In The News
A new research study finds that key symptoms of bulimia nervosa, including the urge to binge eat and restrict food intake, are relieved by delivering external electrical stimulation to parts of the brain.
Bulimia is a eating disorder characterized by a vicious cycle of repeated bouts of distressing binge eating then inappropriate attempts to compensate for overeating through vomiting, extreme dieting, or the misuse of different medicines.
Experts explain that these symptoms are typically driven by an intense preoccupation with body weight, shape, or appearance. Over time these features become compulsive and resemble those of an addiction.
Bulimia typically emerges in adolescence and is much more likely to develop in women. It is thought that one to two percent of women have bulimia at some stage in their life. The disorder is associated with multiple medical complications and up to four percent of people with bulimia die prematurely from the disorder.
Whilst existing treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are effective for many people with bulimia, a substantial proportion do not get better with talking therapies.
As such, there is a pressing need for new techniques to reduce the disorder. Currently, researchers are evaluating neuroscience-based technologies that could target the underlying neural basis of eating disorders, such as problems with reward processing or self-control.
Previous studies published by the Eating Disorders Research Group at King’s College, found that repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), already an approved treatment for depression in the United States, was effective in reducing food craving in people with bulimia.
In the new study, researchers examined the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a less expensive and more portable form of brain stimulation.
tDCS uses electrodes placed on the head to stimulate specific parts of the brain, which could improve cognitive function in areas related to reward processing and self-control. The treatment is painless and the most common side effect is a slight itching or tingling on the scalp.
In the study, published in PLOS ONE, 39 people received real tDCS and placebo tDCS, with a period of at least 48 hours between both sessions.
The researchers used questionnaires before and after each session to measure their urge to binge eat and a range of other bulimia symptoms, including concerns about weight and shape, restriction of food intake, levels of self-control, and self-esteem.
They found that these bulimia symptoms were significantly reduced by the tDCS treatment but not the placebo session. For example, baseline scores on the urge to binge eat scale decreased by 31 percent following tDCS.
The researchers also used a decision-making task where participants had to choose between a smaller amount of money available immediately and a larger amount available in three months.
Investigators discovered that people showed a greater tendency to delay gratification following the tDCS session compared to the placebo session. This means they showed more prudent decision-making by waiting for larger, later rewards, rather than choosing the smaller, sooner option.
Doctoral student Maria Kekic, first author of the study, said: “Our study suggests that a non-invasive brain stimulation technique suppresses the urge to binge eat and reduces the severity of other common symptoms in people with bulimia nervosa, at least temporarily. We think it does this by improving cognitive control over compulsive features of the disorder.
“Although these are modest, early findings, there is a clear improvement in symptoms and decision-making abilities following just one session of tDCS. With a larger sample and multiple sessions of treatment over a longer period of time, it is likely that the effects would be even stronger. This is something we’re now looking to explore in future studies.”
Professor Ulrike Schmidt, senior author of the study, also comments: “The advantage of tDCS is that it’s much less expensive and more portable than other brain stimulation techniques, which raises the prospect of one day offering treatment that could be self-delivered at home by patients with bulimia.
“This could either be as an addition to talking therapies such as CBT to improve outcomes, or as a stand-alone alternative approach.”
Source: King’s College London
A new study found that a volume decrease in certain parts of the hippocampus, a brain region known for mood and memory processing, is linked to bipolar disorder. The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
“Our study is one of the first to locate possible damage of bipolar disorder in specific subfields within the hippocampus,” said Bo Cao, Ph.D., first and corresponding author and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
“This is something that researchers have been trying to answer. The theory was that different subfields of the hippocampus may have different functions and may be affected differently in different mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder and major depression disorder.”
It is estimated that approximately six million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder. Bipolar I disorder is characterized by mood changes that can swing from a high-energy, manic state to a low-energy, depressive state. Patients with bipolar II disorder do not experience the full-blown manic episodes, but may have a less severe high-energy state.
The disorder can interfere with a person’s ability to work and perform daily living activities, sleep, think clearly and could lead to suicide attempts.
Cao hopes the study will pave the way for more research that specifically investigates details in the hippocampus as markers for bipolar disorder. He believes this may lead to the development of better methods for diagnosis as well as more effective treatments.
For the study, the research team used a combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a unique segmentation approach to discover differences in the volumes of subfields of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped region in the brain. Participants with bipolar disorder were compared to both healthy participants as well as those with major depressive disorder.
The findings revealed that people with bipolar disorder had reduced volumes in specific areas of the hippocampus: subfield four of the cornu ammonis (CA), two cellular layers and the tail portion of the hippocampus. The reduction was more profound in subjects with bipolar I disorder than it was in the other mood disorders investigated.
Further, as the illness worsened in patients with bipolar I disorder, the volumes of certain areas in the hippocampus decreased, including the right CA 1. Volumes of other CA areas and the hippocampal tail were more reduced in the brains of people who experienced more manic episodes.
Increased anxiety during menopause can adversely affect a woman’s quality of life. Now, new research suggests anxiety and associated symptoms of hot flashes, sleep disruption, and muscle and joint complaints may continue among postmenopausal women.
Researchers have debated whether anxiety increases common menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and sleep disruption or whether these symptoms cause increased anxiety remains an ongoing debate.
Regardless of which comes first, multiple studies confirm that increased anxiety occurring during the menopause transition adversely affects a woman’s quality of life.
Results from a new study are the first to document the same association in postmenopausal women. The study details appear online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
Researchers performed a multicenter, cross-sectional study of 3,503 postmenopausal Latin American women. They discovered that the prevalence of severe physical symptoms in postmenopausal women with anxiety was five times higher than that observed among those without anxiety.
The exact reason for this association is still being researched, although anxiety has been correlated to increased levels of norepinephrine and serotonin. This increase in neurotransmitters could increase the frequency of vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes) because of their important role in thermoregulation.
An association between anxiety and the presence of severe urogenital symptoms was also confirmed.
The article is the first study that specifically addresses the association between anxiety and quality of life in postmenopausal women.
Multiple studies have previously been conducted to investigate this association in premenopausal and perimenopausal women.
“Although anxiety is a common symptom during menopause, panic attacks are not,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.
