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Updated: 23 min 55 sec ago

High Estrogen in Womb May Be Tied to Greater Autism Risk

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 6:00am

A new study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, suggests that exposure to high levels of estrogen in the womb may be linked to an increased risk for autism.

“This finding is exciting because the role of estrogens in autism has hardly been studied, and we hope that we can learn more about how they contribute to foetal brain development in further experiments,” said Dr. Alexa Pohl from the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

In 2015, a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge and the State Serum Institute in Denmark measured the levels of four prenatal steroid hormones, including two known as androgens, in the amniotic fluid. They found levels were higher in male fetuses who later developed autism.

On average, these androgens are produced in higher quantities in male fetuses, so this could also explain why autism occurs more often in boys. These hormones are also known to masculinize parts of the brain, and to have effects on the number of connections between brain cells.

For the new study, the same team of scientists built on their previous findings by testing the amniotic fluid samples from the same 98 individuals sampled from the Danish Biobank.

This time, however, they looked at another set of prenatal sex steroid hormones called estrogens. This is an important next step because some of the hormones previously studied are directly converted into estrogens.

The team discovered that, on average, all four estrogens were significantly elevated in the 98 fetuses who later developed autism, compared to the 177 fetuses who did not.

“These elevated hormones could be coming from the mother, the baby or the placenta. Our next step should be to study all these possible sources and how they interact during pregnancy,” said Alex Tsompanidis, a Ph.D. Cambridge student who worked on the study.

High levels of prenatal estrogens were even more predictive of likelihood of autism than were high levels of prenatal androgens (such as testosterone).

Contrary to the popular belief that estrogen is tied to feminization only, prenatal estrogens also have effects on brain growth and even masculinize the brain in many mammals.

The new finding adds to the growing body of research supporting the prenatal sex steroid theory of autism first proposed decades ago by study leader Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.

“This new finding supports the idea that increased prenatal sex steroid hormones are one of the potential causes for the condition,” he said. “Genetics is well established as another, and these hormones likely interact with genetic factors to affect the developing foetal brain.”

However, the researchers caution that these findings cannot and should not be used to screen for autism. Baron-Cohen clarifies that his research team is working on “understanding autism, not preventing it.”

Source: University of Cambridge



Infants Can Show Empathy for Victims as Early as 5 Months

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 6:20am

A new Israeli study finds that infants can show empathy for a bullied victim as early as five months of age.

Through two experiments, researchers from Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev and Hebrew University in Israel add new evidence that contradicts the current theory suggesting that babies only develop the ability to empathize after one year.

Their study is published in the British Journal of Psychology.

“The findings indicate that even during a baby’s first year, the infant is already sensitive to others’ feelings and can draw complicated conclusions about the context of a particular emotional display,” said Dr. Florina Uzefovsky, head of the BGU Bio-Empathy Lab, and senior lecturer in BGU’s department of psychology and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience.

“Even during the first year of life, babies are able to identify figures who ‘deserve’ empathy and which ones do not, and if it appears that there is no justification for the other one’s distress, no preference is shown.”

In the first experiment, the research team found that five- to nine-month-old infants demonstrate a clear pro-victim preference. They showed 27 infants a video clip depicting a square figure with eyes climbing a hill, meeting a friendly circular figure, and then happily going down the hill with the circular figure, all the while displaying clear positive or neutral feelings.

In the second video, the rectangular figure climbs the hill only to be met by a round figure that hits and pushes it back down the hill. The rectangular figure then shows distress by crying and doubling over.

Next, the researchers had the babies show their preference by choosing one of the square figures presented to them on a tray. More than 80 percent of the infants chose the figure that had been bullied and who had shown clear distress, thus showing empathic preference towards the bullied figure.

Importantly, when the babies were shown the same set of figures without the context of why there was sadness or a positive mood, they showed no preference for either figure. In other words, the babies no longer showed a preference for the distressed character when it expressed the exact same distress but for no apparent reason.

The findings add new evidence to the growing body of research exploring the emergence of human compassion and morality.

Researchers Dr. Maayan Davidov and Yael Paz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem also participated in the study.

Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of The Negev

Study: Music Therapy Helps Brain Sync with Therapist

Mon, 07/29/2019 - 7:22am

An innovative study reveals that the brains of a patient and therapist become synchronized during a music therapy session. The first-time finding is viewed as a breakthrough that could improve future interactions between patients and therapists.

The study was the first to use a procedure called hyperscanning, which records activity in two brains at the same time, allowing researchers to better understand how people interact.

During the session documented in the study, classical music was played as the patient discussed a serious illness in her family. Both patient and therapist wore EEG (electroencephalogram) caps containing sensors, which capture electrical signals in the brain, and the session was recorded in sync with the EEG using video cameras.

The research was performed by Anglia Ruskin University faculty Professor Jorg Fachner and Dr. Clemens Maidhof. The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The authors explain that music therapists work towards “moments of change,” where they make a meaningful connection with their patient. This was evidence as at one point during this study, the patient’s brain activity shifted suddenly from displaying deep negative feelings to a positive peak.

Moments later, as the therapist realized the session was working, her scan displayed similar results. In subsequent interviews, both identified that as a moment when they felt the therapy was really working.

The researchers examined activity in the brain’s right and left frontal lobes where negative and positive emotions are processed, respectively.

By analyzing hyperscanning data alongside video footage and a transcript of the session, the researchers were able to demonstrate that brain synchronization occurs, and also show what a patient-therapist “moment of change” looks like inside the brain.

Fachner, the lead author and a Professor of Music, Health and the Brain at ARU comments:

“This study is a milestone in music therapy research. Music therapists report experiencing emotional changes and connections during therapy, and we’ve been able to confirm this using data from the brain.

“Music, used therapeutically, can improve well-being, and treat conditions including anxiety, depression, autism and dementia. Music therapists have had to rely on the patient’s response to judge whether this is working, but by using hyperscanning we can see exactly what is happening in the patient’s brain.

“Hyperscanning can show the tiny, otherwise imperceptible, changes that take place during therapy. By highlighting the precise points where sessions have worked best, it could be particularly useful when treating patients for whom verbal communication is challenging.

“Our findings could also help to better understand emotional processing in other therapeutic interactions.”

