Category Archives: Research

Therapy no longer stigmatised and considered acceptable for mental health problems

A recent survey by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has found that the stigma that was once attached to psychotherapy is almost gone and that attitudes are now significantly different towards mental health problems than what they were six years ago.

The results showed that 94 percent of the 1,400 adults surveyed, consider it acceptable to have some form of psychotherapy for mental health problems like anxiety and depression and that it is now more acceptable to talk about emotional problems than it was in the past. Back in a similar survey in 2004, the figure was just 67 percent.

The survey also found that almost 90 percent of those taking part in the survey believed that counselling and psychotherapy should be made available to everyone on the NHS.

“This survey represents a significant shift in people’s attitudes towards therapy – practically a revolution – at a time when mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are far more common than was realised” said the association’s president, Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University.

“Mental health conditions currently affect one in six of the population at an annual cost to England alone of pounds 77bn. It’s no accident that the growth of the problem has encouraged mass support for more effective treatments” said Cooper.

According to National Statistics, 1.3 million people a year receive some form of treatment for mental health problems so the chances are you will be affected yourself at some point or will at least know someone close to you who is.

At the moment the most common treatment for depression is some form of anti-depressant drug. Currently, around 40 million antidepressant prescriptions are issued each year in the UK alone. However, drugs won’t treat the cause of the depression, only the symptoms. Counselling and therapy on the other hand can change the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us.

The BACP survey revealed that a whopping 83 percent believe that it’s better to have therapy and talk about your problems than to rely on medication.

Another change identified by the survey was that people are starting to seek help for mental health problems earlier than they used to and 95 percent recognise that getting help will help prevent their symptoms from getting worse.

Male menopause is real but rare says study

When we think of the menopause, most of us probably imagine a middle aged woman suffering from mood swings and hot flushes and yes we may joke about a male menopause but most people really believe that to be a myth. Wrong!

Just days after the concept of the male menopause was dismissed, a new study has revealed that the male menopause is not a myth, ok so it’s quite rare, affecting only about 2 percent of middle aged men, but for them the experience is very real.

The researchers from the University of Manchester assessed the sexual, physical and mental health of over 3,369 men aged between 40 and 79 from 8 different European Centres.

A total of nine symptoms of the male menopause were identified the three most of important of which included poor morning erection, low libido and erectile dysfunction which are all related to low testosterone levels.

However, depression and fatigue and an inability to indulge in sexual activity were also linked to low testosterone levels.

Other symptoms that were not linked to low testosterone levels included anxiety, changes in sleeping patterns, poor concentration and feelings of worthlessness.

The condition known as late-onset hypogonadism, is a condition where the testes don’t work properly and affect hormone levels and this is linked to poor health and weight gain.

Professor Fred Wu, from the University of Manchester’s school of biomedicine, who led the study, said late-onset hypogonadism wasn’t like classical hypogonadism where similar symptoms were accompanied by a diagnosable condition, reported the BBC.

“This well-practised diagnostic approach is frequently found wanting when dealing with the age-related decline of testosterone in elderly men who are prone to have a significant background of non-hormone-related complaints” said Professor Wu.

“Our findings have for the first time identified the key symptoms of late-onset hypogonadism and suggest that testosterone treatment may only be useful in a relatively small number of cases” added Wu.

According to Professor Wu, sexual symptoms weren’t confined to men with low testosterone levels, but occurred even in men with normal testosterone levels.

“It is therefore important to specify the presence of all three sexual symptoms of the nine testosterone-related symptoms we identified, together with low testosterone, in order to increase the probability of correctly diagnosing late-onset hypogonadism.

“The application of these new criteria should guard against the excessive diagnosis of hypogonadism and curb the unwise use of testosterone therapy in older men” said Wu.

Cardiff lead the way in Mental Health – Brain Disorders Research

One of Cardiff University’s three new research institutes will focus on neuroscience and mental health says its director Professor Michael Owen and reported in Wales Online.

According to a report by a Welsh mental health promotion network, mental health costs the Welsh economy £7.2 billion a year.

Mental health is an area that is often overlooked and misunderstood says Professor Owen and in part, this is caused by lack of funding.

It’s quite shocking that cancer research receives 25 percent more funding in the UK than mental illness and yet mental health problems affect more people either directly, or indirectly than cancer does.

