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Mild Obsessive-Compulsive Signs in Kids Tied to Cerebral Differences

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 14:30

Children with mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms exhibit distinct anatomical differences in the cerebrum, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal).

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, may positively impact the development of prevention strategies for long-term mental health disorders.

Mild symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are far more common among children and adults than the more serious cases of the disorder that require medical and psychological attention. While OCD affects between 1 and 2 percent of the population, mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms may be present in up to nearly one-third of the population.

These milder symptoms may include, for example, recurrent thoughts about catching a disease after being in contact with objects in public spaces, fear of having inadvertently carried out some potentially dangerous behavior (such as leaving the door open when leaving home), or the need to place the objects of house or the workspace in perfect order and symmetry.

Likewise, these fears are often accompanied by compulsions such as repetitive and unnecessary cleaning and checking or organization behaviors that, although they are generally perceived as excessive, are difficult to control.

Although the majority of these mild cases do not interfere with daily life and do not require special attention, some cases  — such as after a prolonged stressful situation — can lead to the appearance of a more severe condition than requires specialized treatment.

Childhood is a period particularly sensitive to the presence of obsessive-compulsive symptoms. For example, it is relatively normal for children to “need” to touch each and every one of the bars of a fence, line up their shoes in a certain way, or add up or repeat aloud the numbers of car license plates.

“In a small percentage of cases, however, these symptoms may be indicators of an increased risk of developing an obsessive-compulsive disorder that requires treatment, during childhood or in adulthood,” said Dr. Carles Soriano-Mas, lead author of the study.

For the study, 255 boys and girls aged 8 to 12, all healthy, and without any diagnosis of any mental health disorder, were asked to answer a questionnaire about the presence of mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

The most frequently observed symptoms were those related to behaviors of checking, ordering and looking for symmetry, the unnecessary accumulation of objects, as well as the repeated presence of negative and disturbing thoughts.

The children also underwent structural magnetic resonance, a harmless technique that allowed researchers to explore in great detail the cerebral anatomy. The cerebrum is the largest and most prominent part of the brain, where things like perception, imagination, thought, judgment and decision-making occur.

“When comparing the results of the questionnaire to the cerebral anatomy, we found out that the different symptoms observed, in spite of their mild character, could be associated to specific anatomical characteristics,” said Soriano-Mas.

“Interestingly, these same anatomical characteristics have also been observed in patients with more severe symptoms, with a diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

The findings suggest that some mental disorders, including OCD, can be considered an extreme manifestation of certain characteristics that frequently appear among the healthy population.

“It is also necessary to consider other factors of a diverse nature, such as social, educational and general welfare ones, to determine why in some cases these symptoms remain mild and under control, and in others they evolve to more severe forms that require specialized attention,” said Soriano-Mas.

The results may also have an impact on prevention strategies for mental health disorders. For example, brain anatomy could be more closely monitored in high-risk individuals (the children of parents with psychiatric disorders, for example), so that the probability of developing a condition that interferes with their normal development can be estimated.


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Mindfulness Shown to Ease College Student Stress

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 13:00

Mindfulness training can help support students at risk of mental health problems, according to a new study.

While anxiety and depression among first-year college students is lower than the general population, it increases during their second year, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

The researchers note that the number of students accessing counseling services in the U.K. grew by 50 percent from 2010 to 2015, surpassing the growth in the number of students during the same period.

There is little consensus as to whether students are suffering more mental disorders, are less resilient than in the past, or whether there is less stigma attached to accessing support, the researchers noted. Whatever the reason, mental health support services for students are becoming stretched.

“Given the increasing demands on student mental health services, we wanted to see whether mindfulness could help students develop preventative coping strategies,” said Géraldine Dufour, head of the university’s Counseling Service.

A total of 616 students took part in the study, randomized into two groups. Both groups were offered access to comprehensive centralized support at the University of Cambridge Counseling Service, in addition to support available from the university and its colleges, and from health services, including the National Health Service.

Half of the students — 309 — were also offered the Mindfulness Skills for Students course. This consisted of eight, weekly, face-to-face, group-based sessions based on the book “Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World,” adapted for university students.

Students were encouraged to also practice at home, starting at eight-minute meditations, and increasing to about 15 to 25 minutes a day. They also were encouraged to try other mindfulness practices, such as mindful walking and mindful eating.

The other half of the students were offered mindfulness training the following year.

The researchers then assessed the impact of the mindfulness training on stress during the main annual examination period in May and June 2016, the most stressful weeks for most students. They measured this using the CORE-OM, a generic assessment used in many counseling services.

The study found that the mindfulness course led to lower distress scores after the course and during the exam term compared with students who only received the usual support.

Mindfulness participants were a third less likely to have scores above a threshold commonly seen as meriting mental health support, the study found.

Distress scores for the mindfulness group during exam time fell below their baseline levels — measured at the start of the study, before exam time — while the students who received the standard support became increasingly stressed as the academic year progressed, according to the researchers.

The researchers also looked at other measures, such as self-reported well-being. They found that mindfulness training improved well-being during the exam period when compared with the usual support.

“Students who had been practicing mindfulness had distress scores lower than their baseline levels even during exam time, which suggests that mindfulness helps build resilience against stress,” said Dr. Julieta Galante from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge, who led the study.

“The evidence is mounting that mindfulness training can help people cope with accumulative stress,” added Professor Peter Jones, also from the Department of Psychiatry. “While these benefits may be similar to some other preventative methods, mindfulness could be a useful addition to the interventions already delivered by university counseling services. It appears to be popular, feasible, acceptable and without stigma.”

The study was published in The Lancet Public Health.

Source: University of Cambridge

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Negative Feelings May Be Overstated in Surveys

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 16:00

A new study shows that we tend to overstate our negative feelings and symptoms in surveys.

According to researchers at New York University, this bias wears off over time, but the results point to the possibility that measurements of health and well-being, which are vital in making medical assessments and in guiding health-related research, may be misinterpreted.

“Understanding the magnitude of this bias is essential in accurately interpreting survey results that include subjective reports of feelings and symptoms,” said Dr. Patrick Shrout, a professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and a co-author of the paper, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While researchers have long understood that survey instruments are imperfect measurements of mood and emotions, they do provide insights into people’s preferences, fears, and priorities — information that policy makers, industry leaders, and health-care professionals rely on in their decision-making.

Less clear, however, is the accuracy of capturing our sentiments over time using repeated measurements, which is a common method to gauge changes in symptoms, attitudes, and well-being, the researchers said.

