1. Study suggests young people with shared residency have fewer mental problems

    January 29, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Uni Research press release:

    Young people with shared residency after their parents’ divorce have fewer mental problems than young people with other residency arrangements.

    This was the conclusion researchers at RKBU Vest (Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare), Uni Research Health, arrived at when they compared the mental health of young people in different residency arrangements after a divorce.”

    Youth with shared residency after a divorce reported less mental issues than those living mostly with a single parent or in a stepfamily. Furthermore, we found that youths with joint residency did not have more mental problems than young people living with their two non-divorced parents, says Sondre Aasen Nilsen,” researcher at RKBU Vest who is one of the researchers behind the study.

    More young people with shared residency

    During the last ten years there has been a large increase in the number of parents who chose a shared residency scheme for their children after a divorce, where the child lives approximately as much with the mother as with the father. Several international studies show a correlation between this form of living and fewer mental problems among children with divorced parents, compared to those living mostly with the mother or the father.

    Shared residency in dispute

    Nevertheless, shared residency is in dispute and it has been argued that the constant move between two homes may impede the child’s adjustment after a divorce. The latest comprehensive study that examined adjustment in different residency arrangements after a divorce in Norway used data collected in 1997. “We have therefore lacked information about how young people adapt in different residency arrangements today, following the large increase in families who choose a shared residency scheme,” Nilsen says.

    The largest study in Norway

    In the “ung@hordaland” survey at RKBU Vest, about 7700 young people answered detailed questions about their parents’ divorce, the family’s financial resources, how and who they lived with after the divorce. Their mental health was also mapped. This is the largest Norwegian study that has examined young people’s adaptation in different residency arrangements after the parents’ divorce.

    This study is part of Sondre Aasen Nilsen’s PhD project in association with RKBU Vest, Uni Research Helse. The collaborating partner in the project is Save the Children Norway (Redd Barna), and the project is funded by Extrastiftelsen.


  2. Family study emphasizes distinct origins for bipolar disorder subtypes

    by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    The most common subtypes of bipolar disorder, bipolar I and bipolar II, stem — at least in part — from different biological causes, according to a new study published in Biological Psychiatry. Despite genetic overlap between the two subtypes, each subtype tended to cluster within families, suggesting a distinction between bipolar disorders I and II.

    The study, by Dr. Jie Song of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, and colleagues helps settle controversy over the relationship between bipolar I and bipolar II disorders. Although genetic similarities indicate overlap between the subtypes, the new findings emphasize different origins. According to Song, this is contrary to a common notion among many clinicians that bipolar II disorder is merely a milder form.

    “We have tended to view the two forms of bipolar disorder as variants of the same clinical condition. However, this new study highlights important differences in the heritable risk for these two disorders,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

    The study is the first nationwide family study to explore the difference between the two main subtypes of bipolar disorder. Dr. Song and colleagues analyzed the occurrence of the bipolar disorder subtypes in families from the Swedish national registers. Although a strong genetic correlation between bipolar I and bipolar II disorder suggests that they are not completely different, the family occurrence for each subtype was stronger than co-occurrence between the subtypes, indicating that bipolar I and bipolar II disorders tend to “run” in families separately, rather than occurring together.

    “Within the context of our emerging appreciation of polygenic risk, where gene variations are implicated in several disorders, the new findings point to only partial overlap in the risk mechanisms for these two forms of bipolar disorder,” said Dr. Krystal.

    The study also provided some additional clues that bipolar I and II disorders have distinct origins. Only bipolar disorder II showed gender differences — the proportion of females to males was higher in bipolar disorder II but not bipolar disorder I. And bipolar I clustered together in families with schizophrenia, which was not apparent for bipolar disorder II.

    “Hopefully, our findings increase awareness of the need for refined distinctions between subtypes of mood disorder,” said Dr. Song. The distinction between the subtypes also has implications for treatment strategies for patients. Dr. Song added that future research is warranted to characterize new biomarkers to improve treatment and prognosis.


