1. Study suggests sportspeople can face retirement identity crisis

    September 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    New research shows how top-level sportspeople can struggle to adjust to life after retirement, with their identities continuing to be defined by their former careers.

    The research, published in the journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, illustrates how some athletes struggle to adjust socially and psychologically following retirement. Previous studies have shown that in the most extreme cases it can lead to depression, eating disorders and substance abuse.

    The study was led by Dr Francesca Cavallerio of Anglia Ruskin University, who worked alongside Dr Chris Wagstaff of the University of Portsmouth and Dr Ross Wadey of St Mary’s University.

    Dr Wagstaff said: “Adapting to retirement is difficult for many people in society and this is particularly the case in elite sport. Such environments are characterised by very clear social and cultural expectations. In order to be successful, athletes typically conform to and associate success with these cultural norms.

    “This study showed that, unfortunately, when athletes retire many struggle to identify with anything other than their sport, which for many, has been the principal focus of their life for many years. Therefore, sport organisations must do more to support the non-sport lives of their athletes.”

    Dr Cavallerio, a Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, interviewed female gymnasts who had retired from elite-level competition and found that their stories followed one of three narratives or storylines: Entangled, Going forward and Making sense.

    For instance, some former gymnasts who were identified as entangled had their identities completely defined by their former athletic self and the values instilled in them when they competed. They struggled to adapt to life after gymnastics and suffered from low confidence, low self-esteem, and a lack of drive towards new goals and experiences.

    The going forward former athletes were able to develop different identities to that of a gymnast at the same time as they were competing at a high level. Once their gymnastics careers were over, they were able to make the most of what they had learnt in sport to help their future development.

    Those in the making sense group fell somewhere in between, not confident enough to be going forward but struggling not to remain entangled in their former life. Future experiences were likely to decide whether they would more closely follow the going forward or entangled narratives.

    Dr Cavallerio said: “Sport continues to embrace the early identification and development of talented athletes. In many sports, the age at which people begin training at a professional level is getting younger.

    “Our study shows that how athletes are treated and influenced at a young age can have an effect on how they deal with retirement.

    “The issues we observed should be of interest to clubs and governing bodies across a range of sports. On a practical level they should be encouraging young athletes to develop a non-sporting identity at the same time as a sporting identity, and have a range of interests and friendships outside of their sport.”


  2. What makes alcoholics drink? Research shows it’s more complex than supposed

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    What makes alcoholics drink? New research has found that in both men and women with alcohol dependence, the major factor predicting the amount of drinking seems to be a question of immediate mood. They found that suffering from long-term mental health problems did not affect alcohol consumption, with one important exception: men with a history of depression had a different drinking pattern than men without a history of depression; surprisingly those men were drinking less often than men who were not depressed.

    “This work once again shows that alcoholism is not a one-size-fits-all condition,” said lead researcher, Victor Karpyak (Mayo Clinic, MN, USA). “So the answer to the question of why alcoholics drink is probably that there is no single answer; this will probably have implications for how we diagnose and treat alcoholism.”

    The work, presented at the ECNP congress by researchers from the Mayo Clinic*, determined the alcohol consumption of 287 males and 156 females with alcohol dependence over the previous 90 days, using the accepted Time Line Follow Back method and standardized diagnostic assessment for life time presence of psychiatric disorders (PRISM); they were then able to associate this with whether the drinking coincided with a positive or negative emotional state (feeling “up” or “down”), and whether the individual had a history of anxiety, depression (MDD) or substance abuse.

    The results showed that alcohol dependent men tended to drink more alcohol per day than alcohol dependent women. As expected, alcohol consumption in both men and women was associated with feeling either up or down on a particular day, with no significant association with anxiety or substance use disorders. However, men with a history of major depressive disorder had fewer drinking days (p=0.0084), and fewer heavy drinking days (p=0.0214) than men who never a major depressive disorder.

