Category: Mental health

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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We All Use Our Phones Differently — So General Measures Of “Screen Time” Are Not Very Useful

By Emily Reynolds

The impact of technology on young people is an oft-debated topic in the media. Is increased screen time having a serious impact on their mental health? Or have we over-exaggerated the level of risk young people face due to their use of tech?

According to a new study, published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, we could be asking the wrong questions. A team led by Nastasia Griffioen at Radboud University Nijmegen suggests that rather than looking at screen time in a binary way, researchers should explore the nuances of smartphone use: how young people are using their phones, rather than the fact they’re using them at all.

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Episode 26: How Has The Covid-19 Pandemic Affected Our Mental Health?

This is Episode 26 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

What impact has the pandemic had on people’s mental health? In this episode, our presenter Ginny Smith talks to researchers who have been conducting work throughout the pandemic to understand the toll that it has taken on our wellbeing. Ginny learns about the different factors that can make us more or less vulnerable to these effects, finds out how pregnant women have fared during this stressful time, and also hears about emerging data that finds links between the virus itself and mental health conditions.

Our guests, in order of appearance, are Dr Susanne Schweizer, Sir Henry Wellcome Fellow at the University of Cambridge, and Professor Paul Harrison from the University of Oxford.

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Some Teenagers At Risk Of Self-Harming Can Be Identified A Decade In Advance

By Emily Reynolds

There are multiple risk factors for self-harm, including a history of abuse, trauma, physical and mental illness, and bullying. Identifying these factors is a key part of prevention, ensuring that those at risk receive appropriate support as early as possible — but despite this, predicting who may end up engaging in self-harming behaviour is still tricky.     

But we may be able to identify these risks earlier than we thought, a new study from a University of Cambridge team suggests. Stepheni Uh and colleagues report that some at-risk adolescents could be identified ten years before they self-harm — offering what the team says is an “extended window” during which help and support can be offered.

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Rates Of Postnatal Depression Among New Mothers Rose Sharply During Lockdown

By Emily Reynolds

Having a new baby is never easy: it’s difficult to manage the stress of birth, sleepless nights, and juggling of childcare and domestic responsibilities, especially for first-time parents. Some also experience postnatal depression, which is estimated to affect 23% of women in Europe after the birth of a child (men also experience postnatal depression, though the numbers are not so clear).

Add to new parenting the impact of lockdown, and that figure could rise sharply, a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests. Working with women with babies aged six months or younger in the UK during the first COVID-19 lockdown, UCL’s Sarah Myers and Emily H. Emmott found that almost half met the threshold for postnatal depression — double the average European rates.

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Good Time Management Seems To Have A Bigger Impact On Wellbeing Than Work Performance

By Emily Reynolds

As our lives have become busier, desire to do things quickly and efficiently has grown — something the rise of speed reading apps, lack of break-taking at work, and a general focus on “productivity” has shown. Good time management skills, therefore, are now highly prized both at work and at home.

But do such techniques actually work? In a meta-analysis published in PLOS One, Brad Aeon from Concordia University and colleagues find that they do — but perhaps not for the reasons you’d expect. While time management skills have become more important in evaluations of job performance since the 1990s, their biggest impact lies elsewhere: in personal wellbeing.

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People With Depression Show Hints Of Distorted Thinking In The Language They Use On Social Media

By Emily Reynolds

A key facet of cognitive behavioural therapy is challenging “cognitive distortions”, inaccurate thought patterns that often affect those with depression. Such distortions could include jumping to conclusions, catastrophising, black and white thinking, or self-blame — and can cause sincere distress to those experiencing them.

But how do we track cognitive distortion in those with depression outside of self-reporting? A new study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, explores cognitive distortions online, finding that those with depression have higher levels of distortion in the language they use on social media.

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The Experience Of Being “Tolerated”, Rather Than Accepted, Leads To Lower Wellbeing Among Ethnic Minority Groups

By Emily Reynolds

Tolerance is often touted as a progressive value, a way of ensuring that society offers equal opportunities to all. But it can also imply “putting up with” something or someone you fundamentally disagree with or dislike — being tolerated isn’t the same as being genuinely valued or respected, for example. As one writer puts it, tolerance has echoes “of at best grudging acceptance, and at worst ill-disguised hostility”.

Now a new study in the British Journal of Psychology has found that the experience of being tolerated takes its toll on the wellbeing of ethnic minorities in the United States. Sara Cvetkovska from Utrecht University and colleagues find that the experience of being tolerated is closer to discrimination than it is to acceptance — impacting overall wellbeing and increasing negative mood.

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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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