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Mental Health News

Following are the latest news and information resources for the various mental health topics that we cover. We hope you will find the news educational and the links in the resources section useful in helping you to get even more in-depth data.

Helsinki Times: Getting Through The Day With A Little Help From Medication

Many employees drag themselves to work even though they are feeling under the weather, suffer from insomnia and have aches and pains everywhere. They turn to medication for temporary relief.

Occupational health doctor and father to small children, Jani, 37, has suffered from depression, concentration problems and insomnia for several years. He has been to see a psychiatrist and tried depression medicines in various combinations to help him get through the day.

A couple of years ago he ended up misusing medicines usually prescribed for the treatment of ADHD because they were suggested to him by a private psychiatrist. Usually ADHD medication is used to manage hyperactivity and concentration problems but for people who do not suffer from these, the medicines act as pick-me-ups.

So the psychiatrist prescribed Jani ADHD medicines to help him cope with work, instead of giving him sick leave.

"I can get through the day at work without anyone being none the wiser but when I get home I'm all done in. After every stretch of holiday I have, I think I will cut my working hours but that never happens."

While he is usually able to offer employees who come to his office a chance to see a psychologist or to get some other form of medication-free therapy, Jani himself feels trapped.

"I've stopped taking medicines because they didn't help but I'm not really feeling any better."

When looked at over a longer period of time, working life and illnesses related to it have undergone a sea change. Employees need to have much more varied skills than in the past and their duties may be almost as demanding as those of their supervisors.

Different struggles

A specialist in occupational healthcare from themedical centre Aava, Marja-Terttu Lähteenmäki, says that while in the past people used to suffer from heart illnesses and physical strain caused by work, they now struggle with stress, mental health problems and substance abuse.

"Substance abuse has been on the increase in recent years. People self-medicate with alcohol to cope with insomnia and work stress. Use of drugs has also increased, particularly among young people."

According to Lähteenmäki, many employees say they use sleeping pills daily even though in light of some recent statistics use of sleep aids is on the decline. People coming to see Lähteenmäki also often ask for sleeping pills, to her surprise as these medicines should not be taken unless absolutely necessary.

"People come in expecting the doctor to prescribe strong medicines that work."

Jani has also come across this phenomenon, seeing every day at least one employee who suffers from depression, burn-out or insomnia.

"I renew at least one prescription for these problems every day. But the work does not change with the help of pills. Changing working conditions is the route we should be taking," says Jani.

One reason why so many people use medicines as a crutch to help them through the day is that employees are often left alone to cope with their problems. They turn to medication as a quick fix because in many workplaces duties have been divided in a way that means there is no one who is capable of helping a person drowning under an ever-increasing work load.

People may also expect more of themselves – they want to carry out their job to perfection.

Many feel they are irreplaceable at work, making it difficult for them to take a long sick leave as the longer they are away, the more daunting the idea of going back to work becomes.

"I often come across defensive behaviour and tendency to play down the problems when people talk to me about their duties and how demanding these duties are. They think that if they could cope in their 20s they have to cope now too," Jani explains.

Work and support

Jukka Vuori, a research professor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, says that how well employees cope at work is directly linked to the work community and the support network it offers. Studies have shown that in the short term people are able to cope with even highly stressful situations if they get support from their work community.

Nowadays there are no informal occasions for sharing information the way there used to be as people do not have chats or talk about their jobs to a similar extent.

"There used to be a lot more chatting in workplaces. Now work communities with active social interaction are few and far between. Problems with exhaustion are prominent among self-employed people as they've got no one to turn to when tasks start piling up," Vuori explains.

Other factors explaining why people continue to work even when ill are shame and fear. People self-medicate and hide their problems out of fear of being shunned in the work community or even being fired.

Leena Kaila-Kangas, an expert from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, who has studied the connection between depression and musculoskeletal symptoms, says that prejudices against and faulty notions about mental illnesses are still common even though, along with musculoskeletal illnesses, mental problems are the most common cause of long sick leaves.

Kaila-Kangas says that there is also a strong link between the two causes: prolonged physical discomfort causes depression and, on the other hand, people suffering from depression are more sensitive to pain, while having no resources to look for treatment or manage the physical symptoms.