    Victor Karpyak continued: “Research indicates that many people drink to enhance pleasant feelings, while other people drink to suppress negative moods, such as depression or anxiety. However, previous studies did not differentiate between state-dependent mood changes and the presence of clinically diagnosed anxiety or depressive disorders. The lack of such differentiation was likely among the reasons for controversial findings about the usefulness of antidepressants in treatment of alcoholics with comorbid depression.

    This work will need to be replicated and confirmed, but from what we see here, it means that the reasons why alcoholics drink depend on their background as well as the immediate circumstances. There is no single reason. And this means that there is probably no single treatment, so we will have to refine our diagnostic methods and tailor treatment to the individual. It also means that our treatment approach may differ depending on targeting different aspects of alcoholism (craving or consumption) and the alcoholic patient (i.e. man or a woman) with or without depression or anxiety history to allow really effective treatment.”

    Commenting, Professor Wim van den Brink (Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam) said:

    “This is indeed a very important issue. Patients with an alcohol use disorder often show a history of other disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, they also often present with alcohol induced anxiety and mood disorders and finally the may report mood symptoms that do not meet criteria for a mood or anxiety disorder (due to a failure to meet the minimal number of criteria or a duration of less than two weeks). All these different conditions may influence current levels or patterns of drinking.

    The current study seems to show that the current presence of mood/anxiety symptoms is associated with more drinking in both male and female alcoholics, whereas a clinical history of major depression in male alcoholics is associated with lower current dinking levels. Although, the study does not provide a clear reason for this difference, it may have consequences for treatment. For example, antidepressant treatment of males with a history major depression may have no effect on drinking levels. However, these findings may also result from residual confounding, e.g. patients with a history of major depression might also be patients with a late age of onset of their alcohol use disorder and this type of alcohol use disorder is associated with a different pattern of drinking with more daily drinking and less heavy drinking days and less binging. More prospective studies are needed to resolve this important but complex clinical issue.”


  3. Study looks at effect of testosterone fluctuations in fathers after baby arrives

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Southern California press release:

    Postpartum depression is often associated with mothers, but a new study shows that fathers face a higher risk of experiencing it themselves if their testosterone levels drop nine months after their children are born.

    The same study revealed that a father’s low testosterone may also affect his partner — but in an unexpectedly positive way. Women whose partners had lower levels of testosterone postpartum reported fewer symptoms of depression themselves nine and 15 months after birth.

    High testosterone levels had the opposite effect. Fathers whose levels spiked faced a greater risk of experiencing stress due to parenting and a greater risk of acting hostile- such as showing emotional, verbal or physical aggression — toward their partners.

    The study was published in the journal Hormones and Behavior on Sept. 1. The findings support prior studies that show men have biological responses to fatherhood, said Darby Saxbe, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

    “We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy.” Saxbe said. “We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms. We are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick.

    “We know that fathers contribute a lot to child-rearing and that on the whole, kids do better if they are raised in households with a father present,” she added. “So, it is important to figure out how to support fathers and what factors explain why some fathers are very involved in raising their children while some are absent.”

    Saxbe worked with a team of researchers from USC, University of California at Los Angeles and Northwestern University.

    A snapshot of paternal postpartum depression

    For the study, the researchers examined data from 149 couples in the Community Child Health Research Network. The study by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development involves sites across the country, but the data for this study came from Lake County, Illinois, north of Chicago.

    Mothers in the study were 18 to 40 years old; African-American, white or Latina; and low-income. They were recruited when they gave birth to their first, second or third child. Mothers could invite the baby’s father to participate in the study as well. Of the fathers who participated and provided testosterone data, 95 percent were living with the mothers.

    Interviewers visited couples three times in the first two years after birth: around two months after the child was born, about nine months after birth and about 15 months after birth.

    At the nine-month visit, researchers gave the fathers saliva sample kits. Dads took samples three times a day — morning, midday and evening — to monitor their testosterone levels.

    Participants responded to questions about depressive symptoms based on a widely-used measure, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression. They also reported on their relationship satisfaction, parenting stress and whether they were experiencing any intimate partner aggression. Higher scores on those measures signaled greater depression, more stress, more dissatisfaction and greater aggression.