They point to puzzling findings in the psychological literature that reports of anxiety, depression and physical symptoms decline over time, regardless of the circumstances of the people being studied.

To study this decline, the NYU researchers conducted four separate experiments in which the subjects were asked, multiple times, about their anxiety, physical symptoms and energy level.

In three of the four studies, the subjects were facing stressful events and the expectation was that anxiety and physical complaints, such as headaches and sleep disturbance, would be more common as the event drew near.

One of these studies focused on recent law school graduates preparing for the bar examination, while two others centered on college students who were preparing for difficult pre-med science examinations.

The fourth study was a bi-monthly survey of college students over the course of an academic year.

All four studies were designed so that groups of subjects gave their first reports at different times relative to the stressful event or academic year, the researchers explained.

In all the studies, subjects reported more anxiety and symptoms the first time they completed the survey compared to their own later reports, according to the researchers.

This initial elevation was limited to the first survey day, and it was inconsistent with the course of anxiety and symptoms normally associated with a difficult event, the researchers noted.

Although previous researchers assumed the pattern of decline was due to response bias of later reports, the NYU researchers concluded that the pattern of decline over time was likely due to an overstatement of distress and symptoms the first time, rather than an understatement in later times.

This is the only explanation that accounted for the fact that anxiety was more elevated four weeks before the exam than three weeks before, they note.

Moreover, the law school graduates who were asked to report current anxiety and symptoms for the first time one week after the bar exam had elevation similar to others who had not yet taken the exam, the study found.

Source: New York University

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Juggling Bills Often Accompanies Food Insecurity

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 14:45

Individuals who pawn family valuables to make ends meet or must choose to pay one bill over another are at greater risk of food insecurity, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois.

The researchers observed data gathered from people who visit food pantries and found that these financial coping strategies can help identify individuals who are very food insecure or at risk for becoming food insecure.

“It’s not just about income,” said U of I economist Dr. Craig Gundersen, who coauthored the study. “In order to determine whether or not people are food insecure, we’ve been asking if they are uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food because they had insufficient money or other resources. Now we’re seeing that it’s more complicated than that.”

The study involved surveying a random sample of particularly vulnerable people — those visiting food pantries — through the Hunger in America 2014 survey data set. Gundersen said this population is often overlooked in studies based on nationally representative surveys. One reason is that some people who go to food pantries may be marginally housed or homeless, so other surveys would have missed them.

“Families who can’t pay their bills may resort to any number of coping strategies, such as getting help from family and friends, pawning personal property, purchasing the cheapest foods possible, using expired foods and diluting foods,” says Gundersen.

“Whenever we looked at the number of coping strategies that were being used, we saw that they were also more likely to be food insecure. If mothers are watering down their infant’s formula, that’s a clear sign that they’re likely to be food insecure.”

He said you may not be able to ask someone about their food insecurity status, but you can ask them if they are juggling bills.

One way people who are food insecure can get help is through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program). Gundersen is a strong supporter of the program, saying that research has proven its profound impact on reducing food insecurity.

“SNAP dollars free up money to pay other bills, such as medical or utility bills,” Gundersen said. “Many of these families just need a little bit of help financially to be able to keep up with their bills.”

He adds that many people who visit food pantries are also SNAP recipients.

“SNAP is fantastic, but for a lot of households, it’s just not enough to get them through the entire month. Food pantries help fill that gap. Another group of people going to food pantries is those who are not eligible for SNAP. Their incomes are just a little too high, so the only places they can turn to are food pantries,” he said.

People who visit food pantries are one of the highest populations at risk in the United States.

“The food insecurity rates we find are 80 percent — substantially higher than for the U.S. as a whole, which is about 15 percent. We’re looking at those people who are most in danger of food insecurity. And inability to pay bills is a key determinant.”

Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences



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Thinking About Germs Tied to Concern for Personal Appearance

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 12:30

A new study finds that simply thinking about germs or infections causes us to start worrying about our physical appearance, particularly among chronic germ worriers.

The findings, appearing in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that the possibility of catching a germ triggers the so-called “behavioral immune system,” leading us to focus not only on our own vulnerability to disease but also how we appear to others.

“The behavioral immune system helps us search out signs of infection in others, even signs that are innocuous and don’t actually indicate infection, and often leads us to avoid those people,” said psychological scientist Dr. Joshua M. Ackerman of the University of Michigan, lead author on the new research.

“Our findings show that when people are worried about pathogens, they also evaluate their own physical appearance, which motivates them to pursue behaviors and products intended to improve appearance, including exercise, makeup and plastic surgery.”

This research is novel, say the researchers, because it highlights the relationship between disease threat and how we think about the self, as opposed to research focusing on how we think about others.

“This work is important because it demonstrates situations when people may engage in problematic health behaviors and spending, but also because it suggests that we might improve some of the negativity people have about their appearance by alleviating their concerns about infectious disease,” Ackerman said.

For the study, Ackerman and co-researchers Drs. Joshua M. Tybur (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and Chad R. Mortensen (Metropolitan State University of Denver) conducted a series of seven experiments investigating the link between infection threat and self-image.

In one experiment, 160 participants were asked to read a scenario either about volunteering at a hospital (pathogen threat) or a scenario about organizing a home workspace (control). After reading the scenarios, the participants completed a budgeting task, in which they were given fictitious money to spend as they wished to improve personal traits.

Participants had the option to spend the money to enhance a variety of traits including creativity, kindness, work ethic, intelligence, sense of humor and physical attractiveness.

The findings reveal that participants who were particularly stressed about germs showed more concern about their appearance and spent more money on improving their physical attractiveness if they had read the hospital scenario compared with those who read the workspace scenario.

Further experiments also showed that reading about a potential pathogen also increased germ-averse participants’ insecurity regarding their appearance and interest in appearance-related behaviors and products (e.g., plastic surgery, cosmetics).

“Perhaps the most surprising element in our findings was that infectious disease threat more consistently influenced evaluations of people’s own physical appearance than it influenced their evaluations of health,” says Ackerman.

“We might expect that worries about disease would have lead people to care strongly about their own well-being and take steps to improve it, but this was less common than changes in how people saw their own appearance.”

The researchers are currently conducting follow-up studies, investigating, for example, whether interventions such as hand washing might disrupt the link between pathogen threat and appearance concern.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Coloring Books Relieve Some Stress, But Real Art Therapy Boosts Mood, Creativity

Sat, 12/16/2017 - 13:30

A new study shows that although the extremely popular adult coloring books can reduce stress, they are not nearly as effective for mental health as engaging in true art therapy. The findings show that participants who created their own art in a therapist-assisted open studio experienced heightened creativity, more positive mood and feelings of empowerment, whereas those who worked on coloring alone did not improve in these areas.