"Patients with depression or some other illness are often so tired that they have no energy left to try to make changes," says Kaila-Kangas.

Because of this, workplaces should foster an atmosphere that encourages people to get involved and intervene in problems instead of employees with depression being left to their own devices.

Lack of support

Riitta, who has worked in the care sector for a number of years, suffers from long-term depression. She left her previous job because of workplace bullying but feels she does not receive enough support from her supervisor in her current job.

"I told my current boss about my depression but I think they are taking advantage of my illness. Work meetings often take place when I'm away and decisions are made without me having a chance to have a say. And I'm not given any duties with a higher level of responsibility."

Riitta, who feels she is being discriminated against, has tried to stop taking medication for depression several times but finds it difficult.

When her boss is around Riitta feels anxious and tense.

"I have contacted the health and safety officer several times but they have not done much to help. We don't have a shop steward."

Riitta believes that the situation in her workplace would improve if the employees were offered more guidance, whereas at the moment all the stabs at improving working conditions seem to be directed at making the supervisor's work load lighter.

Jukka Vuori agrees that it is unfortunately very common for bosses to get support while employees are left to cope as best they can even though everyone is under a similar amount of pressure. The risk of burn-out skyrockets if employees feel they have been caught between demands from both clients and bosses.

Occupational health doctor Jani also feels under pressure for several reasons. Resources at his workplace do not allow the company to hire extra employees, and having high work ethics, Jani does all his work conscientiously.

"Of course it's ironic that I treat my patients and give them advice but don't look after myself. My work is affecting my whole life but when you have a hefty mortgage and a job you like it's difficult to make changes."

Usually the best way to improve wellbeing at work is to make changes to the job so that it is not too taxing to allow a normal life. In some cases, working can be beneficial to recuperation as long as the tasks are not too demanding.

Work should not leave employees feeling constantly tired, causing them to be forgetful, have concentration problems and view the future in bleak light.

"In the worst case scenario, burn-out can lead to long-term mental health problems and loss of ability to work. People often misguidedly think that an employee who needs to take long sick leaves cannot be fired," Jani sums up.

Jani's and Riitta's names have been changed.

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Telemedicine Could Revolutionize Access To Mental Health Treatment

For millions of Americans, mental health treatment is largely out of reach — a fact one FIU psychologist is trying to change.

Jonathan Comer is leading the way in telemedicine for mental health disorders – the use of electronic media to provide health care services traditionally delivered in person. Because in-person treatment can be costly, time-consuming and not always available in convenient locations, many don’t seek help. But with the use of technology, Comer believes he can help families receive the help they need.

Comer is the director of the Mental Health Interventions and Technology Program at FIU’s Center for Children and Families. The program develops technology-based solutions to the treatment of mental health problems. Currently, Comer and his team are exploring ways to provide highly specialized therapy to families remotely. They are specifically looking at internet-delivered therapy for children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other disruptive behavior disorders.

“This is a really exciting new direction in mental health care,” Comer said. “It is one of the most significant shifts in mental health care in 10 years.”

The idea is to have general mental health care practitioners refer patients with serious psychiatric symptoms to a specialist. That specialist will then be able to provide therapy remotely using the internet, wireless electronic devices, video teleconferencing or a combination of the three.

For children with disruptive behavior disorders, early intervention is crucial. One of the most effective treatments for children with behavior disorders is parent-child interaction therapy – changing how parents and children interact to improve their relationship as well as the child’s behavior. However, there are some obstacles to overcome regarding the availability, accessibility and acceptability of evidence-based early intervention methods.

“There’s a highly discouraging disconnect between research advances in mental health care and what services are actually available in the community for the majority of people affected by mental illness,” Comer said.

Comer explains there are not enough appropriately trained specialists providing evidence-based treatments for serious psychiatric disorders. Training is lengthy, complex and costly. Also, there are only a few specialized centers in highly populated metropolitan areas where patients can go for treatment. The services are expensive and wait lists are long.

Comer’s work on alternative methods of delivering psychotherapy to patients can broaden the availability and accessibility to effective treatment for those who need it most.

Video teleconferencing therapy

A preliminary study by Comer published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, looked at the effectiveness of using video teleconferencing (VTC) to deliver therapy to children with OCD.