    Relatively few participants — fathers and mothers — were identified as clinically depressed, which is typical of a community sample that reflects the general population. Instead of using clinical diagnoses, the researchers looked at the number of depressive symptoms endorsed by each participant.

    Men’s testosterone levels were linked with both their own and their partners’ depressive symptoms — but in opposing directions for men and for women.

    For example, lower testosterone was associated with more symptoms in dads, but fewer symptoms in moms. The link between their partners’ testosterone levels and their own depression was mediated by relationship satisfaction. If they were paired with lower-testosterone partners, women reported greater satisfaction with their relationship, which in turn helped reduce their depressive symptoms.

    “It may be that the fathers with lower testosterone were spending more time caring for the baby or that they had hormone profiles that were more synced up with mothers,” she said. “For mothers, we know that social support buffers the risk of postpartum depression.”

    Fathers with higher testosterone levels reported more parenting stress, and their partners reported more relationship aggression.

    To measure parenting stress, parents were asked how strongly they related to a set of 36 items from the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form. They responded to statements such as “I feel trapped by my responsibilities as a parent” and “My child makes more demands on me than most children.” A high number of “yes” responses signaled stress.

    Relationship satisfaction questions were based on another widely-used tool, the Dyadic Adjustment Scale. Parents responded to 32 items inquiring about their relationship satisfaction, including areas of disagreement or their degree of closeness and affection. Higher scores signaled greater dissatisfaction.

    Mothers also answered questions from another scientific questionnaire, the HITS (Hurts, Insults, and Threats Scale), reporting whether they had experienced any physical hurt, insult, threats and screaming over the past year. They also were asked if their partners restricted activities such as spending money, visiting family or friends or going places that they needed to go.

    “Those are risk factors that can contribute to depression over the long term,” Saxbe said.

    Treating fathers with postpartum depression

    Although doctors may try to address postpartum depression in fathers by providing testosterone supplements, Saxbe said that the study’s findings indicate a boost could worsen the family’s stress.

    “One take-away from this study is that supplementing is not a good idea for treating fathers with postpartum depression,” she said. “Low testosterone during the postpartum period may be a normal and natural adaptation to parenthood.”

    She said studies have shown that physical fitness and adequate sleep can improve both mood and help balance hormone levels.

    In addition, both mothers and fathers should be aware of the signs of postpartum depression and be willing to seek support and care, Saxbe said. Talk therapy can help dads — or moms — gain insight into their emotions and find better strategies for managing their moods.

    “We tend to think of postpartum depression as a mom thing,” Saxbe said. “It’s not. It’s a real condition that might be linked to hormones and biology.”


  4. Study suggests exclusion from school can trigger long-term psychiatric illness

    September 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Excluding children from school may lead to long- term psychiatric problems and psychological distress, a study of thousands of children has shown.

    Research by the University of Exeter, published in the journal Psychological Medicine found that a new onset mental disorder may be a consequence of exclusion from school.

    The study, also found that — separately — poor mental health can lead to exclusion from school.

    Professor Tamsin Ford, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Exeter’s Medical School, warned that excluded children can develop a range of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety as well as behavioural disturbance. The impact of excluding a child from school on their education and progress is often long term, and this work suggests that their mental health may also deteriorate.

    The study is the most rigorous study of the impact of exclusion from school among the general population so far and included a standardised assessment of children’s difficulties.

    Consistently poor behaviour in the classroom is the main reason for school exclusion, with many students, mainly of secondary school age, facing repeated dismissal from school. Relatively few pupils are expelled from school, but Professor Ford warned that even temporary exclusions can amplify psychological distress.

    Professor Ford, who practises as a child and adolescent psychiatrist as well as carrying out research, said identifying children who struggle in class could, if coupled with tailored support, prevent exclusion and improve their success at school, while exclusion might precipitate future mental disorder. These severe psychological difficulties are often persistent so could then require long-term clinical support by the NHS.

