A new study from Iowa State University finds that midlife tension with mothers and siblings, similar to that with spouses, is associated with symptoms of depression.
The research, which appears in the journal Social Sciences, found all three relationships have a similar effect, and one is not stronger than another.
“Family scholars have focused a lot on the relationship we have with our spouse,” said Megan Gilligan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human development and family studies. “There is this assumption that as you go through your life course, you leave these other relationships with your parents and siblings behind, but you don’t. You carry those with you.”
The relationship between mothers and daughters is even more significant. The research shows tension between mothers and adult children was a stronger predictor of depression for daughters than it was for sons.
However, gender did not make a difference in relationships with spouses and siblings. Gilligan says this makes sense based on her previous research.
“We know that mothers and daughters in adulthood have the closest relationships and also the most conflictual. These are really intense relationships,” she said. “Later in life, adult children start providing more care to their parents, and daughters in particular are often caregivers for their mothers.”
Midlife is often characterized as stable and uneventful, but in reality, it is a time of change and transition for many people, Gilligan said.
For example, adult children may be leaving the house and aging parents start requiring more care. Additionally, researchers know that midlife adults often react more strongly to family conflict than older adults do.
While there is a great deal of research on young families and family dynamics later in life, there is a gap at midlife, Gilligan said. Given the potential for greater conflict with mothers or siblings related to these midlife changes, it is important to understand the consequences of negative relationships on our psychological well-being.
“Midlife is a time when siblings are often coming back together as they prepare and navigate care for parents,” she said. “For that reason, it’s a pivotal time when these family relationships might be experiencing more tension, more strain, more discord.”
The researchers believe mental health professionals should take a holistic view and consider the whole family when providing care for an individual’s depressive symptoms.
For the study, investigators used data collected through the Within-Family Differences Study. Their analysis included 495 adult children within 254 families.
For a majority of families, multiple siblings participated in the study. Researchers measured depressive symptoms and tension among family members through survey questions. They controlled for race, gender, and education.
In the paper, Gilligan and her colleagues explained that they expected all three relationships would predict depressive symptoms, but the effect would vary depending on the quality of the relationship.
The fact that they found no significant difference between spouses, mothers, and siblings is important to note, especially for practitioners. Gilligan said instead of focusing solely on a romantic partner or spouse, marriage and family therapists should ask about other sources of family stress.
“These findings show that we are navigating other family relationships at the same time and we’re not experiencing them in isolation — we’re experiencing them simultaneously,” Gilligan said.
“The stress people are experiencing may be the result of a romantic partner or spouse. However, it could also be that they’re fighting with their siblings or they’re experiencing a lot of tension with their mother even though they are 50 years old.”
Source: Iowa State University
Few parents want their children to hear them arguing. But new research suggests it may be OK as long as the parents handle disagreements in a constructive way.
University of Arizona investigators looked at how parents manage conflict with each other, and the way in which this affects their parenting styles.
Olena Kopystynska, a graduate student in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and lead author on the paper, also investigated how emotionally secure children feel after being exposed to conflict between their parents.
Kopystynska’s study focuses on constructive versus destructive styles of conflict management.
In constructive conflict management, there is calmness and respect, despite a difference in opinion; the conflict stays focused on one topic; and progress is made toward a resolution. When conflict is handled destructively, there is anger and resentment, and the argument often strays off topic to things that may have happened in the past.
Kopystynska and her colleagues found that when even one parent handles conflict with a partner destructively, it can leave children feeling more emotionally insecure about their home life.
“Children are very good at picking up on little nuances of how parents interact with each other, so it really matters how parents express and manage their daily life challenges because that determines children’s confidence in the stability and safety of their family,” Kopystynska said.
“If parents are hostile toward each other, even children as young as three years old may be threatened that their family may be headed toward dissolution. They may not necessarily be able to express their insecurities verbally, but they can feel it.”
Kopystynska’s study is based on national data collected for the Building Strong Families Project, which targeted low-income families; a population that could be at high risk for conflict, given the many stressors associated with financial strife.
Parents in the study were mostly unmarried and had just conceived their first child at the start of data collection, which was done in three waves.
Kopystynska focused on the third wave of data, collected when the children in the study were three years old. Mothers and fathers were surveyed at that point about their perceptions of their conflict management behaviors with each other, and how their children react emotionally when they witness conflict between their parents.
While similar studies have relied only on data from mothers, the inclusion of fathers helps provide a more complete picture of what’s going on, Kopystynska said.
