The University of Washington issued a news release about
research to be presented later this week at the annual meeting of the
American Association of Suicidology.  Some excerpts:

Adolescents and young adults typically consider peer relationships to be
all important. However, it appears that strong family support, not peer support, is
protective in reducing future suicidal behavior among young adults when
they have experienced depression or have attempted suicide.

New research that will be presented here April 17 at the annual meeting
of the American Association of Suicidology shows that high school
depression and a previous suicide attempt were significant predictors of
thinking about suicide one or two years later. But, those individuals
who had high levels of depression or had attempted suicide in high
school were less likely to engage in suicidal thinking if they had
strong family support and bonds.

In addition, having a current romantic partner also reduced suicidal thoughts.

By bonding, the researchers are referring to a person’s closeness with
his or her family, or a partner, enjoying spending time with them, and
the ability to talk with them about important issues.

“Our findings suggest that the protective quality of family support and
bonding, or having an intimate partner, are not replaced by peer support
and bonding in emerging adulthood. “

The American Physiological Society issued the following news release:

Laughter remains good medicine

New study reports on the mind-emotion-disease model

The connection between the body, mind and spirit has been the subject of conventional scientific inquiry for some 20 years. The notion that psychosocial and societal considerations have a role in maintaining health and preventing disease became crystallized as a result of the experiences of a layman, Norman Cousins. In the 1970s, Cousins, then a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He theorized that if stress could worsen his condition, as some evidence suggested at the time, then positive emotions could improve his health. As a result, he prescribed himself, with the approval of his doctor, a regimen of humorous videos and shows like Candid Camera(c). Ultimately, the disease went into remission and Cousins wrote a paper that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and a book about his experience, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, which was published in 1979. The book became a best seller and led to the investigation of a new field, known then as whole-person care or integrative medicine and now, lifestyle medicine.

Points from the news release:

  • Beta-endorphins elevate mood state
  • Human growth hormone (HGH) helps with optimizing immunity
  • Cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) are detrimental stress hormones that negatively affect immunity if chronically released.
  • A group of 10 diabetics with hypertensoin and high cholesterol were assigned regularly to watch funny videos for 30 minutes. Over 12 months, their blood chemistry was compared to 10 matching people who were not made to laugh.
  • Adding laughter standard diabetes care may lower stress and inflammatory response and increase “good” cholesterol levels. The authors conclude that mirthful laughter may thus lower the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome.

In describing himself as a “hardcore medical clinician and scientist,” Dr. Berk says, “the best clinicians understand that there is an intrinsic physiological intervention brought about by positive emotions such as mirthful laughter, optimism and hope.

More details follow:

(more…)

BBC News released an article: “Promotion ‘bad for mental health.'”

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Getting promoted at work may be bad for a person’s mental health, a
study suggests.

Warwick University researchers quizzed 1,000 workers who had been
promoted into supervisory or management roles in the past five years.

They were asked about about their health, mental well-being and use of
health services.

The study found that after promotion the quality of an individual’s
mental health deteriorated by 10% on average.

Experts said being given extra responsibility could lead to more stress,
anxiety and depression.

They said the problems could be exacerbated by workers who were promoted
having less time to access health services.

GP visits fell by 20% to less than two a year after promotion, the study
found.

It has long been assumed that a person’s job status directly results in
better health.

<snip>

Lead researcher Chris Boyce said: “Getting promoted at work is not as
great as people think.

“Our research finds that the mental health of managers typically
deteriorates after a job promotion and in a way that goes beyond merely
a short-term change.

“People given senior positions need to be given the proper support and
training to handle the extra responsibility.”

The research will be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s
conference later this month.

[end excerpts]

The article is online at:
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7998675.stm&gt;

Courtesy of Ken Pope.

Today’s new issue of *Journal of the American Medical Association* (Vol.
301 No. 13, April 1, 2009) includes an article: “Abuse and the Brain” by
Joan Stephenson, PhD.