    Professor Ford said: “For children who really struggle at school, exclusion can be a relief as it removes then from an unbearable situation with the result that on their return to school they will behave even more badly to escape again. As such, it becomes an entirely counterproductive disciplinary tool as for these children it encourages the very behaviour that it intends to punish. By avoiding exclusion and finding other solutions to poor behaviour, schools can help children’s mental health in the future as well as their education.”

    Exclusion from school is commoner among boys, secondary school pupils, and those living in socio-economically deprived circumstances. Poor general health and learning disabilities, as well as having parents with mental illness, is also associated with exclusion.

    The analysis by a team led by Professor Ford of responses from over 5000 school-aged children, their parents and their teachers in the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys collected by the Office of National Statistics on behalf of the Department of Health found that children with learning difficulties and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism spectrum conditions were more likely to be excluded from the classroom.

    The research team found more children with mental disorder among those who had been excluded from school, when they followed up on their progress, than those who had not. The research team omitted children who had a previous mental disorder from this analysis.

    The researchers concluded there is a ‘bi-directional association’ between psychological distress and exclusion: children with psychological distress and mental-health problems are more likely to be excluded in the first place but exclusion predicted increased levels of psychological distress three years later.

    Claire Parker, a researcher at the University of Exeter Medical School, who carried out doctoral research on the project said:

    “Although an exclusion from school may only last for a day or two, the impact and repercussions for the child and parents are much wider. Exclusion often marks a turning point during an ongoing difficult time for the child, parent and those trying to support the child in school.”

    Most research into the impact of exclusion has so far involved the study of individuals’ experience and narratives from much smaller groups of people chosen because of their experience, which may not be so representative.

    This study included an analysis of detailed questionnaires filled in by children parents and teachers as well as an assessment of disorder by child psychiatrists, drawing on data from over 5000 children in two linked surveys to allow the researchers to compare their responses with students who had been excluded. This sample from the general population included over 200 children who had experienced at least one exclusion.

    The report concluded: “Support for children whose behaviour challenges school systems is important. Timely intervention may prevent exclusion from school as well as future psychopathology. A number of vulnerable children may face exclusion from school that might be avoided with suitable interventions.”

    Professor Ford added: “Given the established link between children’s behaviour, classroom climate and teachers’ mental health, burn out and self-efficacy, greater availability of timely support for children whose behaviour is challenging might also improve teachers’ productivity and school effectiveness”.


  5. One in five women with postpartum mood disorders keep quiet

    September 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the North Carolina State University press release:

    A recent study from North Carolina State University finds that 21 percent of recent mothers experiencing postpartum mood disorders (PPMDs), such as anxiety and depression, do not disclose their symptoms to healthcare providers.

    “Our study finds that many women who would benefit from treatment are not receiving it, because they don’t tell anyone that they’re dealing with any challenges,” says Betty-Shannon Prevatt, a practicing clinical psychologist and Ph.D. student at NC State who was lead author of a paper on the work.

    “We know that 10-20 percent of women experience significant mood disorders after childbirth, and those disorders can adversely affect the physical and emotional well-being of both mothers and children,” Prevatt says. “Our goal with this study was to see how many women are not disclosing these problems, since that’s a threshold issue for helping women access treatment.”

    To address this question, researchers conducted an anonymous survey of 211 women who had given birth within the previous three years. The survey asked women whether they’d experienced PPMD symptoms; whether they had disclosed PPMD symptoms to healthcare providers — from doulas and lactation consultants to nurses and doctors; and a range of questions related to their mental health and obstacles to seeking care.

    Survey responses showed that 51 percent of study participants met the criteria for a PPMD. However, just more than one in five of those who experienced PPMDs did not disclose their problems to healthcare providers.

    “To place this in context, there are national guidelines in place telling healthcare providers to ask women about PPMD symptoms after childbirth,” says Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the paper. “With so many women in our study not disclosing PPMDs to their providers, it strongly suggests that a significant percentage of these women did not disclose their symptoms even when asked.”