“This study documents the importance of screening patients for anxiety. If women are having significant anxiety, they should discuss viable treatment options with their healthcare providers. These can include relaxation techniques, caffeine reduction, and exercise. Estrogen therapy or other mood medications might also prove helpful.”
Source: Menopause Society
New research suggests a brain scan can help predict which patients will respond positively to antidepressant therapy.
In the study, investigators at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Michigan performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on patients with major depressive disorder who were to begin antidepressant therapy.
They discovered that patients who show more communication within two brain networks when they made a mistake while performing an assigned cognitive task were less likely to respond to antidepressant medication.
The two networks are the error detection network — which engages when someone notices they’ve made a mistake — and the interference processing network, which activates when deciding what information to focus on.
“We believe that increased cross-talk within these networks may reflect a propensity to ruminate on negative occurrences, such as mistake, or a deficit in emotional regulation when faced with a mistake, and our medications may be less effective in helping these types of patients,” said Natania Crane, a graduate student in psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine who is first author on the study.
The study has been published in the journal Brain.
Experts explain that finding the right pharmacotherapy can take months to determine. This is because drugs used to treat major depressive disorder take eight to 12 weeks to have a noticeable impact on mood and other symptoms. Then, patients may not respond to the first drug prescribed or suffer side-effects, requiring a switch in medications.
Therefore, being able to predict a person’s response to depression medications could reduce the time it takes patients to begin feeling better and reduce health-care costs, said Dr. Scott Langenecker, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at UIC and corresponding author on the study.
Several studies that used fMRI to identify discrete areas of the brain that are hyperactive or underactive in patients with major depressive disorder have suggested that neuroimaging may be useful for predicting a patient’s response to a particular pharmaceutical therapy.
In the current study, the researchers looked at patterns of brain activation while participants performed a cognitive-control task to see if they predicted response to drug treatment.
Investigators used a unique analysis technique to determine which areas of the brain were highly active during the commission of errors on a cognitive task correlated with treatment response, and how the strength of communication within specific brain networks predicted treatment response.
Thirty-six adult patients with major depressive disorder who were not being treated with drugs at the time of the study were evaluated. Subjects had fMRI scans and took surveys regarding their depressive symptoms.
They were then assigned one of two antidepressants: escitalopram (Lexapro, a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, 22 participants) or duloxetine (Cymbalta, a serotonin-norepinepherine re-uptake inhibitor, 14 participants).
During the fMRI scan, participants were instructed to watch the letters X, Y, and Z flash across a screen. They were asked to press a button every time they saw a letter but not to press the button a second time if the same letter repeated.
The patients were followed up during and after 10 weeks of antidepressant therapy. They completed surveys and interviews to determine if the medication prescribed was lessening their symptoms.
Patients whose brain activity was stronger in the error detection network or the interference processing network were found less likely to experience an eventual reduction of their depressive symptoms on medication.
“Using our model, we were able to predict with a very high degree of accuracy — in fact 90 percent — which patients would respond well to antidepressant treatment, and which would not,” Langenecker said.
The researchers also found that participants who made more errors during the cognitive task were more likely to respond to antidepressant treatment.
“This is an important step toward individualized medicine for depression treatment. Using cognitive tests and fMRI, we can identify who will respond best to antidepressant therapy and who may need other effective therapies that work through different mechanisms, like psychotherapy,” Langenecker said.
Source: University of Illinois, Chicago
Emerging research suggests mental disorders that often occur in association with pregnancy affect a different area of the brain than traditional mood disorders.
Neuropsychologists used fMRIs to study brain activity during postpartum depression and anxiety and discovered the distinct patterns.
On the surface, postpartum depression (PPD) looks much like other forms of depression. New mothers struggling with it often withdraw from family and friends, lose their appetites, and of course, feel sad and irritable much of the time.
However, many people and clinicians have underestimated the uniqueness of mood and emotional disorders that arise during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth.
Study results are published in the journal Trends in Neurosciences.
“Motherhood really can change the mother, which is something we often overlook. And we forget about examining the neurobiology of maternal mental health and maternal mental illness, particularly anxiety,” said behavioral neuroscientist Dr. Jodi Pawluski.
Pawluski, of the University of Rennes in France, co-authored the paper with Drs. Joseph Lonstein of Michigan State University and Alison Fleming of the University of Toronto at Mississauga.
Overall, fMRI studies show that neural activity in women with PPD compared to people with major depression who had not given birth involves distinct patterns for new mothers with PPD.
For instance, the amygdala is usually hyperactive in anxious and depressed people, but for the women with PPD, the amygdala can actually be less activated.
PPD is now listed as “perinatal depression,” a subset of major depression, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the text which sets industry standards for diagnosing mental conditions.
Postpartum anxiety isn’t included at all in the DSM-5, even though one in seven new mothers are affected by it, Pawluski says.
Postpartum anxiety is estimated to be just as prevalent as PPD, even though it receives far less attention in the literature. Many of these mothers aren’t depressed, so their condition remains largely unaddressed.
“When we talk about the neurobiology of postpartum depression and anxiety, our information from the studies done on humans is only comprised from about 20 papers,” Pawluski said.
“If you think that 10 percent to 20 percent of women during pregnancy and the postpartum period will suffer from depression and/or anxiety, and then you realize there are only 20 publications looking at the neurobiology of these illnesses, it’s quite shocking.”
Postpartum mood disorders not only affect mothers but also their infants. New mothers experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression are more likely to snap at their infants and may have trouble forming a bond.
“The depressed mothers can be more intrusive or irritated by their infants, but they can also be more detached or withdrawn, and this is also seen with anxiety postpartum,” said Pawluski.
Those early interactions can have a long-term impact on infants’ health.
Children of depressed mothers have higher medical claims than do children of healthy women. This is because they bear a higher burden of illness, use health care services more frequently, and have more medical office and emergency department visits than do children of non-depressed mothers. The annual cost of not treating a mother with depression, in lost income and productivity alone, is estimated to be $7,200.
Still, despite affecting nearly one in 10 women, PPD and postpartum anxiety are still treated as extensions of major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, respectively.
The experience of postpartum depression can be further complicated by the fact that women are expected to enthusiastically embrace their new motherhood. Many women with postpartum mood disorders don’t feel that they can discuss the issues and feelings they’re having openly.