The 14-week treatment program trained parents of 4- to 8-year-olds to use various behavioral techniques to manage their children’s OCD symptoms. It also included a component where parents learned to manage their own uneasiness and control their reactions in responding to their children’s problem behaviors.

Two-way audio and video equipment was installed in the participants’ home to allow for real-time communication between the therapist and the family. Treatment sessions involving a variety of online games and other interactive activities were delivered using the VTC equipment. This type of family-based therapy in the home offers an opportunity to monitor and address problem behaviors as they occur in real-life situations.

Results showed all participants exhibited significant improvement in their OCD symptoms. Some no longer met the criteria for an OCD diagnosis.

This study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from Boston University, University of Pennsylvania, and Brown University and was supported by funding from the International OCD Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Internet-delivered therapy

Another way Comer is implementing telemedicine is with Internet-Delivered Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (I-PCIT). With this form of treatment, the therapist provides training and feedback to parents using webcams, wireless Bluetooth ear devices and video teleconferencing. Parents are trained to successfully use parent-child interaction therapy techniques. They are then remotely coached in real-time as they apply those skills to manage their children’s problem behaviors at home.

“With technology we’ve been able to see how much more powerful it can be to treat families right in their actual homes where child behaviors can be most problematic,” Comer said.

Comer and his team conducted a pilot study to measure the effectiveness of I-PCIT in collaboration with researchers from Boston University, Duke University, West Virginia University and the University of Florida. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Charles H. Hood Foundation. The findings were discussed in an article recently published in the Cognitive and Behavioral Practice Journal.

Preliminary observations show engagement and treatment response is comparable to that of traditional or in person forms of therapy. Two larger studies to further look at I-PCIT effectiveness are currently under way.

Comer calls for transformative efforts for broadening the availability of supported interventions. His work with the Mental Health Interventions and Technology Program is doing just that.

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Being A Woman With Anxiety In America

Like an estimated 18 percent of American adults, I have an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as a female, I am 60 percent more likely than my male counterparts to develop an anxiety disorder during my lifetime.

Why do I think that this is important?

I have consistently paced around my anxiety, approaching it with a sense of disgust and shame. I have wondered for years why the condition is seemingly unpredictable, and if I am simply being dramatic.

I am genetically predisposed to developing an anxiety disorder. Besides this, my anxiety seems to be purely random. I am an only child, born into a middle-class family that fits the “WASP” criteria (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) in a small town in Western Massachusetts. My parents have been extremely supportive of me, and I have never witnessed any traumatic events that would have mentally scarred me.

Now that I have learned to manage my anxiety, and as I become more socially aware of the culture that surrounds us, I wonder what role society and culture has on young women’s mental health.

It is no secret that the vision of what females are expected to be in society is a ludicrous misrepresentation. Whether we would care to admit it or not, we are subconsciously impacted by these messages of cultural expectation.

These are the images – hundreds of photo-shopped, thin women forcing radiant Chiclet-white smiles from the shabby shelves of the magazine rack, reminding us that our lives pale in comparison. I feel guilty that women are losing 60 pounds “thanks to” some mysterious fad diet, as I dig my hand into a bag of potato chips on my couch. The latest prominent feminine political figure is considered crazy and selfish.

Stories like these tell us not to be daring, not to get in the way and to feel insecure because we have every reason to be. These are issues that we accept as universal truths and cultural norms. We should dress impeccably, speak softly, be sexy – but not promiscuous – be thankful and yet fear unfamiliar men.

As a young female college student, I am afraid to walk alone at night, even around campus. When I do walk around campus during odd hours, I find myself walking uncharacteristically quickly. And in some parallel universe, had I been conceived as a male, I realize that this may not have been the case.

If the correlation between anxiety and societal expectations of females seems abstract, this only supports my argument. The amount of stress placed on females to conform to societal anticipations is logically damaging to my confidence, along with the confidence of my female friends and family members.

The fact that women are being underrepresented in every aspect of life – in media portrayal, in American politics and in historical conversation, is souring. However, what is more discouraging is our apathy towards this issue.

