Profound new research suggests the common strategy to not dwell on mistakes and to move on to the next experience, may be unproductive.
Ohio State investigators believe truly feeling the pain of failure helps you admit what went wrong and stimulates you to try harder the next time. They believe this approach is a better method to correct mistakes than simply thinking about what went wrong.
Researchers found that people who just thought about a failure tended to make excuses for why they were unsuccessful and didn’t try harder when faced with a similar situation. In contrast, people who focused on their emotions following a failure put forth more effort when they tried again.
“All the advice tells you not to dwell on your mistakes, to not feel bad,” said Dr. Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and a professor of marketing.
“But we found the opposite. When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions — when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.”
While thinking about how to improve from past mistakes might help — this study didn’t examine that — the researchers found that people who reflect on a failure do not tend to focus on ways to avoid a similar mistake.
When asked to think about their mistakes, most people focus on protecting their ego, Malkoc said. They think about how the failure wasn’t their fault, or how it wasn’t that big of a deal, anyway.
“If your thoughts are all about how to distance yourself from the failure, you’re not going to learn from your mistakes,” she said.
Malkoc conducted the study with Drs. Noelle Nelson of the University of Kansas and Baba Shiv of Stanford University. Their results appear online in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.
Researchers conducted several studies to come to their conclusion. In one, 98 college students were asked to price search online for a blender with specific characteristics, and with the possibility of winning a cash prize if they found the lowest price.
Before they found out if they won, half the participants were told to focus on their emotional response to winning or losing, while the other half were instructed to focus on their thoughts about how they did. They were told they would write about their response afterward.
The price search task was rigged, though, and all participants found out that the lowest price was $3.27 less than what they found. After writing about their failure, the students had a chance to redeem themselves.
The researchers wanted to find out if the effort put forth by participants in a new task would be related to whether they focused on their thoughts or emotions involving the previous failure. The researchers believed that a task similar to their failed job — in this case a search for the lowest price — would trigger participants into recalling their unsuccessful attempt, while an unrelated job would not.
So the participants were given another task. Half were asked to search for a gift book for a friend that was the best fit for their limited college-student budget. In other words, they were looking for the lowest price, as they were instructed in the first task.
The other half of the participants were given a non-similar task, which was to search for a book that would be the best choice as a gift for their friend.
The results showed emotional responses to failure motivated participants much more than cognitive ones when they were faced with a similar task.
Emotionally motivated participants spent nearly 25 percent more time searching for a low-priced book than did participants who had only thought about — rather than dwelled on the pain of — their earlier failure.
There was no significant difference in effort made by participants when the second task wasn’t like the first (when they were searching for the best gift, rather than the cheapest).
“When the participants focused on how bad they felt about failing the first time, they tried harder than others when they had another similar opportunity,” Malkoc said.
“But the situation has to be similar enough to trigger the pain of the initial failure.”
One reason why an emotional response to failure may be more effective than a cognitive one is the nature of people’s thoughts about their mistakes.
When the researchers analyzed what participants who thought about their failure wrote about, they found significantly more self-protective thoughts (“This wasn’t my fault,” “I could not have found it even if I tried”) than they did self-improvement thoughts (“I know how I can do better next time”).
Unfortunately, that may be the default mode for most people, at least in many everyday situations.
In another similar study, the researchers didn’t tell some participants how to respond to their failures. They found that these people tended to produce cognitive responses rather than emotional ones, and those cognitive responses were the kinds that protected themselves rather than focused on self-improvement.
Malkoc said that in most real-life situations, people probably have both cognitive and emotional responses to their failures. But the important thing to remember is not to avoid the emotional pain of failing, but to use that pain to fuel improvement.
“Emotional responses to failure can hurt. They make you feel bad. That’s why people often choose to think self-protective thoughts after they make mistakes,” she said.
“But if you focus on how bad you feel, you’re going to work harder to find a solution and make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.”
Source: Ohio State University
In the United States, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1 percent of the population every year. The diagnosis is the most common mental illness in the U.S.
Sadly, less than 37 percent of people with anxiety receive treatment.
For example, some individuals panic upon boarding an aircraft, others find it impossible to enter a room with a spider on the wall and again others prefer the staircase over the elevator — even to get to the 10th floor — because riding in elevators elevates their heart rate.
Therefore, what sounds like funny quirks is often debilitating for the sufferers. Sometimes their anxiety can affect them to a point that they are unable to follow a normal daily routine.
