A new study of how a community responded to a tragic natural disaster suggests survivors can actually use the experience to enhance personal growth.
Researchers from the Disaster and Community Crisis Center at the University of Missouri studied survivors of the 2011 Joplin Missouri tornado which killed 161 people, injured 1,150 and destroyed approximately one-third of the city’s homes.
Individuals who experience such disasters can exhibit a range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress. Investigators discovered survivors of natural disasters have the potential to experience positive changes or growth in addition to the stress they experience.
A key factor appears to be sharing thoughts and feelings with family, friends and neighbors. Researchers say the finding of the importance of shared communication can help those working in communities after a disaster.
“When disasters occur, mental health professionals — community organizers, social workers, case managers and counselors — often work in partnership with local, state and federal organizations to respond,” said Jennifer First, doctoral candidate in the MU School of Social Work. First is also the disaster mental health program manager with the Disaster and Community Crisis Center.
“It is important that these professionals understand that the negative consequences of trauma can coexist with positive perceptions of growth. In fact, post-traumatic stress may drive a search for meaning following a disaster.”
Prior research has indicated that several factors, including appreciation of life, relating to others, personal strength, new possibilities and spiritual change, contribute to post-traumatic growth.
In the new study, investgators sought to learn more about the relationship between post-traumatic stress, personal growth, and communication with friends and family. To do this, researchers worked with a Joplin community mental health partner using a sample of 438 adult survivors of the Joplin tornado, two and a half years after the event.
The study appears in the Journal of Family Social Work.
Participants were asked how they were impacted by the tornado, about post-traumatic stress symptoms, and if they talked about the tornado with people they knew.
“We found that more communication between people who experienced the tornado and their families, friends and neighbors was related to more post-traumatic growth among survivors,” said Vicky Mieseler, chief administrative officer with the Ozark Center in Joplin, who led the community mental health response to the tornado and helped conduct this study.
“A takeaway is that mental health providers can help foster growth by promoting connections and communication among survivors in long-term, post-disaster communities.”
Source: University of Missouri
Researchers have discovered the shock of noise and light may trigger a deeply learned expectation of danger among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The finding suggests that people with PTSD may be affected by events such as fireworks on nights other than holidays. Specifically, scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI) have found that people with PTSD have an increased learning response to surprising events.
While most everyone reacts to surprise, people with PTSD tend to pay even more attention to the unexpected. This excessive activity of some parts of the brain may make it difficult for a person to appropriately respond to environmental changes and life events.
The study appears in eLife, an open-access journal published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust.
“Disproportionate reactions to unexpected stimuli in the environment are a core symptom of PTSD,” said Dr. Pearl Chiu, an associate professor at the VTCRI and the lead author on the study.
“These results point to a specific disruption in learning that helps to explain why these reactions occur.”
Chiu and her team used functional MRI to scan the brains of 74 veterans, all of whom had experienced trauma while serving at least one combat tour in Afghanistan or Iraq. Some of the study participants were diagnosed with PTSD, while others were not.
In the functional MRI, participants played a gambling game, in which they learned to associate certain choices with monetary gains or losses.
“Computer science and mathematics have given us new tools to understand how the brain learns. We used these tools to study whether and how learning might play a role in PTSD,” said Chiu, who is also an associate professor of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science.
“These results suggest that people with PTSD don’t necessarily have a disrupted response to unexpected outcomes, rather they pay more attention to these surprises,” Chiu said.
The researchers found that people with PTSD had significantly more activity in the parts of their brains associated with how much attention they paid to surprising events when the learning task threw an unexpected curve ball their way.
“Fireworks unexpectedly going off after a person has exchanged fire in the field can trigger an over-estimation of danger,” said Dr. Brooks King-Casas, an associate professor at the VTCRI who co-led the study.
“Particularly for individuals with PTSD, unexpected surprising events — noise or otherwise —could be a matter of life or death. The study shows that while everyone is affected by unexpected events, in PTSD extra attention is given to these surprises.”
Earlier studies have connected greater attention to perceived threats and unexpected events in PTSD, but the mechanistic underpinning of this hypersensitivity to unexpected outcomes has been unclear until now.
“The work by Brown and colleagues is an important step forward to be able to differentiate the brain and behavioral processes that are affected as a consequence of post-traumatic stress,” said Dr. Martin Paulus, a medical doctor and the scientific director and president of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla. He was not involved in this study.
“The finding that individuals with PTSD have difficulty appropriately allocating attention to their environment when it changes has clear implications for the development of novel behavioral interventions.”
Vanessa Brown, first author of the paper and a graduate student in the department of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science, said that both the behavioral and neural findings show that people with PTSD pay more attention to surprise while learning.
“This disrupted learning increases with more severe PTSD,” said Brown, who is conducting her dissertation research in Chiu’s laboratory at the VTCRI.
“Now that we understand how attention to surprise plays a role in PTSD, we may be able to refine our assessment tools or develop new interventions that target specific learning disruptions in people with PTSD or other psychiatric disorders.”
Source: Virginia Tech/EurekAlert
Photo: People with PTSD have an increased learning response to surprising events compared to people without PTSD, according to a new study led by Pearl Chiu, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Credit: Davide Bonazzi.
The heavy burden of stress found among both low-income populations and racial/ethnic minorities is associated with a much greater risk of developing mental and physical health issues that ultimately affect life expectancy, according to a new report from the American Psychological Association (APA).
“Good health is not equally distributed. Socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity affect health status and are associated with substantial disparities in health outcomes across the lifespan,” said Elizabeth Brondolo, Ph.D., chair of an APA working group that wrote the report. “And stress is one of the top 10 social determinants of health inequities.”