Source: Anglia Ruskin University/EurekAlert

Why Does Your Voice Fail You During Public Speaking?

Mon, 07/29/2019 - 6:48am

Many people struggle with a fear of public speaking. Such fear can impact voice control leading to stammering or feeling like there is a “frog in your throat.”

Now a new study finds that stress-induced brain activations might be to blame for these voice issues that often arise in public speaking situations.

“For many, public speaking can be a stressful situation,” said Dr. Maria Dietrich, an associate professor of speech, language and hearing sciences at the University of Missouri (MU) School of Health Professions,

“We know that stress can trigger physiological changes such as muscle tension and that can impact our speech. The new findings will help researchers better understand the relationship between stress and vocal control and will allow us to pinpoint the brain activations that impact voices to identify better treatments for disorders.”

In a pilot study, Dietrich discovered that stress-induced brain activations could lead to voice disorders such as muscle tension dysphonia, a disorder from excessive or altered muscle tension in and around the voice box changing the sound or feel of one’s voice.

For the study, young women who were pre-screened to participate were told that they had to prepare for a five-minute impromptu speech about why they were the best candidate for a job.

The speech preparation test served as a stressor, but participants were never prompted to give their speech — they were only asked to read sentences as they prepared for it. Researchers collected samples of saliva to test for cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, in intervals before the stressor until approximately 50 minutes after.

The participants were also asked a series of questions to determine their emotional state. They also underwent MRI scans so the researchers to see brain activations and how they impacted speech with and without stressful speech preparation.

The results reveal differences in stress-induced brain activations related to speech. Participants who exhibited higher cortisol responses also exhibited brain activity that impacted the larynx region in the brain and had lower scores on aspects of extraversion.

“Our findings are consistent with theories of vocal traits related to personality,” Dietrich said. “Those who are more introverted are more likely to have stress reactions related to speaking and their brains are registering that stress, which could impact their vocal control.”

Dietrich offers the following advice for those who feel stressed about public speaking:

  • Don’t worry about the audience not smiling. Just because people might not be reacting to your public address, it doesn’t mean they are judging you.
  • Present with an inner smile and remember to breathe; taking a deep breath can go a long way to calm nerves.
  • Acknowledge that feeling nervous is normal.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia


How Cities Can Integrate Nature to Improve Mental Health

Mon, 07/29/2019 - 6:00am

A growing body of research has shown the significant benefits of natural settings on human cognition and mental health. But until now, it has been difficult to quantify these benefits in a useful manner for cities that want to integrate nature into their design.

Now, an international team led by the University of Washington (UW) and Stanford University has created a framework for how city planners, landscape architects, developers and others can take into account the mental health benefits of nature and incorporate these into plans and policies for their residents.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

“Thinking about the direct mental health benefits that nature contact provides is important to take into account when planning how to conserve nature and integrate it into our cities,” said Dr. Greg Bratman, lead author and an assistant professor at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “The purpose of this paper is to provide a conceptual model of one way we can start to think about doing this.”

The study brought together more than two dozen leading experts in the natural, social and health sciences who research aspects of how nature can benefit human well-being.

Their first step was to establish a baseline, collective agreement regarding the understanding of the impacts of nature experience on aspects of cognitive functioning, emotional well-being and other aspects of mental health.

“In hundreds of studies, nature experience is associated with increased happiness, social engagement, and manageability of life tasks, and decreased mental distress,” said senior author Dr. Gretchen Daily, faculty director at the Stanford Natural Capital Project.

“In addition, nature experience is linked to improved cognitive functioning, memory and attention, imagination and creativity, and children’s school performance. These links span many dimensions of human experience, and include a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.”

While research is still emerging, experts agree that nature can reduce risk factors for some types of mental illnesses and improve psychological well-being. They also agree that opportunities for nature experiences are dwindling for many people around the world because of urban growth.

“For millennia, many different cultures, traditions, and religious and spiritual practices have spoken directly to our deep relationship with nature. And more recently, using other sets of tools from psychology, public health, landscape architecture and medicine, evidence has been steadily gathering in this emerging, interdisciplinary field,” Bratman said.

Many governments already consider this with regard to other aspects of human health. For example, trees are planted in cities to improve air quality or reduce urban heat island effects, and parks are built in specific neighborhoods to encourage physical activity.

But these actions don’t usually directly factor in the mental health benefits that trees or a restored park might provide.

“We have entered the urban century, with two-thirds of humanity projected to be living in cities by 2050. At the same time, there is an awakening underway today, to the many values of nature and the risks and costs of its loss,” Daily said. “This new work can help inform investments in livability and sustainability of the world’s cities.”

The research team built a conceptual model that can be used to make meaningful, informed decisions about environmental projects and how they may impact mental health.

The model includes four steps for planners to consider: elements of nature included in a project, say at a school or across the whole city; the amount of contact people will have with nature; how people interact with nature; and how people may benefit from those interactions, based on the latest scientific evidence.

The team hopes this tool will be particularly useful in considering the possible mental health effects of adding — or taking away — nature in underserved communities.

“If the evidence shows that nature contact helps to buffer against negative impacts from other environmental predictors of health, then access to these landscapes can be considered a matter of environmental justice. We hope this framework will contribute to this discussion,” Bratman said.

Source: University of Washington



The Bottom Line May Backfire on Bosses

Sun, 07/28/2019 - 1:23pm

Supervisors who are only driven by profits could actually be hurting their bottom lines by losing the respect of their employees, who counter by withholding performance, according to a new study.

“Supervisors who focus only on profits to the exclusion of caring about other important outcomes, such as employee well-being or environmental or ethical concerns, turn out to be detrimental to employees,” said lead researcher Matthew Quade, Ph.D., assistant professor of management in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business in Waco, Texas.

“This results in relationships that are marked by distrust, dissatisfaction, and lack of affection for the supervisor. And ultimately, that leads to employees who are less likely to complete tasks at a high level and less likely to go above and beyond the call of duty.”

For the study, researchers surveyed 866 people. Half were supervisors, the other half were their employees. Data was collected from those who work in a range of jobs and industries, including financial services, health care, sales, legal, and education, the researchers report.

Researchers measured supervisor bottom-line mentality (BLM), employee BLM, task performance, and leader-member exchange, the rating employees gave of their relationships with their supervisors.