  3. Study suggests exposure to nature in cities can help mental well-being

    January 25, 2018 by Ashley

    From the King’s College London press release:

    Researchers at King’s College London, landscape architects J & L Gibbons and art foundation Nomad Projects have used smartphone-based technology to assess the relationship between nature in cities and momentary mental wellbeing in real time. They found that (i) being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing, and that (ii) the beneficial effects of nature were especially evident in those individuals with greater levels of impulsivity who are at greater risk of mental health issues. The researchers developed a smartphone-based app, Urban Mind, to examine how exposure to natural features in cities affects a person’s mental wellbeing.

    The Urban Mind app monitored 108 individuals who collectively completed 3,013 assessments over a one-week period.

    In each assessment, participants answered several questions about their current environment and momentary mental wellbeing. GPS-based geotagging was used to monitor their exact location throughout the 1-week trial.

    The results showed significant immediate and time lagged associations with mental wellbeing for several natural features: trees, the sky and birdsong. These associations were still evident several hours after exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong had taken place, indicating time-lasting benefits.

    The investigators were interested in whether the beneficial effects of nature might vary from one individual to another, depending on their risk of developing poor mental health. To assess this each participant was rated on “trait impulsivity” — a psychological measure of one’s tendency to behave with little forethought or consideration of the consequences, and a predictor of higher risk of developing addictive disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, antisocial personality disorder and bipolar disorder. This revealed that the beneficial impact of nature on mental wellbeing was greater in people with higher levels of trait impulsivity and a higher risk of developing mental health issues.

    Dr Andrea Mechelli, Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, said, ‘These findings suggest that short-term exposure to nature has a measurable beneficial impact on mental wellbeing. The interaction of this effect with trait impulsivity is intriguing, as it suggests that nature could be especially beneficial to those individuals who are at risk of poor mental health. From a clinical perspective, we hope this line of research will lead to the development of low-cost scalable interventions aimed at promoting mental health in urban populations.’Johanna Gibbons and Neil Davidson, landscape architects at J & L Gibbons, said, ‘Right now decisions on urban planning and design aimed at improving mental health tend to be based on “conventional wisdom,” due to the lack of robust scientific data. Our findings provide a much-needed evidence base for the benefits of nature within urban centres. From the perspective of urban planning and design, we hope the results will inform future investments and policies, helping build heathier cities’.

    Michael Smythe, an artist and action-based researcher at Nomad Projects, comments, ‘This study represents a successful example of how smartphone technologies can be employed as a tool for citizen science. It also demonstrates the value of academic and non-academic researchers coming together to carry out truly cross-disciplinary work with tangible real-world implications’.

    Lucia Robertson, a participant on the project, said, ‘Using the Urban Mind app made me more aware of my surroundings and how these affect my state of mind. It encouraged me to think hard about what kind of city I want to live in’.


  4. Study suggests perfectionism and competitiveness may negatively impact psychological health of youth

    January 23, 2018 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    The drive to be perfect in body, mind and career among today’s college students has significantly increased compared with prior generations, which may be taking a toll on young people’s mental health, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

    This study is the first to examine group generational differences in perfectionism, according to lead author Thomas Curran, PhD, of the University of Bath. He and his co-author Andrew Hill, PhD, of York St John University suggest that perfectionism entails “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.”

    Curran and Hill analyzed data from 41,641 American, Canadian and British college students from 164 samples who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, a test for generational changes in perfectionism, from the late 1980s to 2016. They measured three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or an irrational desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or perceiving excessive expectations from others; and other-oriented, or placing unrealistic standards on others.

    The study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, found that more recent generations of college students reported significantly higher scores for each form of perfectionism than earlier generations. Specifically, between 1989 and 2016, the self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed increased by 33 percent and other-oriented increased by 16 percent.