Pawluski, who herself is a mother of two, said of new parenthood, “It’s a life changer. It’s fantastic, terrifying, amazing, frustrating, exhausting, thrilling, and everything in between. It is not always a happy time, and we need to understand that, talk about it, and figure why it can trigger mental illnesses in so many women.
“If we can improve the health and well-being of the mother, we will improve the health and well-being of the child and family.”
Source: Cell Press/EurekAlert
Photo: This diagram represents similarities and differences in fMRI activation patterns in key brain areas associated with postpartum depression, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Credit: Maayan Harel .
New research on the underlying cause of dyslexia could pave the way for earlier diagnosis and intervention.
Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that affects one in every 10 to 20 people, impacting their ability to read and spell words but not affecting their general intelligence.
The new finding expands knowledge of the brain mechanisms underlying the condition.
Humans have a type of long-term memory (called “implicit memory”) that means we respond less to stimuli as they are repeated over time, in a process called neural adaptation.
But the new research suggests that dyslexics recover faster than non-dyslexics from their responses to stimuli such as sounds and written words, leading to their perceptual and reading difficulties.
The discovery could pave the way for earlier diagnosis and intervention of the condition.
Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, decided to carry out a number of experiments with dyslexics and non-dyslexics to shine new light on the mechanisms behind this condition.
“While dyslexics are mainly diagnosed according to their reading difficulty, they also differ from non-dyslexics in performing simple perceptual tasks, such as tone-frequency discrimination,” said first author Sagi Jaffe-Dax.
“Our lab previously found that this is due to ‘poor anchoring’, where dyslexics have an inefficient integration of information from recent stimuli, collected as implicit memory. This memory typically forms ‘anchors’ that provide specific predictions that clarify noisy stimuli, and we wanted to see why this is not the case in dyslexics,” said lead researcher Dr. Merav Ahissar.
In the current study, the team gave 60 native Hebrew speakers, including 30 dyslexics and 30 non-dyslexics, frequency discrimination and oral reading tasks.
During the frequency-discrimination task, participants were asked to compare two tones in each trial. All participants’ responses were affected, or biased, by implicit memory of previous stimuli. Both groups were affected in similar ways by very recent stimuli, but dyslexics were less affected by earlier stimuli.
“This suggests that implicit memory decays faster among dyslexics,” said Jaffe-Dax.
“We decided to test this hypothesis by increasing the length of time between consecutive stimuli and measuring how it affects behavioral biases and neural responses from the auditory cortex, a section of the brain that processes sound.
“Participants with dyslexia showed a faster decay of implicit memory on both measures. This also affected their oral reading rate, which decreased faster as a result of the time interval between reading the same nonword — a group of letters that looks or sounds like a word — numerous times.”
The team concludes that dyslexics’ faster recovery from stimuli can account for their longer reading times, as it causes less reliable predictions for both simple and complex stimuli.
Co-author Orr Frenkel said, “The formation of adequate predictions is crucial for becoming an expert in general, and an expert reader in particular. Achieving this depends on matching printed words with predictions based on previous encounters with related words, but such predictions are less accurate in dyslexics.
“However, while shorter implicit memory means they are unable to yield efficient predictions, it may be advantageous with unexpected stimuli, such as novel events in a sequence of predictable, familiar events. Further studies will be needed if we are to establish whether this is indeed the case.”
New research suggests having an impulsive personality is often associated with weight gain.
Investigators at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas said their findings demonstrate that having an impulsive personality — the tendency to consistently react with little forethought — is the key factor that links brain patterns of impulsivity and a high body mass index, or BMI.
BMI is a measure of body fat for adults, based on height and weight.
“Our research points to impulsive personality as a risk factor for weight gain,” said Dr. Francesca Filbey, principal investigator and associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and the Center for BrainHealth.
“Thus, addressing impulsive personality traits is essential to developing effective weight management programs that can help the 70 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese.”
For the study, researchers recruited 45 individuals, ages 22 to 43 with an average BMI of 30.7, and analyzed three separate metrics to understand the role of impulsivity in body weight. The measures included a self-report, neuropsychological testing, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
For the self-report, researchers used an impulsive sensation-seeking scale to gauge innate personality characteristics.
Participants were asked to rate how much they agreed with statements such as: “I tend to change interests frequently” or “I tend to begin a new job without much advance planning on how I will do it.”
The neuropsychological measure sought to assess whether an individual’s decision-making style was more impulsive or cautious. It evaluated a participant’s ability to distinguish between visual images on a screen and indicate an accurate response while being tested for speed.
Additionally, an fMRI was used to examine brain activation and connectivity during an impulse control task that required participants to push one of two buttons. Participants were provided visual cues and asked to refrain from pushing a button if an audio cue occurred at the same time as the visual cue.
“Despite performing similarly to controls on the impulse-control task in the scanner, individuals with a high BMI exhibited altered neural function compared to normal weight individuals,” Filbey said.
“We expected that an impaired ability to inhibit impulses would be the factor linking high BMI and brain change, but our study showed that having the inherent, impulsive personality trait, not an impulsive decision-making state in a specific situation or in response to vices, is the mediating factor.
“Given our findings, treatments that provide coping skills or cognitive strategies for individuals to overcome impulsive behaviors associated with having an impulsive personality could be an essential component for effective weight-loss programs,” Filbey said.
“Others have found that increased self-awareness of impulsive behaviors is helpful in being able to regulate behavior.”
Belief in free will may be linked to increased feelings of happiness in both individualistic and group-oriented cultures, according to a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Free will is described as the ability to make independent choices, where the outcome of the choice is not influenced by past events.
Psychology research has shown that Western and Asian cultures tend to have different core beliefs around free will.
Western culture is described as individualistic, where people are largely focused on personal achievements rather than group goals. In collectivist cultures, however, such as those of China and Japan, people tend to focus more on group goals — such as a work group or family — and there is less focus on personal freedom.
The existence of free will is the subject of debate among psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers. The argument against free will is that each decision we make is completely influenced by our previous life experiences. In other words, this theory states that when we are given a certain choice, our experiences will trigger us to respond in a certain way — which is actually not a free choice.
So why might believing in free will make someone feel happier? Perhaps such a belief increases levels of perceived autonomy and helps to facilitate self-control and deliberate effort to achieve goals, leading to successful outcomes.