Employees rated their supervisors’ BLM by scoring on a scale statements like: “My supervisor treats the bottom line as more important than anything else” and “My supervisor cares more about profits than his/her employees’ well-being.”

They rated leader-member exchange via statements such as “I like my supervisor very much as a person” and “My relationship with my supervisor is composed of comparable exchanges of giving and taking.”

Supervisors rated their employees by scoring statements such as “This employee meets or exceeds his/her productivity requirements,” “This employee searches for ways to be more productive,” and “This employee demonstrates commitment to producing quality work.”

The researchers discovered:

  • high-BLM supervisors create low-quality relationships with their employees;
  • in turn, employees perceive low-quality leader-member exchange relationships, so they reciprocate by withholding performance;
  • when supervisor BLM is high and employee BLM is low, the damaging effects are strengthened;
  • when both supervisor and employee BLM are high, the negative performance is still evident.

According to Quade, the last finding was particularly significant because it contradicts a common belief that when two parties think alike and have similar values, there will be a positive outcome. Not so in the case of BLM, according to the study’s findings.

“When supervisor and employee BLM is similarly high, our research demonstrates the negative effect on performance is only buffered, not mitigated, indicating no degree of supervisor BLM seems to be particularly beneficial,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published in the journal Human Relations.

“It seems even if employees maintain a BLM, they would prefer for their managers to focus on interpersonal aspects of the job that foster healthier social exchange relationships with their employees in addition to the bottom line.”

If bosses believe a negative dynamic regarding BLM exists in their organization, the researchers suggest a few steps:

  • be cautious of a BLM approach or emphasizing bottom-line outcomes that could neglect other organizational concerns, such as employee well-being and ethical standards;
  • managers should be aware of the message they pass along to employees (and the possible performance repercussions) when they tout bottom-line profits as the most important consideration;
  • 0rganizations that need to emphasize bottom-line outcomes should consider pairing the BLM management style with other management approaches known to produce positive results, such as practicing ethical leadership.

“Supervisors undoubtedly face heavy scrutiny for the performance levels of their employees, and as such they may tend to emphasize the need for employees to pursue bottom-line outcomes at the exclusion of other competing priorities, such as ethical practices, personal development, or building social connections in the workplace,” the researchers said in the study.

“However, in doing so they may have to suffer the consequence of reduced employee respect, loyalty, and even liking.”

Source: Baylor University

Photo: Matthew Quade, Ph.D., assistant professor of management, Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. Credit: Robert Rogers, Baylor University Marketing & Communications.

Mouse Study Shows Brain Science Behind Giving Up

Sun, 07/28/2019 - 9:58am

A new study shows what happens in the brain when we give up.

The findings, published in Cell, offer new insight into the complex world of motivation and reward.

According to researchers, their findings could help people find motivation when they are depressed, as well as decrease motivation for drugs and other addictive substances.

Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Washington University School of Medicine, as well as colleagues at other universities, spent four years looking at the role of nociceptin in regulating motivation in mice.

Inside the brain, a group of cells known as nociceptin neurons get very active before a mouse’s breakpoint. They emit nociceptin, a complex molecule that suppresses dopamine, a chemical associated with motivation.

The nociceptin neurons are located near an area of the brain known as the ventral tegmental area. The VTA contains neurons that release dopamine during pleasurable activities.

Although scientists have previously studied the effects of fast, simple neurotransmitters on dopamine neurons, the new study is among the first to describe the effects of this complex nociception modulatory system, according to researchers.

“We are taking an entirely new angle on an area of the brain known as VTA,” said co-lead author Christian Pedersen, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the UW College of Engineering. “The big discovery is that large complex neurotransmitters known as neuropeptides have a very robust effect on animal behavior by acting on the VTA.”

The discovery came by looking at the neurons in mice seeking sucrose. The mice had to poke their snout into a port to get sucrose. At first it was easy, then it became two pokes, then five, increasing exponentially, and so on. Eventually, all the mice gave up, the researchers reported.

Neural activity recordings revealed that these “demotivation” or “frustration” neurons became most active when mice stopped seeking sucrose.

In mammals, the neural circuits that underlie reward seeking are regulated by mechanisms to keep homeostasis, the tendency to maintain internal stability to compensate for environmental changes.

In the wild, animals are less motivated to seek rewards in environments where resources are scarce. Persistence in seeking uncertain rewards can be disadvantageous due to risky exposure to predators or from energy expenditure, the researchers noted.

Deficits within these regulatory processes in humans can manifest as behavioral dysfunctions, including depression, addiction, and eating disorders, the researchers add.

According to senior author Dr. Michael Bruchas, a professor of anesthesiology, pain medicine, and pharmacology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, the findings could go a long way towards finding help for patients whose motivation neurons are not functioning correctly.

“We might think of different scenarios where people aren’t motivated, like depression, and block these neurons and receptors to help them feel better,” he said. “That’s what’s powerful about discovering these cells. Neuropsychiatric diseases that impact motivation could be improved.”

Looking to the future, these neurons could perhaps be modified in people seeking drugs or those who have other addictions, he added.

Source: University of Washington

Photo: At the point of giving up, neurons in green get very active and suppress dopamine, a chemical associated with motivation, researchers found. Credit: Max Huffman.

How Cell Phone Movements Can Assess Your Personality

Sun, 07/28/2019 - 9:50am

New research reveals that patterns of mobile phone movement say a lot about your personality.

For the study, researchers at RMIT University in Australia used data from mobile phone accelerometers, the tiny sensors tracking phone movement for step-counting and other apps.

According to RMIT University computer scientist Associate Professor Flora Salim, previous studies predicted personality types using phone call and messaging activity logs, but the new study showed adding accelerometer data improved accuracy.

“Activity like how quickly or how far we walk, or when we pick our phones up during the night, often follows patterns and these patterns say a lot about our personality type,” said Salim.

According to the researchers, physical activity has a strong correlation with human personality. That’s why they analyzed physical activity features from different dimensions like dispersion, diversity, and regularity.