    The rise in perfectionism among millennials is being driven by a number of factors, according to Curran. For example, raw data suggest that social media use pressures young adults to perfect themselves in comparison to others, which makes them dissatisfied with their bodies and increases social isolation. This has not been tested and further research is needed to confirm this, said Curran. The drive to earn money, pressure to get a good education and setting lofty career goals are other areas in which today’s young people exhibit perfectionism.

    In another example, Curran cited college students’ drive to perfect their grade point averages and compare them to their peers. These examples, according to Curran, represent a rise in meritocracy among millennials, in which universities encourage competition among students to move up the social and economic ladder.

    “Meritocracy places a strong need for young people to strive, perform and achieve in modern life,” said Curran. “Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves. As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials.”

    Approximately half of high school seniors in 1976 expected to earn a college degree and by 2008, that number had risen to over 80 percent. Yet, numbers of those earning degrees has failed to keep pace with rising expectations, according to Curran. The gap between the percentage of high school seniors expecting to earn a college degree and those with one doubled between 1976 and 2000 and has continued to rise.

    “These findings suggest that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations,” said Curran. “Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth.”

    The increase in perfectionism may in part be affecting the psychological health of students, said Hill, citing higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than a decade ago.

    Hill urged schools and policymakers to curb fostering competition among young people in order to preserve good mental health.


  5. Study suggests food may affect mood – and differently depending on age

    December 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Binghamton University press release:

    Diet and dietary practices differentially affect mental health in young adults versus older adults, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

    Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, along with fellow Binghamton researchers, conducted an anonymous internet survey, asking people around the world to complete the Food-Mood Questionnaire (FMQ), which includes questions on food groups that have been associated with neurochemistry and neurobiology. Analyzing the data, Begdache and Assistant Professor of Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Nasim Sabounchi found that mood in young adults (18-29) seems to be dependent on food that increases availability of neurotransmitter precursors and concentrations in the brain (meat). However, mood in mature adults (over 30 years) may be more reliant on food that increases availability of antioxidants (fruits) and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the sympathetic nervous system (coffee, high glycemic index and skipping breakfast).

    “One of the major findings of this paper is that diet and dietary practices differentially affect mental health in young adults versus mature adults,” said Begdache. “Another noteworthy finding is that young adult mood appears to be sensitive to build-up of brain chemicals. Regular consumption of meat leads to build-up of two brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) known to promote mood. Regular exercise leads to build-up of these and other neurotransmitters as well. In other words, young adults who ate meat (red or white) less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress.”

    “Conversely, mature adult mood seems to be more sensitive to regular consumption of sources of antioxidants and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the innate fight-or-flight response (commonly known as the stress response),” added Begdache. “With aging, there is an increase in free radical formation (oxidants), so our need for antioxidants increases. Free radicals cause disturbances in the brain, which increases the risk for mental distress. Also, our ability to regulate stress decreases, so if we consume food that activates the stress response (such as coffee and too much carbohydrates), we are more likely to experience mental distress.”

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


  6. Study suggests eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally

    by Ashley

    From the University of Montreal press release:

    Children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits, a new Canadian study shows.

    Université de Montréal doctoral student Marie-Josée Harbec and her supervisor, pyschoeducation professor Linda Pagani, made the finding after following a cohort of Quebec children born between 1997 and 1998.

    The study is published today in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

    “There is a handful of research suggesting positive links between eating family meals together frequently and child and adolescent health,” Pagani said. “In the past, researchers were unclear on whether families that ate together were simply healthier to begin with. And measuring how often families eat together and how children are doing at that very moment may not capture the complexity of the environmental experience.”

    The study looked at children who had been followed by researchers since they were 5 months old as part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. At age 6, their parents started reporting on whether or not they had family meals together. At age 10, parents, teachers and the children themselves provided information on the children’s lifestyle habits and their psycho-social well-being.

    “We decided to look at the long-term influence of sharing meals as an early childhood family environment experience in a sample of children born the same year,” Pagani said, “and we followed-up regularly as they grew up. Using a birth cohort, this study examines the prospective associations between the environmental quality of the family meal experience at age 6 and child well-being at age 10.”

