Later-life crisis creates ‘silver sufferers’, says research

A later life crisis can be transformative in a positive or negative way. (pic: istockphoto.com/belory4ka)

A later life crisis can be transformative in a positive or negative way. (pic: istockphoto.com/belory4ka)

Move over, mid-life crisis. It’s the later-life crisis that’s becoming more of a concern for the helping profession. A third of people say they’ve had a life crisis in their 60s, in research by University of Greenwich psychologist Dr Oliver Robinson. How they respond to the crisis can determine the quality of the rest of their lives.

Men and women experience life crisis equally, with 32% of male respondents and 33% of female saying they’d had a life crisis since the age of 60. Reasons for the crisis – which is defined as two or more stressful events – include bereavement, illness or injury – as well has caring for a loved one who is ill or disabled.

A life crisis can trigger an existential anxiety about frailty and death. People can either respond by living life to the full and enjoying every moment, or they can become withdrawn and increasingly isolated.

Dr Robinson says: “It seems that when loss-inducing events occur together or in close proximity in time, a person’s capacity to cope in their 60s is overwhelmed and a later life crisis is precipitated. This range of reactions suggests that later life crisis is always transformative, but this transformation can lead towards either growth or decline.”

Google searches suggest mental illness is seasonal

There are fewer Google searches on mental illness when summer is in full bloom.

There are fewer Google searches on mental illness when summer is in full bloom.

When the sun’s out and your mood lifts after a seemingly interminable winter, you’re not imagining it if you think you feel better and brighter. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be more prevalent than previously believed.

Searches on Google suggest that mental illness may have strong links with seasonal patterns, according to research by the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University. Previous studies on mental illness patterns have been done by phone, but may not have been accurate because people can be reluctant to reveal the state of their mental health. But the researchers were able to monitor passively the queries people typed in to Google’s search engine.

The research team monitored mental health queries in the US and Australia between 2006 and 2010. The findings were grouped according to type of mental illness. They found that mental health queries were “consistently higher in winter than in summer”. Examples of this include:

  • Summer searches for eating disorders are down 37% in the US and 42% in Australia compared with winter.
  • Searches for suicide are 24% lower in the US and 29% lower in Australia in the summer.
  • Bipolar Disorder searches are down 16% and 17% in the US and Australia respectively during summer months.

“We didn’t expect to find similar winter peaks and summer troughs for queries involving every specific mental illness or problem we studied. However, the results consistently showed seasonal effects across all conditions,” says James Niels Rosenquist, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The researchers plan to look at other mental illness trends – even down to patterns in mental illness queries on different days of the week.

Stories with mother help children make sense of their world

Hearing stories with mother helps children develop their own narratives about their lives. (pic: istockphoto.com/GeloKorol)

Hearing stories with mother helps children develop their own narratives about their lives. (pic: istockphoto.com/GeloKorol)

Mums are better than dads at telling stories to their children about past experiences, which helps kids develop their emotional skills.

This was the main finding from a piece of research called Gender Differences in Elaborate Parent-Child Emotion and Play Narratives. The researchers asked parents of children aged between four and five to reminisce about four past emotional experiences: one happy, one sad, a conflict with a peer and a conflict with a parent.

They found that mothers went into more detail when reminiscing with their children than fathers. They also included more emotional terms, which they then talked about with their kids. This helps children understand, develop and articulate their own feelings and point of view on these past experiences.

The researchers concluded: “Mothers appear to be helping children recount and understand their personal past more than fathers, and specifically, in working through difficult emotions that may facilitate emotion regulation skills.” The storytelling helps the children incorporate their own narratives into their lives.

For many adults who didn’t have such nurturing parents, coming to therapy to talk about their past, present and future can help them construct their own narrative and come to terms with what has happened to them. If you’d like to talk to a counsellor to help you make sense of your life, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling@gmail.com

Feeling unloved as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult

Lack of love as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult. (pic: istockphoto.com/nsilcock)

Lack of love as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult. (pic: istockphoto.com/nsilcock)

Adults who perceive a lack of parental love as a child could be more likely to suffer anxiety-related issues.

That was the main finding from a study by the Surrey Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy (SICH), which looked at 100 clients with social phobia or agoraphobic-type anxiety over a three-year period. There were 81 out of the 100 who believed their parents never loved them, or removed their love (through divorce, death or working away) before the child was 13.

When parental love was removed the child had feelings of low self-worth, and felt ‘not good enough’ when they grew up. This can lead to anxieties such as fear of driving on motorways, or fear of crowded places. Where parental love never existed (through not showing affection, for example, or where one of the parents was never around) the child lacked confidence, particularly in social situations. This can carry on to adulthood and manifest as fear of public speaking or fear of being the centre of attention.