    The study found that women experiencing the highest levels of stress, and women with the strongest social support networks, were most likely to report their PPMD symptoms to healthcare providers.

    The study did not identify any specific barriers to disclosing PPMD symptoms. However, the study did find that women who were unemployed, had a history of mental health problems or were experiencing severe symptoms were more likely to report barriers to treatment — though the specific barriers to treatment varied significantly.

    “This work highlights the importance of support networks and the need to normalize the wide variety of reactions women have after childbirth,” Prevatt says. “We need to make it OK for women to talk about their mental health, so that they can have better access to care. Working with the people around new mothers may be key.”

    “We don’t just need to teach women how to develop a birth plan, we need to teach them how to develop a social support plan,” Desmarais says.

    The researchers are currently recruiting participants for a follow-up study aimed at addressing similar questions in Spanish-language communities.


  6. Depression overshadows the past as well as the present

    August 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    Depressed people have a peculiar view of the past — rather than glorifying the ‘good old days’, they project their generally bleak outlook on to past events, according to new research.

    It is known depression makes sufferers see the present and the future as sad, but this is the first time research has shown it also casts a long shadow over people’s memories of the past.

    Psychologists at Germany’s Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf and at the UK’s University of Portsmouth published their research in Clinical Psychological Science.

    It establishes the first clear link between depression and hindsight bias, or a distorted view of the past.

    Dr Hartmut Blank, in the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology, is one of the authors.

    He said: “Depression is not only associated with a negative view of the world, the self and the future, but we now know with a negative view of the past.”

    Hindsight bias includes three core elements: exaggerated perceptions of foreseeability — we think we knew all along how events would turn out; inevitability — something ‘had’ to happen; and memory bias — misremembering what we once thought when we know the outcome of something.

    Hindsight bias has been studied in various settings, including sports events, political elections, medical diagnoses or bankers’ investment strategies. Until now, it hasn’t been used to study depression.

    Dr Blank said: “Everyone is susceptible to hindsight bias, but it takes on a very specific form in depression. While non-depressed people tend to show hindsight bias for positive events but not negative events, people with depression show the reverse pattern.

    “Making things worse, depressed people also see negative event outcomes as both foreseeable and inevitable — a toxic combination, reinforcing feelings of helplessness and lack of control that already characterise the experience of people with depression.

    “Everyone experiences disappointment and regret from time to time and doing so helps us adapt and grow and to make better decisions. But people with depression struggle to control negative feelings and hindsight bias appears to set up a cycle of misery.

    “We have shown hindsight bias in people who are depressed is a further burden on their shoulders, ‘helping’ to sustain the condition in terms of learning the wrong lessons from the past.”

    The researchers tested over 100 university students, about half of whom suffered from mild to severe depression. They were asked to imagine themselves in a variety of everyday scenarios with positive or negative outcomes (from different domains of everyday life, e.g. work, performance, family, leisure, social, romantic). For each scenario, the researchers then collected measures of hindsight bias (foreseeability, inevitability and distorted memory for initial expectations).

    The results showed that with increasing severity of depression, a specific hindsight bias pattern emerged — exaggerated foreseeability and inevitability of negative (but not positive) event outcomes, as well as a tendency to misremember initial expectations in line with negative outcomes. Characteristically, this ‘depressive hindsight bias’ was strongly related to clinical measures of depressive thinking, suggesting that it is part of a general negative worldview in depression.

    Dr Blank said: “This is only a first study to explore the crucial role of hindsight bias in depression; more work needs to be done in different experimental and real-life settings, and also using clinical samples, to further examine and establish the link between hindsight bias and depression.”


  7. Links between parents’ earnings, gender roles, mental health

    August 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s suggested that women and men would have equal shots at happiness — whether they were their families’ primary breadwinners or stay-at-home parents.