Key findings from the study:

  • People with consistent movements on weekday evenings were generally more introverted, while extroverts displayed more random patterns, perhaps meeting up with different people and taking up unplanned options.
  • Agreeable people had more random activity patterns and were busier on weekends and weekday evenings than others.
  • Friendly and compassionate females made more outgoing calls than anyone else.
  • Conscientious, organized people didn’t tend to contact the same person often in a short space of time.
  • Sensitive or neurotic females often checked their phones or moved with their phones regularly well past midnight. Sensitive or neurotic males did the opposite.
  • More inventive and curious people tended to make and receive fewer phone calls compared to others.

“There are applications for this technology in social media with friend recommendations, online dating matches, and targeted advertising, but I think the most exciting part is what we can learn about ourselves,” noted RMIT University Ph.D. student Nan Gao, the study’s lead author.

“Many of our habits and behaviors are unconscious but, when analyzed, they tell us a lot about who we really are so we can understand ourselves better, resist social pressure to conform, and to empathize with others. Most importantly, being who we truly are can make our experience of life richer, more exciting, and more meaningful.”

“In Ancient Greece there is a saying about knowing yourself as the beginning of wisdom, applications like this can really help to reveal who we are to ourselves,” Gao continued.

The results were analyzed in accordance with the Big Five personality traits:

  1. Extraversion: How energetic, sociable and talkative you are.
  2. Openness: How curious and inventive you are.
  3. Agreeableness: How friendly and compassionate, rather than suspicious and hostile, you are to others.
  4. Conscientiousness: How organized, efficient, and careful you are.
  5. Neuroticism: How nervous and sensitive, rather than confident and secure, you are.

The study was published in the IEEE Computer journal.

Source: RMIT University

Photo: RMIT University computer scientists Dr. Flora Salim, Nan Gao and Dr Wei Shao. Credit: RMIT University.

How Regret Can Help You Find Your Ideal Self

Sat, 07/27/2019 - 7:00am

How often have you wished you could give your younger self some advice?

According to a researcher at Clemson University, many people have this desire several times a week.

For many, this is anything but futile. In fact, it can help people become their “ideal self,” according to Dr. Robin Kowalski, a professor in Clemson University’s psychology department.

Kowalski’s paper in the Journal of Social Psychology, “If I knew then what I know now: Advice to my younger self,” analyzes the results of two studies of more than 400 people over the age of 30.

The results reveal the nature of regret, how people can use it to self-actualize, and what areas people tend to fixate on in their later years, she said.

While some people think you shouldn’t dwell on the past, Kowalksi says otherwise.

“My findings would suggest otherwise as long as you’re not obsessing about it,” she said.

One third of the participants in the study spontaneously think about advice they would offer their younger selves at least once a week, which is a significant number, she noted.

These people — and those who may think about the past a little less — can benefit because it helps them conceptualize and even realize their “ideal self,” which reflects who the person thinks they would like to be, she explained.

“Following the advice helped participants overcome regret,” she said. “When participants followed their advice in the present, they were much more likely to say that their younger selves would be proud of the person they are now.”

Kowalski also found that almost half of the participants said the advice they would offer their younger selves influenced their description of their future selves, whether that was “successful and financially stable” or “old and decrepit.”

According to Kowalski, the top three areas people focus on when giving advice to their younger selves were education, self-worth, and relationships.

Advice tied to education often was individuals urging themselves to return to or finish school and many participants offered a timeline, such as “get master’s while in your 20s” or “finish college in four years.”

Advice related to self-worth, such as “be yourself” or “think through all options before making a decision,” tended to be more inspirational and corrective, she reported.

Kowalski said all of this advice, particularly related to relationships, can lead to corrective behavior.

“My favorite piece of advice in the whole paper came from a guy who said ‘Do. Not. Marry. Her.,'” Kowalski says. “That’s valuable for the person that he is now because he can reflect and have a better idea of what he’s looking for in an ideal mate, plus he can offer advice to others.”

Kowalski says her findings are consistent with research on the “reminiscence bump,” which is the tendency for older adults to have increased recollection for events that occurred during their adolescence and early adulthood. Most of the advice study participants offered to themselves was tied to a pivotal event that had occurred between the ages of 10 and 30.

“These are critical years. People go through high school and college, get married, have kids and start their careers,” she said. “On the one hand you can say, ‘Duh, of course these are important years,’ but when we separated positive pivotal events and negative pivotal events, almost all of them fell into that time period. It’s interesting to find clear evidence to support the reminiscence bump.”

“There’s a real emotional pull to this topic and it’s what drew me to it in the first place,” she continued. “These are two of my favorite studies I’ve ever done because everyone can relate to it and everyone has asked themselves this question.”

Source: Clemson University

Photo: Robin Kowalski, professor in Clemson University’s psychology department, is willing to bet there’s not a single person who hasn’t thought about this at least once in the last year. Her research indicates the odds are pretty good that she’s right. Credit: Clemson University.

Study: Too Many Kids With ADHD Given Antipsychotic Drugs

Sat, 07/27/2019 - 6:00am

A new study finds that many antipsychotic drug prescriptions given to children and teens with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do not appear to be clinically warranted.

The findings, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, show that fewer than half of the youth in the study who were prescribed antipsychotic drugs had first been treated with stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin, the recommended medication treatments for ADHD.

“We didn’t know how widespread this practice was among young people starting ADHD treatment,” said senior author Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., Elizabeth K Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “There are substantial risks associated with the use of antipsychotic drugs in young people, including weight gain, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and even unexpected death.”

In recent years, pediatricians and parents have expressed concern that some physicians are prescribing antipsychotic drugs to children with ADHD who have significant aggressive or impulsive behavior.

Children and teens with ADHD who are treated with antipsychotics are often also diagnosed with depression, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), or conduct disorders (CD), even though there is limited evidence that the drugs are effective for ODD or CD and no evidence they are effective in treating depression.

To determine the prevalence of antipsychotic use in youths with ADHD, the researchers analyzed medical and prescription drug data on 187,563 commercially insured children and young people (ages 3 to 24) who were diagnosed with ADHD between 2010 and 2015.

The team discovered that 2.6% of youths diagnosed with ADHD were prescribed an antipsychotic drug within a year of diagnosis — four times the rate among young people in general. Antipsychotic drug use was highest (4.3%) in the youngest children diagnosed with ADHD, those ages 3-5 years.