Individuals with lower socioeconomic status report more severe (but not more frequent) stress as well as a greater number of traumatic events in their childhood, according to the report. In addition, African-Americans and U.S.-born Hispanics report more stress than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, partially stemming from exposure to discrimination and a tendency to experience more violent traumatic events.
Research has shown that high levels of stress can lead to mental and physical health problems.
“Stress affects how we perceive and react to the outside world,” Brondolo said. “Low socioeconomic status has been associated with negative thinking about oneself and the outside world, including low self-esteem, distrust of the intentions of others, and the perceptions that the world is a threatening place and life has little meaning. Stress is also known to contribute to depression.”
Stress may also play a role in physical health problems by the way it affects behavior. High levels of stress have been consistently linked to a wide variety of negative health behaviors, including smoking, drinking, drug use, and physical inactivity.
These behaviors and their outcomes (e.g., obesity) are closely associated with the development of many diseases, including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline later in life, according to the report.
A 2016 analysis shows that men whose income is in the top one percent live almost 15 years longer than those in the bottom one percent, according to the report. For women, that difference is nearly 10 years.
The report identifies several types of interventions at the individual, family, health care provider, and community levels that can be useful in helping reduce the negative effects of stress on low-income and minority populations and potentially address some of the health disparities.
For example, at the individual level, mind-body interventions, such as yoga or meditation, were found to be accepted by disadvantaged groups and effective at improving mental and physical health outcomes.
Other interventions reported include improving the quality of communication between patients and their health care providers and teaching parenting skills to promote positive parent-child attachments.
The report calls for additional multidisciplinary research on the interrelationship of barriers to health experienced by disadvantaged individuals. It also recommends improving psychology training programs to make sure health care workers are able to adequately discuss and address the effects of inequality on individual health.
Finally, the report suggests the importance of raising awareness among policymakers and the public on the stress-inducing implications of persistent exposure to subtle biases and microaggressions.
“Disparities in both stress and health may not be visible to those who have more advantages or who have relatively limited direct contact with those affected,” said Brondolo. “A well-informed community is critical to improving the health of racial/ethnic and poor communities.”
A new study finds that people who travel for business two weeks or more a month report more symptoms of anxiety and depression and are more likely to smoke, be sedentary and report trouble sleeping than those who travel one to six nights a month.
Moreover, people who travel this amount for work are more likely to smoke, be sedentary and report trouble sleeping than those who travel one to six nights a month.
Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and City University of New York study also found that among those who consume alcohol, extensive business travel is associated with symptoms of alcohol dependence.
Investigators found a link between poor behavioral and mental health outcomes and number of nights away from home. This is one of the first studies to report the effects of business travel on non-infectious disease health risks.
The results are published online in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The finding is important as The Global Business Travel Association Foundation estimates there were nearly 503 million person-business trips in 2016 in the U.S. compared to 488 million in the prior year.
“Although business travel can be seen as a job benefit and can lead to occupational advancement, there is a growing literature showing that extensive business travel is associated with risk of chronic diseases associated with lifestyle factors,” said Andrew Rundle, Dr.P.H., associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.
“The field of occupational travel medicine needs to expand beyond its current focus on infectious disease, cardiovascular disease risks, violence and injury to bring more focus to the behavioral and mental health consequences of business travel.”
The study was based on the de-identified health records of 18,328 employees who underwent a health assessment in 2015 through their corporate wellness work benefits program provided by EHE International, Inc.
The EHE International health exam measured depressive symptoms with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), anxiety symptoms with the Generalized Anxiety Scale (GAD-7) and alcohol dependence with the CAGE scale.
A score above 4 on the Generalized Anxiety Scale (GAD-7) was reported by 24 percent of employees, and 15 percent scored above a 4 on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), indicating that mild or worse anxiety or depressive symptoms were common in this employee population.
Among those who consume alcohol, a CAGE score of 2 or higher indicates the presence of alcohol dependence and was found in 6 percent of employees who drank. GAD-7 and PHQ-9 scores and CAGE scores of 2 or higher increased with increasing nights away from home for business travel.
These data are consistent with analyses of medical claims data from World Bank employees which found that the largest increase in claims among their business travelers was for psychological disorders related to stress.
Employers and employees should consider new approaches to improve employee health during business trips that go beyond the typical travel health practice of providing immunizations and medical evacuation services, according to Rundle.
Source: Columbia University/EurekAlert
A recent study finds that children commonly show signs of a mental disorder soon after receiving a diagnosis of a chronic physical condition.
Researchers from the University of Waterloo surveyed children between the ages of six and 16, and all within a month of their diagnosis with asthma, food allergy, epilepsy, diabetes or juvenile arthritis.
According to parents’ responses to a standardized interview, 58 per cent of children screened positive for at least one mental disorder.
The study, which appears in BMJ Open, is the first of its kind to recruit children with different conditions, and so soon after diagnosis.
“These findings show that risk for mental disorder is relatively the same among children with different physical conditions,” said Mark Ferro, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Youth Mental Health.
“Regardless of their condition, children with a physical and mental health problems experience a significant decline in their quality life within the first six months after receiving their diagnosis, indicating a need for mental health services early on.”
Investigators found that six months after diagnosis, the number of kids showing signs of a mental disorder dipped slightly to 42 per cent. Anxiety disorders were most common, including separation anxiety, generalized anxiety and phobias.
“It is possible that the number is higher very early because there is some uncertainty surrounding the prognosis, or unanswered questions about management and treatment,” said Alexandra Butler, a graduate student at Waterloo and lead author of the paper.
“It is important to not only identify at-risk children early but to also have resources to support them.”
The researchers found that age and gender had no impact on the results.