    However, the reality has been far more nuanced for many families in the U.S. And new research out of the University of Illinois suggests that some mothers’ and fathers’ psychological well-being may suffer when their work and family identities — and the amount of financial support they provide — conflict with conventional gender roles.

    Researchers Karen Kramer and Sunjin Pak found that when women’s paychecks increased to compose the majority of their families’ income, these women reported more symptoms of depression.

    However, Kramer and Pak found the opposite effect in men: Dads’ psychological well-being improved over time when they became the primary wage-earners for their families.

    The data sample comprised more than 1,463 men and 1,769 women who participated in the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth. A majority of the individuals in the study, all born between 1957 and 1965, were members of the baby-boom generation. Participants’ psychological well-being was measured in 1991 and 1994 using a seven-item scale that assessed their levels of depressive symptoms.

    Kramer and Pak found that although women’s psychological well-being was not affected by exiting the workforce to become stay-at-home moms, men’s mental health declined when they stayed home to care for the kids.

    “We observed a statistically significant and substantial difference in depressive symptoms between men and women in our study,” said Kramer, who is a professor of human development and family studies.

    “The results supported the overarching hypothesis: Well-being was lower for mothers and fathers who violated gendered expectations about the division of paid labor, and higher for parents who conformed to these expectations.”

    While women’s educational and career opportunities have multiplied in recent decades, societal norms and expectations about gendered divisions of labor in the workplace and the home have been slower to evolve, according to the researchers.

    Mothers and fathers who deviate from conventional gender roles — such as dads who leave the workforce to care for their children full time — may be perceived negatively, potentially impacting their mental health, Kramer and Pak wrote.

    The researchers also explored whether parents who held more egalitarian ideas about men’s and women’s responsibilities as wage earners and caretakers for their families fared better — and Kramer and Pak found gender differences there as well.

    Women in the study who viewed themselves and their spouses as equally responsible for financially supporting their families and caring for their homes and offspring experienced better mental health when their wages and share of the family’s income increased.

    However, regardless of their beliefs, men’s mental health took a hit when their earnings as a proportion of the family income shrank — suggesting perhaps that “work identity and (the) traditional role of primary earner are still critical for men, even when they have more egalitarian gender ideology,” the researchers wrote.

    Kramer is to present the paper at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 12-15 in Montreal.

    Pak is a doctoral student at Illinois.


  8. Being bullied may dramatically affect sleep

    August 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McLean Hospital press release:

    New research from McLean Hospital neuroscientists shows in an animal model that being bullied can have long-term, dramatic effects on sleep and other circadian rhythm-related functions, symptoms that are characteristic of clinical depression and other stress-induced mental illnesses. The researchers, however, also found that it may be possible to mitigate these effects with the use of an experimental class of drugs that can block stress.

    “While our study found that some stress-related effects on circadian rhythms are short-lived, others are long-lasting,” said William Carlezon, PhD, chief of the Division of Basic Neuroscience and director of the Behavioral Genetics Laboratory at McLean Hospital and senior author of the study. “Identifying these changes and understanding their meaning is an important step in developing methods to counter the long-lasting effects of traumatic experiences on mental health.”

    Stress is known to trigger psychiatric illnesses, including depression and PTSD, and sleep is frequently affected in these conditions. Some people with stress disorders sleep less than normal, while others sleep more than normal or have more frequent bouts of sleep and wakefulness.

    To demonstrate the effects of bullying, the researchers used an animal model simulating the physical and emotional stressors involved in human bullying — chronic social defeat stress.

    For this procedure, a smaller, younger mouse is paired with a larger, older, and more aggressive mouse. When the smaller mouse is placed into the home cage of the larger mouse, the larger mouse instinctively acts to protect its territory.

    In a typical interaction lasting several minutes, the larger mouse chases the smaller mouse, displaying aggressive behavior and emitting warning calls. The interaction ends when the larger mouse pins the smaller mouse to the floor or against a cage wall, establishing dominance by the larger mouse and submission by the smaller mouse.

