A new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) illuminates important trends — many positive — in Americans’ behavioral health, both nationally and on a state-by-state basis.
SAMHSA’s new report, the “National Behavioral Health Barometer” (Barometer), provides data about key aspects of behavioral healthcare issues affecting American communities including rates of serious mental illness, suicidal thoughts, substance use, underage drinking, and the percentages of those who seek treatment for these disorders. The Barometer shows this data at the national level, and for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The Barometer indicates that the behavioral health of our nation is improving in some areas, particularly among adolescents. For example, past month use of both illicit drugs and cigarettes has fallen for youth ages 12-17 from 2009 to 2013 (from 10.1 percent to 8.8 percent for illicit drugs and 9.0 percent to 5.6 percent for cigarettes). Past month binge drinking among children ages 12-17 has also fallen from 2009 to 2013 (from 8.9 percent to 6.2 percent).
The Barometer also shows more people are getting the help they need in some crucial areas. The number of people receiving treatment for a substance use problem has increased six percent from 2009 to 2013. It also shows that the level of adults experiencing serious mental illness who received treatment rose from 62.9 percent in 2012 to 68.5 percent in 2013.
The data in the Barometer is drawn from various federal surveys and provides both a snapshot of the current status of behavioral health nationally and by state, and trend data on some of these key behavioral health issues over time. The findings will be enormously helpful to decision makers at all levels who are seeking to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.
“The Barometer provides new insight into what is happening on the ground in states across the country,” said SAMHSA’s Administrator, Pamela S. Hyde. “It provides vital information on the progress being made in each state as well as the challenges before them. States and local communities use this data to determine the most effective ways of addressing their behavioral healthcare needs.”
The Barometer also provides analyses by gender, age group and race/ethnicity, where possible, to further help public health authorities more effectively identify and address behavioral health issues occurring within their communities, and to serve as a basis for tracking and addressing behavioral health disparities.
For the first time, the Barometer provides analyses broken down by poverty level (above or below) and health insurance status. This data can help provide researchers, policy makers, public health authorities and others a better understanding of how income and insurance coverage affect access and utilization of behavioral healthcare services.
To view and download copies of the national or any state Behavioral Health Barometer, please visit the SAMHSA web site at http://www.samhsa.gov/data/browse-report-document-type?tab=46.
Stage magicians are not the only ones who can distract the eye: a new cognitive psychology experiment demonstrates how all human beings have a built-in ability to stop paying attention to objects that are right in front of them.
We see much less of the world than we think we do
Perception experts have long known that we see much less of the world than we think we do. A person creates a mental model of their surroundings by stitching together scraps of visual information gleaned while shifting attention from place to place. Counterintuitively, the very process that creates the illusion of a complete picture relies on filtering out most of what’s out there.
In a paper published today in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics a team of U of T researchers reveal how people have more “top-down” control of what they don’t notice than many scientists previously believed.
“The visual system really cares about objects,” says postdoctoral fellow J. Eric T. Taylor, who is the lead author on the paper. “If I move around a room, the locations of all the objects — chairs, tables, doors, walls, etc. — change on my retina, but my mental representation of the room stays the same.”
Objects play fundamental role in how we focus our attention
Objects play such a fundamental role in how we focus our attention that many perception researchers believe we are “addicted” to them; we couldn’t stop paying attention to objects if we tried. The visual brain guides attention largely by selecting objects — and this process is widely believed to be automatic.
…..The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a review of the “brain science” related to addiction and its management by Dr. Nora Volkow and her colleagues. It is a great review with terrific graphics. I’ve sent it to several of my colleagues.
It would take many blog posts to summarize in detail what goes on in the article (let alone the brain), so I’ll hit the points that are most meaningful to me as a practitioner and citizen — and forgive me if I get a little personal.
A look into the science of addiction
The most depressing course I took in college was an introduction to behaviorism. The low point was when I came to believe that free will did not exist, though I later came to believe that this was a narrow and false conclusion. Humans, with our over-developed frontal cortices, have the power to choose not to respond the way, for example, a pigeon would in an experiment of rewards and punishments. When I became a doctor, I perceived that people suffering with addiction were stripped of their fundamental liberty to choose to live life as they would want (within social and economic constraints). I can honestly say that helping to restore some of that freedom is among the most rewarding things I do as a doctor. That’s the personal stuff.
An addicted person’s impaired ability to stop using drugs or alcohol has to do with deficits in the function of the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain involved in executive function. The prefrontal cortex has several important jobs: self-monitoring, delaying reward, and integrating whatever the intellect tells you is important with what the libido is telling you. The difficulty also has to do with how the brain, when deprived of the drugs to which it is accustomed, reacts to stress.
What this all means for overcoming an addiction
It is not enough simply to “just say no.”
The person needs to develop alternative sources of joy and reward, and people who have been isolating themselves in order to drink or use drugs without inhibition may need to work in a purposeful way to re-acquire habitual “joy” — social interactions, physical pleasures like a swim or a bike ride, and other healthy, enjoyable rewards.
At the same time, to say that substance use disorders are “all biology” is an over-simplification. Clearly, there are people on the mild end of the spectrum who have the ability to choose to stop or cut back. For these people, when the rewards of not using outweigh those of using, they stop. Some people with a pattern of unhealthy drug or alcohol use that meets criteria for a diagnosis of substance use disorder may also “mature” out of it without formal treatment. However, the more severe the diagnosis (in other words, the more diagnostic criteria that are met), the less likely this is to happen.
When a solution to a problem seems to have come to you out of thin air, it turns out you’ve more than likely been struck with the right idea, according to a new study.
A series of experiments conducted by a team of researchers determined that a person’s sudden insights are often more accurate at solving problems than thinking them through analytically.
“Conscious, analytic thinking can sometimes be rushed or sloppy, leading to mistakes while solving a problem,” said team member John Kounios, PhD, professor in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences and the co-author of the book “The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight and the Brain.” “However, insight is unconscious and automatic — it can’t be rushed. When the process runs to completion in its own time and all the dots are connected unconsciously, the solution pops into awareness as an Aha! moment. This means that when a really creative, breakthrough idea is needed, it’s often best to wait for the insight rather than settling for an idea that resulted from analytical thinking.”
Experiments with four different types of timed puzzles showed that those answers that occurred as sudden insights (also described as Aha! moments) were more likely to be correct. Moreover, people who tended to have more of these insights were also more likely to miss the deadline rather than provide an incorrect, but in-time, answer. Those who responded based on analytic thought (described as being an idea that is worked out consciously and deliberately) were more likely to provide an answer by the deadline, though these last-minute answers were often wrong.
– See more at: http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2016/March/Insight_Correctness/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Science360NewsServiceComplete+%28Science360+News+Service%3A+Complete%29&utm_content=Netvibes#sthash.5dhxWU92.dpuf
“MINNEAPOLIS – Young adults with hostile attitudes or those who don’t cope well with stress may be at increased risk for experiencing memory and thinking problems decades later, according to a study published in the March 2, 2016, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“We may not think of our personality traits as having any bearing on how well we think or remember things, but we found that the effect of having a hostile attitude and poor coping skills on thinking ability was similar to the effect of more than a decade of aging,” said study author Lenore J. Launer, PhD, with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.”
How the brain makes decisions.
From the 25 May 2015 MedicalExpress news release
Some types of decision-making have proven to be very difficult to simulate, limiting progress in the development of computer models of the brain. EPFL scientists have developed a new model of complex decision-making, and have validated it against humans and cutting-edge computer models, uncovering fascinating information about what influences our decision-making and ability to learn from it.
Decision-making comes in two major into two types: Markovian and non-Markovian, named after the mathematician Andrey Markov (1856-1922). Simply put, in Markovian decision-making, the next decision step depends entirely on the current state of affairs. For example, when playing backgammon, the next move depends only on the current layout of the board, and not on how it got to be like that. This relatively straightforward process has been extensively modeled in computers and machines.
Non-Markovian decision-making is more complex. Here, the next step is affected by other factors, such as external constraints and previous decisions. For example, a person’s goal might be to travel on the train. But what will happens when he arrives at the door to the train depends on whether or not he has previously visited the ticket booth to buy a ticket. In other words, the next step depends on how he got there; without a ticket, he cannot proceed to the desired goal. In neuroscience, the “buy-ticket” step is referred to as a “switch-state”.
The results of the study drew three major conclusions. First, that human decision-making can perform just as well as current sophisticated computer models under non-Markovian conditions, such as the presence of a switch-state. This is a significant finding in our current efforts to model the human brain and develop artificial intelligence systems.
