How people are exposed to light over the day and night can increase depression risk by 30 percent — and decrease it by 20 percent.
The question predicts depression, anxiety and substance abuse risk.
Questions about a person’s family history of mental illness are one of the quickest ways of predicting their risk of mental illness.
A 30-minute questionnaire about family history of depression, anxiety and substance abuse can predict approximate risk and severity for people, research finds.
Mental illnesses are among the most heritable disorders, so the result comes as no surprise.
However, the fact that the severity of people’s mental illness could be predicted is more novel.
Professor Terrie Moffitt, the study’s first author, said:
“There are lots of kids with behavior problems who may outgrow them on their own without medication, versus the minority with mental illnesses that need treatment.
Family history is the quickest and cheapest way to sort that out.”
The study examined 981 New Zealanders born in a single hospital in 1972 and 1973.
In what is known as the ‘Dunedin study’, these children have been tracked since they were 3-years-old.
The researchers found that more severe family histories of depression, anxiety, and substance dependence predicted worse mental health problems in the future.
The more severe the family history, the more severe the children’s problems.
Because of the stigma attached to mental health problems, it can be difficult to get someone’s family history.
The study’s authors suggest a more indirect line of questioning:
“Has anyone on the list of family members ever had a sudden spell or attack in which they felt panicked?” If the interviewee came up with a name, they were then asked, “Did this person have several attacks of extreme fear or panic, even though there was nothing to be afraid of?”
The study was published in the journal Psychological Medicine (Moffitt et al., 2007).
Personality, though, changes how people interpret and deal with the things that happen to them.
People who are extraverted are less likely to suffer mental health problems, personality research finds.
Extraverts are typically outgoing, talkative and energetic and they tend to have more positive emotions.
However, people who are aggressive and neurotic — a tendency to worry and be emotionally unstable — are at higher risk of mental health problems.
Neuroticism is characterised by negative thinking in a range of areas.
Neurotic people are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, as well as drink and drug problems.
Neuroticism, like other aspects of personality, is highly heritable — in other words, it is in a person’s genes.
However, neuroticism can be reduced by psychotherapy.
The conclusions come from almost 600 participants in Switzerland.
They were regularly interviewed from the age of around 19 in 1979, until they were in their fifties in 2008.
The researchers asked them about their families, mental health, personality, any problems with drugs and major life events like relationship break-ups, job losses and so on.
People who are aggressive, neurotic and introverted are particularly at risk, the study’s authors write:
“…persons scoring high on aggressiveness and neuroticism and low on extraversion had an approximately 6 times increased risk for internalising disorder [like depression and anxiety] compared to persons scoring low on aggressiveness and neuroticism and high on extraversion.”
Of course, personality is only one factor that affects whether a person might experience a mental health problem.
Some people’s lives are much more difficult than others.
The researchers found that people who experienced job losses and relationship break-ups were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
Personality, though, changes how people interpret and deal with the things that happen to them.
The study’s authors conclude:
“Our findings stress the fundamental role of personality, mainly neuroticism, for the occurrence, persistence and severity of psychopathology.”
The study was published in the journal European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience (Hengartner et al., 2017).
Fifty percent of people develop a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, the researchers found.
Companion animals — typically dogs and cats — are sometimes thought beneficial for those who are depressed, anxious or lonely.
Common Tourette tics include blinking, coughing, sniffing and facial movements — these usually first appear during adolescence.
One-quarter of the world’s population has this mineral deficiency that is linked to anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
An iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency and it can impact mental health, research finds.
Low iron levels can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
Many people with depression, for example, have a history of anaemia.
Higher rates of anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and psychotic disorders are linked to an iron deficiency.
It has been linked to mental health problems in both young and old.
An iron deficiency is frequently linked to symptoms of fatigue — which often combines with depression.
Dr Stephanie Weinberg Levin, the study’s first author, said:
“We don’t always go looking for nutrient deficiencies, but they can really take a large toll on well-being.
Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency and can have a big impact.
You can be iron-deficient without having anemia, but many mental health care providers aren’t aware that iron deficiency by itself has been linked to worse symptoms, or that supplementation has been linked to improved symptoms.
But there is evidence there.”
Mild iron deficiency
The researchers examined multiple studies on the connection between iron deficiency and mental health.
Many have found that iron supplementation appear to improve the symptoms of those with and without mental health diagnoses.
Supplementation can even help with relatively mild iron deficiency.
The usual benchmark for iron deficiency is 30 ng/mol.
However, one study found that supplementation for those with levels below 100 ng/mol was beneficial for negative mood and fatigue (Mikami et al., 2022).
Which type of supplement?
Iron deficiency should be treated by supplementation, since the typical diet cannot provide enough, the study’s authors write.
Most types of iron supplementation will work, however, the disadvantages of supplementation are that 70 percent of people experience side-effects.
These can include a metallic taste in the mouth, vomiting, nausea and constipation/diarrhoea.
So, the key is to find the type that has the lowest side-effects.
