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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

Why the ‘fitspo’ movement is damaging to women

Strong is the new skinny. Excuses don’t burn calories. Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going! These are some of the many messages you may have encountered if you’ve ever come across the burgeoning social media trend known as “fitspiration”. Often referred to as “fitspo”, fitspiration is a growing online phenomenon with the goal of motivating individuals to pursue a fit and healthy lifestyle. Typically, fitspo images depict toned and slender athletic bodies overlaid with

Could we one day heal the mind by taking control of our dreams?

About 50 per cent of us will at some point in our lives experience “waking up” and being conscious while still in a dream – possibly, we may even be able to act with intention in it. Such “lucid dreams” are not only a vivid and memorable experience for the dreamer, they are also of huge interest to neuroscientists and psychologists. That is because they represent a strange, hybrid state of waking consciousness and sleep which could tell us completely new things about our inne

Women are far more anxious than men – here’s the science

Anxiety disorders – defined by excessive fear, restlessness, and muscle tension – are debilitating, disabling, and can increase the risk for depression and suicide. They are some of the most common mental health conditions around the world, affecting around four out of every 100 people and costing the health care system and job employers over US$42 billion each year. People with anxiety are more likely to miss days from work and are less productive. Young people with anxiety

Supplements including fish oil and vitamin D can boost effects of antidepressant medications

Taking some nutrient supplements together with antidepressants can enhance the medication’s effects, our research has found. Published this week in the American Journal of Psychiatry, our review of the evidence found that omega-3 fish oil, methylfolate, vitamin D and amino acid compound S-adenosine methionine (known as SAMe) supplements increased the effects of antidepressant medication for those with clinical depression. We reviewed 40 clinical trials that explored the effec

From tiger to free-range parents – what research says about pros and cons of popular parenting style

What’s the best way to raise your child? It’s a question that has provoked the publication of numerous books, and seen authors race to coin the next quirky name for a new style of parenting. And it turns out there are many styles. To date, some of the best known include: Tiger parents, who are seen as pushing their children to succeed according to their parents' terms. Helicopter parents, who take over every aspect of the child’s life. Snowplough parents, who remove obstacles

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

Warning: your selfie obsession could ruin your relationship

“Selfie” is not just word of the year, but also the mainstay of postings on social media sites such as Instagram. With the prevalence of camera-equipped smartphones the posting of selfies has reached epidemic levels – even the funerals of national leaders aren’t exempt. But is there a psychological fall-out? A new study by Florida State University academics Jessica Ridgway and Russell Clayton found that people who were more satisfied with their body image posted more selfies

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

Explainer: why daydreaming is good for you

Most people think of rest as the times when we stop work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength. But historians and anthropologists have discovered that what counts as rest has varied a lot over time and across cultures. Rest is very difficult to understand, not least because it is experienced in so many different ways. To get a better understanding of what rest is, an international and interdisciplinary team of researchers, led by Durham University, rece

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

Explainer: what is insomnia and what can you do about it?

We all have a poor night’s sleep from time to time: those nights when you lie awake for hours trying desperately to go to sleep but can’t stop worrying about tomorrow. Or when you repeatedly wake up throughout the night, or can’t get back to sleep in the early hours of the morning. One-third of the world’s population experience short-term sleeping difficulties. These usually last only a few weeks. But for an unlucky 3% of Australians, these sleep disturbances may last a lot l

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