Secondly, that delayed feedback significantly impairs human decision-making and learning, even though it does not impact the performance of computer models, which have perfect memory. In the second experiment, it took human participants ten times more attempts to correctly recall and assign arrows to icons. Feedback is a crucial element of decision-making and learning. We set a goal, make a decision about how to achieve it, act accordingly, and then find out whether or not our goal was met. In some cases, e.g. learning to ride a bike, feedback on every decision we make for balancing, pedaling, braking etc. is instant: either we stay up and going, or we fall down. But in many other cases, such as playing backgammon, feedback is significantly delayed; it can take a while to find out if each move has led us to victory or not.
Finally, the researchers found that the spiking neurons model matches and describes human performance very well. The significance of this cannot be overstated, as non-Markovian decision-making has proven to be very challenging for computer models. “This is a proof-of-concept study,” says Michael Herzog. “But the study makes an important contribution toward understanding, and accurately modeling, the human brain – and even surpassing its abilities with artificial intelligence.”
From the 27 May 2015 EurkAlert
When Niels Bohr hypothesised his model of atom with the electrons orbiting the nucleus just like satellites orbit a planet, he was engaging in analogical reasoning. Bohr transferred to atoms the concept of “a body orbiting another”, that is, he transferred a relation between objects to other, new objects. Analogical reasoning is an extraordinary ability that is unique to the human mind, is not seen in animals (except very rarely in primates) and that forms the basis of highly sophisticated human thoughts. Scientists have wondered about the origin of this cognitive function: for example, is it necessary to have developed linguistic abilities or are we born already cognitively equipped for this type of abstraction? According to a new study carried out with the collaboration of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste and just published in Child Development, the second hypothesis is probably true: analogical abilities precede language and are already present in infants just a few months old.
From the 17 June 2015 MIT news release
MIT neuroscientists have shown that they can cure the symptoms of depression in mice by artificially reactivating happy memories that were formed before the onset of depression.
The findings, described in the June 18 issue of Nature, offer a possible explanation for the success of psychotherapies in which depression patients are encouraged to recall pleasant experiences. They also suggest new ways to treat depression by manipulating the brain cells where memories are stored. The researchers believe this kind of targeted approach could have fewer side effects than most existing antidepressant drugs, which bathe the entire brain.
“Once you identify specific sites in the memory circuit which are not functioning well, or whose boosting will bring a beneficial consequence, there is a possibility of inventing new medical technology where the improvement will be targeted to the specific part of the circuit, rather than administering a drug and letting that drug function everywhere in the brain,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and senior author of the paper.
In 2012, Tonegawa, former MIT postdoc Xu Liu, Ramirez, and colleagues first reported that they could label and reactivate clusters of brain cells that store specific memories, which they called engrams. More recently, they showed that they could plant false memories, and that they couldswitch the emotional associations of a particular memory from positive to negative, and vice versa.
In their new study, the researchers sought to discover if their ability to reactivate existing memories could be exploited to treat depression.
To do this, the researchers first exposed mice to a pleasurable experience. In this case, all of the mice were male and the pleasurable experience consisted of spending time with female mice. During this time, cells in the hippocampus that encode the memory engram were labeled with a light-sensitive protein that activates the neuron in response to blue light.
After the positive memory was formed, the researchers induced depression-like symptoms in the mice by exposing them to chronic stress. These mice show symptoms that mimic those of human sufferers of depression, such as giving up easily when faced with a difficult situation and failing to take pleasure in activities that are normally enjoyable.
However, when the mice were placed in situations designed to test for those symptoms, the researchers found that they could dramatically improve the symptoms by reactivating the neurons that stored the memory of a past enjoyable experience. Those mice began to behave just like mice that had never been depressed — but only for as long as the pleasant memory stayed activated.
A new study is the first to directly implicate the cerebellum in the creative process. As for the brain’s higher-level executive-control centers? Not so much.
Investigators at Stanford University have found a surprising link between creative problem-solving and heightened activity in the cerebellum, a structure located in the back of the brain and more typically thought of as the body’s movement-coordination center.
The cerebellum, traditionally viewed as the brain’s practice-makes-perfect, movement-control center, hasn’t been previously recognized as critical to creativity. The new study, a collaboration between the School of Medicine and Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, commonly known as the d.school, is the first to find direct evidence that this brain region is involved in the creative process.
Neuroscientists identify a brain circuit that controls decisions that induce high anxiety.
Some decisions arouse far more anxiety than others. Among the most anxiety-provoking are those that involve options with both positive and negative elements, such choosing to take a higher-paying job in a city far from family and friends, versus choosing to stay put with less pay.
MIT researchers have now identified a neural circuit that appears to underlie decision-making in this type of situation, which is known as approach-avoidance conflict. The findings could help researchers to discover new ways to treat psychiatric disorders that feature impaired decision-making, such as depression, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder.
The new study grew out of an effort to figure out the role of striosomes — clusters of cells distributed through the the striatum, a large brain region involved in coordinating movement and emotion and implicated in some human disorders. Graybiel discovered striosomes many years ago, but their function had remained mysterious, in part because they are so small and deep within the brain that it is difficult to image them with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
New research shows that infections can impair your cognitive ability measured on an IQ scale. The study is the largest of its kind to date, and it shows a clear correlation between infection levels and impaired cognition.
“Infections can affect the brain directly, but also through peripheral inflammation, which affects the brain and our mental capacity. Infections have previously been associated with both depression and schizophrenia, and it has also been proven to affect the cognitive ability of patients suffering from dementia. This is the first major study to suggest that infections can also affect the brain and the cognitive ability in healthy individuals.”
“We can see that the brain is affected by all types of infections. Therefore, it is important that more research is conducted into the mechanisms which lie behind the connection between a person’s immune system and mental health,” says Michael Eriksen Benrós.
He hopes that learning more about this connection will help to prevent the impairment of people’s mental health and improve future treatment.
Yes—Peter C Gøtzsche
Psychiatric drugs are responsible for the deaths of more than half a million people aged 65 and older each year in the Western world, as I show below.1 Their benefits would need to be colossal to justify this, but they are minimal.1 23 4 5 6
Overstated benefits and understated deaths
The randomised trials that have been conducted do not properly evaluate the drugs’ effects. Almost all of them are biased because they included patients already taking another psychiatric drug.178910 Patients, who after a short wash-out period are randomised to placebo, go “cold turkey” and often experience withdrawal symptoms. This design exaggerates the benefits of treatment and increases the harms in the placebo group, and it has driven patients taking placebo to suicide in trials in schizophrenia.8
Under-reporting of deaths in industry funded trials is another major flaw.Based on some of the randomised trials that were included in a meta-analysis of 100 000 patients by the US Food and Drug Administration, I have estimated that there are likely to have been 15 times more suicides among people taking antidepressants than reported by the FDA—for example, there were 14 suicides in 9956 patients in trials with fluoxetine and paroxetine, whereas the FDA had only five suicides in 52 960 patients, partly because the FDA only included events up to 24 hours after patients stopped taking the drug.1
No—Allan H Young, John Crace
Psychiatric conditions are common, complex, costly, and often long term illnesses. More than a fifth of all health related disability is caused by mental ill health, studies suggest, and people with poor mental health often have poor physical health and poorer (long term) outcomes in both aspects of health.26
Raised standardised mortality rates and reduced life expectancy have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders such as psychosis and mood and personality disorders.27 These increased death rates are only partly because of suicide and mostly attributable to coexisting physical health disorders. There is thus a clear need for psychiatric disorders to be treated to attempt to reduce the long term harm associated with them. The key question is whether psychiatric drugs do more harm than good.
All therapeutic interventions may potentially do both good and harm, and thorough evaluation of the relative benefits and harms of a treatment should be done for psychiatric drugs no less than for any others.28 These evaluations of benefits and harms are based on group data, which have to be applied to judgments for individual patients and can therefore be advisory only; the individual’s subjective experience is crucially important to consider.
What about harms?
Worldwide, regulatory agencies are responsible for ensuring that drugs work and are acceptably safe. Postmarketing surveillance continues after drugs are licensed. This can further refine, or confirm or deny, the safety of a drug in the general population, which unlike study populations includes people with varied medical conditions. Several approaches are used to monitor the safety of licensed drugs, including spontaneous reporting databases, prescription event monitoring, electronic health records, patient registries, and record linkage between health databases.30 These safeguards work to ensure drugs available do more good than harm.30
Nevertheless, many concerns have been expressed about psychiatric drugs, and for some critics the onus often seems to be on the drug needing to prove innocence from causing harm rather than a balanced approach to evaluating the available evidence.
Whether concerns are genuine or an expression of prejudice is not clear, but over time many concerns have been found to be overinflated. A few examples may be illustrative.
