It’s an age-old question, but now there’s science to give us an answer.

No, men and women cannot just be friends.

However, the reasons may be more complicated than you imagine. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, attraction between members of cross-sex friendship is a common event. Furthermore, these “platonic” friendships have potential negative consequences for the individuals’ long-term romantic relationships.

Researchers surveyed more than 80 male-female pals and found that men were more attracted to their female friend than women were to their male friend. Men also tended to consistently (and mistakenly) believe that their female friend was more attracted to them than they actually were. Even if the woman in the pair was involved in a romantic relationship with another person, this did not deter most men – even if their gal pal was taken, this had no impact on their attraction.

Women, though, reported much less desire to date their male friends if they were already involved in a relationship. Younger females and middle-aged participants who reported more attraction to an opposite-sex friend also reported less satisfaction in their current romantic relationship.

In another survey conducted by the researchers, men reported that there was more to gain from attraction in friendships, while women felt that there was more to lose.

Do you have a successful cross-gender platonic friendship? Do you think that men and women can ever really just be friends?
New research has made the famous 1972 marshmallow test even more compelling. The original Stanford University study on delayed gratification, which promised children an extra marshmallow if they could resist the one in front of them for 15 minutes, analyzed whether a child’s ability to delay gratification had any correlation on future success. Today, researchers have taken that information a step farther – finding that a child’s ability to resist temptation isn’t innate, but highly influenced by environment.

Researchers from the University of Rochester gave five-year-olds used crayons and one sticker to decorate a piece of paper. One group of children was told they would receive a new set of art supplies, but never received it. For the second group, however, researchers made good on their promise and provided the children with new crayons and better stickers. Both groups were then given the marshmallow test.

The children who were promised the supplies and never received them waited an average of three minutes before eating their marshmallows. The children who had received the supplies promised resisted temptation for an average of 12 minutes, leading researchers to believe that experience plays into a child’s ability to delay gratification. Wait times reflected not just the child’s self-control abilities, but suggest a child’s reasoning of the stability of the world around them and their understanding of whether waiting to delay gratification would ultimately pay off. According to researcher Celeste Kidd, delaying gratification is only a rational choice if the child believes that the second marshmallow is likely to appear. Though children do not monitor every single action of the adults around them, they do have an overall sense of the reliability or unreliability of the people around them.

The group found that children may have more sophisticated decision-making abilities based on their environments than originally thought.
Adults with disabilities, particularly mental illness, have been found to be at an increased risk of being a victim of violence, according to a study funded by the World Health Organization’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability. This finding, a meta-analysis of 21 studies, found that one in four people with a mental illness experience some type of violence in a given year – a much higher rate than that experienced by the general population.

The chance that a person with a mental illness will experience physical, sexual, or domestic violence was found to be 3.86-fold higher than the odds of an adult without any disabilities at all. However, violence against individuals with other disabilities was common – it was found that individuals reporting any disability were 50 percent more likely to experience physical, sexual, or intimate partner violence in the prior 12 months than those individuals without a disability, and 60 percent higher for people with intellectual impairments.

Researchers believe that their inclusion criteria probably underestimated the prevalence of violence against people with disabilities because many of the studies were based in high-income countries with lower reported rates of violence. Furthermore, there were no studies of violence against individuals with intellectual disabilities in institutional settings or studies of individuals with sensory impairments included in the analysis.

Approximately 15 percent of adults worldwide have a disability.
While every baby is different, the sleepless nights are something that most parents of infants can’t escape.

Sleepless nights don’t just equal tired parents, though. Sleep deprivation can double mom’s risk of suffering from depression and can lead to marital strife. But how should tired parents teach their babies to sleep?

While some parents believe letting their child “cry it out” will teach self-soothing behaviors, other parents believe that letting their child cry will cause their little one to feel insecure and abandoned. However, exhausted moms and dads have some new research on their side that can (hopefully) afford them a little shut eye.

A new study released in the journal Pediatrics followed 225 babies from seven months old until age 6 to compare the difference between parents who were trained in sleep intervention techniques and those who were not. The sleep intervention group was told to select either “controlled crying,” which had them respond to their infant’s cries at increasing time intervals, or  “camping out,” which asked them to sit with their child until he or she fell asleep, removing themselves earlier each night over a three-week period.

