Category: Mental health

In Times Of Anxiety and Low Mood, Focusing On Past Successes Could Improve Decision-Making

By Emily Reynolds

When you’re going through a period of anxiety or depression it can be difficult to make decisions, whether those are significant life changes or more mundane, everyday choices about prioritising tasks or time management. And those with generalised anxiety disorder or mood disorders often report feeling uncomfortable with or distressed by feelings of uncertainty — which doesn’t help when you need to make a decision, big or small.

Now in a new study in the journal eLife, Christopher Gagne from UC Berkeley and colleagues find that people with higher levels of anxiety and depression are less able to adapt to fast-changing situations. But the authors suggest that with the right intervention there may be ways to not only mitigate this distress, but to help those with anxiety or depression make better decisions in the moment.

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Supposed Benefits Of Psychedelic Microdosing To Mental Health May Actually Reflect Strong Placebo Response

By Matthew Warren

An increasingly large body of work suggests that many illicit psychoactive drugs could be useful as treatments for certain mental health problems. Studies have found, for instance, that the psychedelics psilocybin (from magic mushrooms) and LSD can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, while MDMA may be useful in treating PTSD.  

It’s a different story for a practice known as “microdosing”, however. This involves taking a small quantity of a psychedelic substance — normally too little to produce any perceptible effects — repeatedly over a period of time (every few days for several weeks, say). And as we reported in 2019, although results from some surveys or poorly-controlled trials suggest that microdosing can improve people’s mood or certain aspects of cognition, more rigorous placebo-controlled trials have failed to find any such effects.

A new study in Scientific Reports could explain why. The team, led by Laura Kartner from Imperial College London, finds that people who plan on microdosing do go on to experience a boost to wellbeing and a reduction in anxiety and depression. But the level of improvement depends on how much they expect to improve in the first place, suggesting that any effects on wellbeing may be the result of a strong placebo response.

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Liberal Americans’ Distress At 2016 Election Result Shouldn’t Be Labelled “Depression”, Study Argues

Photo: Supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton react during election night 2016. Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

By Emily Reynolds

Anyone who’s been invested in an election result will understand the close relationship between politics and emotion — something that is perhaps even more affecting when that result is disappointing. After the 2016 presidential election, for example, articles appeared in the US press describing a “national nervous breakdown” and offering tips to deal with so-called “political depression”, and empirical studies indicated that the same event had caused psychological distress.

But while it would be hard to deny that politics can have a serious impact on our mood, is it correct to call that “depression”? Almog Simchon at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and team ask this question in a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology — and while they find self-reported “Trump depression” in liberal Americans post-election, the empirical data suggests this isn’t an enduring or even clinically significant experience.

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Narcissism Can Have Both A Positive And Negative Impact On New Mothers’ Wellbeing, Longitudinal Study Finds

By Emma Young

What happens to a narcissistic woman when she becomes a mother? Can someone with an unmet desire for attention, love and recognition — which characterises all narcissists — adapt well to having a baby to care for? The answer, according to a new study in Personality Disorders: Theory, Research and Treatment, is that it really depends what type of narcissist the mother is. And even, then, the conclusions were based on self-reports, which should probably be received with caution.

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Coping With Remote Working During Covid-19: The Latest Research, Digested

By Emma Young

Covid-19 has changed our working lives, perhaps for good. Home-working is now common, and many of us have been doing it for months. With changing rules and guidelines, some of us have even gone from home-working to socially distanced office-working, to working back at home again. So what do we know about how these changes are affecting our mental health — and what can we do to make our new working lives better?

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The Process Of Psychological Recovery Begins While A Stressful Event Is Still Going On, According To Study Of Early Stages Of Coronavirus Pandemic

By Emma Young

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed all our lives. For those of us fortunate enough to avoid unemployment, our work lives have still changed drastically. So how long should it take employees to recover psychologically, and settle into a “new normal”? According to a new paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, this process actually began very early on. This is among the first work to show that psychological recovery can start during a stressful experience.

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Having Realistic Expectations Could Make You Happier Than Being Over-Optimistic

By Emily Reynolds

There are fairly good arguments for optimism and pessimism both. Optimists, who see the best in everything, are likely to have a sunnier disposition; pessimists, on the other hand, would argue that their negative expectations never leave them disappointed when the worst actually happens.

But in the end, it might be realists who win out. According to a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, being realistic about your life outcomes is likely to make you happier than overestimating them.

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Engaging With The Arts Is Related To Greater Wellbeing (But It’s Not Entirely Clear Why)

By Emma Young

Social isolation and fears for our family and friends, as well as ourselves, have all affected psychological wellbeing during the COVID-19 lockdown. But being unable to visit an art gallery, theatre or live music venues may also have taken its toll. According to new research by Peter Todderdell at the University of Sheffield and Giulia Poerio at the University Essex, such experiences contribute to wellbeing in a way that watching a sporting event, for example, does not. The pair’s new paper, published in Emotion, presents the first longitudinal examination of the effect of engaging with the “artistic imagination” — rather than actively taking part in an artistic endeavour — on wellbeing.

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Eating Lunch At Your Desk Again? Study Examines Why Workers Don’t Always Take Breaks

By Emily Reynolds

If you work for more than six hours a day in the UK, you’re legally entitled to a rest break of at least twenty minutes per shift. Many workers get more; if you work an eight hour day, it’s likely your employer will give you an hour-long lunch break.

Whether or not you actually take that break, however, is a different matter. Despite the fact that breaks can increase motivation and productivity and decrease potentially damaging inactivity, research has indicated a growing trend of workers eating their lunch at their desks or not taking their rest time. Some figures suggest 82% of workers don’t always take their breaks — a significant proportion of the workforce.

So why is it that we’re so often eating al desko? A study published in Psychology and Health has some insights.

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Psychologists Are Mining Social Media Posts For Mental Health Research — But Many Users Have Concerns

By Emily Reynolds

This article contains discussion of suicide and self-harm

In 2014, the Samaritans launched what seemed like an innovative new project: Radar. Designed to provide what the charity described as an “online safety net”, users could sign up to Radar to receive updates on the content of other people’s tweets, with emails sent out based on a list of key phrases meant to detect whether someone was feeling distressed.

In principle, this meant people could keep an eye on friends who were vulnerable: if they missed a tweet where somebody said they felt suicidal or wanted to self-harm, for example, Radar would send it on, in theory increasing the likelihood that someone might get help or support.

In practice, however, things weren’t so simple. Some pointed out that the app could be used for stalking or harassment, allowing abuse to be targeted during someone’s lowest point. There were false positives, too — “I want to kill myself”, for example, is often used as hyperbole by people who aren’t actually distressed at all. And others felt it was an invasion of privacy: their tweets might be on a public platform, they argued, but they were personal expression. They hadn’t consented to being used as part of a programme like Radar, no matter how well meaning it was.

Samaritans shut down Radar just a week after launch. But since then, the use of social media data in mental health research — including tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, and blogs — has only increased. Researchers hope that the volume of data social media offers will bring important insights into mental health. But many users worry about how their data is being used.

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