Category: Mental health

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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Psilocybin Alters Brain Levels Of The Neurotransmitter Glutamate — And This Could Explain Why Users Experience “Ego Dissolution”

By Emma Young

Recent therapeutic trials of “classical” psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin (from magic mushrooms) or LSD, have reported benefits to wellbeing, depression and anxiety. These effects seem to be linked to a sense of “ego dissolution” — a dissolving of the subjective boundaries between the self and the wider world. However, the neurochemistry behind this effect has been unclear. Now a new paper, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, suggests that changes in brain levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate are key to understanding reports of ego dissolution — and perhaps the therapeutic effects of psychedelics.

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How Do Films Like ‘Joker’ Shape Attitudes Towards People With Mental Health Issues?

Photo: A billboard for Joker displayed in West Hollywood in 2019. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

By Emily Reynolds

Much of the discourse surrounding mental health over the last few years has focused on stigma: breaking down those unhelpful myths around mental illness that both prevent people seeking help and, sometimes, lead to outright discrimination.

What part culture has to play in this mission is an interesting question. Both the “madman” and the asylum have been a ubiquitous presence in cinema, literature and television, often to the chagrin of those who have had such stereotypes directly affect their lives. A new study, published in JAMA Network Open, has looked at the impact one recent film, Joker, might have had on prejudice. Continue reading “How Do Films Like ‘Joker’ Shape Attitudes Towards People With Mental Health Issues?”

Responsible Reporting Is Vital In Media Coverage Of Suicide

By Emily Reynolds

Exactly how the media discusses suicide is a topic of frequent debate. Plenty of research has linked media reporting  of suicide with an increase in suicidal behaviour, and both the Samaritans and the World Health Organization (WHO), amongst others, have clear (and frequently promoted) guides for journalists on how to report suicide.

But such guidelines are often ignored in favour of insensitivity or sensationalism — especially when the person at hand is a celebrity. Take the recent coverage of the death of Caroline Flack: explicit, deeply intimate details were plastered across tabloids for weeks, with seemingly no thought for how those details would impact readers.

Now a new review, published in the British Medical Journal, has taken a closer look at just how serious the problem is.

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Night Owls May Use Poorer Emotion Regulation Strategies Than Early Birds

By Emma Young

Are you an evening person — an owl? Or a morning person — a lark? No end of studies have reported variations in the functioning of people who like to wake and go to bed late, versus those who are early to bed and early to rise. And now a new study, published in PLoS One, has found links between our “chronotype” and the way we handle emotions, reflect on our thoughts and feelings, and assert ourselves. Overall, owls do worse. And this, argues Juan Manuel Antúnez at the University of Malaga, Spain, could help to explain links between being an owl and poorer psychological well-being.

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Can’t Get Over Your Ex? Blame The Algorithm

By Emily Reynolds

Breaking up is never easy, particularly when you’re confronted with memories of happier times. A smell, an old photograph, a note somebody left you — weeks or even months after a break-up and you can still be reminded of your ex-partner, whether you like it or not.

On social media, this can be even worse. If you’re still friends with your ex, you’re likely to still see their posts on your feed; if you’re not, you can still rub salt into the wound by checking their profile anyway. ‘On this Day’ features are also notoriously bad for bringing up unhappy memories at the worst possible time.

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, we also see our exes so much because of the so-called “social periphery” — the networks of people we know tangentially through our ex-partners. So why not design an algorithm that causes us less pain? The new work suggests that this could be the answer to our online break-up woes.

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Taking Selfies Is Probably Fine For Your Self-Esteem. Editing Them Might Not Be

By Emily Reynolds

There’s been a lot of back and forth about the psychological effects of taking and sharing selfies. Some research suggests that taking pictures of yourself can dent your self-esteem and increase anxiety, while other studies have found that selfies can be a source of empowerment; one 2017 paper even found a combination of the two, suggesting that sharing selfies online can mitigate the damage to self-image often inflicted when a selfie is actually taken.

The hundreds of op-eds, articles and TV features that continue to focus on the issue also suggest that our interest in the phenomenon is unlikely to abate any time soon. And now a new study published in the Journal of Children and Media has added to the debate.

It suggests that taking selfies may not be as damaging as other research has claimed. Instead, it’s what you do after you’ve taken the photo that matters: it’s editing images that really hurts our self-esteem.

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