Category: Mental health

Body Maps Reveal The Range Of Sensations And Feelings Experienced During Hallucinations

By Emma L. Barratt

Most research into hallucinations focuses on unimodal hallucinations — hallucinatory experiences that only affect one sensory modality, such as hearing or touch. But for decades there has been evidence that multimodal hallucinations (which affect more than one sense at once) may be quite common. One of the main challenges in investigating them, however, has been capturing and communicating the wide array of features that comprise multimodal experiences.

However, thanks to new research in EClinicalMedicine from Katie Melvin and colleagues at the University of Leicester, this may be about to change. To improve our understanding of the feelings and sensations associated with hallucinations, the team gathered a group of participants to create what they dubbed MUSE maps — visual and written representations of what hallucinations feel like throughout (and around) the body. Not only do their findings suggest that most hallucinations seem to have emotional and multisensory components, but their new method offers a more intuitive way to communicate and understand hallucinatory experiences.

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Early Symptoms Of Psychosis Can Identify Particularly At-Risk Individuals

By Emma Young

The number of people referred in the UK to mental health services for a suspected first ever episode of psychosis rose by nearly a third between April 2019 and April 2021. The stresses of COVID-19 have been blamed. Ideally, these people would have been identified as being at-risk before they first experienced the hallucinations and/or delusions that characterise the condition. That’s because early treatment can work to delay or even prevent a first episode from occurring.

Research has revealed a suite of symptoms that can occur in this preceding period. These include odd or eccentric behaviours and ideas, unusual perceptual experiences, and suspiciousness — as well as hallucinations and delusions, but not at the level required for a diagnosis of psychosis. Non-psychotic early symptoms have been identified, too, such as anxiety, self-harm, sleep disturbance, depression and memory problems. Now a new paper in Psychological Medicine reveals which early symptoms, exactly, are associated with a faster than average progression to a first episode of psychosis — and also more symptoms later — and which are not.

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Massive Study Finds No Link Between Time Spent Playing Video Games And Wellbeing

By Emma L. Barratt

Video games are perhaps one of the most politicised forms of entertainment media out there. In the decades since they were first created, governments, politicians, health bodies and beyond have voiced concerns that the amount of time some players spend in these virtual worlds could be detrimental to their mental health.

Despite all this concern, there’s been a lack of high-quality research into the effect of video games on player wellbeing. To remedy this situation, Matti Vuorre and colleagues at the University of Oxford, in collaboration with several large game publishers such as Nintendo and Square Enix, conducted an ambitious longitudinal study. These fears, they conclude in their recent preprint on PsyArXiv, are unfounded.

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Young People Around The World Report High Levels Of Climate Anxiety

By Emma L. Barratt

In the past few years, the effects of climate change have become undeniably apparent. In the last two years alone, headlines have been full of climate disasters — from forest fire smoke turning San Francisco’s sky luminous red, to torrential flooding in Germany and China.

In the face of events like this, anxiety and fear about climate change is undoubtedly increasing. Far from being indicative of mental illness, climate anxiety (also known as eco-anxiety or climate distress) more neatly fits under the banner of “practical anxiety”: fear that motivates change to help us respond to threats. Even though this in itself is useful, the experiences of fear can be unrelenting, and have serious consequences for mental health and functioning.

Young people are more at risk than those from older generations; an uncertain and dangerous climate situation poses the most risk to their futures, after all.

It’s with this in mind that Caroline Hickman and colleagues at the University of Bath set out to investigate the extent of young people’s feelings and thoughts on climate change, and the functional impact associated with them. In their global study, posted as a preprint at SSRN, they look how the threats of climate change, as well as government response to these threats, affect the emotions and day to day functioning of young people.

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Ruminating About Symptoms Can Maintain Distress In Those With OCD

By Emily Reynolds

Rumination is a key feature of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. According to the charity OCD UK, rumination is a “train of prolonged thinking about a question or theme that is undirected and unproductive” — worrying incessantly about a particular issue or question, in other words. Those with OCD may also ruminate on their symptoms themselves: rather than just dwelling on their fears of harming someone or on existential worries, for example, they will also worry about having these thoughts in the first place.