    The mice are then separated and a barrier is placed between them, dividing the home cage in half. A clear and perforated barrier is used, enabling the mice to see, smell, and hear each other, but preventing physical interactions. The mice remain in this arrangement, with the smaller mouse living under threat from the larger mouse, for the rest of the day. This process is repeated for 10 consecutive days, with a new aggressor mouse introduced each day.

    To collect data continuously and accurately, researchers outfitted the smaller mice with micro-transmitters that are akin to activity trackers used by people to monitor their exercise, heart rate, and sleep. These mice micro-transmitters collected sleep, muscle activity, and body temperature data, which revealed that the smaller mice experienced progressive changes in sleep patterns, with all phases of the sleep-wake cycle being affected. The largest effect was on the number of times the mice went in and out of a sleep phase called paradoxical sleep, which resembles REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in humans, when dreams occur and memories are strengthened. Bullied mice showed many more bouts of paradoxical sleep, resembling the type of sleep disruptions often seen in people with depression. Bullied mice also showed a flattening of body temperature fluctuations, which is also an effect seen in people with depression.

    “Both the sleep and body temperature changes persisted in the smaller mice after they were removed from the physically and emotionally threatening environment, suggesting that they had developed symptoms that look very much like those seen in people with long-term depression,” said Carlezon. “These effects were reduced, however, in terms of both intensity and duration, if the mice had been treated with a kappa-opioid receptor antagonist, a drug that blocks the activity of one of the brain’s own opioid systems.”

    Carlezon explained that these findings not only reveal what traumatic experiences can do to individuals who experience them, but also that we may someday be able to do something to reduce the severity of their effects.

    “This study exemplifies how measuring the same types of endpoints in laboratory animals and humans might hasten the pace of advances in psychiatry research. If we can knock out stress with new treatments, we might be able to prevent some forms of mental illness.”

    The detailed findings of this study are available in the August 9, 2017 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

    McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a member of Partners HealthCare. For more information about McLean, visit mcleanhospital.org or follow the hospital on Facebook or Twitter.


  9. Study suggests yoga may help reduce depression symptoms

    August 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association (APA) press release:

    People who suffer from depression may want to look to yoga as a complement to traditional therapies as the practice appears to lessen symptoms of the disorder, according to studies presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

    “Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing,” said Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who chaired a session highlighting research on yoga and depression. “But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health.”

    Hopkins’ research focused on the acceptability and antidepressant effects of hatha yoga, the branch of yoga that emphasizes physical exercises, along with meditative and breathing exercises, to enhance well-being. In the study, 23 male veterans participated in twice-weekly yoga classes for eight weeks. On a 1-10 scale, the average enjoyment rating for the yoga classes for these veterans was 9.4. All participants said they would recommend the program to other veterans. More importantly, participants with elevated depression scores before the yoga program had a significant reduction in depression symptoms after the eight weeks.

    Another, more specific, version of hatha yoga commonly practiced in the West is Bikram yoga, also known as heated yoga. Sarah Shallit, MA, of Alliant University in San Francisco investigated Bikram yoga in 52 women, age 25-45. Just more than half were assigned to participate in twice-weekly classes for eight weeks. The rest were told they were wait-listed and used as a control condition. All participants were tested for depression levels at the beginning of the study, as well as at weeks three, six and nine. Shallit and her co-author Hopkins found that eight weeks of Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared with the control group.

    In the same session, Maren Nyer, PhD, and Maya Nauphal, BA, of Massachusetts General Hospital, presented data from a pilot study of 29 adults that also showed eight weeks of at least twice-weekly Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression and improved other secondary measures including quality of life, optimism, and cognitive and physical functioning.

    “The more the participants attended yoga classes, the lower their depressive symptoms at the end of the study,” said Nyer, who currently has funding from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to conduct a randomized controlled trial of Bikram yoga for individuals with depression.