In fact, previous studies with Western participants have found that a belief in free will is tied to increased happiness, better work performance and academic achievements, and fewer negative behaviors such as cheating. In contrast, in studies where Western participants were given information that discouraged a belief in free will, researchers saw an increase in cheating behavior, aggression, and decreased self-control.
For the new study, the researchers wanted to determine whether a belief in free will can impact levels of happiness in Chinese people. They asked Chinese teenagers a series of questions about their own beliefs in free will as well as their own levels of happiness.
They found that 85 percent of the Chinese teenagers expressed a belief in free will, and that this belief was positively correlated with happiness. This suggests that believing in free will may have a beneficial effect on happiness, regardless of individualistic or collectivistic cultural influences.
But even though they found a correlation between believing in free will and greater happiness, the study does not indicate a direct causal effect. Next, the researchers plan to investigate if a belief in free will directly causes happiness in the Chinese population. These studies will involve assessing behavior in people whose beliefs have changed regarding free will.
“We are currently conducting investigations on the potential for causality between these two variables,” said Dr. Jingguang Li, professor at Dali University. “We plan to change participants’ belief in free will in the laboratory by exposing them to materials that either support or disprove the existence of free will, and then observe whether their happiness levels change.”
A parenting program in which fathers read to their preschoolers was found to boost the dads’ parenting skills while also improving the preschoolers’ school readiness and behavior, according to a new study led by New York University (NYU).
“Unlike earlier research, our study finds that it is possible to engage fathers from low-income communities in parenting interventions, which benefits both the fathers and their children,” said lead author Dr. Anil Chacko, associate professor of counseling psychology at NYU Steinhardt.
Fathers play a vital role in the social, emotional, and behavioral development of their children. However, few studies have focused on helping fathers improve their parenting skills — and, in turn, outcomes for their children — as most parenting research is conducted with mothers. Furthermore, previous research on parenting interventions for fathers have issues with high rates of fathers dropping out of the studies.
The new study evaluated the effects of the program called “Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers,” an intervention that focuses on integrating parent training with shared book reading to improve outcomes among fathers and their preschoolers.
Shared book reading is an interactive and dynamic activity in which an adult uses prompts and feedback to allow a child to become an active storyteller. It relies heavily on pictures and encourages parents to give their children praise and encouragement. Shared book reading fosters father-child interactions and also helps develop school readiness.
“Rather than a goal of increasing father involvement, which implies a deficit approach, a program that uses shared book reading targets a specific parenting skill set and represents a valued activity for parents and children,” said Chacko.
For the study, 126 low-income fathers and their preschool-aged children were recruited across three Head Start centers in New York City. The families, a majority of whom spoke Spanish, were randomly assigned to either participate in the eight-week program or were put on a waitlist (which acted as the control condition).
The short-term intervention included weekly sessions lasting 90 minutes each. In these sessions, small groups of dads watched videos showing fathers reading with children but with exaggerated errors.
The fathers then identified and, in small and large groups, discussed better approaches to these interactions. Fathers were then encouraged to practice the strategies they identified at home with their child during shared book reading.
The program was designed to help improve parenting strategies by establishing routines, encouraging child-centered time, using attention and incentives to promote good behavior, using distraction and ignoring to reduce attention-seeking behavior and resorting to time-outs sparingly.
The researchers then evaluated the program’s effects on parenting skills, child behavior and language, and outcomes for fathers, including stress and depression. The researchers measured these factors before and immediately after the program through direct observation, standardized assessments of language, and self-reported information. Attendance data was also collected as a measure of engagement.
The findings show that parenting behaviors, child behaviors, and language development of the children who participated in the program improved significantly compared to those on the wait-list.
In addition, fathers reported improved discipline approaches and promotion of their children’s psychological growth. The researchers also observed that fathers made fewer critical statements to their children and used more positive parenting behaviors like praise and affection.
The researchers also found a moderate effect on language outcomes among the children. Overall, the data suggest more than a 30 percent improvement in parenting and school readiness outcomes.
Importantly, the average attendance rate for the weekly sessions was 79 percent, which was substantially higher than past parenting programs for fathers.
“Unlike other parenting programs, fathers in this program were not recruited to work on parenting or reduce child behavior problems, but to learn — with other fathers — skills to support their children’s school readiness, which may remove stigma and support openness among fathers in supporting their children,” said Chacko. “The findings are particularly noteworthy given the study’s population of low-income, Spanish-speaking, immigrant fathers.”
The researchers added that shared book reading may not be the best approach for all fathers and children, so interventions should be tailored to the preferences of communities and parents in order to increase the chances of success.
“Ultimately, we believe that developing a program that is both focused on the parent and child, and one that is not deficit-driven or focused on improving problematic parenting but is focusing on skill development, would be appealing and engaging for fathers,” said Chacko.
The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.
Source: New York University
Emerging research indicates that yoga and aerobic exercise interventions are not significantly beneficial for improving sleep among midlife women who are experiencing hot flashes.
Investigators made this determination after secondary analyses of a randomized controlled trial showed that neither 12 weeks of yoga nor 12 weeks of aerobic exercise had a significant effect on objective measures of sleep duration or sleep quality.
Although the women had no difficulty falling asleep, disturbed sleep was common and remained after each intervention. In particular, women in all groups experienced waking during the night for an average of more than 50 minutes.
The finding is in contrast to an early study that found the yoga and aerobic exercise interventions were associated with small but statistically significant improvements in subjective, self-reported sleep quality and insomnia severity.
“Our primary findings were that the two study interventions had no significant effects on objective sleep outcomes in midlife women with hot flashes
The main implication of this finding is that other behavior treatments with the potential for effectively improving sleep in this population should be examined,” said lead author Diana Taibi Buchanan, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor of Bio-Behavioral Nursing and Health Informatics at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Study results appears in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
The authors analyzed data from the Menopause Strategies: Finding Lasting Answers for Symptoms and Health (MsFLASH) network.
The study involved 186 late transition and postmenopausal women with hot flashes who were between 40 and 62 years of age. Study subjects had an average of 7.3 to eight hot flashes per day. Participants were randomized to 12 weeks of yoga, supervised aerobic exercise, or usual activity.
Sleep measures were evaluated using wrist actigraphy, and bedtimes and rise times were determined primarily from the participants’ sleep diaries.