“It’s reassuring that only a relatively small percentage of these children were prescribed antipsychotics,” Olfson says. “But we should be working to reduce that number even further.

“For at least half of the young people in our sample who were prescribed antipsychotics, we couldn’t find a rationale in their claims records to explain why they were taking these medications.”

Around half of the young people taking antipsychotic drugs had a diagnosis such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, ODD, or CD.

“While antipsychotics are not FDA-approved for these diagnoses, there is scientific evidence to support their use in treating severe symptoms of ADHD,” said Ryan S. Sultan, M.D., lead author of the paper and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The findings show that fewer than half of the young people taking antipsychotic drugs had been treated first with stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin, the recommended medication treatment for ADHD.

The researchers suggest that many of the behavioral symptoms that prompted physicians to prescribe antipsychotic medications as an initial treatment might have been resolved by prescribing recommended ADHD medications first.

“Many physicians bypassed stimulants and went right to antipsychotics — contrary to expert opinion about treatment for ADHD, and unnecessarily exposing patients to the risk of severe side effects such as substantial weight gain,” said Sultan.

“Antipsychotic medications play a small role in the treatment of severe ADHD symptoms, but in the absence of severe symptoms, there are safer, more effective medications for youths with ADHD.”

Source: Columbia University Irving Medical Center

High Dopamine Levels in Women May Be Tied to Procrastination

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 7:30am

A new German study finds that women with a genetic predisposition for higher dopamine levels in the brain may be more likely to engage in procrastinating behaviors. No such link was found in men.

“The neurotransmitter dopamine has repeatedly been associated with increased cognitive flexibility in the past,” says Dr. Erhan Genç from the Ruhr-University Bochum Department of Biopsychology. “This is not fundamentally bad but is often accompanied by increased distractibility.”

The findings are published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

The researchers studied the genotype of 278 men and women. They were particularly interested in what is known as the tyrosine hydroxylase gene (TH gene). Depending on the expression of the gene, people’s brains contain differing amounts of neurotransmitters from the catecholamine family, to which the neurotransmitter dopamine belongs, along with epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline).

The team also used a questionnaire to record how well the participants were able to control their actions. They discovered that women with poorer action control had a genetic predisposition towards higher dopamine levels.

Whether an individual tends to postpone tasks or tackle them right away depends on his or her ability to maintain a specific intention to act without being distracted by interfering factors. Dopamine could be crucial here. In previous studies, dopamine has not only been associated with increased cognitive flexibility, but it also seems to make it easier for information to enter the working memory.

“We assume that this makes it more difficult to maintain a distinct intention to act,” says doctoral candidate Caroline Schlüter. “Women with a higher dopamine level as a result of their genotype may tend to postpone actions because they are more distracted by environmental and other factors.”

Previous research has also shown gender-specific differences between the expression of the TH gene and behavior.

“The relationship is not yet understood fully, but the female sex hormone oestrogen seems to play a role,” says Genç. Estrogen indirectly influences dopamine production in the brain and increases the number of certain neurons that respond to signals from the dopamine system.

“Women may therefore be more susceptible to genetic differences in dopamine levels due to oestrogen, which, in turn, is reflected in behaviour,” says the biopsychologist.

Next, the team intends to study to what extent estrogen levels actually influence the relationship between the TH gene and action control. “This would require taking a closer look at the menstrual cycle and the associated fluctuations in the participants’ oestrogen levels,” says Schlüter.

In addition to dopamine, the TH gene also influences norepinephrine, another important neurotransmitter from the catecholamine family. The researchers aim to examine the role that these two neurotransmitters play in action control in further studies.

Source: Ruhr-University Bochum


Learning Several New Things Simultaneously Boosts Older Adults’ Cognitive Abilities

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 7:30am

A new study finds that learning multiple things at the same time increases cognitive abilities in older adults.

One important way to avoid cognitive decline as we age is to learn new skills as a child would, according to University of California Riverside psychologist Rachel Wu.

“The natural learning experience from infancy to emerging adulthood mandates learning many real-world skills simultaneously,” Wu’s research team writes in a study published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences.

Previous studies have demonstrated the cognitive gains of older people learning new skills, such as photography or acting. But these skills were learned one at a time or sequentially, the researchers noted.

For the new study, researchers asked adults between the ages of 58 and 86 to simultaneously take three to five classes for three months — about 15 hours a week, similar to an undergraduate course load. The classes included Spanish, learning to use an iPad, photography, drawing/painting, and music composition.

The participants completed cognitive assessments before, during, and after the studies to gauge working memory, such as remembering a phone number for a few minutes, cognitive control, which is switching between tasks, and episodic memory, such as remembering where you’ve parked.

After just a month and a half, participants increased their cognitive abilities to levels similar to those of middle-aged adults, 30 years younger, the researchers reported. Control group members, who did not take classes, showed no change in their performance.

“The participants in the intervention bridged a 30 year difference in cognitive abilities after just six weeks and maintained these abilities while learning multiple new skills,” said Wu, who is an assistant professor of psychology.

“The take-home message is that older adults can learn multiple new skills at the same time, and doing so may improve their cognitive functioning,” she continued. “The studies provide evidence that intense learning experiences akin to those faced by younger populations are possible in older populations, and may facilitate gains in cognitive abilities.”

Source: University of California Riverside

Study: Spread of Abnormal Proteins Explain Gender Difference in Alzheimer’s

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 7:00am

New research suggests the way in which abnormal proteins spread throughout the brain may help explain why the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is higher in women than in men. If the results are confirmed, a need for sex-specific approaches for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease may be indicated.

Over the last twenty years, scientists have linked an abnormal accumulation of tau proteins to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. In the new investigation, researchers from the Center for Cognitive Medicine (CCI) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center identified differences in the spread of tau protein between men and women, with women showing a larger brain-wide accumulation of tau than men due to an accelerated brain-wide spread.

The findings were presented at a recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles.

Accumulating evidence suggests that tau spreads through brain tissue like an infection, traveling from neuron to neuron and turning other proteins into abnormal tangles, subsequently killing brain cells.

In the study, researchers used data from positron emission tomography (PET) scans of healthy individuals and patients with mild cognitive impairment who were enrolled in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) database. The CCI researchers then constructed in vivo networks modeling tau spread using graph theory analysis.