Here’s how the article begins:

[begin excerpt]

Early childhood abuse might exert lifelong effects by altering a
person’s DNA and reducing levels of glucocorticoid receptors in the
brain, which are important for responding to stress, Canadian scientists
have found (McGowan PO et al. Nat Neurosci. 2009;12[3]:342-348).

The investigators examined brain tissue from 24 men who had committed
suicide, half of whom had a history of childhood abuse, and from 12 men
who had not been abused and died suddenly from other causes.

Men with a history of abuse had lower levels of glucocorticoid receptors
than did men who had not been abused or had not committed suicide.

In addition, in those who had been abused, a snippet of “promoter” DNA
that normally facilitates the production of glucocorticoid receptors had
been silenced by the attachment of a methyl group.

The researchers noted the work confirms their previous findings…

[end excerpt]

The article is online — but requires a subscription — at:
<http://tinyurl.com/comoql&gt;.

Courtesy of Ken Pope

King’s College London issued the following news release:

Childhood abuse associated with onset of psychosis in women

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London have
published new research which indicates that women with severe mental
illness are more likely to have been abused in childhood that the
general population.

But the same association has not been found in men.

The researchers believe their findings point to differences in the way
boys and girls respond to traumatic and upsetting experiences.

The paper which is published in the April issue of the British Journal
of Psychiatry compared two groups of adults with all the participants
were aged between 16 and 64, and lived in either south-east London or
Nottingham.

Those in the first group had experienced psychotic symptoms, such as
hallucinations or delusions and received treatment for depression, mania
or schizophrenia. Those in the second group had no mental health
problems, and acted as a control sample. Both groups were asked whether
they experienced physical or sexual abuse during their childhood.

Women with psychosis were twice as likely to report either physical or
sexual abuse compared to healthy women. But no such association was
found in men.

The researchers suggest that one explanation for this is that girls are
more likely to ‘internalise’ difficulties than boys. In other words,
girls who are abused may distance themselves from other people, and
become overly suspicious of other people’s behaviour. This may put them
at greater risk of psychotic symptoms in the future, such as paranoid
delusions.

In contrast, boys may be more likely to ‘act out’ following physical
abuse and potentially be at greater risk for antisocial behaviour.

The lead author on this paper, Helen Fisher, Researcher in Psychosis at
the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s said: “These findings do not mean
that if a child is abused they will develop psychosis; but women with
such disorders are more likely to reveal a background which included
childhood abuse.

“These findings point to the need for gender-specific interventions for
abused children to prevent later mental health and behavioural problems.”

“We also know that there are psychological, biological and genetic
factors that may contribute to this condition in women and more
attention needs to be given to understanding how adult psychosis
develops. Excitingly we have just been awarded a Wellcome Trust grant to
repeat this original study on a larger scale to enable us to investigate
the factors involved in this link between childhood abuse and psychotic
disorders.”

The paper entitled: “Gender differences in the association between
childhood abuse and psychosis” is published in the British Journal of
Psychiatry, 194: 319-325.

The authors were: Fisher H, Morgan C, Dazzan P, Craig TK, Morgan K,
Hutchinson G, Jones PB, Doody GA, Pariante C, McGuffin P, Murray RM,
Leff J and Fearon P (2009)

Three strategies for dealing with useless worry
– a cognitive therapy approach.

Some people find the following strategies helpful for reducing pointless and upsetting worry.

1. Thought Stopping

Thought stopping is designed to be used when you find yourself worrying about the same issue again and again. It should only be used if the worry is pointless. If your worrying is actually giving you solutions to the problem, then you might want to keep doing it.  The technique takes a fair bit of practice to learn. Here’s the sequence:

a) Pick a time when you can be undisturbed at home for a couple of hours.

b) Sit down and deliberately start worrying. This may be harder than you think. You should choose an issue that bothers you but not one that will send you into deep depression or make you think about harming yourself.

c) Once you begin to feel worried do three things: stand up, clap your hands once and shout “stop!” you will feel quite silly doing this but do it anyway. You should notice that the worry stops for a bit.

d) The moment you notice yourself worrying again (probably only a few seconds later) stand, clap and shout “stop!” again. Keep repeating this. Eventually you should notice that the worry takes longer and longer to come back. At this point clap and shout without standing.   After a while stop clapping; just shout.

e) Finally stop shouting. Instead picture a large stop sign in your head and imagine yourself shouting “STOP”. Now you can have other people around again. Over the next few weeks make a point of imagining the sign and the shout whenever you catch yourself worrying about the topic. If you like you can wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it (gently) against the skin at the same time. Then shift your mind onto some other topic. With time you can become very effective at halting periods of pointless worry.

