Mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms in healthy children are linked with cerebral changes

A new study carried out by the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal), a centre supported by “la Caixa” Foundation, associates for the first time mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms, which are present in a much higher percentage of cases than those that require specialized medical and psychological attention, to characteristics and specific alterations of the cerebral anatomy. The work, recently published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, provides a new perspective regarding prevention strategies for long-term mental health disorders.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a serious mental disorder that affects between 1% and 2% of the population. On the other hand, mild obsessive-compulsive symptoms are much more frequent, and may be present in up to 30% of the population. These symptoms include, for example, recurrent thoughts about the possibility of catching any disease after being in contact with objects located in public spaces, fear of having inadvertently carried out some potentially dangerous behavior (such as leaving the door open when leaving home), or the need to place the objects of house or the workspace in perfect order and symmetry.

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Picking up the phone to improve mental health in seniors

As Baby Boomers age, meeting their health needs — including mental health care — will become more and more challenging.

A new study, published Aug. 5 in JAMA Psychiatry, shows that therapy provided via telephone for older adults in rural areas is effective in treating anxiety disorder and may help people in parts of the country that are underserved by mental health providers.

In an accompanying editorial, geriatric psychiatrist Eric J. Lenze, MD, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, wrote that the health-care system lacks the capacity to help the growing elderly population — in which one in five individuals has a mental disorder — and that relying too heavily on sedative medications isn’t the answer.

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Brain abnormalities in people with schizophrenia identified

Structural brain abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia, providing insight into how the condition may develop and respond to treatment, have been identified in an internationally collaborative study led by a Georgia State University scientist.

Scientists at more than a dozen locations across the United States and Europe analyzed brain MRI scans from 2,028 schizophrenia patients and 2,540 healthy controls, assessed with standardized methods at 15 centers worldwide. The findings, published in Molecular Psychiatry, help further the understanding of the mental disorder.

The work was the outcome of the Enhancing Neuroimaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis project (ENIGMA), from the Schizophrenia Working Group that is co-chaired by Jessica Turner, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgia State, and Theo van Erp, assistant research professor in psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine.

Full story of brain abnormalities and schizophrenia at Science Daily

Are your emotional responses normal or abnormal?

We all feel emotion, we all get upset, can feel low, angry and overjoyed, but when do these emotional responses become something of a medical concern? When are these feelings inappropriate, too intense, or lasting too long? When is the emotional state you are in classed as depression? In light of the 5th revision of the influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- 5), where a person can now be diagnosed as undergoing a “major depressive episode” if showing depressive symptoms for more than two weeks after bereavement, leading researchers in a special section of the SAGE journal Emotion Review argue that we need to take a different approach to diagnosis and that how we define “normal” emotion should be used to inform clinical practice.

The DSM- 5 specifies that the clinician should exert judgment when diagnosing depression after bereavement but the continuum between what emotional state is normal and what is abnormal makes the process difficult, especially in the absence of agreed upon criteria. “Over the millennia scientists from many different disciplines have struggled with the issue of defining what is normal and what is abnormal or pathological with respect to human bodily or mental states and human behaviour,” Klaus Scherer and Marc Mehu of the Swiss Center of Affective Sciences commented. They added:

“Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are often called upon to reliably distinguish between normal and abnormal emotions. Increasingly this is done with the help of diagnostic category systems developed by professional associations and health organizations like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM). In consequence, the definition of abnormal emotionality proposed by these classification systems has an extraordinary impact on the diagnosis and treatment of what is perceived as emotional disorders or disturbances.”

Full story of normal or abnormal emotional responses at Science Daily

Mental disorders due to permanent stress?

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the research group headed by Prof Dr Georg Juckel at the LWL university clinic at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB). The RUB’s science magazine “RUBIN” reports on their research.

Stress activates the immune system

The team focused mainly on a certain type of phagocytes, namely microglia. Under normal circumstances, they repair synapses between nerves cells in the brain and stimulate their growth. Once activated, however, microglia may damage nerve cells and trigger inflammation processes. The studies carried out in Bochum have shown that the more frequently microglia get triggered due to stress, the more they are inclined to remain in the destructive mode — a risk factor for mental diseases such as schizophrenia.

Full story of mental disorders due to stress at Science Daily

One in three people with cancer has anxiety or other mental health challenges

Researchers in Germany report that nearly a third of more than 2,100 patients with cancer interviewed at inpatient and outpatient care centers experienced a clinically meaningful level of mental or emotional distress that meets the strict diagnostic criteria for mental disorders including anxiety, depressive and adjustment disorders during the prior four weeks. The prevalence of these issues varied by cancer type. The highest prevalence was found among patients with breast cancer (42%) and head and neck cancer (41%), followed by malignant melanoma (39%). The lowest prevalence was seen among patients with prostate cancer (22%), stomach cancers (21%), and pancreatic cancer (20%). The study — the largest to date assessing the mental and emotional health of patients with cancer using a fully standardized, diagnostic face-to-face interview — is published in the October 6 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“These findings reinforce that, as doctors, we need to be very aware of signs and symptoms of mental and emotional distress. We must encourage patients to seek evaluation, support, and treatment if necessary as there are long-term risks often associated with more severe, untreated mental health disorders. This research also sheds light on which patients we should watch more closely,” said lead study author Anja Mehnert, PhD, a professor of psychosocial oncology at the University of Leipzig in Germany. “We also want to reassure patients who are struggling that they are not alone or unique, and that these mental and emotional challenges can be temporary, especially with effective psychological support or state-of-the-art mental health treatment.”

Full story of cancer patients and anxiety at Science Daily