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Switch to Online Learning Is Taking a Toll on Many Parents
What’s New Nearly half of parents of children under age 18 say that trying to manage their kids’ online learning has become as significant a source of stress during the global COVID-19 outbreak as worrying about meeting basic needs (access to food and housing) and access to healthcare, according to the Stress in America 2020 survey published in May 2020 and conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA).
Research Details Survey results were based on interviews with 3,013 adults in the United States over age 18; surveys were conducted in English or Spanish between April 24 and May 4, 2020. Pandemic-related stress among parents with at least one school-age child was found to be especially high, with 46 percent of them rating it between 8 and 10 on a scale in which 1 corresponds to “little or no stress” and 10 to “a great deal of stress.” For adults without school-age children, 28 percent rated pandemic-related stress between 8 and 10.
With schools closed and many people working from home, 71 percent of parents identified helping their kids with online learning as a top source of anxiety. The only stressors that scored higher were worrying about getting coronavirus (73 percent), disrupted routines (74 percent), the government response to the outbreak (74 percent), and a family member getting coronavirus (74 percent).
Why It Matters “The mental health ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic are immense and growing,” says APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. These results point to the need for parents to “prioritize their self-care and try their best to model healthy ways of coping with stress and anxiety,” he adds. What’s more, Dr. Evans warns, “we need to prepare for the long-term implications of the collective trauma facing the population. On an individual level, this means looking out for one another, staying connected, keeping active, and seeking help when necessary.”
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Police Work Linked to High Risk for Alcoholism and PTSD
What’s New Mental health problems and alcohol abuse pose a “substantial health concern” for police officers, according to research published online in May 2020 in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine. More than a quarter of police officers drink alcohol at harmful levels, per the findings, and around 1 in 7 meet the criteria for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Research Details British researchers analyzed data from 67 previous studies that included 272,000 police officers in 24 countries, primarily in North America, Europe, and Australia. They found that just under 26 percent screened positive for hazardous drinking, and 5 percent were considered alcohol dependent. In addition, 14.5 percent met the criteria for depression, 14 percent for PTSD, 9.5 percent for anxiety disorder, and 8.5 percent for suicidal thoughts.
Low levels of peer support, higher levels of job stress, and poor coping strategies were identified as strongly contributing to officer mental health issues. Being female was also a consistent risk factor for poorer mental health among police.
Why It Matters Working in law enforcement unavoidably requires repeated exposure to a wide range of traumatic scenarios, including extreme violence and death. However, to date, there are no well-established guidelines for keeping officers mentally and emotionally stable, not only for their well-being but to ensure that they can perform their duties effectively, the researchers note. “Further research into interventions that address stress and peer support in the police is needed,” they conclude. Otherwise, very serious psychological difficulties will remain a substantial health concern among these public safety officers.
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‘Drunkorexia’ Is an Emerging Eating Disorder in Young Adults
What’s New A disturbing new behavior is popping up among young women: forgoing eating by day to offset the chance of gaining weight from consuming lots of alcohol at night, according to research published online in May 2020 in the journal Australian Psychologist.
Research Details An analysis of the drinking patterns of 479 female university students age 18 to 24 found that over three months almost 83 percent had engaged in “drunkorexic behaviors,” such as purposely skipping meals, purging, or exercising after drinking to account for the calories in alcoholic beverages.
Why It Matters “Excess alcohol consumption combined with restrictive and disordered eating patterns is extremely dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of developing serious physical and psychological consequences, including hypoglycemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression, and cognitive deficits,” says study coauthor Alycia Powell-Jones. Being aware of drunkorexia may help primary-care providers, educators, parents, and friends recognize this harmful behavior in a timely fashion and potentially reduce its short- and long-term effects.
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Free Apps Help Reduce COVID-19 Anxiety and Depression
What’s New A study shows that a collection of skill-focused apps can greatly reduce anxiety and depression in people dealing with the mental health effects of COVID-19. The paper was published online in May 2020 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Research Details A total of 146 patients were recruited from internal medicine clinics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, then divided into two groups: One used the Northwest Medicine Intellicare apps, and the other received treatment as usual from their primary-care providers. At the end of the eight-week study, depression and anxiety in the Intellicare group had improved by almost 60 percent, results similar to those seen in traditional psychotherapy. In contrast, people with depression and anxiety in the group that did not use the apps had improved by 31 percent for depression and 38 percent for anxiety.
Why It Matters “These apps offer remote treatment to avoid depression and anxiety during these socially distancing times,” says senior study author David Mohr, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “They’re designed to fit easily into people’s lives and to help the millions of people who want support but can’t get to a therapist’s office.” The apps are available free of charge at Apple’s App Store and at Google Play.