Families in the sleep training group reported improved sleep. Mothers were also less likely to experience depression and emotional problems. Furthermore, it was determined that those children in the sleep training group were not harmed by letting them cry it out. Researchers found no differences between these children and the children in the control group in matters of mental and behavioral health, sleep quality, stress, or relationship with their parents at age six. Allowing babies to cry for limited periods of time was found to help the entire family sleep better without causing psychological damage. Furthermore, an earlier study found that sleep training does work – babies learn to go to sleep easier and stay asleep longer than their counterparts.

No matter which method parents choose, they can feel better knowing that while it may seem that their infant is stressed when he or she is crying, researchers believe that it is good stress and it will have no lasting impact on the parent-child bond.
Heavy marijuana use during adolescence has now been linked to lower IQ scores later in life, according to a study published last month by the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, which tracked 1,037 subjects from birth to age 38 years, found that those who began smoking marijuana as teenagers and used it regularly throughout adulthood scored approximately 8 points lower on an IQ test than they had at age 13 years. In comparison, the IQ scores of non-users, as well as those who started using marijuana as adults, were stable. Small to medium declines in memory, processing speed, and executive function were also seen in regular users.

“We know that there are developmental changes occurring in the teen years and up through the early 20s, and the brain may be especially vulnerable during this time,” said Dr. Madeline Meier, a researcher at Duke University and lead author of the study, in an August 27 New York Times article.

The results of this study are in direct contrast with beliefs common among adolescents that marijuana use is harmless to health. “Adolescents are initiating cannabis use at younger ages, and more adolescents are using cannabis on a daily basis,” study authors said. “Findings are suggestive of a neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain and highlight the importance of prevention and policy efforts targeting adolescents.”

Although the authors ruled out several alternative explanations for the neuropsychological effects (such as hard drug use, alcohol dependence, and schizophrenia), they acknowledge that their results must be interpreted within the context of the study’s limitations. “There may be some ‘third’ variable that could account for the findings,” they said. “The data cannot reveal the mechanism underlying the associations between persistent cannabis dependence and neuropsychological decline.”

What do you think? Is there a disconnect between common beliefs about marijuana use and the reality of its long-term effects on health? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Editor’s Note: Last week, we blogged about non-medical prescription drug use (NMPDU) and a study that linked it to depression in college students. This week, we follow up with one of the study’s coauthors, Dr. Amanda Divin, from Western Illinois University. In the study, Dr. Divin found that young women were more likely to abuse painkillers than young men. We wanted to learn more.

PAR: Why might females be more likely than males to use painkillers if they were feeling hopeless, sad, depressed, or suicidal?

Dr. Divin: Well, there are lots of reasons. First, the properties of opioid painkillers are that they block pain reception in the brain but also increase release of dopamine in the brain which results in euphoria. So the pharmacological properties of painkillers make them attractive to people who may be feeling the blahs of depression or other depressive symptoms.

Second, research indicates that females have greater exposure to prescription drugs with addictive potential (e.g., opioid painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs) and are more likely to be prescribed a drug than males. If you look at the literature, and even empirical evidence, it's very common for a woman to go to a doctor complaining of symptoms, and she is given a prescription for a painkiller or sedative, whereas a male may be given different advice or treatment.

Third, women are more likely to suffer from depression. Their physiology also makes them more likely to become addicted to painkillers (females actually need a lower dose of opioids than males do to experience the same amount of painkilling effects).

If you put all those things together, it almost seems like common sense that females are more likely to self-medicate. I do want to point out, however, there have been other studies which have found the opposite—that it’s males [who are more likely to self-medicate]. There is still a lot of research and replication that needs to be done.

PAR: Why did you decide to conduct this study? How did it affect you personally?

Dr. Divin: I'm a professor, so I work with college students every day. It’s not at all uncommon that a student will come talk to me about their problems. It’s very common that prescription drug use or depression/suicidal thoughts are among those problems. In talking with my colleague Keith Zullig [from West Virginia University], who has done a lot of research on prescription drugs, we decided this was an area that really needed to be investigated. This study personally affected me in a couple of ways: I read just about every single article that had ever been printed regarding prescription drug use—and wow, did this open my eyes to what a commonplace, everyday sort of thing NMPDU is, how easy it is to acquire prescription drugs, and just how socially acceptable it has become. Both the NMPDU and suicide literature also opened my eyes to the stress college students are under nowadays and how stress, depression, and NMPDU are all connected. I will say some of the scariest things I learned from doing this research are about the very dangerous side effects and risks that prescription drugs carry.

PAR: What advice would you give to college students using non-medical prescription drugs?