Moreover, the unique study design also assessed the perceptions of the child as a subset of kids self-reported on their own mental health.
Notably, children were generally unaware of their mental health issue as 58 per cent of parents reported that their children presented signs of a mental health problem, while only 18 per cent of kids reported it.
Researchers believe this finding shows the need for health professionals to get multiple perspectives when assessing children’s mental health.
Emerging research suggests black adolescents show different depressive symptoms than people from other age and racial groups.
This knowledge has lead Rutgers University-Camden researchers to recommend that clinicians adjust their treatment plans to ensure appropriate interventions.
“Adolescent depression is a dire public concern in the United States, and even greater concern among Black adolescents, where, if left untreated, can disproportionately lead to an escalation of various mental disorders, academic failure, and related issues,” said Dr. Wenhua Lu, an assistant professor of childhood studies.
Lu and fellow researchers Dr. Michael Lindsey of New York University, Sireen Irsheild, M.S.W., of University of Chicago, and Dr. Von Eugene Nebbitt of Washington University explored the way black adolescents conceptualize and present symptoms of depression.
The study appears in the Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research.
Researchers discovered Black adolescents experiencing depressive symptoms tend to express their depressed feelings by complaining about conflicts with others and physical pains.
“When assessing and treating black adolescents’ depression, clinicians need to pay particular attention to their complaints about interpersonal struggles and physical discomfort,” said Lu.
“Treatments such as interpersonal psychotherapy may work better for this population.”
The researchers note the great significance of determining these depressive symptoms among Black adolescents.
Previous studies, they explain, have shown that black adolescents who live in disadvantaged community environments — for example, urban public housing — are more likely to experience elevated levels of substance abuse, violence, and poverty.
“Black adolescents who are exposed to such environmental and social risk factors without sufficient social-support networks are at a higher risk of depression,” said Lu.
Significantly, youth who have been diagnosed with depression are six times more likely to commit suicide than their peers, and black youth have a much higher suicide rate than their White peers.
“It is imperative, therefore, to identify the unique ways Black adolescents express depressive symptoms, and calibrate existing assessment tools to improve their psychometric property for this population,” the researchers write in the study.
A total of 792 black adolescents, ages 11 to 21, who lived in nine public housing developments in four major U.S. cities (including two in North Philadelphia), participated in the study.
Adolescents completed a survey that contained a mixture of 20 negatively and positively worded items — such as such as “I felt sad,” “I enjoyed life,” “My appetite was poor,” and “People are unfriendly to me” — in the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D).
Lu explains that the CES-D is a commonly used self-report tool to assess depressive symptoms in community-based populations, and the 20 items are usually grouped into four major domains: depression affect, somatic symptoms, interpersonal relations and positive affect.
“However, this scale was developed primarily to assess clinical depression among white adults,” says Lu. “It has not been fully validated as a screening tool in black adolescents.”
Source: Rutgers University
New research finds that using a mobile device at home for work purposes has negative implications for the employee’s work life and also their spouse.
Dr. Wayne Crawford, assistant professor of management at the University of Texas at Arlington teamed with four other authors on the study, recently published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.
The researchers surveyed 344 married couples with all participants working full time and using mobile devices or tablets at home for work purposes.
“There is plenty of research on technology and how it affects employees,” Crawford said. “We wanted to see if this technology use carried over to affect the spouse negatively at work.”
The couples’ survey results showed that use of a mobile device during family time resulted in lower job satisfaction and lower job performance.
“It’s really no surprise that conflict was created when a spouse is using a mobile device at home,” Crawford said.
“They’re sometimes engaging in work activities during family time. What that ultimately leads to, though, is trouble at work for both spouses. So, whether companies care or don’t care about employees being plugged in, those firms need to know that the relationship tension created by their interaction with their employees during non-work hours ultimately leads to work-life trouble.”
Dr. Abdul Rasheed, chair of the Department of Management at UTA, said Crawford’s work is illuminating for businesses.
“That extra time spent on mobile devices after hours might not be worth it if the grief it causes results in productivity losses once the conflict is carried back to work,” Rasheed said.
“Businesses have to think about accomplishing tasks more efficiently while people are at work.”
Source: University of Texas at Arlington
Trypophobia is traditionally known as a fear of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps, such as those of a honeycomb, strawberry seeds, or even aerated chocolate. However, based on the findings of a new study, researchers at Emory University have found that the condition is driven less by fear and more by a feeling of disgust.
Although trypophobia is not officially recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the condition appears to be somewhat common.
“Some people are so intensely bothered by the sight of these objects that they can’t stand to be around them,” said Dr. Stella Lourenco, a psychologist at Emory University whose lab conducted the study. “The phenomenon, which likely has an evolutionary basis, may be more common than we realize.”
Prior studies have linked trypophobic reactions to viewing evolutionarily threatening animals. For example, the repeating pattern of high contrast seen in clusters of holes is similar to the pattern on the skin of many snakes and the pattern made by a spider’s dark legs against a lighter background.
“We’re an incredibly visual species,” says lead author Vladislav Ayzenberg, a graduate student in the Lourenco lab. “Low-level visual properties can convey a lot of meaningful information. These visual cues allow us to make immediate inferences — whether we see part of a snake in the grass or a whole snake — and react quickly to potential danger.”
It is well-established that looking at images of dangerous animals generally provokes a fear reaction in people. The heart and breathing rate goes up and the pupils dilate. This hyperarousal to potential danger is known as the fight-or-flight response.
For the new study, the researchers wanted to test whether this same physiological response was associated with seemingly innocuous images of holes.
They used eye-tracking technology to measure the pupil-size changes in participants as they viewed images of clusters of holes, images of threatening animals, and neutral images.