Given these cultural factors that cause women to become overlooked members of society, it is evident that education may be the only way to alter gender roles and mitigate the role-based stress associated with them. Sex and mental health education need to be a priority, particularly in public education. Preventing rape and sexual assault from occurring or going unreported may mean providing a required course in public schools. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, along with several other anxiety disorders, women are more likely than men to develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and this is often a result of rape or sexual assault.

Aside from providing adequate sex and mental health education, I have no definitive answer to decreasing anxiety and depression rates among women.

The initial step that must be taken in American society is to simply acknowledge that cultural norms cause some women to live in a virtually constant state of fear, depression and suppression. These mental health issues are personal, usually impossible to avoid and impact people in varied ways, regardless of gender.

On a personal level, I can admit that coping with an anxiety disorder requires developing a certain degree of familiarity with oneself. Women are often discouraged from becoming overly self-involved, but seeking assistance for one’s mental wellbeing is the only way to overcome the negative impacts of an anxiety disorder.

Though I am extremely fortunate, this does not make me any less likely to develop an anxiety disorder. In fact, my gender and heredity alone makes me more likely to have anxiety. For women suffering with anxiety and depression, it is tempting to oversimplify a disorder through self-blame and repression, especially with overwhelming cultural standards.

The acceptance of mental health disorders, particularly among women, needs to be a more embraced norm of American society.

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Cognitive Therapy Helps Overcome Insomnia During Pregnancy

For Cat Gusztak, getting enough sleep during her pregnancy once seemed a nearly insurmountable challenge.

“I would experience a lot of anxiety before bed, or wake up several times during the night and then not be able to get back to sleep,” says Gusztak, who is expecting her first child in late October.

“Initially I thought it was just due to hormones and all the physical changes taking place,” she says.

More than simply an inconvenience, insomnia during pregnancy can put women at increased risk for postpartum depression and increase the possibility their newborn will inherit similar disturbed sleep patterns.

Keeping negative thoughts about lost sleep in check

Now, a researcher with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) is studying a form of therapy to help pregnant women get the restful sleep they need.

“Cognitive behaviour therapy is the gold standard for helping people with insomnia,” says Lianne Tomfohr, PhD, who holds the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Professorship in Child Psychology. She is also an assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts, Department of Psychology.

“In our pilot study, we’re teaching women how to challenge some of the negative thinking they’ve had about sleep, and assessing how effective the approach is in a group setting.” 

For example, people with sleep difficulties often overestimate the consequences of spending a night tossing and turning, which cognitive behaviour therapy invites them to challenge.

“People tend to think the next day will be ruined but generally their performance isn’t going to suffer that much,” Tomfohr says. At the same time, women in the group learn how to maintain good “sleep hygiene,” which includes a set of habits such as avoiding coffee after noon, keeping computers and televisions out of the bedroom, and not giving in to the temptation to nap during the day.

Although there are sedatives available that are safe for pregnant women to take, many women prefer to try a non-pharmaceutical solution first, Tomfohr says.

About half of pregnant women experience some difficulties sleeping during pregnancy, which tends to worsen during the latter stages of pregnancy. By comparison, about 10 to 15 per cent of the general population struggles with insomnia.

Higher risk of postpartum depression

The risk of developing postpartum depression is significantly higher for women with insomnia during pregnancy. Postpartum depression is a type of major depression that can include symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, irritability and losing interest in things that used to bring joy. It can greatly complicate the task of looking after a baby.

Aside from the increased risk of postpartum depression, Tomfohr says women with insomnia also risk a labour that starts earlier, lasts longer and is more painful.

During the seven-week study, participants first complete a series of questionnaires and have their sleep assessed by wearing a wristwatch-like device that estimates sleep activity. In the next five weeks they participate in a once-weekly group therapy session.

Gusztak, one of the early participants in the study, says she’s been amazed by how much her sleep has improved.

“I was actually shocked at how much my sleep improved. For me a big thing was using electronics in bed. I would wake up and check my phone and sometimes stay in bed for a couple of hours in the morning after I woke up. But now I feel much more rested – and I’m not as irritable,” she says.

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Muscling Out Depression

Depression is a heterogeneous mood disorder. Associated features include increases in the neurotransmitter glutamate and the metabolite kynurenine, both of which can be caused by stress and lead to neuron damage.