Dr. Divin: My best advice would include a few things:

(1) If you're feeling depressed, the solution isn’t going to be found in a pill bottle. NMPDU only offers a temporary solution to a very real and pervasive problem. The best thing to do is go see a professional. On most college campuses, seeing a doctor or mental health professional is free! In the final analysis, you are just temporally postponing the problem and possibly creating others in the process.

(2) Prescription drugs carry very real and dangerous side effects. Just because they were approved by the FDA doesn't mean you’re not going to have an adverse or deadly reaction.

(3) If you are currently taking several different prescription drugs non-medically, be very careful of the possible drug interactions.

(4) There is no shame in admitting you have a problem and need help.

 

This interview was conducted by Grace Gardner, a recent graduate from the University of South Florida and an editorial assistant in the Production Department at PAR.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling painkiller use in the U.S. a “public health epidemic.”

A new study found that non-medical drug abuse is linked to depression and suicide in college students. Keith Zullig, PhD, from West Virginia University and Amanda Divin, PhD, from Western Illinois University conducted a study analyzing non-medical drug use among college students and its relationship to symptoms of depression.

Zullig and Divin analyzed data from the 2008 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA). ANCHA-NCHA asked 26,000 randomly selected college students from 40 campuses in the U.S about their non-medical drug use including painkillers, stimulants, sedatives, and antidepressants, along with their overall mental health in the last year.

The study, entitled “The Association between Non-medical Prescription Drug Use, Depressive Symptoms, and Suicidality among College Students” appears in the August 2012 issue of Addictive Behaviors: An International Journal. Authors reported that 13 percent of respondents who felt hopeless, sad, depressed, or were considered suicidal were using non-medical prescription drugs. The results were especially apparent in college females who reported painkiller use. Authors suggest that these findings are the result of college students self-medicating to mask their psychological distress.

“Because prescription drugs are tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by a doctor, most people perceive them as ‘safe’ and don't see the harm in sharing with friends or family if they have a few extra pills left over,” Divin said in a news story  from Western Illinois University. “Unfortunately, all drugs potentially have dangerous side effects. As our study demonstrates, use of prescription drugs—particularly painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin—is related to depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in college students. This is why use of such drugs need[s] to be monitored by a doctor and why mental health outreach on college campuses is particularly important.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence Prevention says, “Before choosing a prevention strategy, you must start with assessment—the same as you would when addressing high-risk alcohol abuse or violence on campus.” The Center’s suggestions included surveys such as the NCHA, environmental scanning, including physical and online social networking environments, and increased faculty-student contact and mentoring.

What do you think? Should colleges do more to address non-medical prescription drug abuse as part of mental health and suicide prevention programs for their students? We would love to hear from you and keep the conversation going!

Editor’s note: This week, PAR is pleased to welcome guest blogger Grace Gardner. A recent graduate of the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Mass Communication, Grace is working as an editorial assistant this summer in the production department at PAR.

 
A recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found a relationship between gestational age and various psychiatric disorders in adults. The results suggest that a concrete relationship exists between a shorter gestational period and the onset of mental illness later in life.

The study analyzed data from the medical records of 1.3 million adults born in Sweden between 1973 and 1985. Researchers analyzed multiple pregnancy outcomes including gestational age at birth, birth weight, and Apgar score; they then compared this data with information about psychiatric hospitalization in adulthood and diagnoses of bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, eating disorders, and drug/alcohol dependency.

A smaller gestational weight was associated with alcohol and drug dependency in adulthood, whereas a low Apgar score suggested an association with depressive disorder. Most strikingly, people born very premature (i.e., 32 weeks gestation) were:

  • 2.5 times more likely to have a non-affective psychosis;

  • 2.9 times more likely to have a depressive disorder; and

  • 7.4 times more likely to have bipolar disorder.


Lead author Dr. Chiara Nosarti, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, told the BBC, “I don’t think parents should be worried, but we know that preterm birth confers an increased vulnerability to a variety of psychiatric conditions and perhaps parents should be aware of this and monitor early signs of later more serious problems.”

Although Nosarti and her coauthors acknowledge that previous studies have found associations between preterm birth and the onset of psychiatric disorders in childhood as well as adult onset schizophrenia, they assert that this study is the first to find an association between preterm birth and adult onset of both depressive disorder and bipolar affective disorder.

“We found a very strong link between premature birth and a range of psychiatric disorders,” said Nosarti in a King’s College press release. “Since we considered only the most severe cases that resulted in hospitalization, it may be that in real terms this link is even stronger. However, it is important to remember that even with the increased risk, these disorders still only affect 1-6% of the population.”