They found that, unlike images of snakes and spiders, the images of holes elicited greater constriction of the pupils, a response associated with the parasympathetic nervous system and feelings of disgust.
“On the surface, images of threatening animals and clusters of holes both elicit an aversive reaction,” Ayzenberg said. “Our findings, however, suggest that the physiological underpinnings for these reactions are different, even though the general aversion may be rooted in shared visual-spectral properties.”
So in contrast to a fight-or-flight response which sets the body up for action, a parasympathetic response slows heart rate and breathing and constricts the pupils.
“These visual cues signal the body to be cautious, while also closing off the body, as if to limit its exposure to something that could be harmful,” said Ayzenberg.
The researchers hypothesize that clusters of holes may be evolutionarily indicative of contamination and disease — visual cues for rotten or moldy food or skin marred by an infection.
Interestingly, the participants involved in the experiments were young people who did not report having trypophobia. “The fact that we found effects in this population suggests a quite primitive and pervasive visual mechanism underlying an aversion to holes,” says Lourenco.
Scientists have long debated the relationship between fear and disgust. The new study adds to the growing evidence that — while the two emotions are on continuums and occasionally overlap — they have distinct neural and physiological underpinnings.
“Our findings not only enhance our understanding of the visual system but also how visual processing may contribute to a range of other phobic reactions,” says Ayzenberg.
A third co-author of the study is Meghan Hickey. She worked on the experiments as an undergraduate psychology major, through the Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory (SIRE) program, and is now a medical student at the University of Massachusetts.
The findings of the study are published in the journal PeerJ.
Source: Emory Health Sciences
Sleeping less than the recommended eight hours a night is associated with intrusive, repetitive thoughts like those seen in anxiety or depression, according to a new study.
For the study, Dr. Meredith Coles, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University, State University of New York, and former graduate student Jacob Nota assessed the timing and duration of sleep in individuals with moderate to high levels of repetitive negative thoughts (e.g., worry and rumination).
The research participants were exposed to different pictures intended to trigger an emotional response, and researchers tracked their attention through their eye movements.
The researchers discovered that regular sleep disruptions are associated with difficulty in shifting one’s attention away from negative information. This may mean that inadequate sleep is part of what makes negative intrusive thoughts stick around and interfere with people’s lives, they say.
“We found that people in this study have some tendencies to have thoughts get stuck in their heads, and their elevated negative thinking makes it difficult for them to disengage with the negative stimuli that we exposed them to,” said Coles. “While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it.”
These negative thoughts are believed to leave people vulnerable to different types of psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression, said Coles.
“We realized over time that this might be important — this repetitive negative thinking is relevant to several different disorders like anxiety, depression and many other things,” said Coles. “This is novel in that we’re exploring the overlap between sleep disruptions and the way they affect these basic processes that help in ignoring those obsessive negative thoughts.”
The researchers are further exploring this discovery, evaluating how the timing and duration of sleep may also contribute to the development or maintenance of psychological disorders. If their theories are correct, their research could potentially allow psychologists to treat anxiety and depression by shifting patients’ sleep cycles to a healthier time or making it more likely a patient will sleep when they get in bed, the researchers said.
The study was published in ScienceDirect.
Source: Binghamton University
Intriguing new research suggests a novel method to help relieve stress is to experience the aroma or scent of a romantic partner.
Investigators from the University of British Columbia (UBC) found women feel calmer after being exposed to their male partner’s scent. Conversely, being exposed to a stranger’s scent had the opposite effect and raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
The study appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors,” said Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the UBC department of psychology.
“Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.”
For the study, the researchers recruited 96 opposite-sex couples. Men were given a clean T-shirt to wear for 24 hours, and were told to refrain from using deodorant and scented body products, smoking, and eating certain foods that could affect their scent. The T-shirts were then frozen to preserve the scent.
The women were randomly assigned to smell a T-shirt that was either unworn, or had been worn by their partner or a stranger. They were not told which one they had been given.
The women underwent a stress test that involved a mock job interview and a mental math task, and also answered questions about their stress levels and provided saliva samples used to measure their cortisol levels.
The researchers asked women to act as the “smellers” because they tend to have a better sense of smell than men.
They found that women who had smelled their partner’s shirt felt less stressed both before and after the stress test. Those who both smelled their partner’s shirt and also correctly identified the scent also had lower levels of cortisol, suggesting that the stress-reducing benefits of a partner’s scent are strongest when women know what they’re smelling.
Meanwhile, women who had smelled a stranger’s scent had higher cortisol levels throughout the stress test.
The authors speculate that evolutionary factors could influence why the stranger’s scent affected cortisol levels.
“From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that leads to elevated cortisol,” said Hofer. “This could happen without us being fully aware of it.”
Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the UBC department of psychology, said the findings could have practical implications to help people cope with stressful situations when they’re away from loved ones.
“With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities,” said Chen.
“Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you’re far from home.”
Source: University of British Columbia
Swedish researchers have discovered a link between genetic changes in the so-called CRH gene, which affects the regulation of the body’s stress system, and suicide risk and psychiatric illness.
Investigators believe epigenetic changes — genetic changes influenced by the environment — in the body’s hormone-based stress system, influence both serious suicide attempts in adults and psychiatric illness in adolescents.
The research study, which is a collaboration between researchers at Umeå University, Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University in Sweden, appears in the journal EBioMedicine.
Previous studies have indicated an overactive stress system in individuals with increased suicide risk. In the current study, researchers report that epigenetic changes in the CRH gene are linked to serious suicide attempts in adults. The genetic changes are also found in adolescents with high risk of psychiatric illness.
Recently published research reveals that serious suicide attempts are associated with a reduced lifespan including an increased suicide risk and risk of mortality from natural causes (particularly in adolescents).