Care for the disorder has improved significantly with the introduction of cognitive behavioral therapy and the technique of deliberately exposing anxiety patients to the situations they feel threatened by — under the individual psychological supervision of an expert.
However, CBT appears to help some more than others.
A new German study led by Professor Martin J. Herrmann, a psychologist at the Center of Mental Health of the Würzburg University Hospital, explored strategies to improve patients’ response to cognitive behavioral therapy.
One supplemental method was the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation. During transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a magnetic coil is placed near the head of the person receiving the treatment.
The coil produces a rapidly changing magnetic field which sends magnetic pulses through the cranium into the brain. There it triggers an action potential in the neurons and the neuron transmits an impulse.
Although the technique has been around only for a few decades, it is routinely used in research and diagnostics. “We knew from previous studies that a specific region in the frontal lobe of the human brain is important for unlearning anxiety,” Herrmann said.
He said initial studies have shown that magnetically stimulating this brain region can improve the effectiveness of unlearning anxiety responses in the laboratory.
In the recently published study, the team investigated whether the technique would help to relieve anxiety associated with a fear of heights.
Researchers studied 39 participants with a pronounced fear of heights. Virtual reality was used to take the participants to dizzying heights during two sessions. “The people feel actual fear also in a virtual reality, although they know that they are not really in a dangerous situation,” Herrmann said.
The scientists stimulated the frontal lobe of some of the anxiety patients for about 20 minutes before entering the virtual world; the other group was only administered a pseudo stimulation.
“The findings demonstrate that all participants benefit considerably from the therapy in virtual reality and the positive effects of the intervention are still clearly visible even after three months,” Herrmann said.
What is more, by stimulating the frontal lobe, the therapy response was accelerated.
Next, the researchers want to study whether this method is also suitable to treat other forms of anxiety by conducting a further virtual reality therapy study for arachnophobic (fear of spiders) patients.
Source: University of Würzburg /EurekAlert
Photo: People suffering from a fear of heights experience the anxiety also in virtual reality — even though they are aware that they are not really in a dangerous situation. Credit: VTPlus.
Some animal lovers may still worry that sleeping with a pet may disrupt sleep. And this is no small matter as the American Veterinary Association says more than 40 million American households have dogs.
Of these households, 63 percent consider their canine companions to be family. Many draw the line at having their furry family members sleep with them for fear of sacrificing sleep quality.
“Most people assume having pets in the bedroom is a disruption,” said Lois Krahn, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist at the Center for Sleep Medicine on the Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus and an author of the study.
“We found that many people actually find comfort and a sense of security from sleeping with their pets.”
The study appears in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Researchers evaluated the sleep of 40 healthy adults without sleep disorders and their dogs over five months. Methodologically, participants and their dogs wore activity trackers to track their sleeping habits for seven nights.
According to the study, sleeping with dogs helps some people sleep better, no matter if they’re snoozing with a small schnauzer or dozing with a Great Dane.
There is one caveat, however. Don’t let your canines crawl under the covers with you.
The sleep benefit extends only to having dogs in your bedroom, not in your bed. According to the study, adults who snuggled up to their pups in bed sacrificed quality sleep.
“The relationship between people and their pets has changed over time, which is likely why many people in fact do sleep with their pets in the bedroom,” Krahn said.
“Today, many pet owners are away from their pets for much of the day, so they want to maximize their time with them when they are home. Having them in the bedroom at night is an easy way to do that.
And, now, pet owners can find comfort knowing it won’t negatively impact their sleep.”
So, go ahead. Turn your sheepdog into a sleep dog. Just make sure they are relegated to their own bark-o-lounger, rather than your bed.
Source: Mayo Clinic
For some couples just staying together is good enough. But others want the relationship to move forward and get better and are willing to put in the effort to get there.
For a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois reviewed more than 1,100 studies on relationships dating back to 1950. They found two primary motives behind a couple’s attempts at staying together: threat mitigation and relationship enhancement.
For the most part, improving a relationship includes both components and requires putting effort into the relationship for the pleasure of it.
“Threats to the relationship come from all kinds of different places,” said Dr. Brian Ogolsky.
“Generally, there are many threats early in relationships that can cause problems, but that is not to say that these disappear later. We know couples cheat in the long-term, people end up in new work places and in new situations where possible alternative partners show up, conflicts arise, or a lack of willingness to sacrifice time for your partner emerges.”
Some threat mitigation tactics can actually become enhancement strategies over time, Ogolsky said, but the reverse is not usually true.