Apparently the estimated cost of dealing with dementia in the UK alone amounts to more than what it costs for cancer and heart disease combined.

Mental health problems span a wide range of conditions from depression, anxiety and panic attacks, to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other forms of dementia as well as autism, ADHD and more.

Mental health problems are common and can strike anyone at any stage of their lives and are a major cause of disability and death throughout the entire world and the situation is expected to get worse.

Now Cardiff University having established a new neuroscience and mental health research institute are continuing to lead the way into mental health research.

Cardiff, in Wales has already been recognised for the advances they have made in understanding Alzheimer’s disease as well as Bipolar disorder and have made several medical breakthroughs.

The new research institute will draw expertise from other disciplines in the university and will develop new programmes of neuroscience research to promote greater understanding and diagnosis of mental health problems and brain diseases.

They are currently studying children with a genetic condition known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.

Apart from a number of physical conditions, children with this condition often experience developmental delays and learning disabilities and are known to be at an increased risk of developing mental illnesses such as autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

It is estimated that around 1 in 4,000 people suffer from 22q11.1 deletion syndrome (which refers to the deletion of a small piece of chromosome) although this figure could be much higher as some people don’t show many other signs and symptoms and therefore go undiagnosed.

Scientists discover genes involved in Schizophrenia affect brain signalling

In a new study which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, Scientists from the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have identified a number of gene sequences, including some that are involved in brain signalling, that increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.

“When we compared the genomes of patients with schizophrenia to those of healthy subjects, we found variations in genes that regulate brain functions, several of which are already known to be perturbed in patients with this disorder,” said study leader Hakon Hakonarson, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Director of the Center.

“Although much research remains to be done, detecting genes on specific pathways is a first step to identifying more specific targets for improved drug treatments” said Dr Hakonarson.

Hakonarson and his colleagues analysed the DNA of over 1,735 adults who had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and compared their DNA to the DNA from 3,458 adults without Schizophrenia. They not only found copy number variations in genes involved in brain function and brain development, they also found some that overlapped with other disorders including Autism and ADHD.

“Although different brain regions may be affected in these different neuropsychiatric disorders, these overlaps suggest that there may be common features in their underlying pathogenesis,” said Hakonarson.

“These genes affect synaptic function, so deletions or duplications in those genes may alter how brain circuits are formed.”

Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric disorder that affects roughly one to one and half percent of the population. The symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions, disorganised speech, and abnormal thought processes and behaviours, as well as other symptoms.

As Schizophrenia has a tendency to run in families, scientists already know there is a genetic link but that doesn’t mean that if you do have someone in your family that has Schizophrenia that you will too, neither does it mean that if you don’t, you won’t, so there are other factors involved too.

At the moment people with Schizophrenia are usually prescribed anti-psychotic medication, some of which can carry unpleasant side effects. The researchers believe that future studies into copy number variations in the genetic code will enable greater understanding of what is happening in the brain of a person with Schizophrenia and may allow researchers to develop better drugs that are more effective and with fewer side effects.

Can Eating Junk Food Trigger Depression?

According to researchers from Victoria, Australia, the more junk food a teenager eats, the more likely they are to be depressed and this low mood isn’t only about normal hormonal changes during puberty.

Dr Felice Jacka and her colleagues at the University of Melbourne reviewed data collected by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute during 2006 on over 7,000 young people.

The researchers didn’t go as far as saying that junk food actually caused depression but they did find a clear link between depression and diet.

Those who ate a healthy diet scored less on the depression levels than those who ate an unhealthy diet, and that was after taking into consideration other factors such as the family environment and social status, education and so on.

This isn’t the first study that has found that eating junk food can contribute to depression; a joint British and French study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry analysed food and mood data from over 3,000 men and women around London.

Each person was asked to complete a food frequency questionnaire which asked them to rate how often they had eaten a particular food portion in the previous year on a scale of ‘never’ to ‘more than six times a day’.

The researchers identified two dietary patterns, the ‘whole food’ pattern and the ‘processed food’ pattern. Five yeas later the same participants were asked to complete another questionnaire, this time about depression.

The results revealed that those who ate more processed foods were more likely to have depression whereas those who ate more whole foods were less likely to suffer from depression.