Mean sleep duration at baseline and after each intervention was less than the seven or more hours of nightly sleep that is recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for optimal health in adults.
According to the authors, future research should explore other approaches for improving sleep quality in midlife women, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.
A recent pilot study of adults with early memory loss suggests simple mind-body practices may help to mitigate or even reverse early memory loss in older adults.
The West Virginia University research team discovered the practice of meditation, or a music listening program, may have multiple benefits for older adults with preclinical memory loss.
In the study, 60 older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD) — a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease — were assigned to either a beginner meditation (Kirtan Kriya) or music listening program and asked to practice 12 minutes per day for 12 weeks.
Investigators discovered both the meditation and music groups showed marked and significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance at three months.
The study appears in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Researchers discovered the interventions influenced domains of cognitive functioning most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia. That is, attention, executive function, processing speed, and subjective memory function.
Importantly, the substantial gains observed in memory and cognition were maintained or further increased at six months (three months post-intervention).
Researchers found that both intervention groups showed improvements in sleep, mood, stress, well-being, and quality of life. The meditation group showed the most pronounced improvements; however, all benefits were sustained or further enhanced at three month’s post-intervention.
The findings of this trial suggest that two simple mind-body practices may significantly improve quality of life.
Specifically, investigators discovered Kirtan Kriya meditation and music listening may not only improve mood, sleep, and quality of life, but also boost cognition and help reverse perceived memory loss in older adults with SCD.
Source: IOS Press
Preschoolers whose native tongue is Mandarin Chinese — a tonal language — are better than their English-speaking counterparts at processing musical pitch, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California (UC), San Diego.
In a tonal language, the tone in which a word is spoken not only conveys a different emphasis or emotional content, but an altogether different meaning. For example, the syllable “ma” in Mandarin can mean “mother,” “horse,” “hemp,” or “scold,” depending on the pitch pattern of how it’s spoken.
Mandarin-language speakers must quickly learn to identify the subtle changes in pitch that convey the intended meaning of the word. It’s the linguistic attention to pitch that gives young Mandarin speakers an advantage in perceiving pitch in music, the authors conclude.
The findings, published in the journal Developmental Science, show how brain skills learned in one area may affect learning in another.
“A big question in development, and also in cognition in general, is how separate our mental faculties actually are,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Creel of the Department of Cognitive Science in UC San Diego’s Division of Social Sciences.
“For instance, are there specialized brain mechanisms that just do language? Our research suggests the opposite — that there’s permeability and generalization across cognitive abilities.”
For the study, the researchers conducted two separate experiments with similar groups of young Mandarin Chinese learners and English learners. They tested a total of 180 children (ages three to five) on tasks involving pitch contour and timbre. While the English and Mandarin speakers performed similarly on the timbre task, the Mandarin speakers significantly outperformed on pitch, aka tone.
“Both language and music contain pitch changes, so if language is a separate mental faculty, then pitch processing in language should be separate from pitch processing in music,” Creel said. “On the other hand, if these seemingly different abilities are carried out by overlapping cognitive mechanisms or brain areas, then experience with musical pitch processing should affect language pitch processing, and vice versa.”
Tonal languages are common in parts of Africa, East Asia, and Central America, with estimates that as much as 70 percent of world languages may be considered tonal. Other tonal languages besides Mandarin include Thai, Yoruba, and Xhosa.
“Demonstrating that the language you speak affects how you perceive music — at such an early age and before formal training — supports the theory of cross-domain learning,” said co-author Dr. Gail Heyman, of UC San Diego’s Department of Psychology.
Creel and Heyman’s work follows on a hypothesis first put forth by Dr. Diana Deutsch, also of UC San Diego, that speaking a tonal language leads to enhanced pitch perception in music.
Deutsch studied skilled adult students of music and tested them on absolute or “perfect” pitch. Absolute pitch is the relatively rare ability to recognize a musical note without reference to any other notes.
The present study focused on relative pitch, which is an understanding of the pitch relationships between notes. Relative pitch allows you to sing in key and be in tune with other people around you.
Even so, don’t ditch your child’s music lessons for language, or language lessons for music, warn the researchers. It’s still true that to succeed at music, you need to study music. And learning an additional language is a demonstrably good thing in itself, too — whether or not it makes you a better musician.
Researchers have discovered that modafinil, a drug used to treat narcolepsy or excessive daytime sleepiness, can improve memory in patients recovering from depression.
Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Symptoms associated with depression, such as difficulty concentrating or indecisiveness, contribute to the disability associated with depression.
Almost all patients with depression experience problems with concentration, memory, and attention. At least half of those show cognitive deficits that can be measured objectively.
These deficits tend to persist in the recovery phase. Patients with persistent cognitive problems have poorer outcomes such as impaired work functioning and increased risk for relapse. Depression can be relapsing and return periodically, often for several months at a time.
However, currently available treatments do not specifically address cognitive deficits in depression. Recent reports have highlighted the importance of defining cognition as a target for treatment in depression.
In a U.K. study funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome, researchers investigated the potential of modafinil to treat cognitive dysfunction in depression. Modafinil has already been shown in other studies to have beneficial effects on cognitive function in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.
Investigators sixty patients aged between 18 and 65 years with remitted depression completed computerized memory, attention, and planning tasks after receiving modafinil or a placebo.
The results showed that patients given a dose of modafinil experienced improvements in memory functions, compared to those patients on placebo. Specifically, patients had benefits in two types of memory — episodic memory and working memory, both of which are important in our day-to-day activities.
“We use episodic memory when we are remembering where we left our keys in the house, or remembering where we parked our car,” said Professor Barbara Sahakian, the study’s senior author.
“Working memory, on the other hand, is the ability we use when we are rehearsing a new telephone number while we are trying to find a pen and paper to write it down, for example.”
The study demonstrated that patients receiving modafinil made fewer errors than those who received a placebo. For example, in one of the tasks which involved remembering the location among an increasing number of boxes of a particular pattern, patients receiving modafinil made fewer than half the number of mistakes that those receiving the placebo made, at the most difficult level.
“These results are very promising,” said lead author Dr. Muzaffer Kaser from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.
“GPs or psychiatrists often hear complaints of concentration or memory difficulties from patients with depression, but we are not good enough at treating these symptoms. Our study shows that modafinil may be a feasible option to tackle persistent cognitive problems in depression.”