Physical exercise is therapeutic for many people suffering from depression or stress. Skeletal muscle activity during endurance-type exercise activates peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)-γ coactivator 1-α1 (PGC1-α1).

Agudelo et al. investigated the molecular mechanism underlying the antidepressive effects of exercise. Compared with wild-type mice or an unstressed cohort, mice with skeletal muscle-specific overexpression of PGC1-α1 (mck-PGC1-α1 mice) exposed to chronic mild stress were less likely to show depression-like behavior and abnormal abundance of synaptic proteins.

Less of the stress-related corticotrophin-releasing hormone was produced in the hypothalamus of mck-PGC1-α1 mice than in wild-type mice exposed to chronic mild stress, and only in stressed wild-type mice did the hypothalamus have increased amounts of proinflammatory cytokines and markers of macrophage and microglia activity.

Tissue microarray and serum analysis of unstressed or stressed wild-type or mck-PGC1-α1 mice showed that only stressed wild-type mice had increased abundance of rate-limiting enzymes of the kynurenine pathway in skeletal muscle, kynurenine in plasma, and kynurenine metabolites in the brain.

In contrast, only stressed mck-PGC1-α1 mice had increased abundance of kynurenine acetyltransferase (KAT) in skeletal muscle and plasma.

KAT catalyzes the conversion of kynurenine to kynurenic acid, which unlike kynurenine, cannot transverse the blood-brain barrier.

Myotubes overexpressing PGC1-α1 had increased abundance of KAT transcripts. The genomic regions around the KAT1, KAT3, and KAT4 loci are enriched in binding elements for the PGC1-α1 transcriptional partners PPAR-α and PPAR-δ; chromatin immunoprecipitation showed increased binding of PPAR-α/δ and PGC1-α1 to regions upstream of the KAT transcription start sites in mck-PGC1-α1 mice.

Compared to wild-type mice or an unstressed cohort, respectively, the abundance of PPAR-α and PPAR-δ was increased in mck-PGC1-α1 mice and further increased in mck-PGC1-α1 mice exposed to chronic mild stress. Agonists of PPAR-α or PPAR-δ increased the abundance of KATs 1 and 3 in myotubes in a PGC1-α1-dependent manner.

Compared with inactive mice, wild-type mice that underwent a free wheel running exercise program for 8 weeks had increased expression of KATs in skeletal muscle and increased abundance of plasma kynurenic acid, both characteristics also present in nonexercised mck-PGC1-α1 mice.

Biopsies from the thigh muscle in humans before and after a 3-week exercise program showed that exercise induced the expression of the genes encoding PPAR-α and δ, PGC1-α1, and KATs 1-4.

The findings reveal a mechanism by which exercise helps animals cope with stress.

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Battling Anxiety And Panic Attacks

On average, about 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is particularly prevalent.

“Anxiety and panic attacks that meet criteria for a diagnosis comprise about 20 percent of the students we see,” said Dr. Glenn Goldberg, director of counseling for the Flagler College Counseling Center. “However, many more have levels of anxiety and worry, that while significant, don’t meet diagnostic criteria for one of the anxiety diagnoses.”

The everyday stresses of being a college student can become overwhelming. Goldberg estimates about 100 students per year go to get help on dealing with anxiety and panic attacks – but many more don’t seek help.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only about a third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder get treatment, even though it is available. Many students think they can handle stress on their own, not realizing that it’s no longer just a little stress, but a diagnosable problem.

Goldberg describes the physical symptoms of having panic attacks as rapid heart-rate, sweating and difficulty with breathing. The emotional symptoms can, however, be more intense and include uncontrollable anxiety or fearfulness, thoughts of dying, humiliation and embarrassment (e.g., from passing out). Sometimes, people can experience a panic attack without realizing it.

College students can easily get overwhelmed from the piling on of everyday stress. Worse yet, they can feel like they are the only one going through it. Most students who do not regularly have bad anxiety or suffer from panic attacks fail to realize what it feels like for someone who has them.