“Coloring might allow for some reduction in distress or negativity, but since it is a structured task, it might not allow for further creative expression, discovery, and exploration which we think is associated with the positive mood improvements we saw in the open studio condition,” said study leader Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor in Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.

For the study, which involved 29 participants aged 19 to 67, the researchers conducted two 40-minute exercises, one involving coloring only and the other involving direct input from an art therapist. The goal was to observe whether either one led to significant differences in mood and stress levels.

In the coloring exercise, the participants colored in a pattern or design. Although an art therapist was in the room, they did not interact with the participants.

In the second exercise, participants were placed in an “open studio” situation, where an art therapist was present and able to facilitate the session, as well as provide guidance and support to process the experience and artwork. In this exercise, the participants were allowed to create any type of art they wished, whether it involved coloring, sketching, doodling, or working with modeling clay. As the participants worked on their pieces, the art therapists created art as well, and were available to assist the participants if they asked for help.

Before and after each session, the participants completed standardized surveys ranking their stress levels and feelings.

The findings show that perceived stress levels went down approximately the same level for both exercises (10 percent for coloring; 14 percent for open studio). Negative mental states also showed similar decreases (roughly a seven percent decrease for coloring; six percent for open studio).

But while the coloring exercise didn’t show significant changes for any other effects, participants in the therapist-aided open studio session experienced a seven percent increase in self-efficacy, four percent increase in creative agency, and a 25 percent increase in positive feelings.

“The art therapists’ open studio sessions resulted in more empowerment, creativity, and improved mood, which are significant for individuals striving to improve their quality of life and make lasting change,” said Kaimal.

“Many of the outcomes were enabled through the relational support from the art therapist. The art therapist-facilitated session involves more interpersonal interaction, problem solving around creative choices and expression, empowerment, and perhaps more learning about the self and others. That all contributes to the outcomes we saw.”

So while coloring did help alleviate bad feelings, it didn’t create good feelings in the way that actual art therapy might.

“The main takeaway is that coloring has some limited benefits like reducing stress and negative mental states. But it does not shift anything else of substance, develop relationships, nor result in any personal development.”

The findings are published in the Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal.

Source: Drexel University

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Can Air Pollution Influence Teen Behavior?

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 14:00

A profound new study links higher levels of air pollution to increased teenage delinquency. Researchers from University of Southern California’s (USC) Keck School of Medicine believe the association is a reminder of the importance of clean air and the need for more foliage in urban spaces.

Tiny pollution particles called particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), 30 times smaller than a strand of hair, are extremely harmful to your health, explains Dr. Diana Younan, lead author of the study.”These tiny, toxic particles creep into your body, affecting your lungs and your heart,” said Younan, a preventive medicine research associate at the Keck School of Medicine.

“Studies are beginning to show exposure to various air pollutants also causes inflammation in the brain. PM2.5 is particularly harmful to developing brains because it can damage brain structure and neural networks and, as our study suggests, influence adolescent behaviors.”

The study suggests that ambient air pollution may increase delinquent behavior among nine to 18-year-olds in urban neighborhoods in Greater Los Angeles. The insidious effects are compounded by poor parent-child relationships and parental mental and social distress, researchers said.

“Previous studies by others have shown that early exposure to lead disrupts brain development and increases aggressive behavior and juvenile delinquency,” Younan said.

“It’s possible that growing up in places with unhealthy levels of small particles outdoors may have similar negative behavioral outcomes, though more research is needed to confirm this. Both lead and PM2.5 are environmental factors that we can clean up through a concerted intervention effort and policy change.”

The study, which appears in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, followed 682 children in Greater Los Angeles for nine years starting when they were nine.

Parents completed a child-behavior checklist every few years and noted if their child had engaged in 13 rule-breaking behaviors, including lying and cheating, truancy, stealing, vandalism, arson, or substance abuse. Up to four assessments were recorded per participant.

Researchers used 25 air quality monitors to measure daily air pollution in Southern California from 2000 to 2014. They computed each participant’s residential address and used mathematical modeling to estimate the ambient PM2.5 levels outside each home.

About 75 percent of the participants breathed ambient air pollution that exceeded the federal recommended levels of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Some areas had nearly double the recommended amount of these particles.

“It is widely recognized that ambient air pollution is detrimental to the respiratory and cardiovascular health of young and old alike. But in recent years, scientists have come to acknowledge the negative impact of air pollution on human brains and behaviors,” said Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and senior author of the study.

Environmental scientists and economists have speculated that elevated air pollution levels could increase criminal activities in communities. Interestingly, data show that both ambient PM2.5 concentration and crime rates in Southern California have been on the decline, the study stated.

Researchers believe future studies should examine whether that is mere coincidence or if tightened air regulation might have contributed to the declining crime rates in many metropolitan areas.

“Poor people, unfortunately, are more likely to live in urban areas in less than ideal neighborhoods,” Younan said. “Many affordable housing developments are built near freeways. Living so close to freeways causes health problems such as asthma and, perhaps, alters teenagers’ brain structures so that they are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior.”

Researchers believe the urban environment may increase teenage delinquency as the study identified higher air pollution estimates near freeways and in neighborhoods with limited greenspace or foliage.

Researchers noticed more delinquent behavior from boys, African-Americans, adolescents from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and people who lived in downtrodden neighborhoods with limited greenspace when compared to their counterparts.

The bad behaviors associated with increased outdoor air pollution levels were magnified when children did not have good relationships with their parents, lived with depressed mothers or grew up in homes with higher levels of parental stress.

“If you live in an area with high air pollution, like near a freeway or in a neighborhood with little greenery, try to avoid being outside so much and keep windows closed as much as possible when the ambient PM2.5 levels are high,” Younan said. “Try to compensate for air pollution by having a good indoor environment and healthy family dynamics.

“A bad parent-child relationship causes a stressful family environment, and if this goes on for too long, the teenager could be in a chronic state of stress. This could wreak havoc on the body, making teens more vulnerable to the effects of exposure to small particles. Many scientists suspect PM2.5 causes inflammation in the brain or somehow travels directly into the brain and messes with neural network connections, resulting in the observed bad behaviors.”

The data was adjusted for gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics, and neighborhood quality.

Source: USC

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Father’s Rejection Can Lead to Teen Anxiety

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 13:15

In a new study, Pennsylvania State University investigators discovered rejection from fathers during adolescence may lead to increases in social anxiety and loneliness among teens.