“We get to a place where we are pouring energy into the relationship simply because we want to keep the relationship moving forward rather than just mitigating threats.”
In their integrative model of relationship maintenance, the researchers also illustrate individual versus interactive components of maintenance.
“This question of ‘is this an individual thing or is this a couple-level thing’ often goes unanswered. But as we were doing this review, we started noticing that there are ways to maintain the relationship that we can characterize as ‘more or less in our own heads.’ We are doing something to convince ourselves that this is a good relationship and therefore it’s good for our relationship,” Ogolsky said.
“Things like positive illusions, the idea that we can believe our relationship is better than it is or that our partner is better than he or she is. We can do that without our partner,” he said.
Mitigating conflict, however, is something that partners must do together. “Good conflict management or forgiving our partner for doing something wrong is an interactive process.
“When a threat comes in, we can do one of two things: We can ditch our partner or forgive them over time.”
The same is true of enhancement strategies: Partners can do things individually or interactively.
“Individually, even the act of thinking about our relationship can be enhancing. Whereas engaging in leisure activities together, talking about the state of our relationship, these are all interactive,” Ogolsky said.
While Ogolsky rarely offers direct interventions to couples, he said he tends to study the positive side of relationships because of what can be learned from people going through what is inherently a very turbulent thing.
“Relationships have ups and downs. I never go into my work saying people should stay together or they should break up.
“What we are talking about here are processes that exist across different kinds of couples, some of which work very well for some people, some of which may not work for some people. I am interested in understanding processes that keep relationships moving.”
The study appears in the Journal of Family Theory and Review.
Source: University of Illinois
Recovery from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) frequently includes overcoming physical and mental impairments. Unfortunately, working through emotional issues often becomes one of the largest challenges as options for care, and access to care, may be limited.
These limitations have fueled innovative approaches to care for emotional deficits after TBI. New options includes the use of various forms of health information technology to provide training in emotional regulation skills.
The study is presented in a special issue of the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation (JHTR). The official journal of the Brain Injury Association of America.
Many patients with TBI experience disruptions in emotional functioning, including problems in awareness, recognition, expression, and regulation of emotions.
“Of the vast array of consequences of TBI, emotional deficits are among the most prevalent, persistent, and difficult to treat,” according to Dawn Neuman, Ph.D., of Indiana University School of Medicine at Indianapolis.
Deficits in emotional regulation can affect patients’ lives in many ways, including a reduced ability to participate in and benefit from other rehabilitation treatments.
Yet emotional issues after TBI remain “grossly understudied,” especially in terms of treatment. The seven original research papers in the special issue evaluate innovative treatments for common emotional problems after TBI.
Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D., and colleagues of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, evaluated a web-based intervention to improve emotional regulation after TBI. The study included 91 adults with a history of TBI and current problems with emotional regulation, based on the “Difficulties in Emotional Regulation Scale” (DERS).
Average time since TBI was about 10 years. In nearly half of patients, the severity of TBI was rated mild.
Over 12 weeks, participants received 24 one-hour emotional regulation skills training sessions. The group sessions were delivered by videoconference, supervised by experienced rehabilitation neuropsychologists.
The program provided education on how TBI affects emotional functioning, followed by training, practice, and feedback on specific strategies for improving emotional regulation skills in everyday life.
At the end of the 12-week program, the participants showed meaningful improvements in emotional regulation, including “medium to large” effects on all aspects measured by the emotional regulation questionnaire. Follow-up assessment 12 weeks beyond the treatment period showed continued improvement.
Measures of positive emotions, satisfaction with life, and problem-solving skills also improved significantly. Participants felt they made substantial progress toward their personal goals. Nearly 90 percent reported moderate to large improvements in their capacity for emotional regulation skills.
The use of videoconferencing technology could help to overcome distance and travel barriers to treatment, while maintaining the benefits of group interventions.
The study recruited participants from 33 states and five countries. Said Tsaousides, “This technology allowed us to create an online educational environment that, in addition to providing skill training, enabled people who were hundreds and thousands of miles apart–many of whom had been isolated from support communities–to connect, share, and learn from one another.”
Other papers in the special issue report on treatments targeting emotional self-awareness, social-emotional perception, anger and aggression, and depression after TBI. While the studies are an important step forward, “The state of the science for studying and treating emotional deficits in people with TBI is sorely lagging behind the needs,” Neumann writes.
“A lot more evidence-based research is needed to support more confident treatment recommendations.”