Kopystynska and her co-authors identified four different profiles of the couples surveyed:
The researchers also looked at supportive and harsh parenting behaviors, as measured through direct observations of each parent separately interacting with his or her child.
Supportive behaviors might include making positive statements, being sensitive to the child’s needs, and engaging the child in cognitively stimulating ways. Harsh parenting might include forceful or intrusive behaviors or expressions of anger and dissatisfaction toward the child.
Researchers found that fathers’ parenting styles did not seem to be affected by how they managed conflict with their partners. In other words, fathers interacted with their children similarly in all profiles.
Yet, mothers in the profile in which fathers handled conflict constructively and mothers handled conflict destructively tended to be harsher with their children than mothers in the profile in which both parents handled conflict constructively.
As far as the impact on children’s emotional insecurity, researchers found that when one parent handled conflict destructively and the other constructively, children’s emotional insecurity was higher than what was reported for children whose parents both handled conflict constructively.
“What we found is that when parents are using constructive conflict management, the children feel less insecure about their family climate, and when at least one parent argues destructively, there are some levels of insecurity about the family relationships,” Kopystynska said.
Kopystynska points out that a common misconception is that most low-income families are at risk for dysfunctional behaviors — yet, very few couples in the study were entirely destructive in their conflict management styles.
In fact, only three percent of couples in the sample included two partners who handled conflict destructively, suggesting that most couples in the sample participated in healthy and positive conflict patterns.
“There is often a belief out there that if you are a low-income family, you probably have a lot of dysfunction, but over 50 percent of the couples we looked at were arguing constructively,” Kopystynska said.
“Considering all the stressors they’re dealing with, the majority of them still have a good, functional relationship, at least when it comes to conflict.”
The fact that the group in which both parents were arguing in destructive ways was so small might help explain one surprising finding of Kopystynska’s study — that emotional insecurity levels were lowest for children of these parents.
Also contributing to that finding could be the fact that those couples may have broken up and physically separated from each other by the time the data was collected, meaning that children may not have been as directly exposed to their parents’ interactions, Kopystynska said.
“Parents who were in the concordant destructive group were less likely to stay together, so they were probably not in the same home, so children were probably not exposed to that interparental conflict,” said Kopystynska, whose co-authors on the paper were University of Arizona faculty members Drs. Melissa Barnett and Melissa Curran, along with Dr. Katherine Paschall of the University of Texas at Austin.
In general, Kopystynska said, it’s important for parents to be aware of how they interact with each other, and remember that conflict shouldn’t necessarily be avoided but handled in a way that makes a child feel less threatened.
“Not all conflict is bad — it’s about how you manage it,” Kopystynska said.
“Given that children are going to encounter conflict out there in the real world, exposure to some conflict can be beneficial. However, it’s really how parents handle that conflict that sets the tone for how safe children feel, and may further promote similar conflict management behaviors for when children are confronted with conflict of their own.”
Source: University of Arizona
Many a parent has expressed frustration when they watch their child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder squirm and fidget in school and while doing their homework, yet appear laser-focused and motionless sitting in front of the TV.
New research should appease concerns as investigators discover lack of motivation or boredom with school isn’t to blame for the differing behavior.
Rather, symptoms of ADHD such as fidgeting, foot-tapping, and chair-swiveling are triggered by cognitively demanding tasks like school and homework. But movies and video games don’t typically require brain strain, so the excessive movement doesn’t manifest.
“When a parent or a teacher sees a child who can sit perfectly still in one condition and yet over here they’re all over the place, the first thing they say is, ‘Well, they could sit still if they wanted to,’” said Dr. Mark Rapport, director of the Children’s Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida.
“But kids with ADHD only need to move when they are accessing their brain’s executive functions. That movement helps them maintain alertness.”
Scientists once thought that ADHD symptoms were always present. But previous research from Rapport, who has been studying ADHD for more than 36 years, has shown the fidgeting was most often present when children were using their brains’ executive functions, particularly “working memory.”
That’s the system we use for temporarily storing and managing information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension.
In the new study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Professor Rapport’s senior doctoral student Sarah Orban and research team tested 62 boys ages eight to 12. Of those, 32 had ADHD. Thirty did not have ADHD and acted as a control group.
During separate sessions, the children watched two short videos, each about 10 minutes long. One was a scene from “Star Wars Episode I — The Phantom Menace” in which a young Anakin Skywalker competes in a dramatic pod-race. The other was an instructional video featuring an instructor verbally and visually presenting multi-step solutions to addition, subtraction, and multiplication problems.