The paper appears in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Investigators examined how parental rejection, as well as the overall well-being of the family unit, were related to changes in adolescents’ social anxiety, friendships, and feelings of loneliness over time.

Hio Wa “Grace” Mak, a doctoral student of human development and family studies worked with Dr. Gregory Fosco, associate professor of human development and family studies, and Dr. Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development, on the study.

The researchers found that adolescents whose fathers were more rejecting tended to have more social anxiety later on, and in turn experienced more loneliness.

“We found that father rejection predicted increases in adolescents’ social anxiety, even when we controlled for social anxiety at an earlier time. In turn, this predicted increases in loneliness later on,” said Mak.

“This suggests that fathers’ rejecting attitudes toward their adolescent children may make them more nervous about approaching social situations, which in turn is related to more social isolation and feelings of loneliness.”

Forming and maintaining good relationships is essential to an adolescent’s well-being, according to the researchers.

Previous studies have shown that adolescents with thriving social lives tend to be more psychologically healthy, while those that struggle with forming good friendships tend to perform worse academically and suffer from more depressive symptoms.

“Adolescents’ success in forming positive, close relationships is such an important feature of that developmental period,” said Fosco. “These relationships help them achieve a sense of independence and to explore their identity and the world around them.”

The researchers said that social anxiety is one possible threat to adolescents’ social development.

Social anxiety is a type of anxiety that stems from the fear of being negatively judged by peers  and the related tendency to avoid social relationships or endure them with distress.

Mak said they were interested in learning more about how parental rejection and family climate affected a child’s friendship quality and loneliness through social anxiety.

The researchers focused on 687 families comprised of a mother, father, and adolescent child. They looked at families at three time points — when the child was in sixth, seventh and eighth grades — which allowed them to study development over time.

At each time point, the researchers measured mother and father rejection separately by asking each parent about their feelings of love, distrust, and dissatisfaction with their child. The parents also answered questions about the overall family climate, and the adolescent reported their feelings of social anxiety, friendship quality, and loneliness.

After analyzing the data, Fosco said they found that all three aspects — mother rejection, father rejection, and the overall family climate — predicted changes in the adolescent’s peer relationship quality and loneliness. He said that in general, parental rejection was associated with poorer social adjustment, and a more positive family climate resulted in better friendship quality and less loneliness.

Mak said they also found that a father’s rejection in sixth grade was associated with increases in social anxiety when the adolescent was in seventh grade. Additionally, they found social anxiety in seventh grade predicted increases in loneliness in eighth grade.

“We found that mother rejection, father rejection, and the overall family climate all affect adolescents’ friendship quality and loneliness,” said Mak.

“Additionally, we found that father rejection, but not mother rejection, predicted changes in social anxiety. Fathers aren’t usually included in family research, so it’s important to know more about fathers and how they influence adolescent friendship and loneliness.”

According to the researchers, these findings can help guide better intervention strategies including helping adolescents with social anxiety and reinforcing the importance of the father and child relationship.

“Often, when we try to intervene and help promote positive peer relationships, we focus on the school setting, where a lot of these friendships are taking place,” Fosco said.

“I think these findings suggest that we should also reach out to families to help them support this sense of belonging and connection. We might be overlooking the family as an important piece of cultivating these healthy peer relationships.”

Source: Penn State/EurekAlert

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Apprehension Over Loss of Control May Fuel Anxiety Disorders

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 12:30

Do you know someone who when leaving their house, always goes back to check to ensure they turned off the gas or propane heaters? Or, do you double check that the front door is locked? Are you sure?

If this sounds familiar, perhaps you can relate to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as a new Canadian study clarifies how the fear of losing control over thoughts and actions impacts OCD-related behavior, including checking.

Concordia University researchers explain that although more traditional types of fear — be it of snakes, spiders, dogs, etc. — have been well investigated, this is one of the few studies to focus primarily on the fear of losing control.

“We’ve shown that people who believe they’re going to lose control are significantly more likely to exhibit checking behavior with greater frequency,” says Adam Radomsky, a psychology researcher.

“So, when we treat OCD in the clinic, we can try to reduce their beliefs about losing control and that should reduce their symptoms.”

Radomsky’s findings, coauthored authored with Ph.D. student Jean-Philippe Gagné, appear in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.

The study is the first in a series of related projects, funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

“The 133 undergraduate students who participated were given bogus EEGs. They were randomly assigned false feedback that they were either at low or high risk of losing control over their thoughts and actions,” explains Radomsky.

Next, participants were given a computerized task — trying to control the flow of images on a screen by using a sequence of key commands. At any time, they could push the space bar to check or confirm the key sequence.

Those who were led to believe that their risk of losing control was higher engaged in far more checking than those who were led to believe that the risk was low.

Surprisingly, the students who participated in the study did not self-identify as having OCD.

“If you can show that by leading people to believe they might be at risk of losing control, symptoms start to show themselves, then it can tell us something about what might be behind those symptoms in people who do struggle with the problem,” Radomsky says.

“This gives us something we can try to treat.”

The findings were consistent with what he and Gagné expected.

“We hypothesize that people’s fears and beliefs about losing control may put them at risk for a range of problems, including panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and others,” Radomsky adds.

“This work has the potential to vastly improve our ability to understand and treat the full range of anxiety-related problems.”

Source: Concordia University

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Many MDs Reluctant to Prescribe Cannabis for Kids with Cancer

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 14:00

Doctors who care for pediatric cancer patients receive frequent requests for medical marijuana to help relieve children’s pain, nausea, lack of appetite, depression, and anxiety. But how often is cannabis actually prescribed in these cases?

In a new study based on survey responses from 288 interdisciplinary providers in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, researchers found that 92 percent of providers are willing to help children with cancer access medical marijuana. In fact, only two percent believed that medical marijuana was never appropriate for a child with cancer.

However, the study found that providers who are actually legally eligible to prescribe medical marijuana are less open to endorsing its use. This is mainly due to concerns around federal prohibition, institutional policies, and a lack of scientific evidence and standards on the medication’s formulations, dosing, and potency.

The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, highlight the need for rigorously designed clinical trials on the use of medical marijuana in children with cancer.

“It is not surprising that providers who are eligible to certify for medical marijuana were more cautious about recommending it, given that their licensure could be jeopardized due to federal prohibition,” said co-author Kelly Michelson, M.D., critical care physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“Institutional policies also may have influenced their attitudes. Lurie Children’s, for example, prohibits pediatric providers from facilitating medical marijuana access in accordance with the federal law, even though it is legal in Illinois.”