2. Worrying Time

Worrying time is designed to help you stop worrying about problems for most of the day by saving all of your worrying for a particular time. This can be easier than stopping the worrying altogether. As well you may have to think about some of your worries in order to decide what to do about them. Here’s the strategy;

a) Pick a time during the day or week when you will sit down and think about the things that have been worrying you. You probably don’t need to do this every day but more than once a week would be a good idea. Set aside a maximum of 30 minutes when you will not be distracted.

b) Carry a pen and paper (index cards work well) with you at all times. When you catch yourself worrying, make a note of the topic. Assure yourself that you will  think about the issue but not right now. Shift your mind onto something else.

c) When it is time to worry, take out your list of topics and consider each of them in turn. With some topics you may find that you can actually come up with a solution or a decision about how to handle them. Others you may just worry about.  This strategy may sound a bit odd but it is amazingly helpful if you are disciplined about carrying it out.

3 . Worry Inflation

We frequently try to minimize our fears. Worry inflation uses the opposite approach: making the problems as big as possible. Why? Because if you exaggerate many fears they eventually become ridiculous. You find that you can’t really believe that things will get that bad, and the problem shrinks down to realistic proportions. Here’s the strategy:

a) First identify the disturbing thought you want to deal with.

b) Next decide whether inflating the worry will make it seem silly or will only make it seem worse.

c) If it looks like a good topic for worry inflation, exaggerate the disturbing thought out of all proportion. Imagine the most extreme consequences possible. For example: “If I phone my old friend she won’t remember me. She will tell the police she has had a nuisance caller. They will trace the call and arrest me. I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail”. The more extreme the worry gets; the less you may believe in it and the less that thought will be able to bother you in the future.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison issued the following news release:

Early childhood stress has lingering effects on health

Stressful experiences in early childhood can have long-lasting impacts
on kids’ health that persist well beyond the resolution of the situation.

The conclusion comes from a study revealing impaired immune function in
adolescents who, as youngsters, experienced either physical abuse or
time in an orphanage, when compared to peers who never experienced such
difficult circumstances. The report from the University of Wisconsin-
Madison appears online the week of Jan. 26 in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences.

“Even though these children’s environments have changed, physiologically
they’re still responding to stress. That can affect their learning and
their behavior, and having a compromised immune system is going to
affect these children’s health,” says senior author Seth Pollak, a
professor of psychology and pediatrics at UW-Madison.

As director of the Child Emotion Laboratory in the UW-Madison Waisman
Center, Pollak focuses on how experiences early in life affect
children’s subsequent development. In the current work, he and fellow
Wisconsin psychology professor Chris Coe, an expert on the links between
stress and immunity, turned to the immune system as a way to isolate the
consequences of early events.

“The immune system is not preset at birth,” says Coe. “The cells are
there, but how they will develop and how well they’ll be regulated is
very much influenced by your early environment and the type of rearing
you have.”

Led by Elizabeth Shirtcliff of the University of New Orleans when she
was a postdoctoral fellow at UW-Madison, the authors evaluated immune-
system strength among adolescents who had experienced either typical or
unusually stressful childhoods. The researchers looked for high levels
of antibodies against the common and usually latent herpes simplex virus
type 1 (HSV-1).

While roughly two-thirds of Americans carry this virus, which causes
cold sores and fever blisters, people with healthy immune systems are
able to keep the virus in check and rarely if ever have symptoms —
typically, only when stress or illness taxes the immune system. However,
people with weakened immune systems may have trouble suppressing HSV-1
and produce antibodies against the activated virus.