Moreover, the incidence of mental health issues among teens and young adults is on the rise. In the last 10 years, it has become twice as common for Swedish adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 to suffer from psychiatric illness.
In the study, researchers examined 88 individuals who had attempted suicide. The participants were divided into high and low risk groups based upon the severity of their suicidal behavior.
Through blood samples of the participants, epigenetic markers in the form of DNA methylation in the stress system-related genes were analyzed. In the next step, the discovered epigenetic changes in the CRH gene were studied in blood samples from two other cohort studies including 129 and 93 adolescents respectively in the age span of 14 to 17.
The adolescents were divided into high and low risk groups based upon assessments of their psychiatric symptoms. The results show that epigenetic changes in the CRH gene were more prevalent in the group of adolescents with an increased risk of psychiatric illness.
“Since psychiatric illness is a serious and growing public health problem, it’s important that we take early signs of psychiatric illness and suicidal behavior into consideration in suicide prevention,” said Dr. Jussi Jokinen, professor in psychiatry at Umeå University, who led the current study.
“Our environment affects our genetic expression, which is usually referred to as epigenetic change. Even if we aren’t able to draw distinct parallels between the findings in these cohort studies, our results still point towards the importance of an optimal regulation of the stress system for psychiatric illness.”
Source: Science Direct
New research suggests the desire to be perfect in body, mind, and career may be taking a toll on college students’ mental health. Investigators discovered the excessive desire to succeed and compete with others has significantly increased compared with prior generations.
This study is the first to examine group generational differences in perfectionism, according to lead author Thomas Curran, Ph.D., of the University of Bath. He and his co-author Andrew Hill, Ph.D., of York St. John University suggest that perfectionism entails “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.”
The researchers analyzed data from 41,641 American, Canadian and British college students from 164 samples who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, a test for generational changes in perfectionism, from the late 1980s to 2016.
Three types of perfectionism were assessed: self-oriented, or an irrational desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or perceiving excessive expectations from others; and other-oriented, or placing unrealistic standards on others.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, found that more recent generations of college students reported significantly higher scores for each form of perfectionism than earlier generations.
Specifically, between 1989 and 2016, the self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed increased by 33 percent and other-oriented increased by 16 percent.
The rise in perfectionism among millennials is being driven by a number of factors, according to Curran. One relatively new factor involves exposure to social media; data suggests social media may pressure young adult to excessively compare themselves to others, which makes them dissatisfied with their bodies and increases social isolation.
This has not been tested and further research is needed to confirm this, said Curran. The drive to earn money, pressure to get a good education and setting lofty career goals are other areas in which today’s young people exhibit perfectionism.
Completion and merit based evaluations are also encouraged in academia. Curran cites college students’ drive to perfect their grade point averages and compare them to their peers.
These examples represent a rise in meritocracy among millennials, in which universities encourage competition among students to move up the social and economic ladder.
“Meritocracy places a strong need for young people to strive, perform and achieve in modern life,” said Curran. “Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves. As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials.”
Approximately half of high school seniors in 1976 expected to earn a college degree and by 2008, that number had risen to over 80 percent. Yet, numbers of those earning degrees has failed to keep pace with rising expectations, according to Curran.
The gap between the percentage of high school seniors expecting to earn a college degree and those with one doubled between 1976 and 2000 and has continued to rise.
“These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations,” said Curran.
“Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth.”
The increase in perfectionism may in part be affecting the psychological health of students, said Hill, citing higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than a decade ago.
A recent study provides new insight into why an antidepressant can alleviate depression in one person but not another.
In the study, researchers developed a mouse model that allowed them to identify blood signatures associated with response to antidepressant treatment. The research design allowed researchers to analyze how an individual’s genetic makeup can affect a medication’s effectiveness.
The study, led by Dr. Marianne Müller and an international team at the University Medical Center Mainz and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, targeted the way in which genetics influence the stress-related glucocorticoid receptor in recovery from depression.
The research is published in the open access journal PLOS Biology.
Major depression is the leading cause of disability according to the World Health Organization, affecting an estimated 350 million people worldwide. Unfortunately, only one-third of patients benefit from the first antidepressant prescribed. Although the currently available treatments are safe, there is significant variability in the outcome of antidepressant treatment.
So far there are no clinical assessments that can predict with a high degree of certainty whether a particular patient will respond to a particular antidepressant.
Finding the most effective antidepressant medication for each patient depends on trial and error, underlining the urgent need to establish conceptually novel strategies for the identification of biomarkers associated with a positive response.
In the new study, the innovative research design allowed scientists to focus on extreme phenotypes in response to antidepressant treatment.
This model simulated the clinical situation, by identifying good and poor responders to antidepressant treatment. The researchers hypothesized that conditions in the mouse model would facilitate the identification of valid peripheral biomarkers for antidepressant treatment response and could potentially apply to humans.
“We were able to identify a cluster of antidepressant response-associated genes in the mouse model that we then validated in a cohort of depressed patients from our collaborators from Emory University, Atlanta,” said Dr. Tania Carrillo-Roa of the Max Planck Institute. This suggests that molecular signatures associated with antidepressant response in the mouse could in fact predict the outcome of antidepressant treatment in the patient cohort.
Additional analyses indicated that the glucocorticoid receptor, which is one of the most important players in fine-tuning the stress hormone system, shapes the response to antidepressant treatment.
Ultimately, identification of biomarkers predictive of individual responses to treatment would dramatically improve the quality of care/treatment for depressed patients by taking the trial and error out of prescribing antidepressants.
In the future, this cross-species approach might serve as a template for the discovery of improved and tailored treatment for patients who suffer from depression.