It is not clear from the study whether the same effects would be seen over the long term, researchers said.
“We now need a longer-term study using modafinil to see if the drug, which improves cognition and motivation, can facilitate successful return to work following depression,” said Dr. Kathryn Adcock, head of Neurosciences and Mental Health at the MRC.
“Preventing relapse is an integral part of any ongoing treatment strategy for depression, and some people can understandably feel hampered if they find it hard to get back to their previous capacity when they go back to work after experiencing depression. These results suggest there may be a way to help these people in their recovery from depression and that’s really encouraging,” she said.
The study appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.
Source: Cambridge University
New research suggests women may begin to lose their mental acuity as early as their 50s.
University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) researchers followed the same group of healthy women for 10 years after menopause, and discovered that their average decline in mental processing ability was five percent during the decade-long period.
The investigators tracked cognitive processing speed — which includes speed of perception and reaction =– and found an average decline of around one percent every two years.
Moreover, verbal memory also declined on average around one percent every five years.
The new findings are in contrast to previous longitudinal studies in midlife women that had failed to consistently detect these cognitive declines.
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
For this study, the researchers accounted for what are called “practice effects,” which is when repeat testing using the same tests in the same individuals influence the results.
Practice effects mask some effects of the menopause transition. The new technique allowed investigators to uncover evidence of declines in two domains of cognitive functioning, processing speed, and verbal memory.
In the study, researchers examined data on more than 2,000 healthy women enrolled in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, or SWAN. In the study, women were tested regularly over several years to measure cognitive changes.
The women were in their 40s when they enrolled in 1996 and were followed every one to two years for a median period of 6.5 years.
Investigators launched the investigation because women in their 40s and 50s may begin to find they are forgetting things more often. They may also have the perception they are slower to react to situations.
Researchers wanted to discover if the events — such as a gradual slowing of physical reaction time, running speed, metabolic rate, and other declines that we all experience in midlife — were a part of the usual aging process.
The authors of the study were Drs. Arun Karlamangla, MeiHua Huang and Gail Greendale, and WeiJuan Han, M.S., of UCLA, and Dr. Margie Lachman of Brandeis University.
In medicine, vaccinating against a virus involves exposing a body to a weakened version of the threat, enough to build a tolerance.
Social psychologists believe that a similar logic can be applied to help “inoculate” the public against misinformation, including the damaging influence of fake news websites propagating myths about climate change.
A new study compared reactions to a well-known climate change fact with those to a popular misinformation campaign.
When presented consecutively, the false material completely cancelled out the accurate statement in people’s minds — opinions ended up back where they started, researchers discovered.
The researchers then added a small dose of misinformation to the delivery of the climate change fact, by briefly introducing people to distortion tactics used by certain groups. This “inoculation” helped shift and hold opinions closer to the truth, despite the follow-up exposure to fake news, the researchers reported.
The study on U.S. attitudes found the inoculation technique shifted the climate change opinions of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats alike, according to the study, which was published in the journal Global Challenges.
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge, Yale University and George Mason University. Researchers say it is one of the first on inoculation theory to try and replicate a real world scenario of conflicting information on a highly politicized subject.
“Misinformation can be sticky, spreading and replicating like a virus,” said lead author Dr. Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist from the University of Cambridge and director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab. “We wanted to see if we could find a vaccine by preemptively exposing people to a small amount of the type of misinformation they might experience — a warning that helps preserve the facts.
“The idea is to provide a cognitive repertoire that helps build up resistance to misinformation, so the next time people come across it they are less susceptible.”
To find the most compelling climate change falsehood currently influencing public opinion, the researchers tested popular statements found on the Internet on a nationally representative sample of U.S. citizens, with each one rated for familiarity and persuasiveness.
The winner: The assertion that there is no consensus among scientists, apparently supported by the Oregon Global Warming Petition Project. This website claims to hold a petition signed by “over 31,000 American scientists” stating there is no evidence that human CO2 release will cause climate change.
The study also used the accurate statement that “97 percent of scientists agree on man-made climate change.”
Prior work by van der Linden has shown this fact about scientific consensus is an effective gateway for public acceptance of climate change.
In an experiment, researchers tested the opposing statements on more than 2,000 participants across the U.S. using the online platform Amazon Mechanical Turk.
To gauge shifts in opinion, each participant was asked to estimate current levels of scientific agreement on climate change throughout the study.
Those shown only the fact about climate change consensus (in pie chart form) reported a large increase in perceived scientific agreement — an average of 20 percentage points, according to the study’s findings. Those shown only misinformation (a screenshot of the Oregon petition website) dropped their belief in a scientific consensus by nine percentage points.
Some participants were shown the accurate pie chart followed by the erroneous Oregon petition. The researchers said they were surprised to find the two neutralized each other (a tiny difference of 0.5 percentage points).
“It’s uncomfortable to think that misinformation is so potent in our society,” said van der Linden. “A lot of people’s attitudes toward climate change aren’t very firm. They are aware there is a debate going on, but aren’t necessarily sure what to believe. Conflicting messages can leave them feeling back at square one.”
Two groups in the study were randomly given “vaccines:”
- A general inoculation, consisting of a warning that “some politically motivated groups use misleading tactics to try and convince the public that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists.”
- A detailed inoculation that picks apart the Oregon petition specifically. For example, by highlighting some of the signatories are fraudulent, such as Charles Darwin and members of the Spice Girls, and less than one percent of signatories have backgrounds in climate science.
For those inoculated with this extra data, the misinformation that followed did not cancel out the accurate message, according to the study’s findings.
The general inoculation saw an average opinion shift of 6.5 percentage points towards acceptance of the climate science consensus, despite exposure to fake news, the researchers reported.
When the detailed inoculation was added to the general, it was almost 13 percentage points — two-thirds of the effect seen when participants were just given the consensus fact.
The researchers point out that tobacco and fossil fuel companies have used psychological inoculation in the past to sow seeds of doubt, and to undermine scientific consensus in the public consciousness.
They say the latest study demonstrates that such techniques can be partially “reversed” to promote scientific consensus, and work in favor of the public good.
The researchers also analyzed the results in terms of political parties. Before inoculation, the fake negated the factual for both Democrats and Independents. For Republicans, the fake actually overrode the facts by nine percentage points.
