, Andersson said.

“Re-working anti-stigma policy initiatives around the belief patterns we linked to lowered stigma may help increase the social acceptance of people who suffer from these illnesses,” he said.

While researchers focused on the six mental illness attributions used in the General Social Survey, future research delving into other, more specific beliefs about causes — such as marital or family troubles, work stressors, various brain dysfunctions or specific negative life events — could prove valuable, Andersson said.

Source: Baylor University

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Rain Can Aid Republicans on Election Day

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 14:15

Bad weather affects U.S. voter turnout and election outcomes, with past research showing that the Republican Party has the advantage.

Now, a new study by researchers at Dartmouth College and the Australian National University finds that the Republican Party’s advantage when it rains may be due, in part, to voters changing their minds on not only whether to vote, but who to vote for.

The study’s findings revealed that at least one percent of voting age adults in the U.S. who would have voted for a Democrat had the weather been good, voted instead for a Republican on rainy election days.

The change in party preference may be attributed to a psychological behavior, where voters may be more averse to risk during poor weather conditions, according to the researchers.

Earlier studies identified a correlation between ideological and political orientations in which conservatives or Republicans tend to be more averse to risk than liberals or Democrats.

The new study was based on a statistical analysis that drew on compositional electoral data: the voter share for the Democratic candidate, the voter share for the Republican candidate, and the abstention rate, the sum of which should be 100 percent, researchers explained. When this compositional nature of election outcomes was taken into account, the research team discovered a more nuanced effect of rainfall — how voters’ preferences may change with bad weather.

The researchers point out that past studies looking at how rain affects people’s decisions to go to the polls or abstain from voting have focused on how voter turnout tends to be higher among Republicans than among Democrats. However, they argue that this only partially explains the alleged Republican advantage.

The study was published in American Politics Research.

Source: Dartmouth College

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Writing A To-Do List May Help You Fall Asleep

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 16:30

Writing a to-do list at bedtime may help you fall asleep, according to a new study.

“We live in a 24/7 culture in which our to-do lists seem to be constantly growing and causing us to worry about unfinished tasks at bedtime,” said lead author Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience.

“Most people just cycle through their to-do lists in their heads, so we wanted to explore whether the act of writing them down could counteract nighttime difficulties with falling asleep.”

Some 40 percent of American adults report difficulty falling asleep at least a few times each month, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

For the study, researchers recruited 57 university students, then compared sleep patterns of students who took five minutes to write down upcoming duties versus students who chronicled completed activities.

“There are two schools of thought about this,” Scullin said. “One is that writing about the future would lead to increased worry about unfinished tasks and delay sleep, while journaling about completed activities should not trigger worry. The alternative hypothesis is that writing a to-do list will ‘offload’ those thoughts and reduce worry.”

While anecdotal evidence exists that writing a bedtime list can help you fall asleep, the Baylor study used overnight polysomnography, the “gold standard” of sleep measurement, Scullin said. With that method, researchers monitor electrical brain activity using electrodes.

Participants stayed in the lab on a week night to avoid weekend effects on bedtime and because on a weekday night, they probably had unfinished tasks to do the next day, Scullin said.

They were divided into two randomly selected groups and given five-minute writing assignments before retiring. One group was asked to write down everything they needed to remember to do the next day or over the next few days; the other was asked to write about tasks completed during the previous few days.

Students were instructed they could go to bed at 10:30 p.m.

“We had them in a controlled environment,” Scullin said. “We absolutely restricted any technology, homework, etc. It was simply lights out after they got into bed.”

Scullin noted that while the sample size was appropriate for an experimental, laboratory-based polysomnography study, a larger future study would be of value.

“Measures of personality, anxiety, and depression might moderate the effects of writing on falling asleep, and that could be explored in an investigation with a larger sample,” he said. “We recruited healthy young adults, and so we don’t know whether our findings would generalize to patients with insomnia, though some writing activities have previously been suggested to benefit such patients.”

The study was published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Source: Baylor University

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Worsening Anxiety May Be Early Sign of Alzheimer’s

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 14:45

A new study suggests a link between elevated amyloid beta levels and the worsening of anxiety symptoms.

According to researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the findings support the hypothesis that neuropsychiatric symptoms could represent the early manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.

Past studies have suggested depression and other neuropsychiatric symptoms may be predictors of Alzheimer’s progression during its “preclinical” phase. In this phase, brain deposits of fibrillar amyloid and pathological tau accumulate in a patient’s brain. This phase can occur more than a decade before a patient’s onset of mild cognitive impairment.

For the new study, researchers examined the association of brain amyloid beta and longitudinal measures of depression and depressive symptoms in cognitively normal, older adults.

Their findings, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, suggest that higher levels of amyloid beta may be associated with increasing symptoms of anxiety. The results support the theory that neuropsychiatric symptoms could be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s, according to the researchers.