While watching, the participants were observed by a researcher, recorded and outfitted with wearable actigraphs that tracked their slightest movements. The children with ADHD were largely motionless while watching the Star Wars clip, but during the math video they swiveled in their chairs, frequently changed positions, and tapped their feet.
That may not seem surprising. After all, weren’t the children absorbed by the sci-fi movie and bored by the math lesson? Not so, Rapport said.
“That’s just using the outcome to explain the cause,” he said. “We have shown that what’s really going on is that it depends on the cognitive demands of the task.
“With the action movie, there’s no thinking involved — you’re just viewing it, using your senses. You don’t have to hold anything in your brain and analyze it. With the math video, they are using their working memory, and in that condition movement helps them to be more focused.”
Investigators believe the study findings are salient: Parents and teachers of children with ADHD should avoid labeling them as unmotivated slackers when they’re working on tasks that require working memory and cognitive processing. And, it’s OK and even desirable for kids to fidget and squirm as they work to learn tasks requiring higher level functions.
Source: University of Central Florida
A new national poll suggests parents are not confident that schools can appropriately care for students’ mental health problems or medical issues.
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan discovered that only 38 percent of parents are very confident in schools’ ability to assist a student suspected of having a mental health problem.
Most parents (77 percent) are sure schools would be able to provide first aid for minor issues, such as bleeding from a cut. But parents are less confident about a school’s ability to respond to more complex health situations, such as an asthma attack or mental health issues.
“Parents feel schools can handle basic first aid, but are less sure about urgent health situations such as an asthma attack, epileptic seizure, or serious allergic reaction,” said Sarah Clark, M.P.H, co-director of the poll.
“And they have the most uncertainty around whether schools can identify and assist a student with a mental health problem.”
“One of the challenges of addressing mental health is that there are so many facets,” Clark said. “At the elementary level, this might include prolonged sadness, anger management problems, or undiagnosed ADHD. For older students, it may be anxiety about college entrance tests, a problem with drug use, or suicidal thoughts.”
Parents at the middle/high school level noted that school counselors would be most likely to assist with mental health issues. However, varying levels of training, competing demands, and large student caseloads may make it especially difficult for counselors to identify students who are struggling.
“Parents may want to learn more about how their child’s school works to identify and support students struggling with mental health issues, and advocate for increased resources if needed,” she said.
For basic first aid and urgent health conditions, parents name the school nurse as the staff with primary responsibility. Roughly three in five parents believe a school nurse is onsite at their child’s school five days a week (61 percent of elementary parents, 57 percent of junior/senior high parents).
Parents who believe a school nurse is onsite five days a week report higher levels of confidence in the school’s ability to handle health and safety situations.
However, recent data from the National Association of School Nurses suggests that parents may be overestimating the amount of time a nurse spends at their child’s school. Fewer than half of U.S. schools have full-time nurses, with substantial variation by region, according to the data.
Budget constraints have forced many school districts to cut nurse staffing at school sites. Some districts are attempting to use telemedicine to fill the void in on-site care, promising improved access, yet parents are often not pleased with this solution.
A distinct trend is the reduction in constant availability of a school nurse — a situation that may be particularly chancy for students with health conditions that may require an immediate response at school such as administering a medication or knowing when to call an ambulance.
“Parents of children with special health needs should work directly with school personnel to understand the onsite availability of school nurses, and to ensure non-medical staff are prepared to handle urgent health-related situations that may arise during the school day,” she said.
Source: University of Michigan
New research undercuts a widely held opinion that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is associated with a higher intelligence quotient (IQ).
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Texas State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill performed what is believed to be first analysis of existing data on the link between IQ and OCD sufferers verses the general population.
The authors tracked the origins of the myth to the French philosopher, physician and psychologist Pierre Janet in 1903, but it was Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who popularized the hypothesis in 1909.
Study findings appear in the Neuropsychology Review.
“Although this myth was never studied empirically until now, it is still a widely held belief among mental-health professionals, OCD sufferers and the general public,” said Dr. Gideon Anholt, a senior lecturer in BGU’s Department of Psychology.
The investigators conducted a meta-analysis of all the available literature on IQ in OCD samples versus non-psychiatric controls (98 studies). They found that contrary to the prevailing myth, OCD is not associated with superior IQ, but with normative IQ that is slightly lower compared to control samples.
