A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that the generation known as Millennials, defined as 18- to 33-year-olds in the U.S., reported the highest stress levels along with the most stress-caused ill effects among the four groups surveyed.

On a 10-point scale, Millennials reported an average stress level of 5.4, the same as that reported by individuals in Generation X (ages 34-47 years). However, more than 52 percent of Millennials reported stress-induced sleeplessness, compared to 48 percent of Generation Xers, 37 percent of Boomers (ages 48-66 years) and 25 percent of Matures (67 years and older). In addition, more Millennials and Generation Xers reported anger and irritability due to stress than Boomers or Matures.

Stress is a risk factor for many health conditions, including high blood pressure, headaches, sleeping problems, heart disease, ulcers, and stroke.

It’s not hard to understand why young Americans are on edge. Work was named as a “somewhat or significant stressor for 76 percent of Millennials,” and the U.S. unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. Thirty-nine percent of Millennials have experienced an increase in stress over the past year. And despite efforts to reduce their stress (i.e., 62% have made attempts to decrease their stress levels over the past five years), 25% of Millennials believe they’re not doing enough to manage it.

The good news? Apparently, we experience generally lower levels of stress as we age—Matures’ average stress level was 3.7 out of 10—and we get better at dealing with stress: 50 percent of Matures think they’re doing an excellent or very good job at managing their stress.

What do you think? Does maturity play a big role in handling stress? What can be done to reduce stress in Millennials and in general? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!
The following is a guest blog by PAR author Lisa Firestone, PhD. Dr. Firestone is the director of research and education at the Glendon Association.

Too often, the subject of violence is addressed in our society from a platform of sensationalism, disgust, and trepidation. The reporting of violent events incites two reactions from viewers: horrified fascination or a repelled reflex to turn away. Neither reaction inclines us to seek a better understanding of why violence occurs, nor to ask the question: What makes a human being become violent?

The media’s weighted focus on the effects of violence as opposed to the causes isn’t entirely to blame for our resistance to exploring the roots of violence. Part of our hesitance stems from the fact that violence is a deeply disturbing problem. Violent behavior can be triggered by frustration, anger, or a perceived humiliation. Its purpose can be to retaliate, or intimidate, or exert control. It is only when we have a better understanding of violence that we can begin to make a difference.

Even though there is not one answer to what causes violence, there is something I found in my research that has offered an invaluable insight into what goes on in the mind of someone who is violent. After years of researching, interviewing, and assessing violent individuals, along with my father Dr. Robert Firestone, I began to recognize certain “voices” (negative thought processes) that flood the minds of these individuals influencing them to engage in acts of violence.

These “voices” aren’t experienced as hallucinations but rather are a systematic pattern of negative thoughts against to the self, and hostile and suspicious toward others. We call these destructive thoughts “voices” because many of the people we interviewed reported experiencing them that way.

As I developed The Firestone Assessment of Violent Thoughts (FAVT), to measure the “voices” that incite violence, I was able to identify the thinking that sets the stage for violent and aggressive behavior. This information is not only helpful for predicting violent intent, but also for providing an overall understanding that helps explain all types of violence from the extreme examples that make the headlines to the angry and violent reactions that we sense in ourselves and others.

Voices that contribute to violence include those that support social mistrust. These paranoid, suspicious thoughts encourage people to assume a self-protective and defended posture from a perceived danger. Because the paranoia and misperception makes the threat seem real, people feel justified in acting out violence to protect themselves. The paranoia is supported by negative voices about other people being different, strange and bad. It is easier to hurt someone who is perceived as “not like you.” These voices contribute to a person’s suspicion and mistrust of the world at large. An example of these types of voices is: They are out to get you. Don’t trust them.

Other voices that lead to violence are the ones that support people feeling victimized and persecuted. They advise a person that he/she is the victim of mistreatment by others. These voices promote and support thoughts of being discounted, blamed, or humiliated by other people. An example of these voices is: They are going to make a fool of you. They don’t take you seriously.

Violent people have also reported having self-depreciating voices that make them feel that they are unlovable, and that no one will love or care about them. These voices promote isolation and encourage a person to take care of him/herself. They attack other people and see them as rejecting. All of these voices encourage a person not wanting anything from anyone else. An example of these voices is: You will have to take care of yourself because no one else will. Don’t expect anything from anyone, you will only be disappointed.