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Sleeping Instead of Sitting Helps Lower Stress and Boost Mood
What’s New Regularly sleeping instead of sitting quietly for long periods of time decreases stress and boosts your mood, according to research published online in May 2020 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Research Details Researchers first assessed the fitness levels of 423 healthy men and women ranging in age from 21 to 35 on a treadmill test. Next, they analyzed data sent from armbands that tracked the study volunteers’ energy expenditure 24/7 for 10 consecutive days. They repeated the same procedures one year later.
The results showed that people who regularly went to bed one hour earlier instead of sitting for one hour, say, in front of a television or computer screen, felt less stressed and were happier across the year. Similar results were seen when study participants replaced prolonged sitting during the day with light physical activities such as walking around the room while talking on the phone or standing while preparing dinner.
Why It Matters It’s commonly known that more vigorous activities such as walking briskly or breaking a sweat at the gym can reduce stress and improve your mood. But few realize how impactful going to bed earlier or breaking up long periods of sitting with easy activities can be, says lead study author Jacob Meyer, PhD, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University in Ames. “It may be easier for people to change their behavior if they feel it’s doable and doesn’t require a major change,” he says.
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Lack of Control at Work Can Lead to Depression, Even Death
What’s New Having greater control over your job, and having a job that suits your abilities, can actually be a matter of life and death — or at the very least, help protect you from mental health problems, reveals research published in April 2020 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Research Details Using mental and physical health data from 3,148 participants in the Midlife in the United States National Longitudinal Study of Health and Well-Being, researchers at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in Bloomington examined how job control (the amount of autonomy that employees have at work) and cognitive ability (one’s ability to learn and solve problems) influence how work stressors such as time pressure or workload affect mental and physical health and, ultimately, mortality.
What they found is that “when job demands are greater than the control afforded by the job or an individual’s ability to deal with those demands, there is a deterioration of their mental health and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of depression and death,” says lead study author Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, PhD, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources. On the other hand, more control of work responsibilities resulted in better mental and physical health and a lower likelihood of death.
Why It Matters “Managers should provide employees working in demanding jobs more control and, in jobs where it is unfeasible to do so, a commensurate reduction in demands,” Gonzalez-Mulé says. “For example, allowing employees to set their own goals or decide how to do their work, or reducing employees’ work hours, could improve health.”
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Can’t Concentrate? Blame Your Burger and Fries
What’s New Eating foods high in saturated fat — like sausages, bacon, burgers, fries, pastries, and pies — can interfere with your ability to focus, even after just one meal, according to a study published in June 2020 in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Research Details Ohio State University researchers compared the response times of 51 women during a 10-minute test of attention after they ate either eggs, biscuits, turkey sausage, and gravy made with an oil high in saturated fat or the same meal made with an oil high in unsaturated fat. Both meals totaled 930 calories.
The women then completed the same test one to four weeks later, but they ate the opposite meal of what they had eaten on the first visit. The study showed that the women’s performance on the attention test was, on average, 11 percent worse after eating the high-saturated-fat meal, signaling a link between that type of fatty food and the brain’s ability to concentrate.
Why It Matters Previous research has focused mainly on how high-fat diets produce changes in the brain over time. But “this was just one meal — it’s pretty remarkable that we saw a difference,” says lead study author Annelise Madison, who is a clinical health psychology graduate student working toward a PhD at Ohio State in Columbus. Why saturated fat has that effect isn’t clear, Madison says, but earlier studies suggest that saturated fat can drive up inflammation throughout the body, including the brain.
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Conspiracy Beliefs Make People Balk at Official COVID-19 Guidelines
What’s New Adults who hold coronavirus conspiracy beliefs are unlikely to wear face masks, comply with social distancing guidelines, or get future vaccines, posing a danger to public health worldwide, concludes a study published online in May 2020 in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Research Details The data, compiled by University of Oxford researchers who polled 2,500 adults in England earlier in May, show these findings:
- 74.5 percent think celebrities are being paid to say they have coronavirus.
- 60 percent think the government is misleading the public about the cause of the virus.
- 40 percent believe to some extent that the spread of the virus is a deliberate attempt by powerful people to gain control.
- 20 percent believe to some extent that the virus is a hoax.
- 20 percent believe that the virus is a bioweapon developed by China to destroy the West.
Why It Matters Guidelines are only effective if the majority of people use them. Therefore, it is important to counter conspiracy theories directly and reduce their spread, says lead researcher and clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman, PhD. And although the results were limited to British residents, they indicate the extent to which an alarming number of people are excessively mistrustful of official information about the novel coronavirus and therefore reluctant to follow government guidance on controlling its spread. “There is a fracture,” says Dr. Freeman. “Most people largely accept official COVID-19 explanations and guidance; a significant minority do not. The potential consequences, however, affect us all.”
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