From the 11 May 2015 post
IMAGE: VIOLENCE AND GENDER IS THE ONLY PEER-REVIEWED JOURNAL FOCUSING ON THE UNDERSTANDING, PREDICTION, AND PREVENTION OF ACTS OF VIOLENCE. THROUGH RESEARCH PAPERS, ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSIONS, CASE STUDIES, AND OTHER ORIGINAL CONTENT,… view more
CREDIT: ©MARY ANN LIEBERT, INC., PUBLISH
Author Michael Stone, MD, Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, New York, NY, provides an in-depth look at the scope of mass murders committed in the U.S. during recent decades, describing the crime as “an almost exclusively male phenomenon.” Most mass murderers have a mental illness characterized by a paranoid personality disorder that includes a deep sense of unfairness and a skewed version of reality. Unfortunately, this profile of the men who have committed mass murders has often led to the unwarranted stigmatization of the mentally ill as a group as being inherently dangerous, which is not the case.
Dr. Stone points in particular to the growing availability of semiautomatic weapons as a key factor contributing to the increasing rate of random mass shootings in the U.S. during the past 65 years. The number of events nearly doubles in the 1990s compared to the 1980s, for example.
From the 14 May 2015 post at The Conversation
Around a quarter of people experience depression at some point in their lives, two-thirds of whom are women. Each year more than 11m working days are lost in the UK to stress, depression or anxiety and there are more than 6,000 suicides. The impact of depression on individuals, families, society and the economy is enormous.
Front-line therapies usually include medication. All the commonly prescribed antidepressants are based on “the monoamine hypothesis”. This holds that depression is caused by a shortage of serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain. Existing antidepressants are designed to increase the levels of these chemicals.
The first generation of antidepressants were developed in the 1950s and a second generation came in the 1980s. Products such as Prozac and Seroxat were hailed as “wonder drugs” when they first came onto the market.
In the roughly 30 years since, these kinds of drugs have come to look tired and jaded. Patents have expired and there are doubts about their efficacy. Some scientists even argue the drugs do more harm than good.
There has been no third generation of antidepressants. This is despite there having been moon-landing levels of investment in research. The antidepressant discovery process that gave rise to the earlier drugs is clearly broken. It is also apparent that this process had never worked that well, since the only real improvements over the previous 60 years were a reduction of side-effects.
By the mid-2000s the major pharmaceutical companies started disinvesting in this area. Government funding for basic research into depression and charitable funding followed a similar pattern. In 2010 GSK, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Merck and Sanofi all announced that they had stopped looking for new antidepressants altogether. Professor David Nutt, the former government drug advisor, declared this to be the “annus horribilis” for psychiatric drug research. The likelihood now is that there will be no new antidepressants for decades.
However, there continues to be an urgent and pressing need for more effective treatments. The question the drug companies now need to ask themselves is, did they fail because the task was impossible, or did they fail simply because they got things wrong? Our view is that there was a systems failure.
From the 11 May 2015 Northwestern University news release
Scientists look to healers in Nigeria to develop better therapies for mental disorders
May 11, 2015 | by Erin Spain
EVANSTON, Ill. — Treatments used by traditional healers in Nigeria have inspired scientists at Northwestern University to synthesize four new chemical compounds that could one day lead to better therapies for people with psychiatric disorders.
In a paper published online in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, the scientists detail how they created these natural compounds by completing the first total syntheses of two indole alkaloids — alstonine and serpentine. These alkaloids, found in various plant species used by healers in Nigeria to treat people with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, have antipsychotic properties that have potential to improve mental disorder treatments.
The current drugs used for schizophrenia effectively treat delusions and hallucinations but are only partially effective for cognitive impairment. Early experimental research of these new compounds in animal models shows promise in improving cognitive impairment, the Northwestern scientists said.
Traditional healers boil these special plants and produce an extract that they administer to people with symptoms of mental illness. However, this extract isn’t pure, and it contains other compounds and materials that may not be beneficial to people with mental disorders.
“Nature did not intend this plant to produce an antipsychotic drug on its own,” Meltzer said.
The collaborative work to create the compounds took place in the Center for Molecular Innovation and Drug Discovery (CMIDD) at Northwestern, using high-level purification resources and state-of-the-art research instrumentation and equipment. Scheidt is the director of CMIDD.
Through an efficient and stereo-selective synthesis, Scheidt and his team created four separate but related natural products. Now a template exists to continue making these compounds as needed for future studies and ultimately for use in clinical drug trials.
“We can make multi-gram quantities of any of the compounds we want,” Scheidt said. “We built the assembly line and are now uniquely positioned to explore their potential.”
Meltzer is already using these compounds in animal studies in his lab to better understand how they affect brain biology and chemistry in the schizophrenia disease model. Early results from his lab show that the compounds may increase the ability of other antipsychotic drugs to improve cognitive impairment.
Other study authors are Dr. Ashkaan Younai and Bi-Shun Zeng of Northwestern University. This study was supported the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute at Northwestern in the form of an Innovators Grant and the Weisman Family Foundation.
Voices in people’s heads are far more varied and complex than previously thought, according to new research by Durham and Stanford universities, published in The Lancet Psychiatry today.
One of the largest and most detailed studies to date on the experience of auditory hallucinations, commonly referred to as voice hearing, found that the majority of voice-hearers hear multiple voices with distinct character-like qualities, with many also experiencing physical effects on their bodies.
The study also confirmed that both people with and without psychiatric diagnoses hear voices.
The findings question some of the current assumptions about the nature of hearing voices and suggest there is a greater variation in the way voices are experienced than is typically recognised.
The researchers say this variation means different types of therapies could be needed for voice-hearers, such as tailored Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) geared towards distinct voice sub-types or patterns of voice hearing.
Current common approaches to help with voices include medication, CBT, voice dialogue techniques and other forms of therapy and self-help.
Auditory hallucinations are a common feature of many psychiatric disorders, such as psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but are also experienced by people without psychiatric conditions. It is estimated that between five and 15 per cent of adults will experience auditory hallucinations during their lifetimes.
This is one of the first studies to shed light on the nature of voice-hearing both inside and outside schizophrenia, across many different mental health diagnoses.
[Press release] What makes some women able to resist or recover psychologically from assault-related trauma?
In a study of 159 women who had been exposed to at least one assault-related potentially traumatic event, 30% developed major depressive disorder, which may be attributed to self-blame common to survivors of assault. Fewer women (21%) developed chronic posttraumatic stress disorder.
Mastery–the degree to which an individual perceives control and influence over life circumstances–and social support were most prevalent in women who did not develop a trauma-related psychiatric disorder after assault exposure, while mastery and posttraumatic growth were related to psychiatric recovery. These factors were less established in women with a current psychiatric disorder.
The Brain and Behavior findings have significance for the health and wellbeing of women, and for identifying individuals who are most in need of resilience-promoting interventions. “Women exposed to assault may present with post-trauma depression in lieu of posttraumatic stress disorder. Resilience factors like mastery and social support may attenuate the deleterious effects of an assault,” said lead author Heather L. Rusch. “The next step is to determine the extent that these factors may be fostered through clinical intervention.”
Among other issues, this is definitely a mental health concern. As quoted above, Serious mental illness affects men and women in jail at rates four to six times higher in the general population.
[Press release] Mainz researchers develop new theoretical framework for future studies of resilience
New approach focuses on the appraisal of stressful or threatening situations by the brain
Researchers at the Research Center Translational Neurosciences of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany have advanced a generalized concept as the basis for future studies of mental resilience. Their new approach is based on a mechanistic theory which takes as its starting point the appraisals made by the brain in response to exposure to stressful or threatening situations. Previously social, psychological, and genetic factors were in the foreground of resilience research. The Mainz-based team has published its conclusions in the renowned journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
Stress, traumatic events, and difficult life situations play a significant role in the development of many mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, addiction. However, not everyone exposed to such circumstances develops a psychological disorder as a result. Every person has a greater or lesser mental stabilizing capacity and this inherent potential is called ‘resilience’ by psychologists. Resilience helps to effectively master challenges, stress, and difficult situations, thus maintaining mental health. The fact that some individuals either develop only short -term problems or do not become ill at all on experiencing major psychological or physical pressures suggests that there are certain protective mechanisms – in other words, defensive, self-healing processes – which can prevent the development of stress-related illnesses.
The core concern of the Mainz team of researchers is to identify these mechanisms. By means of a thorough review and analysis of the results of previous studies of and investigations into the subject of resilience, they were able to identify a common principle that can be used as a general basis for future studies of resilience. In order to achieve this, the researchers combined various parameters and research concepts – from psychological and social approaches to the results of genetic and even neurobiological investigations. “To date, research into resilience has tended to take into account a very extensive range of social, psychological, and even genetic factors that positively influence mental flexibility, such as social support, certain personality traits, and typical behavior patterns,” explained Professor Raffael Kalisch, one of the authors of the current publication and the director of the Neuroimaging Center, a central research platform of the Mainz University Medical Center and the Research Center on Translational Neurosciences. “We wondered whether there might be a common denominator behind all of these individual approaches and so we systematically examined various examples. As a result, in our new hypothesis we focus less on the already well-known social, psychological, or genetic factors and much more on cognitive processes happening in the brain. We thus consider that the appropriate way forward is to determine how the brain assesses each situation or stimulus. It is quite possibly the positive evaluation of potentially aversive stimuli that is the central mechanism which ultimately determines an individual’s level of resilience. The many already identified factors only impact on resilience indirectly by influencing the way the brain assesses a certain situation.” Assuming this theory is correct and it is the mental processes of evaluation that are of central relevance, this would mean that it is not necessarily the threatening situations or stimuli that decide whether stress develops but rather the manner in which the individual appraises the situation. A person who tends to more positively evaluate such factors would be protected against stress-related illnesses over the long term because the frequency and degree of stress reactions in that person would be reduced. The Mainz-based researchers call their new mechanistic hypothesis ‘Positive Appraisal Style Theory of Resilience’ (PASTOR).