    When the family meal environment quality was better at age 6, higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption were observed at age 10. These children also seemed to have more social skills, as they were less likely to self-report being physical aggressive, oppositional or delinquent at age 10.

    “Because we had a lot of information about the children before age 6 — such as their temperament and cognitive abilities, their mother’s education and psychological characteristics, and prior family configuration and functioning — we were able to eliminate any pre-existing conditions of the children or families that could throw a different light on our results,” said Harbec. “It was really ideal as a situation.”

    Added Pagani: “The presence of parents during mealtimes likely provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting. Experiencing positive forms of communication may likely help the child engage in better communication skills with people outside of the family unit. Our findings suggest that family meals are not solely markers of home environment quality, but are also easy targets for parent education about improving children’s well-being.”

    “From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children’s physical and mental well-being,” said Harbec.

    At a time when fewer families in Western countries are having meals together, it would be especially opportune now for psycho-social workers to encourage the practice at home — indeed, even make it a priority, the researchers believe. And family meals could be touted as advantageous in public-information campaigns that aim to optimize child development.


  7. Study suggests rates of psychosis vary internationally

    December 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    Rates of psychosis can be close to eight times higher in some regions compared to others, finds a new study led by researchers at UCL, King’s College London and the University of Cambridge.

    The study, published today in JAMA Psychiatry, was the biggest international comparison of incidence of psychotic disorders, and the first major study of its kind in more than 25 years.

    “It’s well-established that psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, are highly heritable, but genetics don’t tell the whole story. Our findings suggest that environmental factors can also play a big role,” said the study’s lead author, Dr James Kirkbride (UCL Psychiatry). “We need more in-depth research to understand why people in some areas may be at greater risk of developing a psychotic disorder, which could help us understand the roots of the condition and guide health care planning,” he said.

    The authors estimated the incidence of psychotic disorders across 17 areas in six countries — the UK, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil — using comparable methodology. Their data was drawn from people aged 18-64 who contacted mental health services after a suspected first psychotic episode, which included 2,774 incident cases in total.

    They found the overall incidence of psychotic disorders to be 21.4 per 100,000 person-years, but discovered wide variations between different areas, from a low of 6.0 per 100,000 person-years in the rural area around Santiago (Spain), to a high of over 45 in inner-city Paris and Southeast London. This variation could not be explained by differences in the age, sex and ethnic composition of the population across these areas.

    To reduce the likelihood that differences in treatment-seeking behaviour between regions skewed the results, the researchers encouraged case detection in the survey areas to be as comprehensive as possible.

    Among the contributing factors under consideration, they found that the strongest area-level predictor of high rates of psychotic disorders was a low rate of owner-occupied housing. The researchers used owner-occupied housing as an indicator of socio-economic affluence and stability.

    “Areas with higher rates of owner-occupied housing have lower rates of psychosis, which may be linked to social deprivation. People in areas that are socially deprived may have more social stresses, which could predict psychosis incidence, as suggested by other studies. An alternative explanation could be that owner-occupied housing is an indicator of social stability and cohesiveness, relating to stronger support networks,” said the study’s first author, Hannah Jongsma (University of Cambridge).

    In line with previous research, higher incidence of psychosis was also associated with younger age (although the authors also identified a secondary peak in middle age among women), males, and ethnic minorities. A related paper investigating psychosis incidence in a rural region of England, also led by Dr Kirkbride and published last week in JAMA Psychiatry, found that while people from ethnic minorities are more likely to experience a psychotic disorder, these rates become lower in areas with a high degree of ethnic diversity — both for the majority- and minority-ethnic individuals, potentially suggesting that greater social connections between individuals from different backgrounds is protective against some mental health issues.

    The researchers say their findings can be used to help plan mental health services, by identifying which regions could expect greater incidence of psychosis. Some of the researchers have developed a predictive model that is already being put to use by health agencies. “We can predict with an increasing degree of accuracy what the incidence rates are in a given region based on readily-available demographic data. This can help policy makers plan where to focus resources for the treatment and prevention of psychotic disorders,” said co-author Professor Jim van Os (University Medical Center Utrecht).