“Our finding shows a strong association between diet and depressive symptoms after controlling for a large range of socio-demographic factors, and for health behaviours such as smoking, physical activity, and health status” said Tasnime Akbaraly, PhD, an epidemiologist with the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Montpellier, France and lead author of the study.

Now although we all can enjoy the odd packet of crisps, bar of chocolate, cakes and biscuits or microwavable meal from time to time without any harm, over consumption of processed foods will not only have an impact on your weight and physical health, but the research is also pointing to it having a negative impact on your mental health too.

Where junk food is concerned it seems to be a case of short term pleasure but long term pain.

Tai Chi Can Benefit Those With Depression And Diabetes

An Australian study which assessed the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi as a treatment for depression and diabetes showed that both conditions could be improved by a mind-body therapy.

At a time when depression currently affects around 20 percent of the population and the number of people diagnosed with diabetes is increasing, the results of this study look promising.

The three month trial was run by Dr Liu Xin from Queensland University and was funded by the Diabetes Australia Research Trust.

Dr Liu Xin is an expert in mind body therapy and designed a Tai Chi programme specifically for depression and diabetes.

There were 52 participants involved in the study, most of whom had diabetes with the rest classed as pre-diabetic.

At the end of the trial, the percentage of people showing signs of clinical depression decreased from 60 percent to 20 percent, but BMI (body mass index) and waist circumference measurements also decreased too and this was using just Tai Chi exercise alone.

“Without involvement of any dietary intervention and high intensity training, it was very encouraging to see such impressive results over a short period of time,” Dr Liu said.

“In addition to the improvements in depression and obesity, the results of the study also show that this specific program has a beneficial effect on indicators of blood glucose control (decreased by 6 percent), hypertension (decreased by 9 percent and 12 percent in systolic and diastolic blood pressure respectively) and insulin resistance (decreased by 20 percent),” he said.

Other positive effects reported by those who have tried the programme include improved mood, self esteem and confidence, as well as less stress, more motivation, better sleeping patterns, improved breathing, and a more positive outlook on life in general.

As the results of the first trial were so promising, Dr Lui Xin is carrying out a larger controlled trial named SMILE, which stands for Mental and Metabolic Syndrome Innovative Lifelong Exercise.

This study has been funded by the National Heart Foundation and Beyondblue Cardiovascular Disease and Depression Strategic Research Programme.

“If this SMILE program can be further confirmed to have beneficial effects on indicators of depression, obesity and other risk factors for developing cardiovascular diseases in the large trial, the findings can be translated into great social and economic benefit for public health” said Dr Liu.

Maternal Depression , Beyond The Baby Blues Stage

We normally associate maternal depression or the baby blues with mothers of young babies but according to a recent study, the baby blues can actually persist for much longer, particularly in women who are considered at a disadvantage, and when untreated, this depression can turn into a chronic condition.

The research also found that the depression could be alleviated fairly easily with brief cognitive behaviour therapy.

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine asked 931 economically disadvantaged mothers to complete a depression questionnaire. The women who were then screened as positive for depression, which amounted to 45 percent, were asked to attend an interview to confirm that they were indeed suffering from depression.

Seventy one of the women with depression were than split into two groups with one group receiving six sessions of cognitive behaviour therapy and the other receiving case management. Their child’s social-emotional functioning was measured both before and after the treatment.

The most dramatic improvement was seen in those that were receiving Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and those with children under 4 whereas there was no significant change in those who had case management and had children over 4 years of age.

“Depression in underserved women of childbearing age is extremely common, and nearly one in five mothers of children older than 1 year of age reports moderate to severe depressive symptoms,” said Carol Weitzman, MD, who led the study.

“This finding reinforces that depression in mothers is not restricted to the postpartum period, and in fact after the postpartum period as children get older, the prevalence of maternal depression may be higher” said Weitzman.

When mothers suffering from depression are not treated, it’s not just the mother’s life that is negatively impacted, the health and development of the child can suffer too. Therefore mothers who are depressed should be identified and treated say the researchers, who also noted that as many women may not seek help specifically for depression, one way of identifying them would be when they bring their children to a clinic for routine check ups.

“A depressed parent can have a significant effect on a child” said Dr Weitzman. “Brief on-site treatment can help reduce symptoms of depression in a mother and may also improve her perspective about her child’s behavior.”

The results of this study were presented on 1st May at the Paediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Annual Meeting in Vancouver.