For more information, contact the SAMHSA Press Office at 240-276-2130.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.
Last Updated: 01/26/2015
[Press release] Reducing work-family conflicts in the workplace helps people to sleep better | EurekAlert! Science News
From the 26 January 2015 press release
New York, NY, January 26, 2015 — A multi-institution team of sleep researchers recently found that workers who participated in an intervention aimed at reducing conflict between work and familial responsibilities slept an hour more each week and reported greater sleep sufficiency than those who did not participate in the intervention. Their study is published inSleep Health, Journal of the National Sleep Foundation.
“Increasing family-supportive supervision and employee control over work time benefited the sleep of hundreds of employees, and even greater effects may be possible if sleep is overtly addressed in workplace interventions,” explained lead author Ryan Olson, PhD, of Oregon Health & Science University. “The Work, Family, and Health Network Study intervention was designed to reduce work-family conflict. It did not directly address sleep, yet sleep benefits were observed.”
The invention focused on the U.S. employees of an information technology firm. Groups of randomly selected managers and employees participated in a three-month, social and organizational change process that included interactive sessions with facilitated discussions, role-playing, and games. Managers were also trained in family supportive supervision and self-monitored how they applied the training on the job. Data were collected through qualitative interviews 12 months after the intervention was introduced and by actigraphy, the measurement of individuals’ sleeping and waking patterns using a monitor attached to participants’ wrists. Actigraphy measures of sleep quality and quantity were taken at the beginning of the intervention, to establish baseline measures for participants, and 12 months after the intervention. Each of the 474 participants’ activity recordings were evaluated by two scorers, who identified periods of sleep relative to each participant’s waking activities.
“I applaud the methodological rigor of Olson and colleagues’ approach to assessing the Work, Family, and Health Network Study’s effect on the sleep duration and quality of a real world population,” commented Dr. Lauren Hale, Editor-in-Chief of Sleep Health. “This study demonstrates that interventions unrelated to sleep can improve sleep in the population. Furthermore, these findings serve as a reminder that there are opportunities to deploy innovative interventions to improve sleep.”
The authors had hypothesized that both sleep duration and insomnia would be improved in the study’s twelfth month; secondarily, they hypothesized that any improvement in sleep quality and duration would be mediated by employees’ enhanced control over their work time and reduced work-family conflict assessed at the sixth month after baseline. Researchers created a statistical mediation model that accounted for the multiple temporal aspects of actigraphic sleep data and participant characteristics.
“Here we showed that an intervention focused on changing the workplace culture could increase the measured amount of sleep employees obtain, as well as their perception that their sleep was more sufficient,” noted lead investigator Orfeu M. Buxton, PhD, Pennsylvania State University (with secondary appointments at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital). “Work can be a calling and inspirational, as well as a paycheck, but work should not be detrimental to health. It is possible to mitigate some of the deleterious effects of work by reducing work-family conflict, and improving sleep.”
[News release] Closer than ever to a personalized treatment solution for intellectual disability — ScienceDaily
From the press release
JUPITER, FL – January 21, 2015 – Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have produced an approach that protects animal models against a type of genetic disruption that causes intellectual disability, including serious memory impairments and altered anxiety levels.
The findings, which focus on treating the effects of mutations to a gene known as Syngap1, have been published online ahead of print by the journal Biological Psychiatry.
“Our hope is that these studies will eventually lead to a therapy specifically designed for patients with psychiatric disorders caused by damagingSyngap1 mutations,” said Gavin Rumbaugh, a TSRI associate professor who led the study. “Our model shows that the early developmental period is the critical time to treat this type of genetic disorder.”
Damaging mutations in Syngap1 that reduce the number of functional proteins are one of the most common causes of sporadic intellectual disability and are associated with schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. Early estimates suggest that these non-inherited genetic mutations account for two to eight percent of these intellectual disability cases. Sporadic intellectual disability affects approximately one percent of the worldwide population, suggesting that tens of thousands of individuals with intellectual disability may carry damaging Syngap1 mutations without knowing it.
In the new study, the researchers examined the effect of damagingSyngap1 mutations during development and found that the mutations disrupt a critical period of neuronal growth—a period between the first and third postnatal weeks in mouse models. “We found that a certain type of cortical neuron grows too quickly in early development, which then leads to the premature formation of certain types of neural circuits,” said Research Associate Massimilano Aceti, first author of the study.
The researchers reasoned that this process might cause permanent errors in brain connectivity and that they might be able to head off these effects by enhancing the Syngap1 protein in the newborn mutant mice. Indeed, they found that a subset of neurons were misconnected in the adult mutant mice, suggesting that early growth of neurons can lead to life-long neural circuit connectivity problems. Then, using advanced genetic techniques to raise Syngap1 protein levels in newborn mutant mice, the researchers found this strategy completely protected the mice only when the approach was started before this critical developmental window opened.
As a result of these studies, Rumbaugh and his colleagues are now developing a drug-screening program to look for drug-like compounds that could restore levels of Syngap1 protein in defective neurons. They hope that, as personalized medicine advances, such a therapy could ultimately be tailored to patients based on their genotype.
In addition to Rumbaugh and Aceti, other authors of the study, “Syngap1 Haploinsufficiency Damages a Postnatal Critical Period of Pyramidal Cell Structural Maturation Linked to Cortical Circuit Assembly,” include Thomas K. Creson, Thomas Vaissiere, Camilo Rojas, Wen-Chin Huang, Ya-Xian Wang, Ronald S. Petralia, Damon T. Page and Courtney A. Miller of TSRI. For more information, seehttp://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223%2814%2900593-9/abstract
From the 21 January 2015 University of Basel press release
Women rate emotional images as more emotionally stimulating than men do and are more likely to remember them. However, there are no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal as far as neutral images are concerned. These were the findings of a large-scale study by a research team at the University of Basel that focused on determining the gender-dependent relationship between emotions, memory performance and brain activity. The results will be published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
It is known that women often consider emotional events to be more emotionally stimulating than men do. Earlier studies have shown that emotions influence our memory: the more emotional a situation is, the more likely we are to remember it. This raises the question as to whether women often outperform men in memory tests because of the way they process emotions. A research team from the University of Basel’s “Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences” Transfaculty Research Platform attempted to find out.
With the help of 3,398 test subjects from four sub-trials, the researchers were able to demonstrate that females rated emotional image content – especially negative content – as more emotionally stimulating than their male counterparts did. In the case of neutral images, however, there were no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal.
In a subsequent memory test, female participants could freely recall significantly more images than the male participants. Surprisingly though, women had a particular advantage over men when recalling positive images. “This would suggest that gender-dependent differences in emotional processing and memory are due to different mechanisms,” says study leader Dr Annette Milnik.
Increased brain activity
Using fMRI data from 696 test subjects, the researchers were also able to show that stronger appraisal of negative emotional image content by the female participants is linked to increased brain activity in motoric regions. “This result would support the common belief that women are more emotionally expressive than men,” explaines Dr Klara Spalek, lead author of the study.
The findings also help to provide a better understanding of gender-specific differences in information processing. This knowledge is important, because many neuropsychiatric illnesses also exhibit gender-related differences. The study is part of a research project led by professors Dominique de Quervain and Andreas Papassotiropoulos at the University of Basel, which aims to increase the understanding of neuronal and molecular mechanisms of human memory and thereby facilitate the development of new treatments.
Klara Spalek, Matthias Fastenrath, Sandra Ackermann, Bianca Auschra, XDavid Coynel, Julia Frey, Leo Gschwind, Francina Hartmann, Nadine van der Maarel, Andreas Papassotiropoulos, Dominique de Quervain and Annette Milnik
Sex-Dependent Dissociation between Emotional Appraisal and Memory: A Large-Scale Behavioral and fMRI Study
Journal of Neuroscience (2015) | doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.2384-14.2015
Published on Jul 22, 2014
View full lesson: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-playing…
When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout. Lesson by Anita Collins, animation by Sharon Colman Graham. http://youtu.be/R0JKCYZ8hng
Date: November 12, 2014Source: University of NottinghamSummary: It is claimed one in five students have taken the ‘smart’ drug Modafinil to boost their ability to study and improve their chances of exam success. But new research into the effects of Modafinil has shown that healthy students could find their performance impaired by the drug.
