Around the world, more people than ever are locked up in prisons – estimated to be in excess of 11 million people, up by almost 20 per cent since the turn of the millennium (pdf). According to a recent House of Commons Briefing Paper the rate of increase is even higher than this in the UK where prison populations are at a record high. Many of these incarcerated individuals have intensifying mental health needs – for instance, the same briefing paper reports that UK rates of self-harm in prisoners were 25 per cent higher in 2015 than in 2014. Ahead of this week’s meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Psychology on the topic of Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System, here we provide a digest of research into the mental health of prisoners.
Most of us are healthily deluded by memory biases that inflate our self-esteem. We remember more positive personal events than negative, for instance, and we selectively recall or even edit memories in a way that bolsters our favoured view of ourselves. A pair of psychologists at Lomonosov Moscow University propose that for people with persistent anxiety, this process goes awry. The worrier’s negative self-concept is instead reinforced by the selective recall of previous painful and awkward memories, harming their confidence and fuelling anxiety.
Imagine if it were possible to implant more positive autobiographical memories in these anxious individuals. This could boost their self-esteem, increase their confidence, thus dialling down their anxiety levels. In an intriguing new study published in Memory, Veronika Nourkova and Darya Vaslienko have provided preliminary evidence that such an approach could work, although they found that hypnosis was required to make the memory implantation convincing enough.
By Emma Young
“I have been lost in a daydream for as long as I can remember….These daydreams tend to be stories…for which I feel real emotion, usually happiness or sadness, which have the ability to make me laugh and cry…They’re as important a part of my life as anything else; I can spend hours alone with my daydreams….I am careful to control my actions in public so it is not evident that my mind is constantly spinning these stories and I am constantly lost in them.”
The 20-year-old woman who emailed these reflections to Eli Somer at the University of Haifa, Israel, diagnosed herself with Maladaptive Daydreaming, sometimes known as Daydreaming Disorder. While Maladaptive Daydreaming is not included in standard mental health diagnostic manuals, there are cyber-communities dedicated to it, and “in recent years it has gradually become evident that daydreaming can evolve into an extreme and maladaptive behaviour, up to the point where it turns into a clinically significant condition,” write Somer and Nirit Soffer-Dudek at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in a new paper on the disorder, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.
By Alex Fradera
Working an emotionally-demanding job can leave you frazzled by alienation, exhaustion, and confusion about whether you are doing any good. Clinical psychologists and psychotherapists live their day-to-day at the interface of their clients’ most difficult emotions and recollections, so it is no surprise that burnout is a leading cause of problems for those in the profession. To better understand the risk factors that contribute to therapist burnout, a new review article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology has examined findings from 30 years of research.
By Emma Young
Aerobic exercise – any activity that gets your heart pumping harder – improves mood, anxiety and memory. It can help people with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. Now there’s evidence, from a randomised controlled trial published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, that a programme of regular aerobic exercise also reduces psychopathology in people diagnosed with schizophrenia. And it seems to have a particular impact on so-called “negative” symptoms, such as apathy and loss of emotional feeling, which are not improved by standard drug treatments.
“[W]hile antipsychotics [drug treatments] are essential in treating schizophrenia, interventions other than antipsychotic treatment…may be needed to achieve better outcomes,” write the authors of the new study, led by Peng-Wei Wang at Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital in Taiwan.
The idea that some of us experience “imposter syndrome” was first mooted in the 1970s by two US clinical psychologists who noticed the preponderance of high-achieving women who felt they had somehow cheated or fluked their way to success and feared being found out. Research on the syndrome has since exploded and it’s become clear that many men also experience similar fraudulent feelings. In fact, in their new exploratory paper in Personality and Individual Differences, a team of US and German researchers claim that, under pressure, imposter syndrome may hit men harder than women, triggering more anxiety and worse performance – a difference they speculate may be due to traditional gender norms that place a greater expectation on men to be competent.
By Alex Fradera
The average young adult sends more than 100 texts per day, mainly to offer social support to friends and family. But until now, there has been little evidence whether it helps the recipient or not. New research in Computers in Human Behavior confirms that sending a comforting text to a partner confronted with a difficult task really can make them feel supported. But more surprisingly, the study suggests that to actually reduce their stress, it’s better to send a message that isn’t explicitly supportive.
By Alex Fradera
Abraham Maslow was one of the great psychological presences of the twentieth century, and his concept of self-actualisation has entered our vernacular and is addressed in most psychology textbooks. A core concept of humanistic psychology, self-actualisation theory has inspired a range of psychological therapies as well as approaches taken in social work. But a number of myths have crept into our understanding of the theory and the man himself. In a new paper in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, William Compton of Middle Tennessee State University aims to put the record straight.
Studies of identical and non-identical twins indicate that our self-esteem is influenced by the genes we inherited from our parents, but also, and perhaps slightly more so, by environmental factors. And according to a new study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, these environmental influences started playing a lasting role very early in life.
Ulrich Orth at the University of Bern has reported evidence that, on average, the higher the quality of a person’s home environment when they were aged between 0 and 6 years – based on warm and responsive parenting; cognitive stimulation; and a safe, organised physical environment – the higher their self-esteem many years later in adulthood.
By Emma Young
The idea that stress increases the risk of breast cancer is a persistent one, despite a number of major large-scale findings to the contrary. “Over the past 40 years, women have been exposed to strong messages about the importance of ‘thinking positively’ and reducing stress in their lives, which can add to the burden of guilt in those who develop cancer, who feel they have somehow failed”, note the authors of a new prospective study of women in Australia, published in Psycho-Oncology. Their findings suggest that neither acute nor chronic stressors recorded over a three-year period influenced the likelihood that a woman with a strong family history of breast cancer would develop the disease over the next three years.
“Our results, based on rigorous methodology, add to the growing literature providing reassurance to women at increased risk of breast cancer, who are concerned that the (often unavoidable) stressors in their lives may increase their risk of breast cancer”, the researchers said.