However, following inoculation, the positive effects of the accurate information were preserved across all parties to match the average findings (around a third with just general inoculation; two-thirds with detailed).
“We found that inoculation messages were equally effective in shifting the opinions of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats in a direction consistent with the conclusions of climate science,” van der Linden said. “What’s striking is that, on average, we found no backfire effect to inoculation messages among groups predisposed to reject climate science, they didn’t seem to retreat into conspiracy theories.
“There will always be people completely resistant to change, but we tend to find there is room for most people to change their minds, even just a little,” he concluded.
Source: University of Cambridge
Both men and women tend to experience regrets over one-night stands, but their reasons for this are quite different, according to a new study at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
“Women regret that they agreed to a one-night stand more often than men. Men regret passing up the chance more than women,” said Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.
The study is published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.
A previous American study found that around half of the population in the United States and Western Europe will have at least one one-night stand. In some of the European countries this number jumps to about seven in 10 people.
For the new study, Kennair and Associate Professor Mons Bendixen wanted to see whether these statistics and gender differences were similar in Norway, which is supposedly a more sexually liberal and egalitarian country.
The Norwegian researchers collaborated with evolutionary psychologist Dr. David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin. The study participants consisted of 263 Norwegian students aged 19 to 37 years. All had at least one one-night stand behind them.
Indeed, despite the more liberal culture of Norway, the country had the same basic one-night-stand and gender patterns as the U.S. Again, a larger proportion of women than men regretted the last time they had casual sex. Around 35 percent of women and only 20 percent of men regretted the experience to some degree.
“So we’re not saying that there aren’t men who regret casual sex,” said Kennair.
But it is far more common for women to regret saying yes. They are also less unequivocally happy about the experience. On the other hand, about 30 percent of women in Norway were happy about their most recent casual sex experience, as were over 50 percent of the men, according to Bendixen.
At the same time, only men were unhappy about saying no. And nearly 80 percent of women were happy that they said no to casual sex last time. Only 43 percent of men were totally happy that they passed it up.
“Women regretted having a one-night stand the most, but they weren’t sorry about saying no at all,” says Kennair.
But nearly 30 percent of the men regretted not having casual sex, according to Bendixen. So why such dramatic gender differences in regret?
The researchers looked at several possible reasons for regret, such as pregnancy concerns, STD infections and getting a bad reputation. Across the board, women did worry more about all these factors.
But this didn’t explain why Norwegian women regretted casual sex so much more than men did, though, said Bendixen and Kennair. They also looked at relationship status and whether or not the regretters had an orgasm. However, none of these factors explained the large gender differences either.
Overall, the findings ultimately support theories of parental investment and sexual strategy: Men and women have throughout generations invested differently in their relationships and any children that resulted.
In general, the quality of one’s sexual partner in short-term relationships plays a lesser role biologically for men. Assuming women did not avoid having sex with them, men who ran from woman to woman and got them pregnant would have scored best in the evolutionary race.
Few men have such unlimited access to the other sex, but quantity over quality has been the main strategy for men in general. As a result, men’s sexual psychology is highly attuned to sexual opportunities and they experience regret at missed sexual opportunities.
“Women and men differ fundamentally in their sexual psychology,” says Buss. “A key limitation on men’s reproductive success, historically, has been sexual access to fertile women. These evolutionary selection pressures have created a male sexual mind that is attentive to sexual opportunities.”
For women, however, it has been important to secure a partner of high quality who was willing to invest more in their children together, and who did not waste resources by getting involved with other women and their potential children. Thus it is quite natural, the researchers said, that women regret casual sex much more with a man who is not an ideal partner. Women have for generations had much more to lose.
“Many social scientists expect that in sexually egalitarian cultures such as Norway, these sex differences would disappear. They do not. This fact makes the findings on sex differences in sexual regret in modern Norwegian people so fascinating scientifically,” said Buss.
Many professional footballers (soccer players) may not feel safe showing vulnerability or admitting that they struggle with emotional or mental health problems, according to a new study by a clinical psychologist whose findings were presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology Annual Conference in Liverpool.
For the study, researcher and psychologist Dr. Susan Wood wanted to gain a better understanding of the specific types of mental health problems often experienced by professional footballers and what might prevent or encourage them to seek help.
Although a few footballers have recently opened up about their experiences with mental health difficulties, the prevalence of such problems in this group is likely to be similar to the general population — one in four. To investigate this, Wood, along with a research team from Coventry University, initiated in-depth interviews with seven male professional players.
Survival emerged as a strong theme for the players who took part in the study. They described having to struggle and fight to “survive” the challenges of the professional football world, mental health difficulties, and also the transition to the “real world.”
“The footballers’ described an environment where it did not feel safe to show vulnerability or emotional struggles, fearing that this would lead to a straight ticket out of football,” said Wood. “This left them feeling trapped, isolated and ashamed as they attempted to conceal their difficulties behind the bravado and brave face.”
“The pressures footballers experience are often overlooked behind the money and success of the premier league. With mental health only recently been explored, homophobia an ongoing debate and recent reports of sexual abuse, this is a population that warrants further research and support.”
Many players saw the football field as a battlefield, and any signs of vulnerability or weakness felt like threats to their survival. In many of their stories, injury, transition, and “falling out of love with the game” were precursors to mental health difficulties.
In addition, shame, stigma, fear, and a lack of mental health literacy were prominent barriers to accessing help and support.
Several players spoke about their use of unhealthy forms of escapism — substance abuse, gambling, alcohol, aggression, sex, and partying — to try to appease the difficult emotions they had experienced. The risk of permanent escape through suicide was also expressed as a way out from their difficulties.
Source: British Psychological Society
A new study finds that supportive, responsive partners provide a buffer to loneliness and sleep deficits among military couples.
Better sleep, communication, and emotional support are key to better overall health and to being successful in the workplace, according to the research, which was presented at the 2017 Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Convention.
“This study adds to a larger body of literature that supports how important it is to share with your partner when good things happen, as well as to respond positively to the sharing of good news,” said Sarah Arpin, a social psychologist at Gonzaga University.
For the study, Arpin and her colleagues examined the sharing of good news, loneliness, intimacy, and sleep in 162 post-9/11 military couples.