Date:November 10, 2014Source:Center for BrainHealthSummary:The effects of chronic marijuana use on the brain may depend on age of first use and duration of use, according to new research. Researchers for the first time comprehensively describe existing abnormalities in brain function and structure of long-term marijuana users with multiple magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques.
From the October 2014 EurkAlert!
New research by biomedical engineers at the University of Minnesota shows that people who practice yoga and meditation long term can learn to control a computer with their minds faster and better than people with little or no yoga or meditation experience. The research could have major implications for treatments of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases.
The research is published online in Technology, a new scientific journal featuring cutting-edge new technologies in emerging fields of science and engineering.
In the study, researchers involved a total of 36 participants. One group of 12 had at least one year of experience in yoga or meditation at least two times per week for one hour. The second group included 24 healthy participants who had little or no yoga or meditation experience. Both groups were new to systems using the brain to control a computer. Both groups participated in three, two-hour experiments over four weeks in which they wore a high tech, non-invasive cap over the scalp that picked up brain activity. The participants were asked to move a computer cursor across the screen by imaging left or right hand movements.
The participants with yoga or meditation experience were twice as likely to complete the brain-computer interface task by the end of 30 trials and learned three times faster than their counterparts for the left-right cursor movement experiments.
“In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on improving the computer side of the brain-computer interface but very little attention to the brain side,” said lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and director of the University’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine. “This comprehensive study shows for the first time that looking closer at the brain side may provide a valuable tool for reducing obstacles for brain-computer interface success in early stages.”
Researchers have been increasingly focused on finding ways to help physically disabled individuals who are paralyzed, have lost limbs, or suffer from diseases such as ALS or cerebral palsy. In these cases, brain function remains intact, but these people have to find a way to bypass muscular control to move a wheelchair, control an artificial limb, or control other devices.
Professor He gained international attention in 2013 when members of his research team were able to demonstrate flying a robot with only their minds. However, they found that not everyone can easily learn to control a computer with their brains. Many people are unsuccessful in controlling the computer after multiple attempts. A consistent and reliable EEG brain signal may depend on an undistracted mind and sustained attention. Meditators have shown more distinctive EEG patterns than untrained participants, which may explain their success.
Professor He said he got the idea for the study more than five years ago when he began his brain-computer interface research and noticed one woman participant who was much more successful than other participants at controlling the computer with her brain. The woman had extensive experience with yoga and mediation, referred to by researchers as Mind-Body Awareness Training (MBAT).
The next step for He and his team is to study a group of participants over time who are participating in yoga or meditation for the first time to see if their performance on the brain-computer interface improves.
“Our ultimate goal is to help people who are paralyzed or have brain diseases regain mobility and independence,” He said. “We need to look at all possibilities to improve the number of people who could benefit from our research.”
This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine. In addition to He, the University of Minnesota research team included research lab technician Kaitlin Cassady, biomedical engineering undergraduate student Albert You, and biomedical engineering master’s and medical student Alex Doud.
Corresponding author for this study in Technology is Professor Bin He, Ph.D., firstname.lastname@example.org. This study can be found at http://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/S233954781450023X.
Obtaining access to private outpatient psychiatric care in the Boston, Chicago and Houston metropolitan areas is difficult, even for those with private insurance or those willing to pay out of pocket. Researchers, who posed on the phone as patients seeking appointments with individual psychiatrists, encountered numerous obstacles, including unreturned calls, and met with success only 26 percent of the time.
[News article] New approaches needed for people with serious mental illnesses in criminal justice system — ScienceDaily
From the 14 October 2014 article
esponding to the large number of people with serious mental illnesses in the criminal justice system will require more than mental health services, according to a new report.
In many ways, the criminal justice system is the largest provider of mental health services in the country. Estimates vary, but previous research has found that about 14 percent of persons in the criminal justice system have a serious mental illness, and that number is as high as 31 percent for female inmates. Researchers are defining serious mental illnesses to include such things as schizophrenia, bipolar spectrum disorders and major depressive disorders.
“It has been assumed that untreated symptoms of mental illness caused criminal justice involvement, but now we’re seeing that there is little evidence to support that claim,” said Matthew Epperson, assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Specialized interventions for people with mental illness in the criminal justice system have been developed over the past 20 years, such as mental health courts and jail diversion programs, Epperson said.
“But we need a new generation of interventions for people with serious mental health issues who are involved in the criminal justice system, whether it be interactions with police, jails, probation programs and courts,” he said. “Research shows that people with serious mental illnesses, in general, display many of the same risk factors for criminal involvement as persons without these conditions.”
PITTSBURGH—Mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular way for people to improve their mental and physical health, yet most research supporting its benefits has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.
New research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice – 25 minutes for three consecutive days – alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress.
“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” said lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.
Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.
The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.
“When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task,” said Creswell. “And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.”
Creswell’s group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.
In addition to Creswell, the research team consisted of Carnegie Mellon’s Laura E. Pacilio and Emily K. Lindsay and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Kirk Warren Brown.
The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund supported this research.
For more information, visit http://www.psy.cmu.edu/people/creswell.html.
Excerpt from the 2014 paper **
Abstract“Neuroreductionism” is the tendency to reduce complex mental phenomena to brainstates, confusing correlation for physical causation. In this paper, we illustrate thedangers of this popular neuro-fallacy, by looking at an example drawn from the media: astory about “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” in women. We discuss the role of folkdualism in perpetuating such a confusion, and draw some conclusions about the role of“brain scans” in our understanding of romantic love.* * *There has been a surge of interest in recent years in “the neuroscience of love.” Bylooking at images of people’s brains when they are gazing pictures of their romantic partner, forexample, and comparing those against images of the same people looking at pictures of aplatonic friend, scientists have begun to construct a picture of “what is going on in our brains”when we we’re in love. They’re also starting to identify a number of brain chemicals—such asoxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—that seem to play in role in whether and how we formromantic and other social attachments.For some people, this research is exciting—opening upnew frontiers for how we understand some of our most basic human experiences. For others, it’sa little bit unsettling. Doesn’t it suggest that “love”—our most prized and mysterious emotion—is really just a bunch of stupid brain chemicals swirling around in our skulls?The answer is yes and no.At one level of description,everything that we experience,from, yes, falling in love, to, say, getting a stomach ache after eating a burrito, is (at least in principle) explainable in terms of microscopic events playing out between our neurons. But there are many different levels of description—including psychological, social, cultural, and even philosophical—that are just as important if we want to have a more complete understanding ofthe sorts of things that matter to us in our daily existence.“Brain chemicals” only get us so far…….***
Source> Sutton Trust
Four in ten babies don’t develop the strong emotional bonds – what psychologists call “secure attachment” – with their parents that are crucial to success later in life. Disadvantaged children are more likely to face educational and behavioural problems when they grow older as a result, new Sutton Trust research finds today.
The review of international studies of attachment, Baby Bonds, by Sophie Moullin (Princeton University), Professor Jane Waldfogel (Colombia University and the London School of Economics) and Dr Liz Washbrook (University of Bristol), finds infants aged under three who do not form strong bonds with their mother or father are more likely to suffer from aggression, defiance and hyperactivity when they get older.
[Report] Is Violent Radicalisation Associated with Poverty, Migration, Poor Self-Reported Health and Common Mental Disorders?
Source: PLoS ONE
Doctors, lawyers and criminal justice agencies need methods to assess vulnerability to violent radicalization. In synergy, public health interventions aim to prevent the emergence of risk behaviours as well as prevent and treat new illness events. This paper describes a new method of assessing vulnerability to violent radicalization, and then investigates the role of previously reported causes, including poor self-reported health, anxiety and depression, adverse life events, poverty, and migration and socio-political factors. The aim is to identify foci for preventive intervention.
A cross-sectional survey of a representative population sample of men and women aged 18–45, of Muslim heritage and recruited by quota sampling by age, gender, working status, in two English cities. The main outcomes include self-reported health, symptoms of anxiety and depression (common mental disorders), and vulnerability to violent…
View original post 122 more words
Addictive behavior such as drug and alcohol abuse could be associated with poor development of the so-called “love hormone” system in our bodies during early childhood, according to researchers at the University of Adelaide. The groundbreaking idea has resulted from a review of worldwide research into oxytocin, known as the “love hormone” or “bonding drug” because of its important role in enhancing social interactions, maternal behavior and partnership. This month’s special edition of the international journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior deals with the current state of research linking oxytocin and addiction, and has been guest edited by Dr Femke Buisman-Pijlman from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences. Dr Buisman-Pijlman, who has a background in both addiction studies and family studies, says some people’s lack of resilience to addictive behaviors may be linked to poor development of their oxytocin systems.