The authors suggested that the small reduction in IQ scores in OCD sufferers may be largely attributed to OCD-related slowness and not to intellectual ability.
The popular misconception about OCD has been further promoted by TV programs like “Monk,” which show an individual with OCD using his superior intelligence to solve challenging mysteries.
Yet, such beliefs about OCD may facilitate the misconception that there are advantages associated with the disorder, potentially decreasing one’s motivation to seek professional help.
“Future IQ assessments of individuals with OCD should focus on verbal and not performance IQ, a score heavily influenced by slowness,” the researchers say.
The research team also included Dr. Amitai Abromovich, Texas State University; Sagi Raveh-Gottfried, psychology department, BGU; Dr. Jonathan S. Abramowitz, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Naama Hamo, Ruppin Academic Center, Israel.
By Anonymous Thank you all for your comments. I don’t really consider myself to be a writer, (neither did my school English teacher)! But writing…
Almost half of parents whose children were admitted to Children’s National Health System’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) experienced postpartum depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress when their newborns were discharged from the hospital.
Parents who were the most anxious also were the most depressed, according to research presented during the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that one in 10 infants born in the United States each year is born preterm, or before 37 weeks’ gestation. Because fetuses undergo dramatic growth in the final weeks of pregnancy, preemies often need help in the NICU with essentials such as breathing, eating, and regulating their body temperature. Some very sick newborns die.
Because their infants’ lives hang in the balance, NICU parents are at particular risk for poor emotional function, including mood disorders, anxiety, and distress.
Researchers led by Children’s National Neonatologist Lamia Soghier, M.D., set out to determine factors closely associated with poor emotional function to identify at-risk parents most in need of mental health support.
The research team enrolled 300 parents and infants in a randomized controlled clinical trial that explored the impact of providing peer-to-peer support to parents after their newborns are discharged from the NICU.
The researchers relied on a 10-item tool to assess depressive symptoms and a 46-question tool to describe the degree of parental stress. They used regression and partial correlation to characterize the relationship between depressive symptoms, stress, gender, and educational status with such factors as the infant’s gestational age at birth, birth weight, and length of stay.
About 58 percent of the infants in the study were male; 58 percent weighed less than 5.6 pounds at birth; and the average length of stay for 54 percent of infants was less than two weeks.
According to the researchers, 89 percent of parents who completed the surveys were mothers; 44 percent were African American; and 45 percent reported having attained at least a college degree. Additionally, 43 percent were first-time parents.
The researchers discovered that about 45 percent of NICU parents had elevated Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) scores.
“The baby’s gender, gestational age at birth and length of NICU stay were associated with the parents having more pronounced depressive symptoms,” Soghier says. “Paradoxically, parents whose newborns were close to full-term at delivery had 6.6-fold increased odds of having elevated CES-D scores compared with parents of preemies born prior to 28 weeks’ gestation. Stress levels were higher in mothers compared with fathers, but older parents had lower levels of stress than younger parents.”
The results presented at the conference are an interim analysis, according to Soghier. She noted the longer-term study continues, exploring the impact of providing peer support for parents after NICU discharge.
Photo: Almost half of parents whose children were admitted to Children’s National Health System’s neonatal intensive care unit experienced postpartum depressive symptoms, anxiety and stress when their newborns were discharged from the hospital. Credit: Children’s National Health System.
Paid sick leave is starting to gain momentum as a social justice issue with important implications for health and wellness. At the moment, only seven states in the United States have mandatory paid sick leave laws, and 15 states have passed preemptive legislation prohibiting localities from passing sick leave.
But how does a lack of paid sick leave affect Americans’ mental health? In a new study, researchers from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Cleveland State University explore the link between psychological distress and paid sick leave among U.S. workers ages 18-64.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, shed light on the effects of exacerbated stress on Americans without paid sick leave who are unable to care for themselves or their loved ones without fear of losing wages or their jobs.
“For many Americans, daily life itself can be a source of stress as they struggle to manage numerous responsibilities including health related issues,” said Patricia Stoddard-Dare, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of social work at Cleveland State University.
“Making matters worse, for those who lack paid sick leave, a day away from work can mean lost wages or even fear of losing one’s job. These stressors combined with other sources of stress have the potential to interfere with workplace performance and impact overall mental health.”
The study shows that workers without paid sick leave benefits have a statistically significant higher level of psychological distress. They also are 1.45 times more likely to report that their distress symptoms interfere “a lot” with their daily life and activities compared to workers with paid sick leave. Those most vulnerable are young, Hispanic, low-income, and poorly educated populations.
