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How to find a good app for mental health

Search for “stress”, “depression”, “anxiety”, or “mental health” in the app store on your mobile device and you are confronted with a bewildering array of options. Some apps claim to track your mood over time, while others claim to “cure” your mental ill health with hypnosis. Apps hold amazing potential as mental health and wellbeing tools. You can carry them everywhere, engage with them in real time as you’re experiencing distress, and interact with them in a completely diff

Is social media to blame for the worsening mental health of teenage girls?

New research by the Department of Education has found that the mental well-being of teenage girls in the UK is worsening. The survey, which took the views of 30,000 14-year-old pupils in 2005 and 2014, found that 37% of girls suffer from psychological distress, up from 34% in 2005. (This compares with 15% for boys in 2014, down from 17% a decade earlier.) The report’s authors noted that one of the things that has changed between 2005 and 2014 is the “advent of the social medi

Why so serious? The untapped value of positive psychology

All we can ever hope to do, Sigmund Freud once wrote, is “to change neurotic misery into common unhappiness”. This pessimistic statement from arguably the most influential psychological theorist of modern times captured the mood that prevailed in psychology through most of the 20th century. That is, most psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts were essentially guided by a model of the patient that was based on what was wrong with people, and how to deal with these def

Explainer: what is behavioural activation for depression?

A recent study from the United Kingdom found a simple form of therapy called behavioural activation (BA) is as effective in treating depression as more complex psychological treatments and even medication. So, how does BA work and what is the relationship between behaviour and emotions? What we do affects how we feel and vice versa Emotions are important sources of information that guide our behaviour and enable us to function as human beings. Happiness and contentment, for e

Epigenetics: Can stress really change your genes?

The Dutch famine of 1944 was a terrible time for many in the Netherlands – with around 4.5m people affected and reliant on soup kitchens after food supplies were stopped from getting into the area by German blockades. As many as 22,000 people were thought to have died, and those who survived would find it extremely difficult to ever fully recover. The dietary intake of people in affected areas was reduced from a healthy 2000 calories a day to a measly 580 – a quarter of the “

The design of work needs to change to prevent mental illness

Workplaces need to move beyond promoting mental health awareness and start changing the way work is designed to prevent psychological harm. It’s part of their obligations. Under Workplace Health and Safety regulations, workplaces have a responsibility to provide safe workplaces and systems of work. The definition of “health” in the acts means that these responsibilities include preventing psychological harm. This sort of harm could present in a wide range of symptoms, includi

Health Check: seven nutrients important for mental health – and where to find them

Dietary nutrients are critical for brain structure and function, so they have a potentially profound impact on mental health. An increasingly robust body of research points to the detrimental effect of unhealthy diets and nutrient deficiencies, and to the protective value of healthy diets – along with select nutritional supplements as required – for maintaining and promoting mental health. Research literature suggests dietary improvement and nutritional interventions may help

The deadly truth about loneliness

Almost all of us have experienced loneliness at some point. It is the pain we have felt following a breakup, perhaps the loss of a loved one, or a move away from home. We are vulnerable to feeling lonely at any point in our lives. Loneliness is commonly used to describe a negative emotional state experienced when there is a difference between the relationships one wishes to have and those one perceives one has. The unpleasant feelings of loneliness are subjective; researchers

You’ve been diagnosed with depression, now what?

So you’re depressed. You know this because a health professional has told you so, or you’ve been depressed before and there is no mistaking the symptoms. Or perhaps you just suspect that you’re depressed – you’ve used an online screening questionnaire that suggests the diagnosis, and just need to see a health professional to confirm it. What now? First stop: talking therapies Psychotherapy remains the cornerstone of treatment. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most s

Perfectionism and burn-out are close friends – best avoid them

It was Voltaire who said: “perfect is the enemy of the good” – and he should know. A strident critic of existential perfection, Voltaire spent much of his working life attacking the notion of a world imbued by flawless divinity. In Candide, his most influential work, Voltaire describes Professor Pangloss, a devoted follower of Leibnizian optimism – the philosophy that God has created the “best of all possible worlds”. Candide, the muddling pupil of Pangloss, often attempts to

In pursuit of happiness: why some pain helps us feel pleasure

The idea that we can achieve happiness by maximising pleasure and minimising pain is both intuitive and popular. The truth is, however, very different. Pleasure alone cannot not make us happy. Take Christina Onassis, the daughter of shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. She inherited wealth beyond imagination and spent it on extravagant pleasures in an attempt to alleviate her unhappiness. She died at 37 and her biography, tellingly subtitled All the Pain Money Can Buy, recoun

Mindfulness: how to be in the moment … right here, right now

Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. This quote by Leo Tolstoy in What Men Live By and Other Tales is valuable wisdom and a fitting prompt for us to take this moment to intentionally direct our attention to what is actually happening now. You might begin to notice the variety of sights and sounds in your environment. Within your space you can then become aware of your b

Meditation, mindfulness and mind-emptiness

Ever been unable to sleep because you can’t switch off that stream of thoughts that seems to flow incessantly, mercilessly through your head? When your mental noise distracts you from the task at hand, makes you forget why you walked into a room, or keeps you awake at night, you’re a victim of what is known in the East as “the monkey mind”. It is this thought stream that, according to Eastern tradition, is the source of much of our modern day stress and mental dysfunction.