“We know that newborn babies already have levels of oxytocin in their bodies, and this helps to create the all-important bond between a mother and her child. But our oxytocin systems aren’t fully developed when we’re born – they don’t finish developing until the age of three, which means our systems are potentially subject to a range of influences both external and internal,” Dr Buisman-Pijlman says. She says the oxytocin system develops mainly based on experiences. “The main factors that affect our oxytocin systems are genetics, gender and environment. You can’t change the genes you’re born with, but environmental factors play a substantial role in the development of the oxytocin system until our systems are fully developed,” Dr Buisman-Pijlman says. IMAGE: This photo shows Dr. Femke Buisman-Pijlman from the University of Adelaide. She is the guest editor of the April 2014 edition of Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, which is focused on… Click here for more information. “Previous research has shown that there is a high degree of variability in people’s oxytocin levels. We’re interested in how and why people have such differences in oxytocin, and what we can do about it to have a beneficial impact on people’s health and wellbeing,” she says. She says studies show that some risk factors for drug addiction already exist at four years of age. “And because the hardware of the oxytocin system finishes developing in our bodies at around age three, this could be a critical window to study. Oxytocin can reduce the pleasure of drugs and feeling of stress, but only if the system develops well.” Her theory is that adversity in early life is key to the impaired development of the oxytocin system. “This adversity could take the form of a difficult birth, disturbed bonding or abuse, deprivation, or severe infection, to name just a few factors,” Dr Buisman-Pijlman says. “Understanding what occurs with the oxytocin system during the first few years of life could help us to unravel this aspect of addictive behavior and use that knowledge for treatment and prevention.”
New book Near-Death Experiences explores this controversial topic with historical reports and well-documented cases
In popular understanding, the expression “near-death experience” refers to the transition between the states of life and death. But how should such experiences be interpreted? Are they verifiable with scientific methods? If so, how can they be explained? Attempting to relate matters of scientific knowledge to subjective experience and the realm of belief is a difficult balancing act, and has led to a variety of approaches to the topic.
Near-Death Experiences by Birk Engmann scrutinizes the diverse views, and also myths, about near-death experiences and describes them from a scientific standpoint. Situated at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and religious studies, his book will appeal to a broad audience of both scientists and general readers.
Engmann explains, “The multitude of views and models purporting explanation already indicates that near-death research is something of a tightrope walk between rationally explainable theories and the sphere of belief. There is an urgent need for a critical review, and indeed, one which examines the way the natural sciences can throw light on this matter. This is the main aim of my book.”
Near-Death Experiences provides explanations for the various experiences construed by some as proof of the supernatural. The author discusses this highly controversial topic, using interesting historical reports and recent well-documented cases.
Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women
Stress, this enemy that haunts us every day, could be undermining not only our health but also our relationships with other people, especially if we are men. In fact, stressed women apparently become more “prosocial”. These are the main findings of a study carried out with the collaboration of Giorgia Silani, from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste. The study was coordinated by the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Unit of the University of Vienna and saw the participation of the University of Freiburg.
“There’s a subtle boundary between the ability to identify with others and take on their perspective – and therefore be empathic – and the inability to distinguish between self and other, thus acting egocentrically” explains Silani. “To be truly empathic and behave prosocially it’s important to maintain the ability to distinguish between self and other, and stress appears to play an important role in this”.
Stress is a psycho-biological mechanism that may have a positive function: it enables the individual to recruit additional resources when faced with a particularly demanding situation. The individual can cope with stress in one of two ways: by trying to reduce the internal load of “extra” resources being used, or, more simply, by seeking external support. “Our starting hypothesis was that stressed individuals tend to become more egocentric. Taking a self-centred perspective in fact reduces the emotional/cognitive load. We therefore expected that in the experimental conditions people would be less empathic” explains Claus Lamm, from the University of Vienna and one of the authors of the paper.
More in detail…
The surprise was that our starting hypothesis was indeed true, but only for males. In the experiments, conditions of moderate stress were created in the laboratory (for example, the subjects had to perform public speaking or mental arithmetic tasks, etc.). The participants then had to imitate certain movements (motor condition), or recognise their own or other people’s emotions (emotional condition), or make a judgement taking on another person’s perspective (cognitive condition). Half of the study sample were men, the other half were women.
“What we observed was that stress worsens the performance of men in all three types of tasks. The opposite is true for women” explains Silani.
Why this happens is not yet clear. “Explanations might be sought at several levels”, concludes Silani. “At a psychosocial level, women may have internalized the experience that they receive more external support when they are able to interact better with others.
This means that the more they need help – and are thus stressed – the more they apply social strategies. At a physiological level, the gender difference might be accounted for by the oxytocin system. Oxytocin is a hormone connected with social behaviours and a previous study found that in conditions of stress women had higher physiological levels of oxytocin than men”.
…many supposed psychological differences between the sexes are as illusory as the physical ones. In 2005, Janet Hyde, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, analyzed data from studies of apparent sex differences in traits such as aggression, social ability, math, and moral reasoning. Nearly four fifths of the traits showed only a minor or negligible difference between men and women.
In the rare cases where actual psychological differences exist, they cannot be attributed to innate neurology alone. Everything in the brain is a combination of nature and nurture. Culture comes into play, which affects behavior, which then affects the brain. From birth (and even in the womb), a baby is labeled as a girl or boy and treated a certain way as a result. For example, a 2005 study of 386 birth announcements in Canadian newspapers showed that parents tend to say they’re “proud” when it’s a boy and “happy” when it’s a girl. Anne Fausto-Sterling, a biologist at Brown University, has shown that mothers talk to infant girls more than infant boys. This could partly explain why girls tend to have better language skills later on. “Some differences end up fairly entrenched in adult human beings,” Fausto-Sterling says. “But that doesn’t mean that you were born that way or that you were born destined to be that way.”
Biologists have shown in rats that chronic stress makes stem cells in the brain produce more myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons, possibly affecting the speed of connections between cells as well as memory and learning. This could explain why stress leads to mental illness, such as PTSD, anxiety and mood disorders, later in life.…
Does stress affect brain connectivity?
Kaufer’s findings suggest a mechanism that may explain some changes in brain connectivity in people with PTSD, for example. One can imagine, she said, that PTSD patients could develop a stronger connectivity between the hippocampus and the amygdala — the seat of the brain’s fight or flight response — and lower than normal connectivity between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which moderates our responses.
“You can imagine that if your amygdala and hippocampus are better connected, that could mean that your fear responses are much quicker, which is something you see in stress survivors,” she said. “On the other hand, if your connections are not so good to the prefrontal cortex, your ability to shut down responses is impaired. So, when you are in a stressful situation, the inhibitory pathways from the prefrontal cortex telling you not to get stressed don’t work as well as the amygdala shouting to the hippocampus, ‘This is terrible!’ You have a much bigger response than you should.”
Stress tweaks stem cells
Kaufer’s lab, which conducts research on the molecular and cellular effects of acute and chronic stress, focused in this study on neural stem cells in the hippocampus of the brains of adult rats. These stem cells were previously thought to mature only into neurons or a type of glial cell called an astrocyte. The researchers found, however, that chronic stress also made stem cells in the hippocampus mature into another type of glial cell called an oligodendrocyte, which produces the myelin that sheaths nerve cells.
The fact that chronic stress also decreases the number of stem cells that mature into neurons could provide an explanation for how chronic stress also affects learning and memory, she said.
Kaufer is now conducting experiments to determine how stress in infancy affects the brain’s white matter, and whether chronic early-life stress decreases resilience later in life. She also is looking at the effects of therapies, ranging from exercise to antidepressant drugs, that reduce the impact of stress and stress hormones.
Major implications in concepts as free will, sin, justice, mental illness, government/medical “intervention”…..
AUSTIN, Texas — A new study correlating brain activity with how people make decisions suggests that when individuals engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving or unsafe sex, it’s probably not because their brains’ desire systems are too active, but because their self-control systems are not active enough.
This might have implications for how health experts treat mental illness and addiction or how the legal system assesses a criminal’s likelihood of committing another crime.
Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and elsewhere analyzed data from 108 subjects who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner — a machine that allows researchers to pinpoint brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images — while playing a video game that simulates risk-taking.
The researchers used specialized software to look for patterns of activity across the whole brain that preceded a person’s making a risky choice or a safe choice in one set of subjects. Then they asked the software to predict what other subjects would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity. The software accurately predicted people’s choices 71 percent of the time.
“These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what will happen in an additional test on the same person, but on people we haven’t seen before,” said Russell Poldrack, director of UT Austin’s Imaging Research Center and professor of psychology and neuroscience.
[Report] Adult illicit drug users are far more likely to seriously consider suicide | Full Text Reports…
From the 16 January SAMSHA news release ( US Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration)
Adults using illicit drugs are far more likely to seriously consider suicide than the general adult population according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report finds that 3.9 percent of the nation’s adult population aged 18 or older had serious thoughts about suicide in the past year, but that the rate among adult illicit drug users was 9.4 percent.