    The findings add weight to previous evidence that environmental factors could play a larger role in causing psychotic disorders than previously believed.

    “In the past couple decades, researchers have made a lot of progress in identifying how genes are linked to psychotic disorder. We suggest that we now need to devote more time to researching how environmental and genetic factors can both contribute to psychosis,” said joint senior author Professor Craig Morgan (King’s College London).

    The researchers say that more research is needed to identify causal mechanisms, investigate other risk factors, and study psychosis incidence in other environments such as lower-income countries.

    The study was funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme, alongside support from the São Paulo Research Foundation, Wellcome, the Royal Society, and the National Institute for Health Research.


  8. Study suggests lack of sleep could cause mood disorders in teens

    December 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    Chronic sleep deprivation — which can involve staying up late, and waking up early for work or school — has become a way of life for both kids and adults, especially with the increasing use of phones and tablets late into the night. But this social jet lag poses some serious health and mental health risks: new research finds that for teenagers, even a short period of sleep restriction could, over the long-term, raise their risk for depression and addiction.

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

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

    The researchers found that sleep deprivation affected the putamen, an area of the brain that plays a role in goal-based movements and learning from rewards. When participants were sleep-deprived and the reward in the game they played was larger, the putamen was less responsive. In the rested condition, the brain region didn’t show any difference between high- and low-reward conditions.

    Franzen and Forbes also found connections between sleep restriction and mood: after a night of restricted sleep, the participants who experienced less activation in the putamen also reported more symptoms of depression. This is consistent with findings, from a large literature of studies on depression and reward circuitry, that depression is characterized by less activity in the brain’s reward system.

    The results suggest that sleep deprivation in the tween and teen years may interfere with how the brain processes rewards, which could disrupt mood and put a person at risk of depression, as well as risk-taking behavior and addiction.


  9. NIH study of WWII evacuees suggests mental illness may be passed to offspring

    December 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development press release:

    Mental illness associated with early childhood adversity may be passed from generation to generation, according to a study of adults whose parents evacuated Finland as children during World War II. The study was conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Uppsala University in Sweden, and Helsinki University in Finland. It appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

    The research team found that daughters of female evacuees had the same high risk for mental health disorders as their mothers, even though they did not experience the same adversity. The study could not determine why the higher risk for mental illness persisted across generations. Possible explanations include changes in the evacuees’ parenting behavior stemming from their childhood experience or epigenetic changes — chemical alterations in gene expression, without any changes to underlying DNA.

    “Many studies have shown that traumatic exposures during pregnancy can have negative effects on offspring,” said study author Stephen Gilman, Sc.D., of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Here, we found evidence that a mother’s childhood traumatic exposure — in this case separation from family members during war — may have long-lasting health consequences for her daughters.”

    From 1941 to 1945, roughly 49,000 Finish children were evacuated from their homes to protect them from bombings, malnutrition and other hazards during the country’s wars with the Soviet Union. The children, many of them only preschoolers, were placed with foster families in Sweden. In addition to separation from their families, the children faced the stresses of adapting to their foster families, and in many cases, learning a new language. Upon their return, many children experienced the additional stress of readjusting to Finnish society.

    During the same time, thousands of Finnish families chose not to evacuate all their children and often kept some at home, but little information exists on the rationale for their decisions. The researchers compared the risk of being hospitalized for a psychiatric (mental health) disorder among offspring of the evacuees to the risks of psychiatric hospitalization among the offspring of the siblings who remained with their parents. Studying the two groups — cousins to each other — allowed the researchers to compensate for family-based factors that can contribute to mental health problems and to focus instead on the evacuees’ wartime experience.