Postpartum depression is not uncommon — nearly one in five new mothers may experience anxiety, severe fatigue, inability to bond with their children, and suicidal thoughts. Moreover, this depression has also been associated with infants’ developmental difficulties.
A new study by neuroscientists at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston uses a mouse model to explore the role of stress toward development of the condition.
Researchers generated a novel preclinical model of postpartum depression and demonstrated involvement of the neuroendocrine system. This body system mediates how a person responds to stress — in particular the physiological response called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis — which is normally suppressed during and after pregnancy.
The findings in mice provide the first empirical evidence that disruption of this system may create behaviors that mimic postpartum depression in humans. This study, to be published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology and now available online, provides a much-needed research model for further investigation into the causes of and treatment for postpartum depression.
In the past, the scarcity of animal models has led researchers to rely on less robust study designs such as correlational studies. Stress is known to activate the HPA axis, which triggers the fight-or-flight response seen in many species.
During and after pregnancy, such activation is normally blunted which helps to insulate developing offspring from stress. Dysregulation of the HPA axis has been suggested as playing a role in the physiology of postpartum depression.
The effects of stress on postpartum behavior are thought to be influenced by stress hormones because animal experiments show that stress and exogenous stress hormones can induce abnormal postpartum behaviors.
However, clinical data on stress hormones in women with postpartum depression has been inconsistent. To date, research has not directly demonstrated a role for corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), the main driver of the stress response.
This hormone is primarily secreted by a cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus called the paraventricular nucleus (PVN). Moreover, prior research has determined that inappropriate activation of the HPA axis occurs in postpartum depression.
“Some clinical studies show a relationship between CRH, HPA axis function and postpartum depression, but others fail to replicate these findings. Direct investigation into this relationship has been hindered due to the lack of useful animal models of such a complex disorder,” said Jamie Maguire, Ph.D.
“Using a mouse model that we developed, our new study provides the first empirical evidence supporting the clinical observations of HPA axis dysfunction in patients with postpartum depression. The animal model also shows for the first time that dysregulation of the HPA axis and a specific protein in the brain, KCC2, can be enough to induce postpartum depression-like behaviors and deficits in maternal care,” she continued.
Identifying molecular targets and biological markers for postpartum depression is a challenge.
“Pregnancy obviously involves great changes to a woman’s body, but we’re only now beginning to understand the significant unseen adaptations occurring at the neurochemical and circuitry level that may be important to maintaining mental health and maternal behavior in the first few weeks to months following delivery,” said Laverne Camille Melón, Ph.D., first author on the paper.
“By uncovering the role for stability of KCC2 in the regulation of CRH neurons, the postpartum stress axis, and maternal behavior, we hope we have identified a potential molecular target for the development of a new class of compounds that are more effective for women suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety.”
Melón and Maguire do not believe that HPA axis dysfunction is the only pathological mechanism at work. “Many psychiatric and neurological disorders are a constellation of symptoms and represent an unfortunate synergy of heterogeneous maladaptations. The mechanisms underlying one woman’s postpartum depression may differ from another’s,” said Melón.
The researchers hope that continued work will enable them to identify a biological marker that characterizes women who may be vulnerable to postpartum depression because of dysregulation of the stress axis, potentially leading to new treatment options.
Source: Tufts University
A new study has discovered that high-stakes tests are a likely factor in the performance gap between male and female students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classes.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that while male students tend to do better on high-stakes tests in biology courses, it’s not because they are better students. Instead, gaps in performance change based on the stakes of the test, say researchers Sehoya Cotner, an associate professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota, and Cissy Ballen, a postdoctoral associate in Cotner’s lab.
They base their findings on a year-long study of students in nine introductory biology courses. They found that female students did not underperform in courses where exams count for less than half of the total course grade.
In a separate study, instructors changed the curriculum in three different courses to place higher or lesser value on high-stakes exams, such as midterms and finals, and observed gender-biased patterns in performance.
“When the value of exams is changed, performance gaps increase or decrease accordingly,” Cotner said.
These findings build on recent research by Cotner and Ballen that showed that, on average, women’s exam performance is adversely affected by test anxiety.
By moving to a “mixed model” of student assessment — including lower-stakes exams, as well as quizzes and other assignments — teachers can decrease performance gaps between male and female students in science courses.
“This is not simply due to a ‘watering down’ of poor performance through the use of easy points,” Cotner said. “Rather, on the exams themselves, women perform on par with men when the stakes are not so high.”
The researchers point to these varied assessments as a potential reason why the active-learning approach, which shifts the focus away from lectures and lecture halls to more collaborative spaces and group-based work, appears to decrease the performance gap between students.
“As people transition to active learning, they tend to incorporate a diversity of low-stakes, formative assessments into their courses,” Cotner said. “We think that it is this use of mixed assessment that advantages students who are otherwise underserved in the large introductory science courses.”
The researchers also see their findings as a potential to reframe gaps in student performance.
“Many barriers students face can be mitigated by instructional choices,” Cotner said. “We conclude by challenging the student deficit model, and suggest a course deficit model as explanatory of these performance gaps, whereby the microclimate of the classroom can either raise or lower barriers to success for underrepresented groups in STEM.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been associated with violent behavior, particularly among military personnel who have returned from combat. But little is known about whether intensive PTSD treatments might be able to reduce such violent behavior.
In a new study, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University analyzed the data of more than 35,000 U.S. military veterans who had been treated in specialized intensive Veterans Health Administration (VHA) PTSD programs.
The researchers analyzed the veterans’ sociodemographic and biographical information, program participation, and clinical factors such as PTSD symptom severity and substance use. Information was collected at program entry and again four months after discharge. Violence was assessed by a self-report measure that addressed property damage, threatening behavior and physical assault.