Michelson is also an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The findings show that nearly a third of providers receive one or more requests for medical marijuana for relief of nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, pain, depression, and anxiety. The majority of providers (63 percent) were not concerned about potential substance abuse in children who receive medical marijuana. Their greatest concern was the absence of standards around prescribing medical marijuana to children with cancer.

“In addition to unclear dosage guidelines, the lack of high quality scientific data that medical marijuana benefits outweigh possible harm is a huge concern for providers accustomed to evidence-based practice,” said Michelson. “We need rigorously designed clinical trials on the use of medical marijuana in children with cancer.”

Most providers consider medical marijuana more permissible for use in children with advanced cancer or near the end of life than in earlier stages of cancer treatment. This is consistent with the current American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) position that sanctions medical marijuana use for “children with life-limiting or seriously debilitating conditions.”

Source: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

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Diet Can Influence Mood Differently By Age

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 12:30

Emerging research suggests that dietary practices affect mental health differently in young versus older adults.

Investigators from Binghamton University, State University of New York conducted an anonymous Internet survey, asking people around the world to complete the Food-Mood Questionnaire (FMQ). The survey includes questions on food groups that have been associated with neurochemistry and neurobiology.

Assistant professors Lina Begdache and Nasim Sabounchi found that mood in young adults (18-29) seems to be dependent on food that increases availability of neurotransmitter precursors and concentrations in the brain (meat).

However, mood in mature adults (over 30 years) may be more reliant on food that increases availability of antioxidants (fruits) and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the sympathetic nervous system (coffee, high glycemic index, and skipping breakfast).

“One of the major findings of this paper is that diet and dietary practices differentially affect mental health in young adults versus mature adults,” said Begdache.

“Another noteworthy finding is that young adult mood appears to be sensitive to build-up of brain chemicals. Regular consumption of meat leads to buildup of two brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) known to promote mood.

Regular exercise leads to buildup of these and other neurotransmitters as well. In other words, young adults who ate meat (red or white) less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress.”

“Conversely, mature adult mood seems to be more sensitive to regular consumption of sources of antioxidants and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the innate fight-or-flight response, commonly known as the stress response,” added Begdache.

“With aging, there is an increase in free radical formation (oxidants), so our need for antioxidants increases. Free radicals cause disturbances in the brain, which increases the risk for mental distress.

“Also, our ability to regulate stress decreases, so if we consume food that activates the stress response (such as coffee and too much carbohydrates), we are more likely to experience mental distress.”

Begdache and her team are interested in comparing dietary intake between men and women in relation to mental distress. There is a gender difference in brain morphology which may be also sensitive to dietary components, and may potentially explain some the documented gender-specific mental distress risk, said Begdache.

Source: Binghamton University/EurekAlert

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High Morning Cortisol Tied to Long-term Anxiety in Family Members of ICU Patients

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 14:00

When a patient enters intensive care for critical illness, his or her family members often suffer from long-term anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, or other negative effects.

A new study published in the journal Critical Care Medicine finds that a biomarker may help identify which family members will be most emotionally impacted by their loved one’s ICU stay. In particular, family members who showed a morning spike in cortisol were more likely to still be suffering from anxiety three months later.

Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone,” because it can spike during stressful times, such as when a loved one is critically ill.

Study leader Elliotte L. Hirshberg, M.D., MS, a critical care physician at Intermountain Medical Center and director of the Center for Humanizing Critical Care asserts that family members need time to adjust to their new roles, situations, and responsibilities.

“This study confirms the long-held belief that family members are experiencing stress during an ICU stay. This is important,” said Hirshberg. “The next step we hope to take in the future is to study support interventions that can reduce this stress and the associated anxiety, depression, and PTSD that may follow.”

For the study, the researchers followed the family members of patients who’d been admitted to Intermountain Medical Center’s medical/surgical intensive care unit. Three months after the patient was discharged, the researchers found that 32 percent of the family members in the study suffered from anxiety, 16 percent had symptoms of depression, and 15 percent reported signs of post-traumatic stress.

Researchers also discovered an increase of about 50 percent in family members’ cortisol levels first thing in the morning, which was associated with anxiety in family members three months after hospital discharge.

Unlike the surge in cortisol shortly after awakening, general cortisol levels weren’t found to predict long-term symptoms of mood disorders among study participants.

Researchers focused on family members because they’re an important part of a patient’s recovery team and often have their own unmet needs. After an ICU discharge, family members must face new challenges, including caring for a sick loved one, learning how to provide medical care, and perhaps experiencing a change in employment.

Post-intensive care syndrome in families, sometimes called PICS-F, is a widely recognized syndrome and can impact up to 60 percent of family members. PICS-F includes anxiety, depression, PTSD, and difficulty transitioning to a new state of well-being, according to Hirshberg.

There’s likely a link between family member wellness and a patient’s trajectory for recovery, said Hirshberg.

For the study, researchers enrolled families of patients who were gravely ill. Some groups were excluded, including those with a history of PTSD, dementia, or schizophrenia and those on medications containing steroids, which impacts cortisol secretion.

Besides confirming a link between mood disorders and cortisol, the researchers also found that having a history of anxiety is associated with anxiety three months after the hospitalization. Depression and anxiety are likely to co-exist, so more work needs to be done to identify interventions that can decrease the symptoms of PICS in family members.

Of the 100 participants registered for the study, 92 continued through the follow-up at three months. The average age was 54 and nearly two-thirds were female, while 71 percent lived with the patient before the ICU admission. Fifty-three percent of participants were married to the patient.

Cortisol was measured using saliva samples at five predetermined times over 24 hours. The study had some limitations: The link between general cortisol secretion and chronic stress is unclear, and the levels reported in the study may have reflected a combination of chronic and acute stress. In addition, the study did not account for stresses unrelated to the ICU.

“Because participants had to leave the patient’s room briefly and some declined, it’s possible that those family members have higher stress and they were not included in the study,” said  Hirshberg.

Source: Intermountain Medical Center

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Disagreements May Help to Reduce Bias

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 13:15

The power of favoritism is impressive. A person’s preferences can influence everything from the brands we buy to the way we treat other people. Moreover, in today’s world, these pre-existing beliefs can lead to intense racial, political, and religious conflicts.

Unfortunately acrimony is high in many areas of society leading investigators to wonder if proactive strategies may be used to help reduce bias.

New research from the College of Business at Virginia Tech University suggests that it’s possible to activate a mindset that leads people to become open to questioning their assumptions. One of the reasons biases are so rampant is rooted in the human need for “cognitive consistency,” which means processing information in a way that confirms preset beliefs, explains Ann-Sophie Chaxel, author of the study.