“Rather than just looking at depression as a total score, we looked at specific symptoms, such as anxiety. When compared to other symptoms of depression, such as sadness or loss of interest, anxiety symptoms increased over time in those with higher amyloid beta levels in the brain,” said first author Nancy Donovan, M.D., a geriatric psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “This suggests that anxiety symptoms could be a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease prior to the onset of cognitive impairment.”

“If further research substantiates anxiety as an early indicator, it would be important for not only identifying people early on with the disease but, also, treating it and potentially slowing or preventing the disease process early on,” she continued.

As anxiety is common in older people, rising anxiety symptoms may prove to be most useful as a risk marker in older adults with other genetic, biological, or clinical indicators of high AD risk, researchers point out.

For the study, researchers derived data from the Harvard Aging Brain Study, an observational study of older adults aimed at defining neurobiological and clinical changes in early Alzheimer’s disease.

The participants included 270 cognitively normal men and women, between 62 and 90 years old, with no active psychiatric disorders.

They underwent baseline imaging scans commonly used in studies of Alzheimer’s disease, and annual assessments with the 30-item Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), an assessment used to detect depression in older adults, the researchers reported.

The researchers calculated total GDS scores, as well as scores for three clusters symptoms of depression: Apathy-anhedonia, dysphoria, and anxiety. These scores were looked at over a span of five years, according to the scientists.

The research team found that higher brain amyloid beta burden was associated with increasing anxiety symptoms over time in cognitively normal older adults.

The results suggest that worsening anxious-depressive symptoms may be an early predictor of elevated amyloid beta levels and, in turn, Alzheimer’s. The study’s findings also provide support for the hypothesis that emerging neuropsychiatric symptoms represent an early manifestation of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers said.

Donovan notes further follow-up is needed to determine whether these escalating depressive symptoms give rise to clinical depression and the dementia stages of Alzheimer’s over time.

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital

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Transcendental Meditation Shown to Ease Veterans’ PTSD

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 13:00 new study shows that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found significant relief from their symptoms as a result of practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM),

The 41 veterans and 5 active-duty soldiers from the wars in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan had been diagnosed with clinical levels of PTSD, as measured by the PTSD Checklist-Civilian (PCL-5).

After one month, 87 percent had a clinically significant decrease of more than 10 points, according to the study’s findings. The reduction was so great that 37 participants (80 percent) had their symptoms reduced to below the clinical level, meaning that they were no longer considered to have a disorder, researchers reported.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Military Medicine.

“It’s remarkable that after just one month we would see such a pronounced decrease in symptoms, with four out of five veterans no longer considered to have a serious problem with PTSD,” said lead author Robert Herron, Ph.D.

The effect size, which is a measure of the magnitude of a treatment, was 1.91. This is unusually high, with a value of .8 considered to be a strong effect, researchers said. In addition, a very low p-value (p < 0.0001) indicates these results were probably not due to chance.

The study included a 90-day post-test, where researchers found that PTSD symptoms continued to improve.

By way of comparison, the standard treatment, which entails veterans attending counseling and re-experiencing their trauma as part of the therapy, is typically only partially successful, with approximately two-thirds still suffering from PTSD after being treated, the researchers noted.

“Transcendental Meditation is very easy to do and results come quickly,” said James Grant, Ed.D., director of Programs for TM for Veterans. “TM promotes self sufficiency — it’s a tool that the veteran can use for life, on his or her own.”

In addition, research has shown that Transcendental Meditation has a positive benefit for many of the conditions associated with PTSD, such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, and high blood pressure.

“Because it works on the neurophysiological level to reduce stress, it has broader impact than cognitively-based therapies,” he said.

According to the researchers, an interesting facet of the study was that the veterans were recruited through media advertising rather than through a veterans hospital.

“The importance of this study is that it shows that veterans are able to help themselves,” said Herron. “After learning about the opportunity to participate in the study, they went to local Transcendental Meditation centers to be instructed in the practice.”

Herron noted that because of its huge caseload, the Veterans Administration hasn’t been able to help all veterans in a timely manner — and veterans are often in desperate need of help.

“The veterans involved were pleased that they were able to do this on their own, and no doubt the VA hospitals appreciate that there are therapeutic approaches that can be undertaken without the costly intensive care of a therapist that treatment typically entails,” he said.

Grant added some veterans are reluctant to go to counseling because of the perceived stigma, noting there’s no stigma associated with meditation, which is widely practiced by healthy people.

The veterans learned the standard Transcendental Meditation technique, which is practiced 20 minutes twice a day. The study found that the veterans who practiced twice a day as recommended had greater benefits than those who practiced once a day.

This approach to meditation, which was introduced in the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi beginning in the late 1950s, has been widely researched over the past 50 years, with more than 400 peer-reviewed studies. It is unique in that it doesn’t entail contemplation or concentration and is easy to learn and effortless to practice, the researchers said.