What do you think? Should parents of premature infants be alerted to their children’s increased risk for mental illness later in life? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

Editor’s note: This week, PAR is pleased to welcome guest blogger Grace Gardner. A recent graduate of the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Mass Communication, Grace is working as an editorial assistant this summer in the production department at PAR.
The old playground rhyme got it wrong. Although sticks and stones do break bones, words can have devastating consequences as well. And when those words come from a child’s parent or caregiver, the repercussions for the child’s psychological and emotional health can be long lasting.

A recent clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (Pediatrics, July 20, 2012) describes the behaviors of emotionally abusive parents/caregivers and outlines the risks to children who are subjected to this abuse. Lead author Roberta Hibbard, MD, director of child protection programs at Indiana University and Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, asserts that the emotional maltreatment of children deserves the same level of attention that physical and sexual abuse is given.

Hibbard and her coauthors describe the different forms that psychological abuse of children can take, including:

  • spurning, that is, belittling or ridiculing the child in public;

  • terrorizing, or exposing the child to dangerous or chaotic situations;

  • isolating, or shutting the child out of interactions or relationships;

  • exploiting or corrupting the child; and

  • neglecting the child’s health or education.


According to the report, emotional abuse by a parent/caregiver may be verbal or nonverbal, active or passive, and with or without intent to harm. But regardless of the form or intent, these behaviors are harmful to a child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and even physical development. “Psychological maltreatment has been linked with disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialization problems, disruptive behavior, and later psychopathology,” says Hibbard.

In her July 30 article, “Childhood Mental Abuse Under the Radar?,” MedPage Today staff writer Nancy Walsh summarizes the AAP report and describes some of the challenges for mental health care providers in identifying and treating emotional abuse. “Although it can be difficult to determine the actual prevalence of psychological and emotional maltreatment of children, an estimated 4% of men reported having experienced some form of this abuse as children, as did 8% to 9% of women,” says Walsh. “The problem most often is found in families with high levels of conflict, and where substance abuse, violence, and parental mental health difficulties such as depression exist.”

Support for parents and early intervention may be the key to reducing these numbers, according to the AAP report. “Prevention before occurrence will require both the use of universal interventions aimed at promoting the type of parenting that is now recognized to be necessary for optimal child development, alongside the use of targeted interventions directed at improving parental sensitivity to a child’s cues during infancy and later parent-child interactions,” says Hibbard. “Intervention should, first and foremost, focus on a thorough assessment and ensuring the child’s safety. Potentially effective treatments include cognitive behavioral parenting programs and other psychotherapeutic interventions.”

What do you think? What can be done to increase awareness about the emotional maltreatment of children and to support parents who may be at risk for these behaviors? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to address the growing problem of suicide among members of the military, using technology to strengthen communication between active-duty troops or veterans and the mental health professionals who can help them. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki says that the VA will be making greater use of videoconferences between doctors and their patients, according to a June story from the Associated Press.

Suicides this year among active-duty military personnel now outnumber battle deaths, according to Pentagon statistics (New York Times, June 8). Between January 1 and June 8, 2012, there were 154 suicides—an average of one per day and an 18 percent increase over the number of suicides during the same period in 2011.

The VA is planning to use videoconferencing to eliminate some of the barriers that prevent members of the military from seeking help for feelings of distress or suicidal thoughts. Videoconferencing can reduce the amount of time patients spend traveling, making it more convenient to meet with a health care provider. Shinseki said that members of today’s military are comfortable with online chats, and working with them in this way can help reduce some of the stigma that patients feel about their mental health concerns. ‘‘Shame keeps too many veterans from seeking help,’’ Shinseki said.

The VA is also stepping up its use of electronic health records, according to the AP story. In recent months, Congress has criticized Shinseki about the length of time that some veterans have had to wait before receiving a full mental health evaluation from the VA. By integrating electronic health records among departments, the VA hopes to expedite treatment for veterans who need immediate attention.

VA officials estimate that up to two-thirds of all veterans who commit suicide have never asked for the VA’s help, a reality that Shinseki called frustrating and disheartening. “We know when we diagnose and treat, veterans get better,” he told the audience at a recent veterans suicide prevention conference, “but we can’t influence and help those we don’t see” (Stars and Stripes digital edition).

What do you think? Is videoconferencing a viable option for improving the responsiveness of mental health services for active-duty personnel or veterans? Do you use technology to communicate with clients—military or otherwise—in your practice? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!