“Usually we think we are objective when we make decisions, but we are very subjective,” Chaxel says. “People unconsciously distort information to confirm their pre-existing beliefs.”

Chaxel explored whether she could lead people to reconsider their own beliefs by disrupting the cognitive consistency thinking process.

She started by asking one group of participants to write short essays explaining why they agreed or disagreed with three statements that most people would disagree with, such as “Learning about the past has no value for those of us living in the present.”

This activated what is called a “counter-arguing mindset,” which can help to reduce bias. Participants in the control group wrote essays about neutral topics, such as “What is your idea of a perfect vacation.”

Then she asked participants to choose between two laptops based on the descriptions of three product attributes —
design, keyboard, and features. The description of the first attribute clearly favored one of the laptops to give participants a “preliminary preference” for this one.

After reading about the other two attributes of both laptops, Chaxel recorded the extent to which this preliminary preference impacted participants’ evaluation of the following two product attributes.

The results showed people who had written about why they disagreed with statements were much less likely to be influenced by their preliminary preferences in the choice process.

“By prompting people to disagree with three unrelated statements, they became much more skeptical about their early preference,” Chaxel says.

In another experiment, people read product descriptions about new sports drinks that would be theoretically launched by Coke and Pepsi.

This time, the descriptions were equally favorable, so participants selected a drink based on their pre-existing preference for one of the brands.

As before, participants wrote essays explaining why they disagreed with three statements or about three neutral topics.

Then they made their choice between two Coke and Pepsi products. Again, people who had written essays refuting statements were less likely to be influenced by their pre-existing preference for one brand.

These findings suggest that exposing ourselves to beliefs that are different than our own is one way counteract the tendency to become biased.

“We tend to prefer being around people who share our opinions, but disagreeing is very healthy,” Chaxel says. “Sharing our beliefs with people who have opposing views is a natural way to create a counter-arguing mindset.”

The study is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Source: Society for Consumer Psychology/EurekAlert

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Online Social Networks May Ease Interpersonal Anxiety

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 12:30

Have you ever wanted to tell someone about a tough day at work but felt nervous about calling a friend to share what’s going on?

New research suggests technology in the form of online social networks may help people who feel apprehensive about one-on-one interactions. This relatively new communication channel was found to help people regulate emotions during times of need.

The study is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

“When people feel badly, they have a need to reach out to others because this can help reduce negative emotions and restore a sense of well-being,” said Dr. Eva Buechel, a professor in the business school at the University of South Carolina.

“But talking to someone face-to-face or on the phone might feel daunting because people may worry that they are bothering them. Sharing a status update on Facebook or tweet on Twitter allows people to reach out to a large audience in a more undirected manner.”

Sharing short messages to an audience on a social network, called microblogging, allows people to reach out without imposing unwanted communication on someone who might feel obligated to respond.

Responses on online social networks are more voluntary. To test whether people are more likely to microblog when they feel socially apprehensive, Buechel asked participants in one group to write about a time when they had no one to talk to at a party, while the control group wrote about office products.

Then she asked the participants who had an online social network account to log in and spend two minutes on their preferred social network. When the time ended, she asked people if they had microblogged. The results showed that those who had been led to feel socially apprehensive were more likely to microblog.

To explore who is more likely to microblog, Buechel conducted another experiment in which one group of participants watched a clip from the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” while the control group watched clips of pictures from space.

Then they answered questions about how likely they were to express themselves in three different forms of communication: microblogging, in person or direct message (a private online message to an individual).

Finally, she asked people to answer a series of questions that measured their level of social anxiety in a variety of situations.

Buechel discovered that people who were higher on the social apprehension scale were more likely to microblog after they had experienced negative emotions (as a result of watching the “Silence of The Lambs” clip).

People who were low on the social apprehension scale, however, were more interested in sharing face-to-face or via direct message after watching the scary clip.

“There is a lot of research showing that sharing online is less ideal than having communication in person, but these social networks could be an important communication channel for certain individuals who would otherwise stay isolated,” she said.

She acknowledges that there is a danger for those who start to rely on social media as their only form of communication, but when used wisely, microblogging can be a valuable means of buffering negative emotions though social interaction.

Source: Society for Consumer Psychology/EurekAlert

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Using Emojis to Assess Cancer Patients’ Quality of Life

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 14:45

New research suggests using emojis instead of traditional emotional scales can help providers better assess a patients’ physical, emotional, and overall quality of life.

In findings presented to the American Society of Hematology, Mayo Clinic researchers found that using iPhones and Apple Watches were favored by patients, and the technology helped collect study data accurately and efficiently.

The study, created using Apple’s ResearchKit framework, showed that Apple Watch provides objective, continuous activity data that correlates with established cancer patient-reported outcomes.

“Cancer patients receive complex medical care, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted agents that may result in physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual consequences that can negatively impact quality of life and the ability to perform certain activities without help,” says lead author Carrie Thompson, M.D., a hematologist at Mayo Clinic.

“These quality of life factors play an important role in predicting survival and determining the best treatment options.”

Dr. Thompson says gauging a patient’s qualify of life and performance status can be challenging, because it typically involves completing lengthy paper questionnaires, which can be burdensome for patients and may be inaccurate.

“In our study, we wanted to determine if wearable technology data could be correlated with traditional, validated patient-reported outcome measures in cancer patients,” said Dr. Thompson.

Researchers recruited 115 patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma at Mayo Clinic with expected life spans of less than five years and who owned an iPhone 5 or later.

All patients were provided with an Apple Watch and downloaded a study app at enrollment. Researchers collected baseline data, including questions regarding physical function, fatigue, sleep, social role, function, and quality of life.

In addition, researchers developed two electronic emoji scales to measure quality of life.

“Emojis are a near universal, popular form of communication, understandable by diverse populations, including those with low health literacy,” Thompson said.

“There are several studies that attempt to predict individual well-being based on analysis of social media postings on Facebook and Twitter, but these studies do not focus on emojis as a mechanism for patients to express how they are feeling on a given day. If we can demonstrate that simple emojis are a valid and reliable measure of patient well-being, it could transform the way patient well-being assessments are accomplished.”

During the first week of the study, patients wore their Apple Watch for an average of 9.3 hours per day, took 3,760 mean steps per day, exercised 8.3 minutes per day, were sedentary 224.9 minutes per day, and burned 115.8 kilocalories per day.

Researchers observed significant correlations between standard patient-reported outcome measures and activity data. The strongest association or linkage was between steps per day, and the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System physical function scoring system.

