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Google Searches About Mental  Illness Have a Seasonal Pattern

The report, “Challenges and Successes in Dissemination of Evidence-Based Treatments for Posttraumatic Stress: Lessons Learned From Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD,” is accompanied by an editorial from Bradley E. Karlin and Madhulika Agarwal of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Central Office in Washington, DC.A new study finds that Google searches for information across all major mental illnesses and problems followed seasonal patterns, suggesting mental illness may be more strongly linked with seasonal patterns than previously thought.

While some conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder, are known to be associated with seasonal weather patterns, the connections between seasons and a number of major disorders were surprising.

Using Google’s public database of queries, the study team identified and monitored mental health queries in the United States and Australia for 2006 through 2010. All queries relating to mental health were captured and then grouped by type of mental illness, including ADHD (attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder), anxiety, bipolar, depression, eating disorders (including anorexia and bulimia), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), schizophrenia, and suicide. 

Using advanced mathematical methods to identify trends, the authors found that all mental health queries in both countries were consistently higher in winter than in summer.

The research showed eating disorder searches were down 37 percent in summers versus winters in the United States, and 42 percent in summers in Australia. Schizophrenia searches decreased 37 percent during U.S. summers and by 36 percent in Australia.

Bipolar searches were down 16 percent during U.S. summers and 17 percent during Australian summers; ADHD searches decreased by 28 percent in the United States and 31 percent in Australia during summertime. OCD searches were down 18 percent and 15 percent, and bipolar searches decreased by 18 percent and 16 percent, in the summer in the United States and Australia, respectively.
Searches for suicide declined 24 percent and 29 percent during U.S. and Australian summers, and anxiety searches had the smallest seasonal change—down 7 percent during U.S. summers and 15 percent during Australian summers.

“Moving forward, we can explore daily patterns in mental health information seeking ... maybe even finding a ‘Monday effect.’ The potential is limitless,” said Benjamin Althouse, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a researcher on the study.

Source; published in the May 2013 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Can Meditation Make You More Compassionate?

Scientists have mostly focused on the benefits of meditation for the brain and the body, but a new study looks at the affect meditation may have on interpersonal harmony and compassion.
The study invited participants to complete eight-week trainings in two types of meditation. After the sessions, the researchers tested whether the subjects who took part in the meditation classes would be more likely to come to the aid of a person in pain, even when others nearby ignored the person struggling.

A waiting room was staged with three chairs, two of them occupied by actors in the study. The participant arrived, sat in the one empty chair remaining, and waited to be called. Then another actor arrived, on crutches and appearing to be in great physical pain. The actors in the other two chairs would ignore her by fiddling with their phones or opening a book.

Among the non-meditating participants, only about 15 percent of people acted to help. But among the subjects who had participated in the meditation sessions, that rate was 50 percent. This result held true for both meditation groups, showing the effect to be consistent across different forms of meditation.

Source: “Meditation Increases Compassionate Responses to Suffering,” Psychological Science

How Safe Are Wilderness Adventure Experiences That Are Designed to Improve Mental Health?
Adolescents participating in wilderness and adventure therapy programs are at significantly less risk of injury than those playing football, and they are three times less likely to visit the emergency room for an injury than if they were at home, according to a new study. The findings are based on an analysis of risk-management data from 12 programs providing outdoor behavioral healthcare in 2011.

“After, ‘Does this program work?’ the question most asked by people considering adventure therapy is, ‘Will my child be safe?’” says Michael Gass, PhD, professor of outdoor education at the University of New Hampshire.

“While no one can guarantee the unconditional safety of any child, we can now show the relative risk levels for adolescents. This study shows there is actually less risk to participants on wilderness therapy programs, when they are conducted correctly, than to adolescents in their normal everyday activities.”

Adventure therapy, the prescriptive use of wilderness adventure experiences to improve the mental health of clients, primarily serves adolescents and is often seen as a treatment of “last resort” for these youth, who typically present with three or more dysfunctional behaviors such as depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideologies. Gass, a leading expert in the field, estimates that there are more than 200 such programs nationwide.

For this study, the researchers looked at incident and illness data for 2011 that was collected by the 12 adventure therapy programs that compose the Outdoor Behavioral Health Industry Council. They analyzed injuries that occurred in adventure therapy programs that required a client to be removed from regular programming for more than 24 hours—including injuries treated in the field as well as those that required evacuation to a medical facility.

The result? The adventure therapy programs had an injury rate of .11 injuries per 1,000 days in 2011, or one injury for every 9,091 client-days. The estimated national average rate of injuries for adolescents treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms was three times that rate (.38 per 1,000 days).

Adventure therapy programs boast even stronger safety records when compared to other common activities of adolescents. Injuries during high school football games are more than 140 times greater than those in adventure therapy programs, which boast lower injury rates than snowboarding, downhill skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, and football practice.  

“Well-managed programs are not dangerous, they’re not exposing kids to undue risk, and they’re not overusing physical restraints,” says lead author Stephen Javorski, a UNH doctoral student.

“The ‘pill’ that we’re offering is the positive use of stress coated by appropriate levels of care and support,” says Gass, co-author of the leading academic and training text in the field, “Adventure Therapy: Theory, Research, and Practice” (Routledge, 2012).

Source: The findings were reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs.

Most Effective PTSD Therapies Are Not Being Widely Used, 
Researchers Find

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects nearly 8 million adults a year, federal statistics show. Clinical research has identified certain psychological interventions that effectively ameliorate the symptoms of PTSD, but most people struggling with PTSD don’t receive those treatments, according to a new report. 

In the report, trauma expert Edna Foa, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania and her team review studies describing interventions that can effectively treat PTSD.

Foa, an Association for Psychological Science fellow, pioneered the use of prolonged exposure therapy (PE), in which patients approach—in both imaginary and real-life settings—situations, places, and people they have been avoiding. The repeated exposure to the perceived threat disconfirms individuals’ expectations of experiencing harm and, over time, leads to a reduction in their fear. 

Over years of testing, PE and other forms of cognitive therapy have proved highly effective in addressing the distress and dysfunctional problems that trauma victims experience. However, the majority of mental health professionals do not use such evidence-based treatments when working with patients suffering from PTSD, the researchers write.

Many clinicians believe good psychotherapy should be individualized and should focus on the underlying causes of one’s problems and symptoms. 

But studies show scant evidence that psychodynamic therapy—which focuses on such issues as difficult childhood relationship with parents—effectively eases PTSD symptoms, according to the report.

Foa and her colleagues say their findings are important given that traumatic events such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and gun violence are on the rise. For example:

  • More than 273,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have sought treatment for PTSD over the past decade, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports.
  • At least one third of residents in the path of Hurricane Katrina suffered some form of post-traumatic stress after the 2005 storm, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School.
  • More than 16 percent of the police force in Newtown, Conn., had missed work in the two months following last year’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School because of PTSD-related issues, according to news reports.
  • What will the impact be on PTSD rates following the Boston Marathon attacks and the following four-day man hunt?

The full report (as a PDF, or in HTML) as well as the accompanying editorial are available, free, online.

SourcePsychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science