The findings, published online in the journal Psychiatric Services, show that combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD had a significant reduction in violent behavior during the PTSD program; the reduction lasted through four months after discharge.
In particular, veterans with PTSD who reported the most violent behavior at baseline showed the greatest reductions four months after discharge. The drop in violence strongly correlated with reductions in the veterans’ PTSD symptoms and substance use, rather than with their incarceration history or other sociodemographic and biographical variables.
The researchers noted that although an observational study is unable to identify the specific causes of reductions in violent behavior, the findings suggest that the short-term support, shelter, and asylum that formed part of intensive treatment may have contributed to the reduction in violent behavior. Such services may play a vital role in the spectrum of care for patients with combat-related PTSD.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans with PTSD varies by service era: Among veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, about 11-20 out of every 100 (between 11-20 percent) have PTSD in a given year.
Among veterans of the Gulf War (Desert Storm), about 12 of every 100 (12 percent) have PTSD. Among Vietnam veterans, around 15 in 100 (15 percent) were diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s. However, it is estimated that about 30 of every 100 (30 percent) of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
Symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the traumatic event, anxiety, aggression, sleeplessness, loss of interest, and feelings of numbness, anger or irritability, or being constantly on guard.
Source: Yale School of Medicine
A new study has found that non-invasive brainwave mirroring technology significantly reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress in military personnel.
“Ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, whether clinically diagnosed or not, are a pervasive problem in the military,” said the study’s principal investigator, Charles H. Tegeler, M.D., a professor of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, a part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
“Medications are often used to help control specific symptoms, but can produce side effects. Other treatments may not be well tolerated, and few show a benefit for the associated sleep disturbance. Additional non-invasive, non-drug therapies are needed.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, and 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan experience PTSD. Symptoms can include insomnia, poor concentration, sadness, re-experiencing traumatic events, irritability, or hyper-alertness, as well as diminished autonomic cardiovascular regulation.
The neurotechnology used in this study — high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring (HIRREM) — is a non-invasive, closed-loop, acoustic stimulation approach, in which computer software algorithms translate specific brain frequencies into audible tones in real time, the researchers explain.
Figuratively speaking, this provides a chance for the brain to listen to itself through an acoustic mirror, according to Tegeler.
Likely through resonance between brain frequencies and the acoustic stimulation, the brain makes self-adjustments towards improved balance and reduced hyperarousal, with no conscious, cognitive activity required, he elaborated. The net effect is to support the brain to reset stress response patterns that have been rewired by repetitive traumatic events.
HIRREM is a registered trademark of Brain State Technologies of Scottsdale, Ariz., and has been licensed to Wake Forest Baptist for collaborative research since 2011.
In the study, 18 service members or recent veterans who experienced symptoms over one to 25 years received an average of 19½ HIRREM sessions over 12 days. Symptom data were collected before and after the study sessions, and follow-up online interviews were conducted at one-, three-, and six-month intervals, researchers report.
In addition, heart rate and blood pressure readings were recorded after the first and second visits to analyze downstream autonomic balance with heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity, researchers add.
“We observed reductions in post-traumatic symptoms, including insomnia, depressive mood, and anxiety that were durable through six months after the use of HIRREM, but additional research is needed to confirm these initial findings,” Tegeler said.
“This study is also the first to report improvement in heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity — physiological responses to stress — after the use of an intervention for service members or veterans with ongoing symptoms of post-traumatic stress,” he continued.
According to the researchers, limitations of the study include the small number of participants and the absence of a control group. It also was an open-label project, meaning that both researchers and participants knew what treatment was being administered.
The study was published in the journal Military Medical Research.
Children and teens who are abused, bullied, suffer the loss of a loved one, or who face other types of traumas are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease in adulthood, according to new findings published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.
The findings are based on a review of existing studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals that have shown a strong link between traumatic experiences in childhood and adolescence and a greater chance of developing risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes at an earlier age than those who were trauma-free.
In turn, these risk factors lead to greater odds of developing heart and blood vessel diseases and other conditions in adulthood, such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, obesity, and type II diabetes.
According to research, nearly 60 percent of Americans report an adverse event during childhood.
Adversity is defined as anything children perceive as a threat to their physical safety or that jeopardizes their family or social structure. This includes emotional, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, bullying by peers, violence at home, parental divorce, separation or death, parental substance abuse, living in a neighborhood with high crime rates, homelessness, discrimination, poverty, and the loss of a relative or another loved one.
“The real tragedy is that children are exposed to these traumatic experiences in the first place,” said Shakira Suglia, Sc.D., the writing group chair for the statement and an associate professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
“We are talking about children and teens experiencing physical and sexual abuse and witnessing violence. Sadly, the negative consequences of experiencing these events does not end when the experience ends, it lasts many years after exposure.”
“Ideally, we want to prevent these things from happening in the first place as well as preventing the health consequences that arise from having these experiences.”
Exactly how adversity fuels cardiovascular and metabolic problems remains unclear, but the current evidence suggests that behavioral, mental health, and biological reactions to increased stress all play a role.
For example, unhealthy reactions to stress, such as smoking or overeating, may underlie the higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes among this group. In addition, recurrent and chronic childhood stress is known to increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and mood disorders among children and teens, which in turn lead to unhealthy behaviors that often lead to cardiovascular and metabolic illnesses.
Furthermore, chronically high stress levels or repeated spikes could disrupt normal immune, metabolic, nervous and endocrine development and function.
