Older adults’ abstract reasoning ability predicts depressive symptoms over time

Age-related declines in abstract reasoning ability predict increasing depressive symptoms in subsequent years, according to data from a longitudinal study of older adults in Scotland. The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Mental health in later life is a topic of increasing importance given aging populations worldwide,” says researcher Stephen Aichele of the University of Geneva. “Our findings suggest that monitoring for cognitive decrements in later adulthood may expedite efforts to reduce associated increases in depression risk.”

Many adults will experience some degree of cognitive decline in the latter decades of life. Research has also shown that cognitive impairments and depression are correlated in older adults — generally, as cognitive abilities decline, depressive symptoms increase. Yet, researchers have not been able to conclusively determine the direction of causation. That is, does cognitive decline lead to depression, does depression lead to cognitive decline, or do the phenomena mutually reinforce each other?

Full story at Science Daily

Diversity Training Programs Nurture Research Career

“It had never occurred to me to do a Ph.D. It’s nothing I’d ever thought of. I didn’t know anyone who’s done a science Ph.D.,” noted Frances Johnson just weeks before matriculating in a neuroscience doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh. She was just completing a summer stint as a trainee in a neuroscience lab at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Intramural Research Program on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.

A U.S. Army veteran and math major at Western Connecticut State University –  who at times paid the bills working as a substitute teacher – Johnson says her interest in understanding the brain was sparked by curiosity about the origins of a friend’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

“What caused something like that?” she asked herself. “I think everybody has this kind of curiosity. We have people in our lives, we have family members – especially around mental health.”

Full story at NIMH

Should Childhood Trauma Be Treated As A Public Health Crisis?

When public health officials get wind of an outbreak of Hepatitis A or influenza, they spring into action with public awareness campaigns, monitoring and outreach. But should they be acting with equal urgency when it comes to childhood trauma?

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests the answer should be yes. It shows how the effects of childhood trauma persist and are linked to mental illness and addiction in adulthood. And, researchers say, it suggests that it might be more effective to approach trauma as a public health crisis than to limit treatment to individuals.

The study drew on the experiences of participants from the Great Smoky Mountains Study, which followed 1,420 children from mostly rural parts of western North Carolina, over a period of 22 years. They were interviewed annually during their childhood, then four additional times during adulthood.

Full story at NPR

Chronic pot use may have serious effects on the brain, experts say

As marijuana legalization builds momentum across the United States — with Michigan becoming the latest state to allow recreational use by adults — researchers are warning that more studies are needed on the long-term effects of chronic pot smoking on the human brain.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, but little is known about its effect on health or how addictive it is.

According to a 2017 poll conducted by Marist College and Yahoo News, more than half of American adults have tried marijuana at least once in their lives, and nearly 55 million of them, or 22 percent, say they use it currently. Close to 35 million are what the survey calls “regular users,” people who say they use marijuana at least once or twice a month.

Full story at NBC News

NIMH Explores the “Next Big Thing” in Mental Health Services Research

What’s the “next big thing” that could help people with mental illnesses get the treatment and services they need? This important question was the theme of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)’s 24th biennial Mental Health Services Research (MHSR 2018) conference held August 1-2, in Rockville, MD.

“This conference brings together mental health researchers and other experts, trainees, consumers, advocates, and mental health care providers to learn about current research findings and discuss new research that might close the gap between what science shows is most effective and what services people actually receive in real-world settings,” explained Michael Freed, Ph.D., EMT-B., a conference co-chair. “We are thrilled that this year the conference had more presentation proposals, more sessions, and more attendees than ever before. There is clearly a lot of interest in this research.”

Health services research is a multidisciplinary scientific field that examines how to improve people’s access to health care providers and services; how to improve the quality, continuity, and equity of the care they receive; how to most efficiently pay for needed health care; and ultimately, how to improve the symptoms and functioning of people with health conditions. The research considers individual and provider preferences and behavior, innovations in technology, and community, organizational, and systems-level factors to understand how to implement effective practices in care-delivery settings.

Full story at NIMH

NIH Directors Address Chronic Pain and Opioid Crisis at Annual Society for Neuroscience Meeting

What: On Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at a press conference at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual Meeting, National Institutes of Health (NIH) directors will discuss how NIH is marshalling resources, primarily through the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative, to come up with short- and long-term solutions for countering the pain and opioid crisis.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that 50 million adults in the U.S. suffered chronic pain. Meanwhile, the CDC has also estimated that every day an average of 115 people die after overdosing on opioids. Last year, NIH director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Nora Volkow, M.D., director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, called for an “all scientific hands on deck” response. In April, NIH nearly doubled its fiscal year 2016 funding for pain and opioid misuse and addiction research to $1.1 billion for fiscal year 2018 by launching the HEAL Initiative, an aggressive, trans-agency effort to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis. More specifically, the HEAL Initiative will fund institutions that are either searching for new ways to prevent misuse and treat addiction and overdose or developing novel, non-addictive alternatives, such as biologics and devices for managing pain.

Full story at NIMH

NIH BRAIN Initiative Debuts Cell Census of Mouse Motor Cortex – for Starters

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have reached a milestone in their quest to catalog the brain’s “parts list.” The NIH BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) has issued its first data release. Posted on a public web portal for researchers, it profiles molecular identities of more than 1.3 million mouse brain cells and anatomical data from 300 mouse brains – among the largest such characterizations to date.

BICCN research teams focused initially on a key area of the mouse motor cortex, an area of the brain that controls movement, as a first major step in the 5-year effort. Initiated in 2017, the BICCN projects aim to build comprehensive, three-dimensional common reference brain atlases that will ultimately integrate molecular, anatomical and functional data on cell types in mouse, human and non-human primate brains. To expedite scientific impact, they are making their data immediately available to the research community via the web portal.

Full story at NIMH

Mental health conditions on the rise among US students

As more and more people discuss mental health issues in public forums, it seems to be lifting some of the stigma surrounding the topic. New research reveals that the number of students seeking help for mental health problems has risen considerably between 2009 and 2015.

Sara Oswalt, from the University of Texas at San Antonio, is the lead author of the new study, which was published in the Journal of American College Health.

According to estimates that the scientists cite, around 26 percent of people aged 18 and above in the United States live with a mental health condition in any given year.

Full story at Medical News Today

Why do we stay in relationships that make us unhappy?

At some point in our lives, we may find ourselves in a romantic relationship that makes us unhappy, yet we still choose to stick it out. Why persist in a joyless romance when we could simply break up? A new study has found a surprising answer.

Unfortunately, happy romantic relationships are very familiar and often the focus of books, movies, and agony aunt columns.

But why do people find it so difficult to break free of situations that they are less than enthusiastic about?

One intuitive answer may be that the relationship becomes the person’s “normal,” something that they are used to and may be afraid to trade for the unknown of singlehood.

Full story at Medical News Today

Understanding the Brain Mechanisms of Irritability in Youth

In an NIMH-funded study, researchers have identified differences in how the brains of irritable youth react to frustration. The findings, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, could provide new paths for developing treatments for children and adolescents with severe irritability.

Whether it’s having to wake up earlier than usual or being asked to turn off a favorite TV show, all children can become irritable sometimes. However, some children are more irritable than others, with an increased tendency to experience anger and frustration in comparison with their peers. Children who have severe, chronic irritability can experience significant problems including at home, at school, and with peers. They also tend to have high rates of health care service use, hospitalization, and school suspension and are more likely to develop anxiety and depressive disorders.

Full story at NIMH