Source: Wolters Kluwer Health/EurekAlert
A new U.K. study finds that strong coping skills may be key to keeping anxiety levels low during stressful situations.
The findings show that among women with poor coping skills, those living in a deprived area are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety compared to those living in more affluent communities. On the other hand, living in a deprived or affluent community makes very little difference to the levels of anxiety experienced by women with strong coping skills.
The study is the largest ever conducted on how coping skills might impact anxiety levels in women in adverse circumstances. The findings, recently presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Conference in Paris, suggest that teaching women coping strategies may be a way to help them overcome the anxiety stemming from adverse circumstances, such as living in deprivation.
“Individuals with this sense of coherence, with good coping skills, view life as comprehensible and meaningful,” said lead researcher Olivia Remes, doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in England.
“In other words, they feel they can manage their life, and that they are in control of their life, they believe challenges encountered in life are worthy of investment and effort; and they believe that life has meaning and purpose. These are skills which can be taught.”
The University of Cambridge researchers surveyed 10,000 women over the age of 40 who were participating in a major cancer study in Norfolk, U.K.. The women completed health and lifestyle questionnaires on their living conditions, history of physical health, and mental health problems. The researchers then linked this information to 1991 census data to determine if the women were living in a deprived community.
They also measured each person’s sense of coherence using a questionnaire developed from Aaron Antonovsky’s research on how people find meaning and purpose in life. They found that 261 (2.6 percent) of the 10,000 women had generalized anxiety disorder.
Among women without coping skills, those living in a deprived area were about two times (98 percent) more likely to have anxiety than those living in more affluent communities. On the other hand, living in a deprived or affluent community made very little difference to the levels of anxiety experienced by women if they had good coping skills.
“In general, people with good coping skills tend to have a higher quality of life and lower mortality rates than people without such coping skills,” said Remes.
“Good coping can be an important life resource for preserving health. For the first time, we show that good coping skills can buffer the negative impact of deprivation on mental health, such as having generalized anxiety disorder. And importantly, these skills, such as feeling like you’re in control of your life and finding purpose in life, can be taught.”
Many people live in deprivation, and a significant portion of these have generalized anxiety disorder. For the first time, the researchers have shown that coping skills can significantly impact levels of anxiety.
“Many people with anxiety are prescribed medication-and while it is useful in the short-term-it is less effective in the long run, is costly, and can come with side effects. Researchers are therefore now turning to coping mechanisms as a way to lower anxiety. This is particularly important for those people who do not experience any improvement in their anxiety symptoms following commonly-prescribed therapies,” said Remes.
New research has found that a major factor predicting how much an alcoholic will drink is immediate mood.
The new study also found that suffering from long-term mental health problems did not affect alcohol consumption, with one important exception: Men with a history of depression had a different drinking pattern than men without a history of depression. Surprisingly, the researchers found that those men were drinking less often than men who were not depressed.
“This work once again shows that alcoholism is not a one-size-fits-all condition,” said lead researcher Victor Karpyak of the Mayo Clinic. “So the answer to the question of why alcoholics drink is probably that there is no single answer. This will probably have implications for how we diagnose and treat alcoholism.”
The study, presented at the 2017 European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress, determined the alcohol consumption of 287 males and 156 females with alcohol dependence over the previous 90 days, using the accepted Time Line Follow Back method and standardized diagnostic assessment for life time presence of psychiatric disorders (PRISM).
The researchers were then able to associate this with whether the drinking coincided with a positive or negative emotional state (feeling “up” or “down”), and whether the individual had a history of anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
The results showed that alcohol dependent men tended to drink more alcohol per day than alcohol dependent women.
As expected, alcohol consumption in both men and women was associated with feeling either up or down on a particular day, with no significant association with anxiety or substance use disorders.
However, men with a history of major depressive disorder had fewer drinking days and fewer heavy drinking days than men who never a major depressive disorder, according to the study’s findings.
“Research indicates that many people drink to enhance pleasant feelings, while other people drink to suppress negative moods, such as depression or anxiety,” Karpyak said.
“However, previous studies did not differentiate between state-dependent mood changes and the presence of clinically diagnosed anxiety or depressive disorders. The lack of such differentiation was likely among the reasons for controversial findings about the usefulness of antidepressants in treatment of alcoholics with comorbid depression.”
While the study will need to be replicated and confirmed, Karpyak said the reasons alcoholics drink depend on their background, as well as the immediate circumstances.