According to SAMHSA’s report, the percentage of adults who had serious thoughts of suicide varied by the type of illicit substance used. For example, while 9.6 percent of adults who had used marijuana in the past year had serious thoughts of suicide during that period, the level was 20.9 percent for adults who had used sedatives non-medically in the past year.
“Suicide takes a devastating toll on individuals, families and communities across our nation,” said Dr. Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. “We must reach out to all segments of our community to provide them with the support and treatment they need so that we can help prevent more needless deaths and shattered lives.”
Those in crisis or who know someone they believe may be at immediate risk of attempting suicide are urged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline network, funded by SAMHSA, provides immediate free and confidential, round-the-clock crisis counseling to anyone in need throughout the country, every day of the year.
This report, “1 in 11 Past Year Illicit Drug Users Had Serious Thoughts of Suicide,” is based on the findings of SAMHSA’s 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report. The NSDUH report is based on a scientifically conducted annual survey of approximately 70,000 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older. Because of its statistical power, it is a primary source of statistical information on the scope and nature of many substance abuse and mental health issues affecting the nation.
The complete survey findings are available on the SAMHSA web site at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/spotlight/spot129-suicide-thoughts-drug-use-2014.pdf
For more information about SAMHSA visit: http://www.samhsa.gov/.
From the 27 January 2014 press release at EurekAlert
|IMAGE: Brain Connectivity is the journal of record for researchers and clinicians interested in all aspects of brain connectivity.|
New Rochelle, NY, January 27, 2014—Building on previous evidence showing that religious belief involves cognitive activity that can be mapped to specific brain regions, a new study has found that causal, directional connections between these brain networks can be linked to differences in religious thought. The article “Brain Networks Shaping Religious Belief” is published in Brain Connectivity, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers, and is available free on the Brain Connectivity website at http://www.liebertpub.com/brain.
Dimitrios Kapogiannis and colleagues from the National Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD) and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, IL, analyzed data collected from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to evaluate the flow of brain activity when religious and non-religious individuals discussed their religious beliefs. The authors determined causal pathways linking brain networks related to “supernatural agents,” fear regulation, imagery, and affect, all of which may be involved in cognitive processing of religious beliefs.
“When the brain contemplates a religious belief,” says Dr. Kapogiannis, “it is activating three distinct networks that are trying to answer three distinct questions: 1) is there a supernatural agent involved (such as God) and, if so, what are his or her intentions; 2) is the supernatural agent to be feared; and 3) how does this belief relate to prior life experiences and to doctrines?”
“Are there brain networks uniquely devoted to religious belief? Prior research has indicated the answer is a resolute no,” continues study co-author Jordan Grafman, Director, Brain Injury Research and Chief, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. “But this study demonstrates that important brain networks devoted to various kinds of reasoning about others, emotional processing, knowledge representation, and memory are called into action when thinking about religious beliefs. The use of these basic networks for religious practice indicates how basic networks evolved to mediate much more complex beliefs like those contained in religious practice.”
Highest risk seen in children who experience suicide in close family members
Experiencing a family death in childhood is associated with a small but significant increase in risk of psychosis, suggests a paper published today on bmj.com.
The researchers say that the risks are highest for children who have experienced a suicide in the ‘nuclear family’ (brothers, sisters, parents).
Previous studies have concluded that the risk of adult disease can be influenced by genetics, lifestyle and environmental experience. There is also evidence that maternal psychological stress adversely affects the development of the fetus.
Population studies have so far provided weak support for an association between prenatal maternal psychological stress and later psychosis. Researchers from the UK, US and Sweden therefore set out to examine the association between deaths in the family as a form of severe stress to the individual and subsequent psychosis. Data were taken from Statistics Sweden and the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare and children born between 1973 and 1985 in Sweden.
Definitions of psychosis were: non-affective psychosis (including schizophrenia) and affective psychosis (bipolar disorder with psychosis and unipolar depression with psychosis).
Exposure periods were divided into ‘any exposure’ (all pre and postnatal); ‘any prenatal’ (prior to birth) and ‘any postnatal’ (birth up to 13 years of age) and further subdivided by trimester (first, second, third) and by three year periods in childhood between birth and 13 years of age (0-2.9 years; 3-6.9 years and 7-12.9 years). If more than one exposure occurred during the study period, priority was given to the earliest exposure.
Death was categorised into suicide, fatal injury / accident and others (such as cancers and cardiac arrests).
Models were adjusted for year of birth, child sex, maternal and paternal age, maternal and paternal nationality, parental socioeconomic status and history of any psychiatric illness in the family.
The final number of children included in the study was 946,994. Altogether, 321,249 (33%) children were exposed to a family death before the age of 13. Of individuals exposed to any death during the study period, 1323 (0.4%) developed a non-affective psychosis while 556 (0.17%) developed an effective psychosis. 11,117 children were exposed to death from suicide, 15,189 from accidents and the majority, 280,172 to deaths due to natural causes.
No increased risk of psychosis was seen following exposure in any prenatal period. Postnatally, an increased risk of ‘all psychosis’ was associated with deaths in the nuclear family and risk increased the earlier in childhood the death occurred.
Risks associated with exposure to suicide were higher compared with exposure to deaths from accidents which in turn were higher than risks associated with other deaths from natural causes.
The largest risk was seen in children exposed ages 0-3 years and risks reduced as age of exposure increased.
Professor Kathryn Abel, from the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at The University of Manchester, said: “Our research shows childhood exposure to death of a parent or sibling is associated with excess risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life. This is particularly associated with early childhood exposure. Further investigation is now required and future studies should consider “the broader contexts of parental suicide and parental loss in non-western, ethnically diverse populations.”
Research: Severe bereavement stress during the prenatal and childhood periods and risk of psychosis in later life: population based cohort study
From the 31 December 2013 ScienceNewsline Biology article
Researchers Aalto University have revealed how emotions are experienced in the body.
Emotions adjust our mental and also bodily states to cope with the challenges detected in the environment. These sensations arising from the bodily changes are an important feature of our emotional experiences. For example, anxiety may be experienced as pain in the chest, whereas falling in love may trigger warm, pleasurable sensations all over the body. New research from Aalto University reveals, how emotions are literally experienced through the body.
The researchers found that the most common emotions trigger strong bodily sensations, and the bodily maps of these sensations were topographically different for different emotions. The sensation patterns were, however, consistent across different West European and East Asian cultures, highlighting that emotions and their corresponding bodily sensation patterns have a biological basis.
Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way the prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities such as pleasurable social interactions present in the environment. Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness, tells assistant professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Aalto University.
The findings have major implications for our understanding of the functions of emotions and their bodily basis. On the other hand, the results help us to understand different emotional disorders and provide novel tools for their diagnosis.
The research was carried out on line, and over 700 individuals from Finland, Sweden and Taiwan took part in the study. The researchers induced different emotional states in their Finnish and Taiwanese participants. Subsequently the participants were shown with pictures of human bodies on a computer, and asked to colour the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing.
he research was funded by European Research Council (ERC), The Academy of Finland and the Aalto University (aivoAALTO project)
The results were published on 31 December (U.S. Eastern time) in the scientific journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America (PNAS).
Original publication: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111.full.pdf+html?with-ds=yes
Figure summarizing the main findings of the study http://becs.aalto.fi/~lnummen/Emotionbodies.pdf
Participate in the ongoing experiment : http://becs.aalto.fi/~lnummen/participate.htm
Figure caption: Different emotions are associated with discernible patterns of bodily sensations.
Assistant Professor Lauri Nummenmaa
Aalto University and Turku PET Centre
p. +358 50 431 9931
I’ve been in houses where one can just barely walk through a room. Remember being invited over to lunch at a friend’s. She said it took a whole week to clear the kitchen table so we could sit down and eat. Also remember my bother-in-law’s apartment. I kept on insisting she at least have a path form the door to her living room chair clear at all times, for the sake of safety.
Well, after reading this article, I have summoned up some compassion for folks who hoard.
Hoarding isn’t just about accumulating piles of stuff most of us would throw away. It’s more than the ceiling-high mounds of newspapers, books and dolls as shown on reality television shows like A&E’s “Hoarders” and TLC’s “Buried Alive.”
It’s about people paralyzed by the thought of getting rid of personal belongings, no matter how much – or little – they are worth. It’s about the social, physical and emotional isolation their hoarding behaviors cause. It’s about safety, not just for the hoarder but for those who live near them as well.
Initially, hoarding was considered a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. More recently, researchers have found that only about 20 percent of people who hoard also have OCD. Depression is much more common, occurring in about 50 percent of those with hoarding disorder.
Earlier this year, the American Psychiatric Association included hoarding as a distinct disorder in its updated Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM.
Several factors influence the likelihood that a person may be affected by hoarding, Schwartz said. At least 50 percent of people diagnosed with hoarding disorder also have a first-degree relative – such as a parent or sibling – who also has the problem.