“We can use the control of latent viruses as one way of assessing the
competence of the immune system,” Coe explains. “During times of stress
or if the immune system is not appropriately regulated, the herpes virus
is more likely to reactivate.”

A group of adolescents with documented incidents of past physical abuse
and stressful home environments had higher levels of HSV-1 antibodies,
showing that their immune systems were compromised.

“That is very unfortunate, but it was not surprising,” Pollak says,
since stress is widely known to have negative impacts on immune
function. “It suggests that children’s emotional environments are having
widespread repercussions on their health.”

What was more surprising, however, was that another group of adolescents
in the study, who spent time in orphanages in Romania, Russia or China
before being adopted by U.S. families, showed a similar impairment of
immune regulation.

“These children began their lives in a stressful environment, but
they’re now adolescents, and for a decade, they’ve been living in
stable, affluent, loving environments. And yet, their immune systems are
compromised as well. In fact, they look just like the physically abused
kids,” says Pollak.

While antibodies are typically measured in blood, the researchers used
saliva instead to eliminate any acute stress related to collecting the
samples. There was no difference among the groups in likelihood of
carrying HSV-1, so the results reflect a difference only in the ability
to fight its activation.

“The bottom line is that these early stressors can really have long-term
implications,” Pollak says.

He is particularly concerned about the implications of his findings
given the current economic downturn. International adoptions are
expensive and will likely become harder for many U.S. families, leaving
greater numbers of children in institutional settings for longer periods
of time.

The work was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.

(Mar 2/09) *New York Times* includes an article: “The Muddled Tracks
of All Those Tears” by Benedict Carey.

Here’s an excerpt:

[begin excerpts]

Now, some researchers say that the common psychological wisdom about
crying — crying as a healthy catharsis — is incomplete and misleading.
Having a “good cry” can and usually does allow people to recover some
mental balance after a loss. But not always and not for everyone,
argues a review article in the current issue of the journal Current
Directions in Psychological Science.

This call for a more nuanced view of crying stems partly from a critique
of previous studies. Over the years, psychologists have confirmed many
common observations about crying. It is infectious. Women break down
more easily and more often than men, for reasons that are very likely
biochemical as well as cultural. And the physical experience mirrors
the psychological one: heart rate and breathing peak during the storm
and taper off as the sky clears.

When asked about tearful episodes, most people, as expected, insist that
the crying allowed them to absorb a blow, to feel better and even to
think more clearly about something or someone they had lost.

At least that’s the way they remember it — and that’s the rub, said
Jonathan Rottenberg, a psychologist at the University of South Florida
and a co-author of the review paper. “A lot of the data supporting the
conventional wisdom is based on people thinking back over time,” he
said, “and it’s contaminated by people’s beliefs about what crying should do.”

Just as researchers have found that people tend, with time, to
selectively remember the best parts of their vacations (the swim-up bars
and dancing) and forget the headaches, so crying may also appear
cathartic in retrospect. Memory tidies up the mixed episodes — the
times when tears brought more shame than relief, more misery than company.

In a study published in the December issue of The Journal of Social and
Clinical Psychology, Dr. Rottenberg, along with Lauren M. Bylsma of the
University of South Florida and Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University in
the Netherlands, asked 5,096 people in 35 countries to detail the
circumstances of their most recent crying episode. About 70 percent
said that others’ reactions to their breakdown were positive,
comforting. But about 16 percent cited nasty or angry reactions that,
no surprise, generally made them feel worse.

Given that the most obvious social function of crying is to rally
support and sympathy, the emotional impact of the tears depends partly
on who is around and what they do. The study found crying with just one
other person present was significantly more likely to produce a
cathartic effect than doing so in front of a larger group. “Almost all
emotions are, at some level, directed at others, so their response is
going to be very important,” said James J. Gross, a psychologist at Stanford.