In addition, researchers found that patients’ emoji responses were significantly associated with standard patient-reported outcomes.

“While further research is needed to validate the use of wearable activity monitors in cancer care, we believe this technology has the potential to improve the way we care for patients,” Thompson said.

“In the future, it may be possible to monitor patient symptoms and communicate with patients between appointments via wearable technology.”

Source: Mayo Clinic/Newswise

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Retirement May Help Improve Sleep

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:30

New research suggests a silver lining to aging; investigators discovered retirement from work life is associated with longer sleep.

The quality of sleep also improves, as retired people experience less early morning awakenings or nonrestorative sleep, unlike in their last working years. Non-restorative sleep occurs when a person experiences tiredness and fatigue after sleeping for a regular duration.

In the study, Finish researchers, in collaboration with the Finnish Institution of Occupational Health, University of Helsinki, and University College London Medical School discovered self-reported duration of sleep increased and stayed on the achieved level for years after retirement.

Of interest, researchers discovered duration of sleep increased especially for people who had had sleep difficulties or were heavy alcohol users prior to retirement. Among these individuals, the duration of sleep after retirement increased by 45 minutes for people who did not get enough sleep during their employment.

Experts explain that a sufficient amount of sleep is very important for our health and functioning. Individuals have different needs of sleep, but it is recommended for people over the age of 65 to sleep for 7-8 hours a night.

Retiring enables people to sleep longer, as work schedules no longer determine the times for sleeping and waking up, said doctoral candidate Saana Myllyntausta from the University of Turku.

During their last years of employment, different sleep difficulties were experienced by 30 percent of the people. After retiring, only 26 percent of the people were experiencing sleep difficulties. The researchers discovered that, of different kinds of sleep difficulties, people experienced a decrease especially in early morning awakenings and nonrestorative sleep.

Sleep difficulties decreased especially among people who experienced their work as stressful and their health as poor before retirement. Sleep difficulties decreased the most for people who experienced psychological distress before retirement.

For example, work-related stress is known to disturb sleep. One reason for the decrease in sleeping difficulties during retirement could be the removal of work-related stress, said Myllyntausta.

The study followed approximately 5,800 people who participated in the Finnish Public Sector study by the Finnish Institution of Occupational Health and who retired on a statutory basis in 2000-2011.

The participants estimated their sleep duration and the prevalence of different kinds of sleep difficulties in surveys before and after retiring.

Source: University of Turku

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Mindful Yoga Can Reduce Risky Behavior in Troubled Youth

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 15:30

A new study shows a significant reduction in risky sex and substance abuse in troubled 18- to 24-year-olds after several months of participating in mindful yoga and other positive coping strategies.

As part of a 10-year study looking at risk-taking and decision-making, Dr. Jacinda Dariotis, a University of Cincinnati public health researcher, spent 12 months focusing on early life stressors as a predictor of risky sexual behavior, substance abuse, and delinquency for more than 125 at-risk youths.

She was surprised to find that a small number were already engaging in constructive coping behaviors on their own.

The study revealed that, in spite of early life stressors, positive coping behaviors, either learned or self-generated, can actually have a protective effect.

“We found that many of these youths who had endured stressful life events and otherwise would have fallen into the risky behavior trap could actually have positive outcomes later in life because they chose to join in prosocial physical activities, yoga or mindfulness meditation,” Dariotis said.

During the study, Dariotis looked at the disconnect between the youths who had intended to have positive influences in their lives but continually found themselves engaged in behaviors that had negative outcomes. She found a link between stressful life events and increased risky unprotected sex, violence, and substance abuse.

“We took a holistic approach, looking at these issues from a social and biological perspective,” said Dariotis, also director of UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services Evaluation Services Center. “In addition to question-and-answer information, we collected urine samples for drug use confirmation and testosterone levels early in the study to see how hormones played out in negative behaviors.”

According to Dariotis, testosterone can be influential in dominance and aggressive behaviors, but if directed through prosocial behaviors like sports, yoga, or healthy competition, it can have positive outcomes.

“If you are the star on your sports team, you are succeeding,” she said. “You can also be competitive academically where you succeed by competing with your peers.”

Before coming to the University of Cincinnati, Dariotis spent the last decade at Johns Hopkins University gathering most of the data, which includes neuroimaging and weekly questioning of hundreds of youth from all walks of life.

“I’m particularly interested in teaching at-risk youths to regulate their thoughts, processes and emotions,” said Dariotis. “The neuroimaging allows us to see what’s activated in one’s brain while at rest or performing tasks to help us understand the intersection between hormones, brain structure, and activity.”

Dariotis found that at-risk youth who voluntarily spend their time reading books, playing sports, or engaged in avoidance coping behaviors were twice as likely to avoid risky sexual behaviors or substance abuse. An example of avoidance coping behaviors is not thinking about a bad event that had occurred and, instead, thinking about what could be better, she explained.

Dariotis found youths who were unable to develop positive coping strategies were much more likely to turn to greater risk-taking behaviors that included unprotected sex or sex for money, substance abuse, violence, and crime.

Participating in weekly mindful yoga intervention programs as part of the current study taught the youths how to take control of their breathing and their emotions and helped them develop healthier long-term coping skills.

“These findings highlight the importance of implementing positive coping strategies for at-risk youth, particularly for reducing illicit drug use and risky sexual behavior,” she said. “Mindfulness-based yoga programs designed to improve the ability to cope are needed at earlier ages in schools to help vulnerable youths channel their skills more effectively.”

Given the relative low cost of such programs and easy adaptations to different populations and settings, Dariotis noted the return on investment may be substantial, especially if they can reduce arrests, repeat offenses, and other negative outcomes for risk-taking youth.

Source: University of Cincinnati

Photo: Youth engaging in mindful yoga. Credit: Aziz Acharki/Upsplash.

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Quick Test Can Tell Which Therapy May Be Best for Anxiety

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 14:00

Finding the right treatment for anxiety can be a struggle, with patients cycling through different therapies for months before finding the right one.

Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have found that a brief test that can be performed in the office can help determine whether an antidepressant or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) would be better at relieving a patient’s symptoms of anxiety.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and CBT are two often-used, first-line treatment options for anxiety. SSRIs are believed to relieve anxiety symptoms by modifying the transmission of serotonin in the brain. CBT helps patients modify dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors and encourages them to develop new cognitive and behavioral techniques to manage mood and anxiety symptoms, researchers explain.

Both are equally effective for treating anxiety, but who responds to one versus the other remains a mystery.