Self-aggrandizing voices can be a precursor of violence as well because they promote a view that a person is superior to others and deserves to be treated as such. They support an inflated self-image that functions to compensate for deep-seated self-hatred. When the aggrandized sense of self is threatened, for example by slights or perceived disrespect, a person often reacts violently in an effort to regain the aggrandized self-image. Research that links high self-esteem in adolescents to violence actually measured inflated self-esteem or vanity. An example of these voices is: You are so much better than them. How dare they talk to you like that!!

Overtly aggressive voices also contribute significantly to violence. These voices directly encourage taking violent action. They convince a person that to act out aggressively and violently would be appropriate, or that it would be a welcome release, or even be pleasurable. There is a lack of remorse expressed by the person who is influenced by these types of voices. An example of these voices is: Violence is the way to go. Just smash them; you’ll feel better.

Understanding what is going on in the mind of someone who is violent allows us to better assess the risk for violence and to intervene, protecting both the potential perpetrator and victim. Many risk factors for violence can’t be changed, but a person’s thinking is a risk factor that can be. By monitoring the decrease in a person’s violent thoughts during treatment, we are able to assess their improvement. Moreover, in offering violent people an understanding of the thoughts that underlie their tortured thinking, we are providing them with a means by which to take up arms against the voices that lure them into acts of violence.

 
A recent study provides insight into how obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) develops. Led by Claire Gillan and Trevor Robbins at the University of Cambridge and Sanne de Wit at the University of Amsterdam, the study suggests that compulsive behavior may not be a response to obsessive fears, but instead may be a precursor to those fears (American Journal of Psychiatry, July 2011). That is, compulsions such as repetitive hand-washing may lead to an obsessive fear of germs—rather than the other way around.

“It has long been established that humans have a tendency to ‘fill in the gaps’ when it comes to behavior that cannot otherwise be logically explained,” said Gillan in a recent issue of Cambridge’s Research News. “In the case of OCD, the overwhelming urge to senselessly repeat a behavior might be enough to instill a very real obsessive fear in order to explain it.”

The study, which involved 20 patients suffering from OCD and 20 control subjects, measured patients’ tendency to develop habit-like behavior. Participants were required to learn simple associations among stimuli, behaviors, and outcomes in order to win points on a task. The researchers found that patients suffering from OCD were much more likely to continue to respond with a learned behavior, even when that behavior did not produce the desired outcome; that is, they quickly formed habits, or irresistible urges, to perform a task. These behaviors, initiated and observed in a laboratory setting and in the absence of any related obsessions, suggest that the compulsions themselves may be the critical feature of OCD.

This finding seems to support the approach of exposure and response prevention (ERP) as a treatment for OCD. ERP is a therapy that challenges patients to discontinue compulsive responding and learn that the feared consequence does not occur. Proponents of ERP say that once the compulsion is stopped, the obsession tends to diminish or disappear.

What do you think? What therapies have you found most effective for your clients with OCD? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
According to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, one in five adults in the United States suffered from a mental illness in 2011. This federal government report defined mental illness as a person having a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, and included more than 65,000 Americans aged 12 and above.

The rate of mental illness was found to be twice as likely in the 18-to-25-year-old age group, close to 30 percent, than it is in those age 50 and above (about 14 percent). Furthermore, women were more likely to have suffered a mental illness than men (about 23 percent versus 16 percent).

Of the 45.6 million people with a mental illness, about 11.5 million reported a serious mental illness, about 5 percent of the adult population. About 38 percent of adults with a mental illness in 2011 received treatment during the year – and about 60 percent of those with a serious mental illness sought help during that time.

Youth also were studied, and it was found that 2 million adolescents between age 12 and 17 had a major depressive episode in 2011, about 8 percent of the population. Young people who had a major depressive epsidoe were more than twice as likely to use illicit drugs than those who did not (36 percent versus 17 percent).

Rates of mental illness remained stable from the prior year.
A new study suggests that people who hold positive attitudes about aging are 44% more likely to recover from a serious disability than those who view aging in a more negative way. The study, led by Becca R. Levy, PhD, director of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division at the Yale School of Public Health, is described in a research letter in the November 21 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Over a 10-year period, Levy and her colleagues studied a group of 598 individuals who participated in a health plan in greater New Haven, Connecticut. All participants were at least 70 years old and free of disability at the start of the study, and all experienced at least one month of disability from active daily life during the follow-up period.

To measure the participants’ attitudes about aging, researchers interviewed them monthly and asked them to complete written assessments every 18 months during the course of the study. In these assessments, participants were asked for five terms or phrases they associated with older people. Their words were rated on a 5-point scale, with 1 being most negative (e.g., decrepit) and 5 being most positive (e.g., spry).