“Given the disproportionate access to paid sick leave based on race, ethnicity, and income status, coupled with its relationship to health and mental health, paid sick leave must be viewed as a health disparity as well as a social justice issue,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an associate professor in the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.
“Even modest increases in psychological distress are noteworthy for both researchers and policy makers since we know that even small increases in stress can impact health.”
The study involved 17,897 participants from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), administered by the U.S. government since 1957 to examine a nationally representative sample of U.S. households about health and sociodemographic variables.
To assess psychological distress, the researchers used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6). With a theoretical range of zero to 24, higher scores on the K6 represent increased psychological distress and scores above 13 are correlated with having a mental disorder of some type.
The findings show that those with paid sick leave had a lower mean distress score compared to those without paid sick leave, who had significantly higher K6 scores, indicating a higher level of psychological distress. Only 1.4 percent of those with paid sick leave had a K6 score above 12 compared to 3.1 percent of the respondents without paid sick leave.
The most significant control variables indicated an increase in the expected psychological distress score among those who were younger, female, in fair or poor personal health, had at least one chronic health condition, were current smokers or did not get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep per day.
Around 40 percent of participants in the NHIS sample did not have paid sick leave; about half were female; more than half were married or cohabitating; three-quarters indicated that their highest level of education included at least some college; and 62 percent were non-Hispanic white.
The mean age was 41.2 years. Most of the respondents (79.1 percent) worked full-time and 82.7 percent had health insurance coverage. Participants were in families with a mean size of 2.6 persons and 39.3 percent reported having children in the family. Approximately 32 percent had an annual family income of $35,000 to $50,000, and more than one-quarter were below the poverty threshold.
The researchers warn that even though there is concern about the potential burden on employers if paid sick leave laws are passed, it is important to be mindful of the overall situation regarding productivity loss and workplace costs associated with mental health symptoms and psychological concerns among U.S. workers.
In addition, the personal health care consequences of delaying or forgoing needed medical care can lead to more complicated and expensive health conditions. Employees with paid sick leave are more likely to take time off work and self-quarantine when necessary, without the worries of losing their job or income while also not spreading illness to others.
“Results from our research will help employers as they think about strategies to reduce psychological stress in their employees such as implementing or expanding access to paid sick days,” said Stoddard-Dare.
“Clinicians also can use these findings to help their patients and clients as can legislators who are actively evaluating the value of mandating paid sick leave.”
Source: Florida Atlantic University
Some people worry more than others. Unfortunately, the concerns may detrimentally influence future performance of tasks. A new study using electroencephalographic feedback finds that the solution to this dilemma may easily accomplished.
In the study, Michigan State University researchers found that simply writing about your feelings may help you perform an upcoming stressful task more efficiently.
Investigators say the research provides the first neural evidence for the benefits of expressive writing.
“Worrying takes up cognitive resources; it’s kind of like people who struggle with worry are constantly multitasking — they are doing one task and trying to monitor and suppress their worries at the same time,” explains lead author Hans Schroder, an MSU doctoral student in psychology and a clinical intern at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital.
“Our findings show that if you get these worries out of your head through expressive writing, those cognitive resources are freed up to work toward the task you’re completing and you become more efficient.”
Schroder conducted the study at Michigan State with Jason Moser, associate professor of psychology and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, and Tim Moran, a research scientist at Emory University.
The findings appear online in the journal Psychophysiology.
For the study, college students identified as chronically anxious through a validated screening measure completed a computer-based “flanker task” that measured their response accuracy and reaction times.
Before the task, about half of the participants wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the upcoming task for eight minutes; the other half, in the control condition, wrote about what they did the day before.
While the two groups performed at about the same level for speed and accuracy, the expressive-writing group performed the flanker task more efficiently, meaning they used fewer brain resources, measured with electroencephalography, or EEG, in the process.
Moser uses a car analogy to describe the effect.
“Here, worried college students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand new Prius,” he said, “whereas the worried students who didn’t offload their worries ran more like a ’74 Impala – guzzling more brain gas to achieve the same outcomes on the task.”
While much previous research has shown that expressive writing can help individuals process past traumas or stressful events, the current study suggests the same technique can help people — especially worriers — prepare for stressful tasks in the future.
“Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get “burned out” over, their worried minds working harder and hotter,” Moser said.
“This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.’”
Source: Michigan State University