“Researchers have been calling for new approaches to PTSD treatments, and Transcendental Meditation seems to be particularly effective,” Grant said. “Veterans who elect to learn Transcendental Meditation themselves can find significant reductions in PTSD. The results are promising and suggest that this is a treatment modality that deserves more rigorous study as a potential treatment for PTSD.”

Source: Maharishi University of Management
Video: Veterans with PTSD describe how practicing TM changed their lives. Credit: David Lynch Foundation.

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Mice Study Shows How Stress Can Make You Sick

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 14:00

Emerging research provides new insight into how certain types of stress interact with immune cells influencing how these cells respond to allergens. This cellular interference can ultimately cause physical symptoms and disease.

A new study showed showed how a stress receptor, known as corticotropin-releasing factor, or CRF1, can send signals to certain immune cells, called mast cells, and control how they defend the body.

“Mast cells become highly activated in response to stressful situations the body may be experiencing,” said Adam Moeser, an associate professor at Michigan State University.

“When this happens, CRF1 tells these cells to release chemical substances that can lead to inflammatory and allergic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, life-threatening food allergies, and autoimmune disorders such as lupus.”

The study is published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.

One chemical substance, histamine, is known to help the body get rid of invading allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or the protein of a particular food like a peanut or shellfish. The histamine causes an allergic reaction and in a normal response, helps the body clear the allergen from its system.

If a patient has a severe allergy or is under a lot of stress, then this same response can be amplified, resulting in more severe symptoms ranging from trouble breathing, anaphylactic shock, or possibly even death.

During the study, Moeser compared the histamine responses of mice to two types of stress conditions — psychological and allergic — where the immune system becomes overworked.

One group of mice was considered “normal” with CRF1 receptors on their mast cells and the other group had cells that lacked CRF1.

“While the ‘normal’ mice exposed to stress exhibited high histamine levels and disease, the mice without CRF1 had low histamine levels, less disease, and were protected against both types of stress,” Moeser said.

“This tells us that CRF1 is critically involved in some diseases initiated by these stressors.”

The CRF1-deficient mice exposed to allergic stress had a 54 percent reduction in disease, while those mice who experienced psychological stress had a 63 percent decrease.

The results could change the way everyday disorders such as asthma and the debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are treated.

“We all know that stress affects the mind-body connection and increases the risk for many diseases,” Moeser said. “The question is, how?”

“This work is a critical step forward in decoding how stress makes us sick and provides a new target pathway in the mast cell for therapies to improve the quality of life of people suffering from common stress-related diseases.”

Source: Michigan State University

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Depression Linked With Focal Epilepsy

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 13:15

New research has found evidence that seizures and mood disorders such as depression may share the same genetic cause in some people with epilepsy.

The link has been suggested from the time of Hippocrates with investigators hopeful that the new discovery may lead to better screening and treatment to improve patients’ quality of life.

Scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Columbia University studied dozens of unusual families with multiple relatives who had epilepsy, and compared the family members’ lifetime prevalence of mood disorders with that of the U.S. population.

They found an increased incidence of mood disorders in persons who suffer from a type of the condition called focal epilepsy, in which seizures begin in just one part of the brain.

But mood disorders were not increased in people with generalized epilepsy, in which seizures start on both sides of the brain.

“Mood disorders such as depression are under-recognized and undertreated in people with epilepsy,” said Dr. Gary A. Heiman, the study’s senior author and associate professor in the Department of Genetics at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

“Clinicians need to screen for mood disorders in people with epilepsy, particularly focal epilepsy, and clinicians should treat the depression in addition to the epilepsy. That will improve patients’ quality of life.”

Experts say the results of the study supports the hypothesis that people with focal epilepsy, but not generalized epilepsy, are susceptible to mood disorders such as depression.

The study appears online in the journal Epilepsia.

“More research is needed to identify specific genes that raise risk for both epilepsy and mood disorders,” said Heiman. “It’s important to understand the relationship between the two different disorders.”

A relationship between epilepsy and mood disorders has been suspected for millennia. Hippocrates, “the father of medicine,” proffered the following insights in 400 BC:

“Melancholics ordinarily become epileptics, and epileptics, melancholics: what determines the preference is the direction the malady takes; if it bears upon the body, epilepsy, if upon the intelligence, melancholy.”

Seizures in most people with epilepsy can be controlled by drugs and surgery. There is no doubt that epilepsy and mood disorders such as depression affect quality of life and increase disability and health care costs.

Depression raises the risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts. Moreover, previous studies have shown that people who have both epilepsy and mood disorders tend to have worse seizure outcomes than those without mood disorders.

In the U.S., about 2.3 million adults and more than 450,000 children and adolescents have epilepsy, and anyone can develop the disorder. In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults at least 18 years old in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to federal figures.

“A number of genes have been found for epilepsy and understanding if these genes also might be causing depression is important,” Heiman said.

“In particular, more studies should be done to understand the relationship between focal epilepsy and mood disorders.”

Source: Rutgers University

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