SCREENS MIGHT BE AS BAD FOR MENTAL HEALTH AS … POTATOES

PSYCHOLOGISTS CAN’T SEEM to agree on what technology is doing to our sense of well-being. Some say digital devices have become a bane of modern life; others claim they’re a balm for it. Between them lies a shadowy landscape of non-consensus: As the director the National Institutes of Health recently told Congress, research into technology’s effects on our thoughts, behaviors, and development has produced limited—and often contradictory—findings.

As if that uncertainty weren’t vexing enough, many of those findings have sprung from the same source: Giant data sets that compile survey data from thousands or even millions of participants. “The problem is, two researchers can look at the same data and come away with completely different findings and prescriptions for society,” says psychologist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Technological optimists tend to find positive correlations. If they’re pessimists, they tend to find negative ones.”

Full story at Wired

Have researchers found a new risk factor for schizophrenia?

Scientists have located an intriguing link between schizophrenia and the Epstein-Barr virus, a type of herpes virus. Now, they need to determine which way the risk lies.

Schizophrenia, a condition characterized by a confused perception of reality, delusions, and altered behavior, affects more than 21 million people globally.

In a new study, specialists from Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Townson, MD, found evidence that links schizophrenia with the Epstein-Barr virus.

This is a herpes virus that causes infectious mononucleosis, or glandular fever.

Full story at Medical News Today

To Get Mental Health Help For A Child, Desperate Parents Relinquish Custody

When Toni and Jim Hoy adopted their son Daniel through the foster care system, he was an affectionate toddler. They did not plan to give him back to the state of Illinois, ever.

“Danny was this cute, lovable little blond-haired, blue-eyed baby,” Jim says.

Toni recalls times Daniel would reach over, put his hands on her face and squish her cheeks. “And he would go, ‘You pretty, Mom,’ ” Toni says. “Oh my gosh, he just melted my heart when he would say these very loving, endearing things to me.”

But as Daniel grew older, he changed. He began to show signs of serious mental illness that eventually manifested in violent outbursts and nearly a dozen psychiatric hospitalizations, starting at age 10. Doctors said he needed intensive, specialized care away from home — institutional services that cost at least $100,000 a year.

Full story at npr.org

Brains of people with schizophrenia-related disorders aren’t all the same

A new multi-site brain imaging study in The American Journal of Psychiatry shows that sub-groups of people use their brains differently when imitating emotional faces — a task that reflects their ability to interact socially. Interestingly, individuals with schizophrenia do not have categorically different social brain function than those without mental illness, but fall into different sub-groups that may respond to different types of treatments. These findings call into question the most common research approaches in mental health.

“We know that, on average, people with schizophrenia have more social impairment than people in the general population,” says senior author Dr. Aristotle Voineskos in the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. “But we needed to take an agnostic approach and let the data tell us what the brain-behavioural profiles of our study participants looked like. It turned out that the relationship between brain function and social behaviour had nothing to do with conventional diagnostic categories in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).”

Full story at Science Daily

Through my eyes: Addiction and recovery

Growing up, I had the picture-perfect family. I lived in a beautiful home in the suburbs of Detroit with my parents and younger brother. I had every opportunity in the world, attended private schools, and even made it onto the honor roll. I was involved in dance, theater, and many of the school sports teams.

Beneath the surface, however, I always felt a lot of pressure to be perfect.

I was the first of 12 grandchildren, and this led to me feeling that I had to be the best at everything I did, which gave me terrible anxiety from the early age of 5.

Full story at Medical News Today

Post-natal depression in dads linked to depression in their teenage daughters

Fathers as well as mothers can experience post-natal depression — and it is linked to emotional problems for their teenage daughters, new research has found.

Almost one in 20 new fathers suffered depression in the weeks after their child was born, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry and co-authored by Professor Paul Ramchandani of the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.

The research, based on a sample of more than 3,000 families in Bristol, UK, also identified a link between post-natal depression in men and depression in their daughters as they reached adulthood.

At 18, girls whose fathers had experienced depression after their birth were themselves at greater risk of the condition, researchers found. The “small but significant” increased risk applied only to daughters; sons were not affected.

Full story at Science Daily

2,000 Human Brains Yield Clues to How Genes Raise Risk for Mental Illnesses

It’s one thing to detect sites in the genome associated with mental disorders; it’s quite another to discover the biological mechanisms by which these changes in DNA work in the human brain to boost risk. In their first concerted effort to tackle the latter, 15 collaborating research teams of the National Institutes of Health- (NIH-) funded PsychENCODE Consortium leveraged statistical power gained from a large sample of about 2000 postmortem human brains.

The teams published their findings in seven research articles, spotlighted on the cover of a “psychiatric genomics” special issue of Science – along with two in Translational Medicine and one in Science Advances – on December 14, 2018. In addition, the Consortium is sharing their data with the research community via the online PsychENCODE Knowledge Portal.

Applying newly uncovered secrets of the brain’s molecular architecture, they developed an artificial intelligence model that’s six times better than previous ones at predicting risk for mental disorders. They also pinpointed several hundred previously unknown risk genes for mental illnesses and linked many known risk variants to specific genes.

Full story at NIMH

What are the health benefits of 5-HTP?

L-5 hydroxytryptophan is a natural chemical in the body that people can also take as a nutritional supplement. Some people believe that taking the supplement can improve certain aspects of health, including mental health and sleep quality.

The compound is a natural precursor to a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which helps produce “feel-good” chemicals in the brain and body.

However, there is little significant research to prove that L-5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) can offer such benefits.

Full story at Medical News Today

How teens deal with stress may affect their blood pressure, immune system

Most teens get stressed out by their families from time to time, but whether they bottle those emotions up or put a positive spin on things may affect certain processes in the body, including blood pressure and how immune cells respond to bacterial invaders, according to Penn State researchers.

The researchers explored whether the strategies adolescents used to deal with chronic family stress affected various metabolic and immune processes in the body. Strategies could include cognitive reappraisal — trying to think of the stressor in a more positive way — and suppression, or inhibiting the expression of emotions in reaction to a stressor.

The team found that when faced with greater chronic family stress, teens who used cognitive reappraisal had better metabolic measures, like blood pressure and waist-to-hip ratio. Teens who were more likely to use suppression tended to have more inflammation when their immune cells were exposed to a bacterial stimulus in the lab, even in the presence of anti-inflammatory signals.

Full story at Science Daily

Dynamic Associations Among Motor Activity, Sleep, Energy, and Mood Could Suggest New Focus for Depression Treatment

Current theories of depression suggest that sleep problems, low energy, and low activity levels result from depressed mood, but a new study looking at interactions among these factors in people with bipolar disorder or depression suggests that the opposite may be true—that instability in activity and sleep systems could lead to mood changes. The findings, published online December 12 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, suggest new targets for depression treatment.

Previous research has shown the interrelated nature of many of the homeostatic systems of the body. For example, the regulation of motor activity has been found to be linked with other systems, such as those regulating sleep, activity, and emotional states. While dysregulation in these systems is often seen in people with mental disorders, it can be challenging for researchers to examine both the interrelationships between multiple systems and their directional influences using traditional clinical assessments based on retrospective recall.

Full story at NIMH