Millennials are known for multitasking, mainly because of virtually unlimited access to digital technology and smartphones. This can attribute for added stress on college students, which can lead to anxiety and panic attack disorder. According to Goldberg, some helpful tips to alleviate and manage college stress include:

Tip 1. Prevent avoidable stress.  Plan and manage time based on clear priorities. Don’t put yourself in situations that will create problems or unnecessary drama.

Tip 2. Develop and make use of supportive social groups, friends and family, particularly ones you can spend positive recreational time with.

Tip 3. Get proper exercise, sleep and nutrition, and don’t compromise your body and mind with excessive substance use.

Tip 4. Manage your thinking.  Keep things in perspective, especially if you start to blow things out of proportion.  Keep in mind that developing new skills and learning complex concepts can be hard, and sometimes can be hard for growth.  Be consciously appreciative of what is easy to take for granted.  See the humor when possible.

Tip 5. Learn some form of relaxation training for your mind, body and spirit (e.g. meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, relaxation breathing).

Tip 6. Seek a balance when possible between work, relaxation and recreation.  Participate in things you enjoy, including non-frantic down time.

Tip 7. Seek out assistance before a challenge goes from stress to distress.

Tip 8. If you have time, give back and “pay it forward.”

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Evidence That Violent Media Increase Child Aggression

Majorities of media researchers, parents and pediatricians agree that exposure to violent media can increase aggression in children, according to a new national study.

The study found that 66 percent of researchers, 67 percent of parents and 90 percent of pediatricians agree or strongly agree that violent video games can increase aggressive behavior among children.

Majorities of these groups also believed that children’s aggressive behavior can be fueled by viewing violent video games, movies, TV programs, and Internet sites. However, fewer than half agreed that violent comic books or literature would have such harmful effects on children.

“Some people claim there is no consensus about whether violent media can increase aggression in children, but this study shows that there is consensus,” said Brad Bushman, lead author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

“As in most areas of research, there is not complete agreement. But we found the overwhelming majority of media researchers, parents and pediatricians agree that violent media is harmful to children.”

Bushman conducted the study with Carlos Cruz, a doctoral student at Ohio State, and Mario Gollwitzer, a professor at Philipps University Marburg in Germany. Their study appears online in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Bushman noted that while 66 percent of researchers agreed or strongly agreed that violent video games increased aggression, only 17 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed. The remaining 17 percent were undecided.

“That means that among researchers who have an opinion, eight out of 10 agree that violent games increase aggression,” Bushman said. “That’s hardly a controversy.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed 371 media psychologists and communication scientists from three professional organizations; 92 members of the Council on Communication and Media of the American Academy of Pediatrics; and a nationally representative sample of 268 American parents.

In addition to the other findings, the study revealed that majorities of researchers, pediatricians and parents agreed that there is a causal relationship between exposure to violent media and aggressive behavior.

There was considerable disagreement among the three groups as to whether media violence was a major factor in real-life violence. That finding is not surprising, Bushman said, but it underscores one of the important implications of this study.

“With the general consensus about the harmful effects of media violence, it may seem surprising that some people still question the effects of violent media on aggression,” Bushman said. “One important reason is that people don’t distinguish between aggression and violence.”

Violent acts are rare, he said, and are caused by many factors acting together.

“You cannot predict a shooting rampage just based on exposure to violent media or any other single factor,” Bushman said.

But the evidence is clear, he said, that exposure to violent media can predict less-serious forms of aggression.

Bushman said other forces driving the continued public debate on violent media effects include: journalists reporting violent media research in a way that increases uncertainty; media industries having a vested interest in keeping the public uncertain about the link between violent media and aggression; the motivation of violent media consumers to deny they are affected; and a few media researchers who repeatedly claim that violent media do not increase aggression.

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Mixed Brain Signals In Depression Point Toward New Treatment Strategies

The balance of two neurotransmitters released by the same neurons may tilt a brain toward or away from depression, reports a study in Science published September 19th. The study, which included the work of 2013 Foundation NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee Christophe Proulx, Ph.D., of the University of California at San Diego, focuses on a brain region called the lateral habenula (LHb), which has been implicated in depression. In animal models of depression, too much activity in the LHb has been associated with depression-like behavior.