Although the disabilities experienced by the participants varied, the study defined recovery based on the ability to perform four activities of daily living: bathing, dressing, moving from a chair, and walking. These abilities are associated with longer life expectancy and less frequent use of health care facilities.

“This result suggests that how the old view their aging process could have an effect on how they experience it,” said Levy in a November 26 news story on the Yale School of Public Health Web site. “In previous studies, we have found that older individuals with positive age stereotypes tend to show lower cardiovascular response to stress and they tend to engage in healthier activities, which may help to explain our current findings.”

This research suggests that the next step may be interventions that encourage older people to think about aging in a more positive light. According to the authors, “Further research is needed to determine whether interventions to promote positive age stereotypes could extend independent living in later life.”
Dance classes, which have long been seen as simply an extracurricular activity, may have an important influence on the mental health of teenage girls. According to a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, teenage girls who took dance lessons reported reductions in their stress levels and psychosomatic symptoms – and these results stayed consistent even 20 months later.

In a randomized trial, girls from age 13 to 18 years with internalizing problems were enrolled in an 8-month-long dance intervention. According to self-reports, 91 percent of the teens reported improvements in their health status and deemed the dance class a positive experience.

One hundred and twelve Swedish girls participated in the study. They all had a history of visits to the school nurse for psychosomatic symptoms (e.g., pain in the head, stomach, neck) or persistent negative affect or tiredness. Half the girls attended twice-weekly 75-minute-long dance classes; the control group was given free movie passes during periodic interviews. The girls’ health problems were not addressed during the dance class.

The teens were interviewed on topics of health, emotional distress, psychosomatic symptoms, negative affect, depression, sleep, and more. Those in the dance group saw reductions in self-reported stress at 8-month and 12-month follow ups compared to those in the control group. Most teens (i.e., 87 percent) also reported good or very good health at the 12-month follow-up. At the 20-month follow-up, the intervention group still reported reductions, well after their dance lessons had ended.

To read more about this study, visit the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
A new study from researchers at Northwestern University helps to better understand the powerful impact words have on infants.

While babies were watching the researchers intently, an experimenter used her forehead to turn on a light. She then allowed the infants to play with the light themselves to see if they would imitate this novel action. In a second group, the experimenter announced what she was doing, naming the activity with a nonsense word (“I’m going to blick the light”), before using her forehead to turn on the light. In this group, the infants were more likely to imitate the behavior. Researchers believe that the subjects in the study were more likely to see the behavior as an intentional event when it was paired with language, and thus, imitate it.

This points to the idea that infants as young as 14 months of age coordinate what they know about human behavior with their knowledge of language when they choose which actions to imitate. Infants’ observation skills, when paired with language, heighten their ability for understanding of intentions and actions. Without language to convey meaning, infants do not imitate these “strange” actions, allowing language to unlock a bigger world of social actions.

To read more about this study, see Developmental Psychology.
A great deal of research over the years has focused on the devastating effects of bullying on the mental health of its victims. However, a recent study also suggests that children with mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and depression are much more likely to engage in bullying behavior toward others.

Lead author Dr. Frances Turcotte-Benedict, a Brown University masters of public health student and a fellow at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, presented the findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ national conference in New Orleans on October 22. Turcotte-Benedict and her colleagues reviewed data provided by parents and guardians on mental health and bullying in the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, which included nearly 64,000 children ages 6 to 17 years.

In the survey, 15.2 percent of children were identified as a bully by their parent or guardian. Children with a diagnosis of depression or ADHD were three times as likely to be identified as bullies; children diagnosed with ODD were identified as bullies six times more often than children with no mental health disorders. The study found no noticeable differences between boys and girls—both were at increased risk for bullying when a mental health disorder was present.

Traits associated with ODD, such as aggression and revenge-seeking, appear to be clear risk factors for bullying. The connection between bullying and ADHD may be less obvious. “Even though, by definition, these children [with ADHD] aren’t angry or aggressive toward their peers, they do display traits that would increase the likelihood of having impaired social interactions,” explains Dr. Steven Myers, a professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, in an October 22 interview with the Huffington Post. “If you’re not really thinking through the consequences of your actions on the playground, you might not have the self-monitoring or restraint to hold back from bullying.”

“These findings highlight the importance of providing psychological support not only to victims of bullying, but to bullies as well,” concludes Turcotte-Benedict. “In order to create successful anti-bullying prevention and intervention programs, there certainly is a need for more research to understand the relationship more thoroughly, and especially, the risk profile of childhood bullies.”

What do you think? Should bullying prevention programs do more to address the mental health problems of the bully? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
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.