Ferrous sulfate is the cheapest, but other forms, such as ferrous iron protein succinylate and ferrous bisglycinate may have fewer gastrointestinal side-effects (but they are more expensive).
How much iron?
As for the amount, there is no clear guidance, but the study’s authors suggest:
“The maximum amount of oral iron that can be absorbed is approximately 25 mg/d of elemental iron.
A 325 mg ferrous sulfate tablet contains 65 mg of elemental iron, of which approximately 25 mg is absorbed and utilized.”
Supplements should be taken for 6 to 8 weeks and it may take 6 months for the body’s iron stores to be replenished.
Dr Levin concluded:
“Iron supplements are inexpensive and can really make a significant impact in someone’s mental health if they’re deficient.”
Note that a physician should be consulted: people with inflammatory bowel conditions, chronic kidney disease or the pregnant should not take iron supplements orally.
The study was published in the journal Current Psychiatry (Levin & Gattari, 2023).
After treatment for depression or anxiety, people’s dreams often improve in tone.
People whose dreams are more positive have better mental health, research finds.
However, those who have more negative dreams tend to experience more anxiety while they are awake as well.
Indeed, after treatment for depression or anxiety, people’s dreams often improve in tone.
It may be because people who can regulate their emotions better while awake can also keep their emotions more positive while they sleep.
For the study, 44 people kept a dream diary for three weeks, recording what they remembered each morning.
They also rated the emotions they experienced with the dreams.
The results showed that people who experienced more positive dreams generally had greater peace of mind while awake as well.
Ms Pilleriin Sikka, the study’s first author, said:
“These findings show that if we want to understand how dream content is related to waking well-being, it is not enough to measure only the symptoms of mental ill-being but we should measure well-being in its own right.
Surprisingly, those aspects that are typically considered and measured as ‘well-being’ were not related to dream content.
So there seems to be something unique about peace of mind and anxiety.”
Anxiety while waking was linked to negative dreams, the authors explain:
“…individuals with more symptoms of anxiety expressed more negative affect in subsequent dream reports and rated their dreams to contain more negative affect.”
Previous studies have linked depression and anxiety to worse dreams:
“People with different mental health disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression), sleep disorders, and health behavior problems report more nightmares and negatively toned dreams in general.
Interestingly, the reduction of depressive symptoms as a result of antidepressant treatment has been shown to accompany a corresponding change in dream affect.”
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The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Sikka et al., 2018).
Almost one-in-five suffer from mental illness, the study found.
A healthy diet is linked to good mental health, whatever your age and background, research finds.
People who avoid unhealthy foods — like fried and processed foods — have fewer symptoms of psychological distress.
Only around one-in-ten people in the US eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables.
The recommended amount in the US is 1½ to 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 to 3 cups per day of vegetables.
In contrast, a poor diet is linked to poor mental health: sugar and processed grain are thought to be among the main culprits.
Dr Jim E. Banta, the study’s first author, said:
“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavorial medicine.
Perhaps the time has come for us to take a closer look at the role of diet in mental health, because it could be that healthy diet choices contribute to mental health.
More research is needed before we can answer definitively, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction.”
The study included data from over 240,000 people in California, which was collected across ten years.
The results revealed that 13% of people experienced moderate psychological distress, with 4% in severe psychological distress.
The study’s authors conclude that their study is…
“…additional evidence that public policy and clinical practice should more explicitly aim to improve diet quality among those struggling with mental health.[…]
dietary interventions for people with mental illness should especially target young adults, those with less than 12 years of education, and obese individuals.”
A previous study found that the more fruit and vegetables people eat, the better their state of mind.
Eating just one extra portion of fruit and vegetables per day is enough to measurably improve mental well-being.
Just one portion has the same positive effect as going for a walk on 8 extra days a month.
The study was published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Banta et al., 2019).
This is an indicator of brain health and a better functioning memory.
Feeling younger than your age is a sign of brain health, research finds.
Brain scans showed that those who felt younger than their age had increased gray matter in critical brain regions.
They also did better on memory tests and were less likely to report depressive symptoms.
It may be that people are able to intuitively sense their own brain aging.
Professor Jeanyung Chey, who led the study, said:
“Why do some people feel younger or older than their real age?
Some possibilities include depressive states, personality differences or physical health.
However, no-one had investigated brain aging processes as a possible reason for differences in subjective age.”
Many people feel older or younger than their actual age — psychologists call this subjective age.
The researchers asked 68 healthy people aged 59 to 84 years-old about their actual and subjective age.
Brain scans measured the amount of gray matter in various brain regions.
Professor Chey explained the results:
“We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain.
Importantly, this difference remains robust even when other possible factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for.”
On the other hand, feeling older could be a sign that it is time to start making changes to improve brain health.
Professor Chey said:
“If somebody feels older than their age, it could be sign for them to evaluate their lifestyle, habits and activities that could contribute to brain aging and take measures to better care for their brain health.”
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (Kwak et al., 2018).