“There is no single reason,” he said. “And this means that there is probably no single treatment, so we will have to refine our diagnostic methods and tailor treatment to the individual.”
It also means that treatment approaches may differ depending on targeting different aspects of alcoholism, such as craving or consumption. Treatment also needs to take into account whether the alcoholic patient is a man or a woman and whether the patient has a history of depression or anxiety, he noted.
Postpartum depression is a relatively common occurrence among females. Now, a new study finds that an elevation or a decline in a father’s testosterone level after childbirth may play a significant role in emotional health and relationship satisfaction.
Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) discovered fathers face a risk of experiencing depression if their testosterone levels drop nine months after their children are born.
Moreover, researchers also found that a father’s low testosterone may affect his partner, but in an unexpectedly positive way. Women whose partners had lower levels of testosterone postpartum reported fewer symptoms of depression themselves nine and 15 months after birth.
Paradoxically, fathers whose testosterone levels spiked faced a greater risk of experiencing stress due to parenting and experienced a greater risk of acting hostile. Characteristics of hostile behaviors include showing emotional, verbal, or physical aggression toward their partners.
The findings support prior studies that show men have biological responses to fatherhood, said Dr. Darby Saxbe, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at USC.
“We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy,” Saxbe said.
“We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms. We are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick.
“We know that fathers contribute a lot to child-rearing and that on the whole, kids do better if they are raised in households with a father present,” she added. “So, it is important to figure out how to support fathers and what factors explain why some fathers are very involved in raising their children while some are absent.”
Saxbe worked with a team of researchers from USC, University of California at Los Angeles, and Northwestern University.
For the study, which appears in the journal Hormones and Behavior, researchers examined data from 149 couples in the Community Child Health Research Network. The study by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development involves sites across the country, but the data for this study came from Lake County, Illinois, north of Chicago.
Mothers in the study were 18 to 40 years old; African-American, white, or Latina; and low-income. They were recruited when they gave birth to their first, second, or third child. Mothers could invite the baby’s father to participate in the study as well. Of the fathers who participated and provided testosterone data, 95 percent were living with the mothers.
Interviewers visited couples three times in the first two years after birth: around two months after the child was born, about nine months after birth, and about 15 months after birth.
At the nine-month visit, researchers gave the fathers saliva sample kits. Dads took samples three times a day — morning, midday, and evening — to monitor their testosterone levels.
Participants responded to questions about depressive symptoms based on a widely-used measure, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression. They also reported on their relationship satisfaction, parenting stress and whether they were experiencing any intimate partner aggression. Higher scores on those measures signaled greater depression, more stress, more dissatisfaction, and greater aggression.
Relatively few participants — fathers and mothers — were identified as clinically depressed, which is typical of a community sample that reflects the general population. Instead of using clinical diagnoses, the researchers looked at the number of depressive symptoms endorsed by each participant.
Men’s testosterone levels were linked with both their own and their partners’ depressive symptoms — but in opposing directions for men and for women.
For example, lower testosterone was associated with more symptoms in dads, but fewer symptoms in moms. The link between their partners’ testosterone levels and their own depression was mediated by relationship satisfaction. If they were paired with lower-testosterone partners, women reported greater satisfaction with their relationship, which in turn helped reduce their depressive symptoms.
“It may be that the fathers with lower testosterone were spending more time caring for the baby or that they had hormone profiles that were more synced up with mothers,” she said. “For mothers, we know that social support buffers the risk of postpartum depression.”
Fathers with higher testosterone levels reported more parenting stress, and their partners reported more relationship aggression.
To measure parenting stress, parents were asked how strongly they related to a set of 36 items from the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form. They responded to statements such as “I feel trapped by my responsibilities as a parent” and “My child makes more demands on me than most children.” A high number of “yes” responses signaled stress.
Relationship satisfaction questions were based on another widely-used tool, the Dyadic Adjustment Scale. Parents responded to 32 items inquiring about their relationship satisfaction, including areas of disagreement or their degree of closeness and affection. Higher scores signaled greater dissatisfaction.
Mothers also answered questions from another scientific questionnaire, the HITS (Hurts, Insults, and Threats Scale), reporting whether they had experienced any physical hurt, insult, threats, and screaming over the past year. They also were asked if their partners restricted activities such as spending money, visiting family or friends, or going places that they needed to go.
“Those are risk factors that can contribute to depression over the long term,” Saxbe said.
Although doctors may try to address postpartum depression in fathers by providing testosterone supplements, Saxbe said that the study’s findings indicate a boost could worsen the family’s stress.