It’s this rumination about symptoms that a team of researchers explore in a new study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. They find that this kind of rumination can prolong depression in those with OCD, suggesting interventions focusing on ruminative patterns could be one way of addressing the distress of such experiences.

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Study Explores Personalities Of People With Adult Separation Anxiety, A “Neglected Clinical Syndrome”

By Emma Young

Most parents will be very familiar with the concept of separation anxiety. It’s hardly rare for babies and toddlers to become anxious when separated from a parent. But I have to confess, I hadn’t heard of Adult Separation Anxiety (ASA) until I came across this new paper in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. For adults, it can manifest as extreme distress at being separated from a partner, or another loved one — even a pet. And it’s thought that 7% of people suffer from it at some point in their lifetimes.

Partly because ASA has been so neglected by researchers, Megan Finsaas at Columbia University and Daniel Klein at Stony Brook University set out to better understand it — and specifically, to explore links with aspects of personality.

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“Drinking To Cope” Doesn’t Work, Even When We Believe That It Does

By Emma Young

Have you ever felt a little anxious or low, and decided that a beer or a glass of wine would help? If so, you’re hardly alone. This exact thought process must play across the country every night of the week. There’s been surprisingly little solid research, though, into whether alcohol does actually relieve these negative feelings. Now new work led by Andrea M Wycoff at the University of Missouri-Columbia, US, concludes that in fact, it does not — and that people who “drink to cope” can even make their symptoms worse.

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If You Want To Enjoy Leisure Time, Don’t Think Of It As Wasteful

By Emily Reynolds

However you like to take time for yourself, from reading to hiking to playing video games, leisure time can be a vital way of relaxing, promoting good mental and physical health, boosting social relationships, and inducing happiness. But whether we fully experience those benefits, a new study suggests, may depend on the way we view leisure time itself.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, explores how the enjoyment of leisure time changes when or if we think of that time as ‘wasteful’. It not only finds that people who believe leisure time is unproductive find it less enjoyable, but also that these beliefs are associated with depression, anxiety, and stress.

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Young Australians Who Couchsurf Experience High Levels Of Psychological Distress

By Emma L. Barratt

When thinking about homelessness, we don’t often consider where to draw the line between housed and homeless. Couchsurfers — homeless individuals who put a roof over their head by staying with friends, relatives, or strangers found on couchsurfing sites — may not spring to mind when considering homelessness.

However, it’s far from a rare arrangement. Though exact numbers are lacking, studies from the last five years found that a shocking 22% of young people in the UK had slept rough at some point, and that 35% had couchsurfed in the absence of having a stable home.

The lack of stability, security, and sense of belonging that comes with having a home are all recognised factors in adverse psychological outcomes in those who are homeless. But, with couchsurfing being such a prevalent living situation, yet so different from sleeping rough, the psychological effects of this specific type of homelessness are well worth investigating. Now a new study from researchers led by Katie Hail-Jares at Griffith University, Australia has uncovered a strong relationship between couchsurfing and psychological distress.

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First-Hand Reports Of “Brain Fog” Highlight Struggles Of Those Living With Long Covid  

By Emma L. Barratt

Around one in five of those who have recovered from Covid-19 report ongoing symptoms, also known as long Covid. Experiences with this new condition are varied, and several symptoms are neuropsychological in nature.

One such symptom is brain fog. Though not a medical diagnosis in itself, this term is recognised by many health professionals, and refers to a fluctuating and varied set of symptoms which severely affect the sufferer’s ability to think clearly, or conduct their lives as they previously have.

Brain fog is often thought of as a benign, non-specific symptom, and in some circles is even dismissed as malingering. But in fact, it’s a symptom widely associated with chemotherapy, an issue for 40% of those with HIV, and source of frustration for many during pregnancy, amongst other medical conditions. Several neurological mechanisms have been proposed, but as of yet scientists don’t agree on the exact physical cause. As such, research looking into this after-effect of Covid is likely to garner a wide array of responses.

At this stage, understanding the experience of brain fog in long Covid is important — in order to tackle a new condition, researchers must first obtain a thorough description of the problem. This is the starting point from which further research can truly begin. To this end, researchers based at Oxford University recruited 50 participants from previous long Covid studies and online long Covid support groups to participate in remotely-held focus groups.

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