“It’s kind of like reconstructing a crime scene after a crime. You weren’t there when it happened, but you can determine where an intruder entered a house and what room they entered next,” said Sepi Shokouhi, PhD, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and lead investigator for the study.

“The graph analysis does something similar to show how tau spreads from one region to another.”

The results of the analysis showed the architecture of tau networks is different in men and women, with women having a larger number of “bridging regions” that connect various communities in the brain.

This difference may allow tau to spread more easily between regions, boosting the speed at which it accumulates and putting women at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

An accelerated spread of tau in women may indicate a need for gender-specific approaches for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. This may include earlier therapies, lifestyle interventions and/or cognitive remediation. Scientists note, however, that more studies are needed to validate the accelerated tau spread model in women.

“Understanding how different biological processes influence our memory is a really important topic. Sex-specific differences in the brain’s pathological, neuroanatomical and functional organization may map into differences at a neurobehavioral and cognitive level, thus explaining differences in the prevalence of neurodegenerative disorders and helping us develop appropriate treatments,” said Shokouhi.

Source: Vanderbilt University Medical Center/EurekAlert

9/11 Near-Miss Experiences Often Tied to ‘Survivor Guilt’

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:30am

In a new study of 9/11 survivors, researchers found that participants who had “near-miss” experiences — such as those who called in sick or who missed their flight — did not necessarily escape the tragedy unharmed. For many, their close-call with death and the realization that others were not as fortunate tends to weigh heavily on their mind.

“There is a misfortune to being fortunate,” says Michael Poulin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo (UB) and lead author of the paper.

“You would think that having a near-miss experience is unequivocally good news. That means it didn’t happen to you. Although obviously that’s far more preferable than having tragedy befall you, it turns out that merely being aware of that fact can be burdensome — and it’s particularly true when it’s vivid that others were not as fortunate.”

The results, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, deepen our understanding of how large-scale trauma affects mental health.

“We tend to focus understandably on those who were affected, but our data suggest that even people who were not directly affected in any obvious way can be upset by mentally comparing what didn’t happen to them in light of what actually happened to someone else, who easily could have been them.”

Despite the frequency with which “survivor guilt” appears in casual conversation and popular culture, this study turns out to be among the few to directly examine near-miss experiences.

“Survivor guilt is widely understood to be true, almost like a kind of clinical lore,” says Poulin, an expert in stress and coping. “But in the context of near-miss experiences, there’s just not much there if you go looking for empirical data on the existence of survivor guilt.”

Near-miss experiences are difficult to study because of the challenges involved in finding a representative sample, but 9/11 provided the researchers with the opportunity to conduct a rigorous study on the phenomenon.

Poulin conducted the research with Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychological science, medicine and public health at The University of California, Irvine. They used a 1,433-participant sample provided by an online research company, which assessed a near-miss experience by asking: “Did you or someone close to you experience a near miss as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks?”

Some examples include:

  • My brother-in-law on the 90th floor where he works called in sick.
  • I got a job in the World Trade Center a couple months before, and did not take it.
  • My son-in-law would have been on that flight, but my daughter got sick and he took her to the hospital.

The findings suggest that the near-miss participants reported higher levels of re-experiencing symptoms (sudden, traumatic memories of the event) that persisted over three years and probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is, not surprisingly, affected more by direct exposure, but near-misses exist as an independent predictor, suggesting their role is not related exclusively to familiarity with the victims.

“I think this study contributes to a broader debate that people are having in the world of psychology about what counts as being exposed to trauma,” says Poulin. “It’s not just ‘Did this happen to you?'” “But ‘Did something almost happen to you?'”

Source: University at Buffalo

Adults With Family History of Alzheimer’s Show Reduced Scores in Memory Test

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:00am

In a new study of more than 59,000 people who completed an online memory test, researchers found that adults with a first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s disease performed worse than participants without a family history of the disease.

The findings, published in the journal eLife, also show that this impairment appears to be worsened by having diabetes or a variation in the Alzheimer’s-linked gene called apolipoprotein E (APOE), while being female or having a higher education were seen as protective factors.

Although having a family history of Alzheimer’s is a well-known risk factor for developing the condition, the effects on learning and memory throughout an individual’s life are less clear.

“Identifying factors that reduce or eliminate the effect of a family history of Alzheimer’s disease is particularly crucial since there is currently no cure or effective disease-slowing treatments,” says lead author Joshua Talboom, Ph.D., a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona.

And while some studies have tackled this subject, most have been too small to draw any significant conclusions. So in order to recruit a large pool of participants, the research team created an easy-to-use website ( where individuals could log on and complete a memory test.

A total of 59,571 participants were asked to learn 12-word pairs and were then tested on their ability to complete the missing half of the pair when presented with one of the words.

The volunteers were also asked to answer questions about their sex, education, age, language, country and health, including a question about whether one of their parents or siblings had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The results show that participants with a family history of Alzheimer’s were able to match about two and one-half fewer word pairs than those without a family history. Having diabetes appeared to compound the learning impairments seen in individuals with a family history.

In addition, a subset of 742 participants who had a close relative with Alzheimer’s submitted a sample of dried blood or saliva that the researchers tested for a genetic variation in the APOE gene linked to the disease.

“The APOE genotype is an important genetic factor that influences memory, and we found that those with the variation performed worse on the memory test than those without the variation,” Talboom said.

Certain characteristics, however, appeared to protect against memory and learning impairments in people with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease: Those with higher levels of education showed less of a decline in scores on the learning and memory test than people with lower levels of education, even when they have a family history of the disease. Women also appear to fair better despite having Alzheimer’s disease risk factors.

“Our study supports the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, properly treating diseases such as diabetes, and building learning and memory reserve through education to reduce the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk factors,” said senior author Matthew Huentelman, Professor of Neurogenomics at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, Arizona.

Source: eLife

Problematic Smartphone Use Tied to Lower Grades, Mental Health Issues in College Students

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 5:30am

In a new survey of 3,425 university students, one in five respondents said they engaged in problematic smartphone use which in turn was tied to lower grades, mental health problems and a higher number of sexual partners.