    Elsewhere at the meeting, Nina Vollbehr, MS, of the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands presented data from two studies on the potential for yoga to address chronic and/or treatment-resistant depression. In the first study, 12 patients who had experienced depression for an average of 11 years participated in nine weekly yoga sessions of approximately 2.5 hours each. The researchers measured participants’ levels of depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry before the yoga sessions, directly after the nine weeks and four months later. Scores for depression, anxiety and stress decreased throughout the program, a benefit that persisted four months after the training. Rumination and worry did not change immediately after the treatment, but at follow up rumination and worry were decreased for the participants.

    In another study, involving 74 mildly depressed university students, Vollbehr and her colleagues compared yoga to a relaxation technique. Individuals received 30 minutes of live instruction on either yoga or relaxation and were asked to perform the same exercise at home for eight days using a 15-minute instructional video. While results taken immediately after the treatment showed yoga and relaxation were equally effective at reducing symptoms, two months later, the participants in the yoga group had significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety and stress than the relaxation group.

    “These studies suggest that yoga-based interventions have promise for depressed mood and that they are feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression,” said Vollbehr.

    The concept of yoga as complementary or alternative mental health treatment is so promising that the U.S. military is investigating the creation of its own treatment programs. Jacob Hyde, PsyD, of the University of Denver, gave a presentation outlining a standardized, six-week yoga treatment for U.S. military veterans enrolled in behavioral health services at the university-run clinic and could be expanded for use by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Hopkins noted that the research on yoga as a treatment for depression is still preliminary. “At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist,” she said. “Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential.”


  10. High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

    August 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon Health & Science University press release:

    A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact on offspring behavior. The new study links an unhealthy diet during pregnancy to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression in children.

    “Given the high level of dietary fat consumption and maternal obesity in developed nations, these findings have important implications for the mental health of future generations,” the researchers report.

    The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.

    The study, led by Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU, tested the effect of a maternal high-fat diet on nonhuman primates, tightly controlling their diet in a way that would be impossible in a human population. The study revealed behavioral changes in the offspring associated with impaired development of the central serotonin system in the brain. Further, it showed that introducing a healthy diet to the offspring at an early age failed to reverse the effect.

    Previous observational studies in people correlated maternal obesity with a range of mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The new research demonstrates for the first time that a high-fat diet, increasingly common in the developed world, caused long-lasting mental health ramifications for the offspring of non-human primates.

    In the United States, 64 percent of women of reproductive age are overweight and 35 percent are obese. The new study suggests that the U.S. obesity epidemic may be imposing transgenerational effects.

    “It’s not about blaming the mother,” said Sullivan, senior author on the study. “It’s about educating pregnant women about the potential risks of a high-fat diet in pregnancy and empowering them and their families to make healthy choices by providing support. We also need to craft public policies that promote healthy lifestyles and diets.”

    Researchers grouped a total of 65 female Japanese macaques into two groups, one given a high-fat diet and one a control diet during pregnancy. They subsequently measured and compared anxiety-like behavior among 135 offspring and found that both males and females exposed to a high-fat diet during pregnancy exhibited greater incidence of anxiety compared with those in the control group. The scientists also examined physiological differences between the two groups, finding that exposure to a high-fat diet during gestation and early in development impaired the development of neurons containing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s critical in developing brains.

    The new findings suggest that diet is at least as important as genetic predisposition to neurodevelopmental disorders such as anxiety or depression, said an OHSU pediatric psychiatrist who was not involved in the research.

    “I think it’s quite dramatic,” said Joel Nigg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine. “A lot of people are going to be astonished to see that the maternal diet has this big of an effect on the behavior of the offspring. We’ve always looked at the link between obesity and physical diseases like heart disease, but this is really the clearest demonstration that it’s also affecting the brain.”

    Sullivan and research assistant and first author Jacqueline Thompson said they believe the findings provide evidence that mobilizing public resources to provide healthy food and pre- and post-natal care to families of all socioeconomic classes could reduce mental health disorders in future generations.

    “My hope is that increased public awareness about the origins of neuropsychiatric disorders can improve our identification and management of these conditions, both at an individual and societal level,” Thompson said.