“Very few studies have examined daily relationship processes among military couples, who may be particularly vulnerable to relationship difficulties post-deployment,” she noted,
In relationship research, sharing good news is referred to as capitalization. Capitalization is a particularly important support process in close relationships, the researcher explained.
“When you share something good, and the recipient of (the) information is actively happy for you, it heightens the positive experience for both parties,” she said. “However, when someone ‘rains on your parade,’ that can have negative consequences.”
Researchers required couples to be living together for at least six months to participate in the study. About 20 percent of the couples were unmarried. The length of time couples were together varied widely, though the average length of relationship was 12 years.
This study is part of a larger research project, the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe) that is working to enhance retention of veterans in the workplace, with the goal of improving workplace culture and general well-being of service members.
Elementary school children who have confidence in their own musical abilities are more likely to continue their music education through middle school, while those with poor musical self-concept are more likely to opt out of music class — regardless of their true talent for singing or even their love of music, according to new research at Northwestern University.
For the study, the researchers took a close look at the attitudes and beliefs that help determine whether children will continue to take music classes in middle school and how these factors relate to their actual singing ability.
“The decisions people make as a child could have lifelong consequences for their relationship with music as an adult,” said Dr. Steven Demorest, a professor of music education at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. “We are talking about a major form of human expression that many people may be missing out on because they believe, falsely, that they do not have musical talent.”
Although music is a required subject in elementary school, only 34 percent of U.S. students go on to register for elective music instruction when they enter middle school, according to recent statistics.
To gain a better understanding of why so many students choose to opt out of music class, Demorest, with co-authors Jamey Kelley and Peter Pfordresher, surveyed 319 sixth-graders from five elementary schools. The students were asked about their family background, attitudes toward music, their beliefs about themselves as musicians, and questions relating to peer influence and other variables. Then they waited until those same students chose their classes in middle school.
The study found that a combination of family background, musical self-concept, and peer influence predicted with 74 percent accuracy which students choose to continue in elective music. Surprisingly, students’ attitude toward music, or how much they liked it, was not a predictor of whether they chose to continue.
“This decision seems to be rooted in our mistaken belief that musical ability is a talent rather than a skill,” Demorest said. “Children who believe themselves to be musically talented are more inclined to continue to participate in music, and subsequently they get better and better. Conversely, children with a poor musical self-concept were inclined to quit, a decision people often grow to regret as adults.”
In part two of the study, the researchers measured the singing accuracy of students drawn from the opt-in and opt-out groups. They found no significant differences in singing accuracy between the two groups. There was, however, a link between musical self-concept and accuracy.
“The data raises an alarming prospect that singing accuracy could be part of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the case of individuals with poor musical self-concept,” said co-author Dr. Peter Pfordresher, professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo SUNY. “If a child falsely believes he or she is a poor musician, for a variety of reasons that child may actually become one.”
This research builds on a previous study, published in the journal Music Perception, which suggested that the ability to sing accurately is more of a skill than a talent — meaning it gets better with practice. In that study, Demorest and Pfordresher compared the singing accuracy of three groups: kindergartners, sixth graders, and college-aged adults.
The researchers found considerable improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to late elementary school, when most children are receiving regular music instruction. But in the adult group, the gains were reversed — to the point that college students performed at the level of the kindergartners on two of the three tasks — suggesting the “use it or lose it” effect.
Demorest theorized that the children got better at singing because they practiced regularly while the adults may have stopped working on their singing skills altogether.
“The current study provides support for the interpretation of the previous study because the kids who chose to go on differed from those who did not in background and musical self-concept, but not in terms of ability,” Demorest said.
The new findings are published in the Journal of Research in Music Education.
Source: Northwestern University
Young people with mental health problems who have contact with mental health services are significantly less likely to suffer from clinical depression later in their adolescence, according to new research.
The study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, found that 14-year-olds who had contact with mental health services had a greater decrease in depressive symptoms than those with similar difficulties, but who had no contact, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.
By the age of 17, the odds of reporting clinical depression were more than seven times higher in individuals without contact than in those who did access mental health services, the study found.
Researchers from the university’s Department of Psychiatry recruited 1,238 14-year-olds and their primary caregivers from secondary schools in Cambridgeshire, and followed them up at the age of 17. Their mental state and behavior was assessed by trained researchers, while the teenagers self-reported their depressive symptoms.
Of the participants, 126 (11 percent) had a current mental illness at the start of the study. Only 48 (38 percent) had contact with mental health services in the year prior to being recruited for the study.
The researchers discovered that contact with mental health services appeared to be of such value that, after three years, the levels of depressive symptoms of those teens were similar to those of 996 unaffected individuals.
“Mental illness can be a terrible burden on individuals, but our study shows clearly that if we intervene at an early stage, we can see potentially dramatic improvements in adolescents’ symptoms of depression and reduce the risk that they go on to develop severe depressive illness,” said Dr. Sharon Neufeld, first author of the study and a research associate at the university.
The study is believed to be the first in adolescents to support the role of contact with mental health services in improving mental health by late adolescence. Previous studies have reported that mental health service use has provided little or no benefit to adolescents, but the Cambridge researchers argue that this may be because the design of those studies did not consider whether service users had a mental disorder or not.
The approach taken on this new study enabled it to compare as closely as possible teens with mental health disorders who received treatment and those who did not.
The researchers add the study highlights the need to improve access to mental health services for children and adolescents. Figures published in 2015 show that National Health Service spending on children’s mental health services in the UK has fallen by 5.4 percent since 2010, despite an increase in demand. This has led to an increase in referrals and waiting times and an increase in severe cases that require longer stays in inpatient facilities, the researchers noted.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced measures to improve mental health support at every stage of a person’s life, with an emphasis on early intervention for children and young people.
“The emphasis going forward should be on early detection and intervention to help mentally-ill teens in schools, where there is now an evidence base for psychosocial intervention,” said Professor Ian Goodyer, who led the study. “We need to ensure, however, that there is a clear pathway for training and supervision of school-based psychological workers and strong connections to NHS child and adolescent mental health services for those teens who will need additional help.
“As always, the devil is in the detail,” he continued. “The funding of services and how the effectiveness of intervention is monitored will be critical if we are to reduce mental illness risks over the adolescent years. With the right measures and school-based community infrastructure, I believe this can be achieved.”
Source: University of Cambridge