    In a previous study, the researchers found that women evacuated as children were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder than their female siblings who remained at home. For the current study, the researchers linked records from this generation — more than 46,000 siblings born between 1933 and 1944 — to those of their offspring, more than 93,000 individuals born after 1950. Of these, nearly 3,000 were offspring of parents who had been evacuated to Sweden as children, and more than 90,000 were offspring of parents who remained in Finland during the war.

    The researchers found that female evacuees and their daughters were at the greatest risk for being hospitalized for mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. In fact, the evacuees’ daughters had more than four times the risk of hospitalization for a mood disorder, compared to the daughters of mothers who stayed home — regardless of whether their mothers were hospitalized for a mood disorder.

    The researchers did not find any increase in psychiatric hospitalizations for the sons or daughters of males who had been evacuated as children.

    The study could not determine why the daughters of female evacuees had a higher risk of mental illness. One possibility is that the stresses of the evacuees’ experience affected their psychological development in ways that influenced their parenting style. Another possibility is that the evacuee experience resulted in epigenetic changes. For example, the researchers cited an earlier finding that Holocaust survivors have higher levels of compounds known as methyl groups bound to the gene FKBP5 and have passed this change on to their children. This higher level of methyl groups appears to alter the production of cortisol, a hormone that regulates the stress response.

    “The Finnish evacuation was intended to protect children from the many harms associated with the country’s wars with the Soviet Union,” said study co-author Torsten Santavirta, Ph.D., of Uppsala University. “Our observation of long-term psychiatric risk that reached into the next generation is concerning and underscores the need to weigh benefits as well as potential risks when designing policies for child protection.”

    The authors concluded that future studies are needed to understand how the experience of war affects the mental health of parents and their offspring and to develop interventions to help families affected by armed conflict.


  10. Study suggests school exacerbates feelings of being ‘different’ in pupils with Autism Spectrum Conditions

    November 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    autism_stairsNegative school experiences can have harmful long term effects on pupils with Autism Spectrum Conditions, a new study in the journal Autism reports.

    Researchers from the University of Surrey have discovered that experiences of social and emotional exclusion in mainstream schools can adversely affect how pupils with autism view themselves, increasing their risk of developing low self-esteem, a poor sense of self-worth and mental health problems.

    Examining 17 previous studies in the area, researchers discovered that how pupils with autism view themselves is closely linked to their perceptions of how other’s treat and interact with them. They found that a tendency of many pupils with the condition to internalise the negative attitudes and reactions of others toward them, combined with unfavourable social comparisons to classmates, leads to a sense of being ‘different’ and more limited than peers.

    Negative self-perception can lead to increased isolation and low self-esteem making pupils with autism more susceptible to mental health problems.

    It was discovered that the physical environment of schools can impact on children’s ability to interact with other pupils. Sensory sensitivity, which is a common characteristic of autism and can magnify sounds to an intolerable level, can lead to everyday classroom and playground noises such as shrieks and chatter being a source of anxiety and distraction. This impacts on a pupil’s ability to concentrate in the classroom and to socialise with others, further increasing isolation and a sense of being ‘different.’

    It was also found that pupils with autism who developed supportive friendships and felt accepted by classmates said this helped alleviate their social difficulties and made them feel good about themselves.

    These findings suggest it is crucial for schools to create a culture of acceptance for all pupils to ensure the long term wellbeing of pupils with autism in mainstream settings.

    Lead author of the paper Dr Emma Williams, from the University of Surrey, said: “Inclusive mainstream education settings may inadvertently accentuate the sense of being ‘different’ in a negative way to classmates.

    “We are not saying that mainstream schools are ‘bad’ for pupils with autism, as other evidence suggests they have a number of positive effects, including increasing academic performance and social skills.

    “Rather, we are suggesting that by cultivating a culture of acceptance of all and making small changes, such as creating non-distracting places to socialise, and listening to their pupils’ needs, schools can help these pupils think and feel more positively about themselves.

    “With over 100,000 children in the UK diagnosed with autism, it is important that we get this right to ensure that pupils with autism get the education they deserve and leave school feeling accepted, loved and valued, rather than with additional mental health issues.”