Not all children who grow up facing adversity develop diseases of the heart and blood vessels, however. This suggests the existence of a range of biological, environmental, cultural, and social factors that may help reduce risk and prevent disease development. Further research to better understand these factors may one day lead to the development of preventive strategies, the researchers note.
Currently, there are no national guidelines for healthcare providers to monitor children and teens for adversity.
“We need more research to better understand how to help people who have had adversity in childhood prevent or delay the development of heart and blood vessel diseases.”
The researchers warn that the findings are observational and do not necessarily prove cause and effect. However, they add, the rapidly growing body of research is an important indicator that childhood adversity is a potent and critical modulator of disease and health.
Source: American Heart Association
Singing in groups may bring greater happiness to people with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the United Kingdom.
Researchers found that people who participated in a community singing group improved or at least maintained their mental health. The findings also show that the combination of singing and socializing was a major factor in recovery as it gave participants a feeling of belonging and well-being.
Lead researcher Professor Tom Shakespeare from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and his researcher Dr. Alice Whieldon worked in collaboration with the Sing Your Heart Out (SYHO) project, based in Norfolk.
SYHO offers weekly singing workshops, aimed at people with mental health conditions as well as the general public. It originally began at Hellesdon psychiatric hospital in 2005, but later moved into the community. Around 120 people now attend four free workshops each week across Norfolk, two-thirds of whom have had contact with mental health services.
The researchers followed the group for six months and put together interviews and focus groups with participants, organizers, and workshop leaders.
“We found that singing as part of a group contributes to people’s recovery from mental health problems,” said Shakespeare. “The main way that Sing Your Heart Out differs from a choir is that anyone can join in regardless of ability. There’s also very little pressure because the participants are not rehearsing towards a performance. It’s very inclusive and it’s just for fun.
“The format is also different to a therapy group because there’s no pressure for anyone to discuss their condition. We heard the participants calling the initiative a ‘life saver’ and that it ‘saved their sanity.’ Others said they simply wouldn’t be here without it, they wouldn’t have managed — so we quickly began to see the massive impact it was having,” he said.
Shakespeare added that all of the interviewed participants reported positive effects on their mental health as a direct result of participating in the singing workshops. For some it represented one component of a wider program of support, and for others it stood out as key to their recovery or maintenance of health, he said.
“But the key thing for everyone was that the Sing Your Heart Out model induced fun and happiness.”
The findings, published in the BMJ journal Medical Humanities, show how a combination of singing and social engagement can give participants a feeling of belonging and well-being, as well as improved social skills and confidence.
The program also provided structure, support and contact to help people improve their mood, feel good, and function better in day-to-day life.
“The Sing Your Heart Out model offers a low-commitment, low-cost tool for mental health recovery within the community,” said Shakespeare.
Source: University of East Anglia
People with rare diseases are at high risk for experiencing poor quality of life, including increased levels of anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue and a limited ability to participate in society, according to a new study.
“These findings suggest that the quality of life needs of people with rare diseases are not being met and that more work is needed to provide psychosocial support for this group,” said De. Kathleen Bogart, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University. “There is a disparity here and intervention is needed.”
About 350 million people around the world live with at least one rare disease, and there are about 7,000 diseases classified as rare because they affect small numbers of people, the researchers noted. Rare is defined in the U.S. as fewer than 200,000 Americans at one time; in Europe, fewer than 1 in 2,000 people.
The new study is part of a larger, multi-part study, the Adults with Rare Disorders Support project, designed to assess the psychosocial support needs of people with a variety of rare diseases and disorders.
While each disease may have its own set of characteristics and health impacts, researchers have found that people with rare diseases often share similar characteristics and experiences, including little information or treatment, lengthy times to diagnosis, and isolation.
Because of this shared experience, they may also benefit from similar types of psychosocial supports, according to Bogart.
“Even though their diseases are different, their experience is similar,” she said. “There is some benefit to looking at this group collectively, rather than trying to work with each small rare disease group independently.”
For the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,200 U.S. residents with rare diseases, asking them to complete questionnaires about their disease and their quality of life.
The survey group represented 232 rare diseases, including ataxia, Bell’s palsy, Ehlers Danlos syndrome, mast cell disorders, and narcolepsy. Researchers discovered that 13 percent of the group had more than one rare disease.
Compared to a representative sample of U.S. residents, people with rare diseases experienced:
- worse anxiety than 75 percent of the population;
- worse depression than 70 percent of the population;
- worse fatigue than 85 percent of the population;
- worse pain than 75 percent of the population;
- worse physical functioning than 85 percent of the population, and;
- worse ability to participate in society than 80 percent of the population.
Those with rare diseases also had poorer quality of life than U.S. residents with common chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis, Bogart said.
“There is something specific about having a ‘rare’ disease that contributes to poorer quality of life,” she said. “Many people struggle with getting an accurate diagnosis, which also can lead to a constant de-legitimization of their experience, with people wondering if it is ‘all in your head.'”
According to the study’s findings, participants waited, on average, nine years before receiving a correct diagnosis.
Study participants with systematic and rheumatic diseases had the poorest quality of life profiles, and those with neurological diseases also had very poor quality of life, according to the study’s findings. People with developmental anomalies experienced fewer quality of life problems than the other groups.
The study’s findings suggest that quality of life issues, such as psychosocial support, should receive more priority from organizations and funding agencies that support people with rare diseases and disorders, Bogart said.
Supporting quality of life is especially important for people living with one of the 95 percent of rare disorders that have no effective treatments, she said.
Including psychosocial support in organizational mission statements, providing psychosocial support through support groups or conferences, and making funding for psychosocial support a priority could help address quality of life issues for people with rare diseases, in part by helping reduce stigma and isolation and improving access to information and treatments, the researchers said.
The study was published in Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases.
Source: Oregon State University