Trauma also can trigger hoarding behaviors, such as a death in the family or an adult child leaving for college. In some cases, people who had a tendency to accumulate items may have had someone who helped keep them from going overboard in their hoarding. When that person is no longer there – such as because of a death – the hoarding may increase. People over age 55 are three times more likely to have a hoarding disorder, Schwartz said.
A study last year of people who struggle with hoarding tendencies found that hoarders tend to have unique brain activity when faced with making decisions about their possessions, compared with people who don’t have the disorder. In general, hoarders tend to struggle with organizational, attention and information processing, which makes it hard for them to toss out what most people would consider to be unnecessary.
“This isn’t just someone who is dirty and lazy. It’s a mental disorder,” said Chalmers, who has been featured as an expert on A&E’s “Hoarders.” “To a person who doesn’t suffer, you may think why is that such a struggle to get rid of what you don’t need. But to them, just to make a decision, their brain is complete chaos. They’re not thinking clearly like us.”
Hoarders don’t just fill their homes with books, papers and knickknack collections. In some cases, well-meaning people wind up collecting animals as well.
Treatment may involve helping hoarders to understand their own behavior and connect with the emotions they’re feeling. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the cleanup is actually one of the last steps people should take when dealing with a severe hoarding problem, said Chalmers, who runs a hoarding task force in San Bernadino that was developed in 2010.
“Without appropriate intervention, it will be a never-ending cycle of response,” Brown said. “If that person is allowed to go back to their typical life and receives no ongoing support, the likelihood they will start hoarding again is very, very high. That’s another reason we need this task force.”
- ‘Hoarder fire’ guts Glendale home; woman’s hair caught fire in escape (azfamily.com)
- Don’t Let A Hoarding Disorder Ruin Your Life: 5 Anti-Clutter Strategies (health-host.co.uk)
- The psychology of the Hoarder (blogs.abc.net.au)
- Conference focuses on addressing hoarding in the First State (wdde.org)
- This Isn’t a TV Show: Life as a Hoarder (persephonemagazine.com)
- New Book Focuses On Hoarding (foxct.com)
- NBC2 Investigators: Hoarding in Southwest Florida (nbc-2.com)
- Austin Trash Removal: The One Book You Should Read About Hoarding (dirtyworkservices.wordpress.com)
- Hoarders and hoarding (lebanoncountylink.org)
- ‘Hoarding: Buried Alive’: Man Wants To Rent Duplex Unit Next To His Garbage Hoard (wonderfultips.wordpress.com)
Non-Specialist Health Workers Play Important Role in Improving Mental Health in Developing Countries
Non-specialist health workers are beneficial in providing treatment for people with mental, neurological and substance-abuse (MNS) problems in developing countries — where there is often a lack of mental health professionals — according to a new Cochrane review.
Researchers, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, say non-specialist health workers (such as doctors, nurses or lay health workers) not formally trained in mental health or neurology, and other professionals with health roles, such as teachers, may have an important role to play in delivering MNS health care. The study is the first systematic review of non-specialist health workers providing MNS care in low- and middle-income countries.
After examining 38 relevant studies from 22 developing countries, researchers found that non-specialist health workers were able to alleviate some depression or anxiety. For patients with dementia, non-specialists seemed to help in reducing symptoms and in improving their carers’ coping skills. Non-specialists may also have benefits in treating maternal depression, post traumatic stress disorder as well as alcohol abuse, though the improvements may be smaller.
Lead author Dr Nadja van Ginneken, who completed the research at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Centre for Global Mental Health with funding from the Wellcome Trust Clinical PhD programme, said: “Many low- and middle-income countries have started to train primary care staff, and in particular lay and other community-based health workers, to deliver mental health care. This review shows that, for some mental health problems, the use of non-specialist health workers has some benefits compared to usual care.”
Cochrane Abstract is here
Check with a local academic, health/medical, or public library for free or low cost access to full text.
People who can accurately remember details of their daily lives going back decades are as susceptible as everyone else to forming fake memories, UC Irvine psychologists and neurobiologists have found. In a series of tests to determine how false information can manipulate memory formation, the researchers discovered that subjects with highly superior autobiographical memory logged scores similar to those of a control group of subjects with average memory. “
Finding susceptibility to false memories even in people with very strong memory could be important for dissemination to people who are not memory experts. For example, it could help communicate how widespread our basic susceptibility to memory distortions is,” said Lawrence Patihis, a graduate student in psychology & social behavior at UC Irvine. “This dissemination could help prevent false memories in the legal and clinical psychology fields, where contamination of memory has had particularly important consequences in the past.”
- People who don’t forget can still be tricked with false memories (medicalxpress.com)
- How Many Of Your Memories Are Fake? (theatlantic.com)
- People with superior recall powers vulnerable to false memories (universityofcalifornia.edu)
- Remember That? No You Don’t. Study Shows False Memories Afflict Us All (science.time.com)
Seems I’m reading and re-posting criminal justice items today…
Selected this one because I am an ardent opponent of the death penalty. And when the death penalty is abolished, there still are plenty of criminal justice issues that need addressing/resolving.
This statistic is new to me. Justice needs to be served, but life without parole for nonviolent offenders? The punishment in these cases does not fit the crime.
Excessive Sentences for Drug and Property Crimes; Extreme Racial Disparities Shown
From the 13 November 2013 ACLU press release
NEW YORK – In the first-ever study of people serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses in the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union found that at least 3,278 prisoners fit this category in federal and state prisons combined.
“A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses” features key statistics about these prisoners, an analysis of the laws that produced their sentences, and case studies of 110 men and women serving these sentences. Of the 3,278 prisoners, 79 percent were convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes such as possession or distribution, and 20 percent of nonviolent property crimes like theft.
“The punishments these people received are grotesquely out of proportion to the crimes they committed,” said Jennifer Turner, ACLU human rights researcher and author of the report. “In a humane society, we can hold people accountable for drug and property crimes without throwing away the key.”
The ACLU estimates that, of the 3,278 serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, 65 percent are Black, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino, evidence of extreme racial disparities. Of the 3,278, most were sentenced under mandatory sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums and habitual offender laws that required them to be incarcerated until they die.
“The people profiled in our report are an extreme example of the millions of lives ruined by the persistent ratcheting up of our sentencing laws over the last forty years,” said Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the ACLU. “We must change our sentencing practices to make our justice system smart, fair, and humane. It’s time to undo the damage wrought by four decades of the War on Drugs and ‘tough-on-crime’ attitudes.”
Douglas Ray Dunkins Jr., who has served 22 years so far, told the ACLU, “It’s devastating, horrible, not being around to see [my children] graduate and go to school.” Dicky Joe Jackson, who has served 17 years, said, “I would rather have had a death sentence than a life sentence.”
The federal courts account for 63 percent of the 3,278 life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent offenses. The remaining prisoners are in Louisiana (429 prisoners), Florida (270), Alabama (244), Mississippi (93), South Carolina (88), Oklahoma (49), Georgia (20), Illinois (10), and Missouri (1). The ACLU estimates that federal and state taxpayers spend $1.8 billion keeping these people in prison for life instead of more appropriate terms.
In addition to interviews, correspondence, and a survey of hundreds of prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, the ACLU based “A Living Death” on court records, a prisoner survey, and data from the United States Sentencing Commission, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state Departments of Corrections obtained through Freedom of Information Act and open records requests.
“A Living Death” features comments from the prisoners’ family members, and in multiple instances, prisoners’ sentencing judges express frustration and outrage at the severity of the punishment the law required. Judge Milton I. Shadur told Rudy Martinez as he sentenced Martinez to life without parole: “[F]airness has departed from the system.”
The report includes recommendations to federal and state governments for changes in sentencing and clemency. The proposed policy reforms would help bring balance back to sentencing—crucial steps to reduce our nation’s dependence on incarceration.
“We must change the laws that have led to such unconscionable sentences,” said Turner. “For those now serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, President Obama and state governors must step in and reduce their sentences. To do nothing is a failure of justice.”
The ACLU has placed ads online and in print to raise public awareness of the prisoners serving life-without-parole for nonviolent offenses and the larger problem of mass incarceration. Featuring photographs of six prisoners profiled in “A Living Death,” the ads will appear multiple times in print and online in such national outlets as Jet, The Nation, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
The report is available here:
- 8 Shocking Facts From the ACLU’s Report on Life Without Parole (nation.time.com)
- 23 Petty Crimes That Have Landed People in Prison for Life Without Parole – New ACLU report documents the disturbing growth of endless sentences. (newsforage.com)
- ACLU: Alabama 3rd in state prisoners serving life without parole for non-violent crimes (al.com)
- ACLU: more than 3,200 serving life without parole for nonviolent crimes (jurist.org)
- ACLU: Over 3,000 Prisoners Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes (abcnews.go.com)