The experience of crying also varies from person to person, and some are
more likely than others to find catharsis. In laboratory studies,
psychologists induce crying by showing participants short clips of very
sad movie scenes, like from “The Champ” or “Steel Magnolias.” Those who
break down — typically about 40 percent of women, very few men — then
report directly on the experience. These kinds of studies, though no
more than a simulation of lived experience, suggest that people with
symptoms of depression and anxiety do not get as worked up, nor recover
as fast, as most people do. In surveys, they are also less likely than
most to report psychological benefits from crying.

People who are confused about the sources of their own emotions — a
condition that in the extreme is called alexithymia — also tend to
report little benefit from a burst of tears, studies have found.

[end excerpt]

The article is online at:
<http://tinyurl.com/cs6uxo&gt;.

Strained marriages ‘harm women’ — BBC news.

Women are more likely than men to suffer damage to their health from being in a strained marriage, research suggests.

US psychologists found wives in tense marriages were prone to risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

In comparison, husbands seemed relatively immune from such problems.

Details of the study, based on 276 couples who had been married for an average of 20 years were presented to the American Psychosomatic Society.

Each couple filled out questionnaires designed to assess the good and bad aspects of married life.

They were also rated for how depressed they appeared to be, based on their self-reported symptoms.

Doctors then carried out a battery of tests to assess whether or not the volunteers were showing signs of metabolic syndrome – a collection of symptoms pointing to a raised risk of serious disease, such as heart problems.

Women in strained marriages were more likely to be depressed and to have a greater number of symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

But although husbands in unhappy marriages were also depressed, they did not show signs of physiological damage to their health.

Researcher Nancy Henry, from the University of Utah, said the team had expected to find that negative aspects of a bad marriage, such as arguing and being angry, would translate into both mental and physical problems for both sexes.

She said: “We found this was true for wives in this study, but not for husbands.

“The gender difference is important because heart disease is the number-one killer of women as well as men, and we are still learning a lot about how relationship factors and emotional distress are related to heart disease.”

Professor Tim Smith, who co-led the research, said there was good evidence that a healthy diet and regular exercise could reduce a woman’s risk of metabolic syndrome.

However, he said: “It’s a little premature to say they would lower their risk of heart disease if they improved the tone and quality of their marriages – or dumped their husbands.

“The immediate implication is that if you are interested in your cardiovascular risk – and we all should be because it is the leading killer for both genders – we should be concerned about not just traditional risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol but the quality of our emotional and family lives.”

Christine Northam, a counsellor for the charity Relate, said there was plenty of evidence that people in a stable, happy relationship enjoyed both good health and a longer life expectancy.

She said: “The gender difference could be partly due to the fact that women’s hormonal profile is more complex than men’s.

“Women also tend to worry more about their health than men.”
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/7925360.stm&gt;

BBC News released an article: “Long hours link to dementia risk.”

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Long working hours may raise the risk of mental decline and possibly
dementia, research suggests.

The Finnish-led study was based on analysis of 2,214 middle-aged British
civil servants.

It found that those working more than 55 hours a week had poorer mental
skills than those who worked a standard working week.

The American Journal of Epidemiology study found hard workers had
problems with short-term memory and word recall.

<snip>

However, the researchers say key factors could include increased
sleeping problems, depression, an unhealthy lifestyle and a raised risk
of cardiovascular disease, possibly linked to stress.

The civil servants who took part in the study took five different tests
of their mental function, once between 1997 and 1999, and again between
2002 and 2004.

<snip>

The effects were cumulative, the longer the working week was the worse
the test results were.

<snip>

Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in workplace stress at the University
of Lancaster, said it had been long established that consistently
working long hours was bad for general health, and now this study
suggested it was also bad for mental functioning.

<snip>

Harriet Millward, deputy chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research
Trust, said: “This study should give pause for thought to workaholics.

“We already know that dementia risk can be reduced by maintaining a
balanced diet, regular social interactions and exercising both our
bodies and minds. Perhaps work-life balance should be accounted for too.”

[end excerpts]

The article is online at:
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7909464.stm&gt;.

Courtesy of Ken Pope