Previous research has linked excessive smartphone use to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and problems with self-esteem.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, a research team from the University of Chicago, University of Cambridge, and the University of Minnesota developed the Health and Addictive Behaviours Survey to assess mental health and well-being in a large sample of university students.

The researchers used the survey to analyze the impact of smartphone use on university students. Just over a third (3,425) of students invited to take the test responded.

The self-reporting survey consisted of 156 questions. Based on their responses, the students were given a score ranging from 10 to 60, with a score of 32 and above being defined as problematic smartphone use. This definition was based on a threshold recommended previously in clinical validation studies using the scale. The researchers found that one in five (20%) of respondents reported problematic smartphone use. Problematic use was also more prevalent among female students: 64% of all problematic users were women.

Problematic smartphone use may include the following: excessive use; trouble concentrating in class or at work due to smartphone use; feeling fretful or impatient without their smartphone; missing work due to smartphone use; and experiencing physical consequences of excessive use, such as light-headedness or blurred vision.

Importantly, the researchers found a link between problematic smartphone use and lower grade point averages (academic achievement).

“Although the effect of problematic smartphone use on grade point averages was relatively small, it’s worth noting that even a small negative impact could have a profound effect on an individual’s academic achievement and then on their employment opportunities in later life,” said Professor Jon Grant from the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

While students reporting problematic smartphone use were more likely to be less sexually active than their peers (70.9% compared to 74%), the proportion of students reporting two or more sexual partners in the past 12 months was significantly higher among problem users: 37.4% of sexually-active problematic smartphone users compared with 27.2% sexually-active students who reported no problem use.

The prevalence of six or more sexual partners was more than double among sexually-active problematic smartphone users (6.8% compared to 3.0%).

“Smartphones can help connect people and help people feel less isolated, and our findings suggest that they may act as an avenue for sexual contact, whether through sustained partnerships or more casual sex,” said Dr. Sam Chamberlain, Wellcome Trust Clinical Fellow and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and the Cambridge & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

In addition, alcohol misuse was much higher in those with problematic smartphone use compared to the control group. No significant link was found between phone use and any other form of substance abuse or addiction, however.

In terms of other mental health problems, the researchers found that problematic smartphone use was significantly associated with lower self-esteem, ADHD, depression, anxiety, and PTSD, mirroring similar findings elsewhere.

“It’s easy to think of problematic smartphone use as an addiction, but if it was that simple, we would expect it to be associated with a wide range of substance misuse problems, especially in such a large sample, but this does not seem to be the case,” said Chamberlain.

“One possible explanation for these results is that people develop excessive smartphone use because of other mental health difficulties. For example, people who are socially isolated, those who experience depression or anxiety, or those who have attention problems (as in ADHD) may be more prone to excessive smartphone use, as well as to using alcohol.”

“Smartphone use likely develops earlier in life — on average — than alcohol use problems and so it is unlikely that alcohol use itself leads to smartphone use.”

The study does not establish cause and effect. In other words, the researchers cannot say that problematic smartphone use leads to mental health issues or vice versa.

In addition, the team points out that the effect sizes were generally small, and that more research is needed into positive and negative effects of smartphone use and mental health, including how this changes over time.

Source: University of Cambridge

Study IDs Gene Sets Tied to 5 Mental Disorders

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 7:55am

An international study has revealed specific sets of genes associated with the development of ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.

Researchers analyzed more than 400,000 individuals to determine the genes behind these five mental health disorders.

Researchers from The University of Queensland and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam discovered several sets of genes marked all five disorders.

“Before this analysis, we knew a lot of psychiatric disorders were related to each other due to their hereditary nature,” said UQ psychiatrist Professor Christel Middeldorp.

“We often see multiple family members with mental illness in one family, but not necessarily with the same disorder.

“We investigated if specific sets of genes were involved in the development of multiple disorders, which genes are not only related to say, ADHD, but also to the other four psychiatric disorders.

“These are genes that play a role in the same biological pathway or are active in the same tissue type.

“Genes that are highly expressed in the brain were shown to affect the different disorders, and some genes were related to all the illnesses we studied.

“It shows that there is a common set of genes that increase your risk for all five disorders.”

Study leader Dr. Anke Hammerschlag believes this occurs because of biological pathways shared by the genes in the brain. Research findings appear in the journal Psychological Medicine.

“We found that there are shared biological mechanisms acting across disorders that all point to functions in brain cells,”  Hammerschlag said.

“We also found that genes especially active in the brain are important, while genes active in other tissues do not play a role.”

The finding is important as new pharmaceutical drugs could potentially target the shared pathways.

“Our findings are an important first step towards the development of new drugs which may be effective for a wide range of patients, regardless of their exact diagnosis,” she said.

“This knowledge will bring us closer to the development of more effective personalized medicine.”

Source: University of Queensland

Testing Cortisol Levels in Hair May Aid Depression Diagnosis

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 7:44am

Testing for cortisol in hair samples may one day aid in the diagnosis of depression and in efforts to monitor the effects of treatment, according to a new study published online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Researchers from The Ohio State University looked for potential links between the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in the hair and depression symptoms in teens and found a surprising connection.

Not only did they find higher levels of cortisol to be linked to a greater risk for depression, but they also found a link between low cortisol levels and mental health issues.

Though several studies have used cortisol measures to gauge mental health in the last decade, few have looked at the stress hormone as a predictor of depression. Those who have found mixed results, so the new study adds important information, said Jodi Ford, Ph.D., R.N., lead author of the study and an associate professor of nursing at The Ohio State University.

In the clinical setting, a biomarker-based test for depression would be valuable, particularly for children and teens, she said.

“This study opens up a lot of future research questions and illustrates that the relationship between cortisol levels and depression isn’t necessarily a linear one,” Ford said.

“It may be that low cortisol is bad and high cortisol is bad and there’s a middle level that is normal,” she said. “It’s hard to know why this is without more research, but it’s possible that there’s a blunting of the stress response in some people, lowering cortisol production or changing how it is processed. Maybe the body is not using cortisol in the way that it should in some cases.”

The researchers also found that adolescents who said they felt better supported at home had much lower levels of depressive symptoms.

“This study reinforces to parents that they matter in their adolescents’ lives, that their support and involvement make a difference,” said Ford, who also directs the Stress Science Lab in Ohio State’s College of Nursing.