In previous research, Dr. Stephanie Gorka, an assistant professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine, showed that higher electrical activity in the brain in response to committing an error — known as error-related negativity or ERN — was associated with greater symptoms of anxiety.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” said Gorka. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you’ve made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

ERN can be measured using electroencephalography, or EEG, which records electrical signals from the brain through the scalp, she noted. A cap embedded with electrodes can pick up these signals. A larger ERN signal reflects an enhanced brain response when a mistake is made.

To elicit errors, participants in Gorka’s study wore an EEG cap while they performed a task that required them to quickly and accurately indicate the direction of a center arrow embedded within a string of arrows on a computer screen. A new screen would appear each time the participant indicated the direction of the center arrow using a button.

“The task is a bit harder than it sounds and the pace picks up, which inevitably leads to mistakes,” Gorka said.

For the study, the researchers recruited 60 adult volunteers with anxiety disorders and 26 healthy participants with no history of mental health problems. All completed the arrow task while undergoing EEG.

Next, participants with anxiety disorders were randomized to take an SSRI every day for 12 weeks or to 12 weekly sessions of CBT delivered by a psychotherapist.

After treatment, all participants completed the arrow task again to assess whether there were changes in neural reactivity related to making mistakes.

The researchers found that an enhanced ERN at the beginning of treatment was associated with greater reduction in anxiety for participants who received CBT, but not for those who received SSRIs. In fact, participants prescribed SSRIs had even more enhanced ERN at the end of the 12-week treatment period, according to the study’s findings.

“We found that ERN can help predict which patients will achieve better outcomes with cognitive behavioral therapy and that information is very useful because CBT is a time-intensive, less-available resource and because SSRIs can be associated with side effects, it’s good to know that a patient will do better on CBT to reduce the exposure to potential side effects,” Gorka said.

“Using EEG to measure ERN before deciding on a treatment gives us a simple and objective way to help more people get the right treatment the first time around,” said Dr. K. Luan Phan, a professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine. “Patients tend to leave treatment when the first attempt fails to reduce their symptoms. Once people drop out, we lose the opportunity to take care of them, and ultimately these patients continue to suffer from their anxiety.”

Gorka believes that participants with enhanced ERN do better with CBT because they respond well to the structured learning that occurs in the context of individual therapy.

“CBT is all about learning new techniques for reducing anxiety and learning to reframe overly negative ideas or feelings,” she said. “People highly attuned to their own behavior, as evidenced by their enhanced ERN, might just be more receptive and attentive to the lessons learned through CBT.”

The total time for set up and completion of the arrow task is less than 30 minutes, and because EEG equipment is relatively cheap, portable and available, Gorka thinks that it can be easily incorporated into practitioners’ offices and decision-making process when it comes to determining treatment.

The study was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

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Unfair Treatment at Work Tied to Longer Sick Leave

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 13:00

Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are more likely to take longer and more frequent time off due to illness, according to a new study by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Stockholm University.

Previous research has found that taking time off for illness is often tied to negative circumstances in the work environment. For example, low job control and decision-making opportunities have been shown to increase the likelihood of sick leave.

A relatively new determinant of employee health is the employee’s perception of fairness in the workplace, known as organizational justice. In the new study, researchers focused on one element of this, called interactional justice, which directly connects to the treatment of employees by managers.

Interactional justice can be further broken down into two subtypes of fairness: informational justice (defined as receiving truthful and candid information with adequate justifications) and  interpersonal justice (concerning respectful and dignified treatment by the manager).

For the study, the researchers from UEA’s Norwich Business School, the Stress Research Institute and the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University looked at data from more than 19,000 employees in Sweden.

They investigated the relationship between informational and interpersonal justice and long and frequent sickness absence. They also looked into whether times of high uncertainty at work, for example perceived job insecurity, had an effect on sick leave.

The findings show that lower levels of justice at work relate both to an increase in shorter, but more frequent sickness absence periods, and to an increased risk of longer sickness absence episodes, regardless of job insecurity and demographic variables of age, gender, socio-economic position and marital status.

In fact, higher levels of job insecurity turned out to be an important predictor of long and frequent sickness absence.

“While shorter, but more frequent periods of sickness absence might be a chance for the individual to get relief from high levels of strain or stress, long-term sickness absence might be a sign of more serious health problems,” said co-author Dr. Constanze Eib, a lecturer in organizational behavior at Norwich Business School.

“Our results underline the need for fair and just treatment of employees irrespective of perceived job insecurity in order to keep the workforce healthy and to minimise lost work days due to sickness absence.”

The findings are published in the journal BMC Public Health.

“Perceived fairness at work is a modifiable aspect of the work environment, as is job insecurity,” said lead author Dr. Constanze Leineweber, from the Stress Research Institute.

“Organisations have significant control over both and our results suggest that they may gain by investing or improving their policies and rules for fair treatment of their workforce and by improving job security.”

Source: University of East Anglia


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Mood Disorders Linked to Teen Sleep Loss

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 14:00

Sleep loss and chronic sleep deprivation is a problem for many kids and teens. Staying up late and waking up early for work or school has become a way of life, especially with the increasing use of phones and tablets late into the night.

Researchers worry, however, that this social jet lag may result in serious health and mental health risks. A new study suggests that for teenagers, even a short period of sleep restriction could, over the long term, raise their risk for depression and addiction.

University of Pittsburgh investigators invited 35 participants, aged 11.5-15 years, into a sleep lab for two nights. Half the participants slept for 10 hours, while the other half slept only four hours. A week later, they came back to the lab for another two nights and adopted the opposite sleep schedule from their initial visit.

Each time they visited the lab, the participants underwent brain scans while playing a game that involved receiving monetary rewards of $10 and $1. At the end of each visit, the teens answered questions that measured their emotional functioning, as well as depression symptoms.

Results from the brain imaging showed that sleep deprivation affected the putamen, an area of the brain that plays a role in goal-based movements and learning from rewards.

When participants were sleep-deprived and the reward in the game they played was larger, the putamen was less responsive. In the rested condition, the brain region didn’t show any difference between high- and low-reward conditions.

Lead researchers Drs. Peter Franzen and Erika Forbes also found connections between sleep restriction and mood. Specifically the found that after a night of restricted sleep, the participants who experienced less activation in the putamen also reported more symptoms of depression.

This is consistent with findings from a large literature of studies on depression and reward circuitry that suggest depression is characterized by less activity in the brain’s reward system.

Researchers believe that sleep deprivation in the tween and teen years may interfere with how the brain processes rewards. Difficulty in reward-processing could then disrupt mood and put a person at risk of depression, as well as risk-taking behavior and addiction.

Source: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

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