“One takeaway from this study is that supplementing is not a good idea for treating fathers with postpartum depression,” she said. “Low testosterone during the postpartum period may be a normal and natural adaptation to parenthood.”
She said studies have shown that physical fitness and adequate sleep can improve both mood and help balance hormone levels.
In addition, both mothers and fathers should be aware of the signs of postpartum depression and be willing to seek support and care, Saxbe said. Talk therapy can help dads or moms gain insight into their emotions and find better strategies for managing their moods.
“We tend to think of postpartum depression as a mom thing,” Saxbe said. “It’s not. It’s a real condition that might be linked to hormones and biology.”
A new Dutch study finds that the maternal use of antidepressants during pregnancy appears to increase the risk of the child developing a mental health issue. Risk increased for conditions such as autism, depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
However, investigators are uncertain as to the role of hereditary as part of the elevated risk. Moreover, untreated severe depression during pregnancy can lead to negative outcomes for both the mother and child.
Experts acknowledge that the use of antidepressants among pregnant women has been on the rise for many years. Currently, between two and eight percent of pregnant women are on antidepressants.
In the new study, researchers from the National Centre for Register-based Research at Aarhus BSS show that there is an increased risk involved in using antidepressants during pregnancy.
The researchers, headed by Xiaoqin Liu, have applied register-based research to the study of 905,383 children born between 1998 and 2012 with the aim of exploring the possible adverse effects of the mother’s use of antidepressants during her pregnancy.
They found that out of the 905,383 children in total, 32,400 developed a psychiatric disorder later in life. Some of these children were born to mothers who were on antidepressants during their pregnancy, while other children had not been exposed to medication.
“When we look at children born to mothers who discontinued and continued antidepressant treatment during pregnancy, we can see an increased risk of developing a psychiatric disorder if the mothers continued antidepressant treatment while pregnant,” says Xiaoqin Liu.
Liu is the lead author of the article, which appears in the BMJ-British Medical Journal.
Researchers divided the children into four groups depending on the mother’s use of antidepressants before and during pregnancy.
The children in group one had not been exposed to antidepressants in the womb. In group two, the mothers had been taking antidepressants up until the pregnancy, but not during. In group three, the mothers were using antidepressants both before and during the pregnancy. Group four consisted of children, whose mothers were new users of antidepressants and had started taking the medication during the pregnancy.
The result of the study showed an increased number of children with psychiatric disorders in the group in which the mothers had been using antidepressants during their pregnancy.
Approximately twice as many children were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder in group four (14.5 percent) than in group one (eight percent). In groups two and three respectively, 11.5 percent and 13.6 percent were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder at age 16 years.
Despite the apparent medication link, researchers are quick to note that psychiatric disorders are hereditary.
Therefore, the investigators took into account that heritability also plays a part in determining who will be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and that it is not just a question of being exposed to antidepressants in the womb.
“We chose to conduct the study on the assumption that psychiatric disorders are highly heritable. For this reason, we wanted to show that is too narrow if you only look at autism, which is what many previous studies have done.
If heritability plays a part, other psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, ADHD-like symptoms would also appear in the data,” says Trine Munk-Olsen, who is also one of the researchers behind the study.
Indeed, the study also shows that the increase covers not only autism but also other psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
Thus it becomes clear that the mother’s underlying psychiatric disorder matters in relation to the child’s mental health later in life. At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that the use of antidepressants further increases the risk of psychiatric diseases in the child.
“Our research shows that medication seems to increase the risk, but that heritability also plays a part,” says Trine Munk-Olsen, who also points out that it might be the mothers who suffer from the most severe forms of depression who need to take medication during their pregnancy.
The findings are murky. Indeed, the researchers hope the study can increase the focus on the fact that the research results are not just black and white.
This could help doctors advise women on the use of antidepressants both before and after their pregnancy. Some women might be able to discontinue treatment with the medication while pregnant.
However, the researchers also acknowledge that some women need medication and stress that the consequences of an untreated depression are severe and can lead to serious consequences to both mother and child.
The most important message is that we ensure and safeguard the mental well-being of the pregnant women, and for some women, this involves the use of antidepressants.
“These women should not feel guilty about taking antidepressants. Even though there is an increased risk of the child developing a psychiatric disorder later in life, our research shows that we cannot blame medication alone. Heritability also plays a part,” says Trine Munk-Olsen.
Source: Aarhus University