To explore ways to dampen LHb activity, the researchers looked to the neurons sending signals to it, and found something unusual: some neurons were releasing not just one but both of the two major neurotransmitters—glutamate, which excites neurons on the receiving end of the message, and GABA, which inhibits them. This had only previously been found in a small fraction of the billions of neurons in the brain.

Dr. Proulx and colleagues determined this by examining the tiny terminals at which one neuron connects with another. GABA and glutamate molecules resided in the same vesicles, which are then released onto the receiving neuron. This co-release produced mixed signals in the LHb neurons.

The relative balance of GABA and glutamate signals in these terminals might sway mood. For example, the researchers found that the antidepressant citalopram promoted the GABA signal over the glutamate one. And in rats bred to show depression-like behavior, the GABA signal was weaker. This suggests that controlling the relative amounts of GABA and glutamate released by these unusual inputs could influence LHb activity, and potentially mood.

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BMC Study: Treat Patients With Addiction During, After Hospitalization

The results of a new study demonstrate that starting hospitalized patients who have an opioid (heroin) addiction on buprenorphine treatment in the hospital and seamlessly connecting them with an outpatient office based treatment program can greatly reduce whether they relapse after they are discharged.

Led by researchers at Boston Medical Center (BMC), the study shows the important role that providers play in offering these patients addiction treatment both while in the hospital and after – even if their primary reason for being in the hospital is not for their addiction.

In this study, 139 hospitalized individuals with opioid addiction who were not already in treatment were randomized into two groups. One group received a tapered dose treatment of buprenorphine for withdrawal and referral information about community treatment programs and the other were initiated on buprenorphine, an opioid substitute proven to treat opioid addiction, along with referral to a primary care office-based buprenorphine treatment program. Buprenorphine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002 for the treatment of opioid addiction, is taken orally and helps to curb opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Of those in the buprenorphine maintenance group, more than one third (37 percent) reported no illicit opioid/drug use for the month after they left the hospital compared to less than one in ten (nine percent) among the control group. These patients also reported, on average, fewer days of illicit drug use and continued to use less over the following six months. This effect was evident despite the fact that these patients did not initially come to the hospital seeking treatment for their addiction.

"Unfortunately, referral to substance abuse treatment after discharge is often a secondary concern of physicians caring for hospitalized patients," said Jane Liebschutz, MD, MPH, a physician in general internal medicine at BMC and associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, who served as the study's corresponding author. "However, our results show that we can have a marked impact on patient's addiction by addressing it during their hospitalization."

This study, which is published in JAMA Internal Medicine, was done in collaboration with Butler Hospital in Rhode Island. Funding for this study was provided in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Autism Brain-Study Underway At WVU

The Center for Disease Control reports that one in 68 children in the U.S. will have autism. That number jumps to 1 in 42 if we’re just talking about boys. And the risk increases if you already a have a child with autism. In West Virginia, new research is underway to try to get at how the autistic mind ticks.

Paula Webster is a neuroscience graduate who works in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the Center for Neuroscience at West Virginia University.

While a psychology major at Wheeling Jesuit University, Webster discovered her three-year-old son was on the Autism Spectrum. She became a therapist who practiced applied behavioral analysis (ABA). But Webster wants to know more than how to intervene after diagnosis.

This is the first biomedical research into autism at the university. The study hopes to incorporate subjects in a wide range of ages—children through adults.

Webster works with Assistant Professor at WVU James Lewis, a neuroscientist. They taking and studying images of the brains of people with and without autism performing certain tasks.

The research isn’t just focused on what parts of the brain kids and adults with autism use, but also how they process information. It’s clear, said Webster, that there are many with autism who compensate to accomplish tasks. She hopes that by imaging high-functioning individuals with autism she may be able to start to characterize some of the methods of compensation they’re using.

Webster speculates it may be those mechanisms that allow them to be high-functioning.

“I think we can get at trying to characterize some of those compensatory mechanisms a little bit better,” Webster said, “and correlate those with sub-scores of autism scores to try to get some sub-types of autism.”

Webster hopes the research will go towards influencing the various therapies that exist as well as possibly providing a way to diagnose autism earlier, which in and of itself would be a powerful tool to help abate the condition.

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Did You Know?

New studies find that chronic pain and phobic anxiety are linked with shorter telomeres

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