The study involved 432 adolescents (ages 11 to 17) who were enrolled in the larger ongoing Adolescent Health and Development in Context study, a research project focused on the impact of social experiences and other factors on health. That project is led by Dr. Christopher Browning, a sociology professor at Ohio State who is also a co-author of the cortisol and depression study.

For the cortisol study, the research team measured depression with a nine-item questionnaire. The teens were asked to rate their experiences in several areas, including how often they feel that their life has been a failure or that people have been unfriendly to them.

In most cases, the researchers examined a 3-centimeter hair sample — enough to determine cortisol levels for the previous three months.

After adjusting the results for other factors that could contribute to depressive symptoms and cortisol levels, the researchers discovered the surprising trend that both low and high cortisol had a statistically significant link to depression.

“It’d be really ideal to have an objective measurement, because using subjective measures of stress is problematic, particularly with children and teens,” she said.

The test is simple, and relatively cheap (on the order of about $35), but it won’t be something to consider for widespread use until researchers better understand what values are normal and what values are out of range and cause for concern, Ford said.

Apart from being a detection tool, hair testing could also be a way to see if therapy and medication are helping someone with depression over time, or if the mental illness is intensifying and putting the adolescent at risk of suicide, she said.

Source: The Ohio State University

Australia Study Finds Alarming Hike in Young Kids’ Screen Time

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 6:30am

A new study from Australia discovers a rapid increase in screen time among young children, a practice that may delay neurodevelopment. Researchers found some young children might average 50 minutes per day, where the national guidelines called for zero screen time in children under the age of two.

University of Queensland Associate Professor Leigh Tooth, the lead author on the study, explains that the guidelines were established to give children the best start in life.

“We were surprised to see the rapid increase in screen time from the first month of infancy,” Tooth said.

“Children are spending almost an hour per day in front of a screen before they turn one.”

Tooth’s study, which appears in the Medical Journal of Australia, discovered screen time quickly increases with age before plateauing around three years, at an average of 94 minutes per weekday.

Screen time only fell into line with national guidelines when children moved into childcare and school, while weekends continued to spike well above the guidelines.

The Australian government, World Health Organization and other international bodies promote the same guidelines of zero screen time under two years. In the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children younger than 2 avoid digital media other than video chatting. Children ages 2 to 5 shouldn’t watch more than one hour of high-quality children’s programming per day.

“We need to let people know that young children should not be in front of a screen for long periods because there is emerging evidence this could be detrimental to their development and growth,” Tooth said.

“Screen time represents a missed opportunity where children could be practicing and mastering a developmental skill, like skipping and jumping, over being sedentary and transfixed to a screen.

“This is particularly important in children under two who should not be spending any time in front of a screen.”

The study showed mothers whose children exceeded the screen time guidelines experienced factors like financial stress, had high amounts of leisure time or allowed electronic devices in the bedroom.

“It’s very easy to use screen time with children because there are so many child-friendly apps and games developed for young children and parents,” Tooth said.

“If you give a child an iPad for 30 minutes then they’re going to be transfixed — you can understand why parents give their children access to screens.”

Study authors believe the potential negative implications far outweighed any perceived benefits of the easy distraction tools.

“The fear is that it is these early years where the most negative impact on health and development can occur,” she said.

“Parents need to be made aware of the national guidelines in their antenatal visits or during a follow-up appointment with their GP.

“The guidelines are there for a reason, and that is to protect your baby’s health and development.”

Source: University of Queensland

Canadian Study Probes Reduced Suicidal Thoughts in Indigenous People

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 10:12am

The higher rates of suicide among indigenous people in Canada has been well documented, but few studies have looked at the factors linked to recovery among those who have had suicidal thoughts.

A new Canadian study from the University of Toronto and Algoma University finds that three-quarters of formerly suicidal Indigenous adults who are living off-reserve have been free from suicidal thoughts in the past year. Overall, participants who were older, spoke an Aboriginal language, were food secure, female, had at least a high school diploma and had social support were less likely to struggle with suicidal thoughts.

The findings are published in the journal Archives of Suicide Research.

“It was encouraging to discover so many formerly suicidal Aboriginal peoples were no longer seriously considering suicide, but with one-quarter of respondents still having these thoughts, there remains a dire need for improvements,” said co-author Dr. Rose Cameron who is an Anishinaabekwe elder and a tenured professor at the University of Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.

“Individuals who spoke an Indigenous language were less likely to have been suicidal in the past year. Knowing one’s ancestral language provides valuable understandings of Aboriginal beliefs, values and traditions, and these factors may improve self-esteem and a positive identity, thereby promoting overall wellbeing and recovery.”

Social support also played a key role in remission, said co-author Alexandra Sellors, M.S.W., a recent graduate of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) at the University of Toronto.

“Individuals with at least one person to turn to for support in times of need were much more likely to be free of suicidal thoughts for the past year than those who were socially isolated (77% vs. 61%),” said Sellors. “Social connections can promote a sense of meaning and value in life. Clearly, we need targeted efforts to decrease social isolation and loneliness.”

Unfortunately, one-quarter of formerly suicidal indigenous adults reported that they had been hungry at some point in the last year but could not afford to buy food.

“It isn’t surprising that those who were so destitute were twice as likely to still be suicidal compared to those who had money for food,” said lead author Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging. “As a nation, we have an urgent responsibility to eradicate this devastating impoverishment.”

The findings also show that indiginous people with at least a high school degree were more likely to be in recovery compared to those who had not finished high school.

“Education opens doors to better careers, higher income, better access to mental-health care and more opportunities in life,” said co-author Senyo Agbeyaka, a graduate of the University of Toronto.

“Currently, many isolated reserves do not have local high schools, which forces children as young as 14 to leave their family, home and community and move to larger towns and cities in order to study. These inequities need to be addressed if we hope to improve the high school graduation rate of Indigenous youth in Canada.”

Finally, the results show that each decade of age was linked to a 17 percent greater chance of recovery from suicidal ideation.

“Indigenous elders often play a pivotal and revered role in Aboriginal communities and this respect may act to buffer against depression and suicidal ideation,” said co-author Dr. Philip Baiden, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Source: University of Toronto