The sample of clients analysed by SICH is obviously self-selecting, as they all chose to come for hypnotherapy to alleviate their anxiety. But the survey does give some idea of how lack of love can affect the development of a child. SICH says parents should listen to their children, show affection, play with them every day, and stick to boundaries.

Can venting your anger online make you feel worse?

anima anger online

Ranting online gives short-lived catharsis but can lead to longer-term anger issues. (istockphoto.com/KyKyPy3HuK)

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Those famous words of Mark Twain have been given a contemporary twist in research carried out to discover the impact of venting anger online. Can the acid of anger come back to harm you?

Psychologists from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay investigated Anger on the internet: the perceived value of rant-sites. They carried out two studies to look at the way people express anger anonymously on blogs, social networks and on rant sites (forums specially created for venting anger), how they feel after ranting, and the emotional impact of reading angry posts. They particularly wanted to find out if venting anger can be cathartic in the short and long term.

All participants in the first study said they felt calm and relaxed immediately after ranting online. But those who vented frequently were found to become angrier rather than calmer. The study found that frequent ranters have higher anger scores and “express their anger in more maladaptive ways than the norm”. They were also found to demonstrate anger ‘offline’ too, averaging one physical fight and two verbal fights per month, and half of them had been told by others that they had an anger problem. As for the emotional impact of reading rants online in study two, people became less happy and sadder after reading the rants.

The researchers concluded: “Reading and writing online rants are likely unhealthy practices as those who do them often are angrier and have more maladaptive expressions styles than others. Likewise, reading and writing online rants are associated with negative shifts in mood for the vast majority of people.”

So, what to make of these results? They are partly in line with catharsis theory, as emotional release can be healing. But, importantly, only if it is directed in an appropriate way. Unlike expressive writing, where you’re encouraged to spill your feelings onto the page as a way of working through emotional problems, venting is “void of any structure” and doesn’t have an end in mind other than letting off steam (which then causes more anger in the long term). But through the  process of expressive writing, the person spilling their stresses on the page learns to face and ‘own’ their issues.

But in the online-venting study, there were some revealing responses from participants:

  • 67% appreciated other people commenting on their posts.
  • 42% wanted validation for their feelings.
  • 29% would prefer to talk to someone.

It seems that angry people want to be listened to, acknowledged, and validated. They want their feelings to be seen, heard and understood. Perhaps their reason for venting anger online anonymously is a fear that their anger cannot be tolerated by the person or thing they’re angry about, and they’re afraid of repercussions? And perhaps they’d secretly love to trade the bitterness of their acid for the milk of human kindness?

Antidepressants + therapy = better chance of recovery from depression

Antidepressants work better when combined with psychotherapy. (pic: istockphoto.com/jordachelr)

Experts say that antidepressants work better when combined with psychotherapy. (pic: istockphoto.com/jordachelr)

Antidepressants alone are not enough to recover from depression, according to a leading neuroscientist. Medication needs to be combined with counselling or psychotherapy for it to have a beneficial effect, says Professor Eero Castrén at the University of Helsinki.

Antidepressants work by opening neural pathways and restoring ‘plasticity’ in the brain. By reopening this plasticity, false connections in the brain can be addressed through therapy and through the patient’s own observations (much like children learn about the world by absorbing what’s going on around them). However, just taking antidepressants on their own doesn’t help to address any problems, fears or phobias.

Professor Castrén says: “By combining antidepressants and therapy, long-term effects can be achieved. Simply taking drugs is not enough. We must also show the brain what the desired connections should be.”

His findings back his earlier research published in Science that show “antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy combined are more effective in treating mood disorders than either treatment alone”.

Is your clutter keeping you stuck in the past?

anima clutter

People hold onto old clothes and teddies for their sentimental value. (pic: istockphoto.com/idra)

Are you hanging on to your past? Are old memories stopping you living fully in the present? Take a look around your home and see how many items you’ve got stuffed into wardrobes and drawers that you don’t use and may not even like, but you cling on to them because they have sentimental value.

It’s a common problem: nearly half (45%) of the people surveyed by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) say they hold on to stuff that isn’t useful but they feel too nostalgic about it to throw it away. Two-thirds hang onto old photo frames and photos, 46% keep clothes that don’t fit them any more, 40% are still attached to CDs from their youth, and 30% won’t part with their favourite teddy. There’s even 12% who are reluctant to let go of their lava lamp!

A clearout can do wonders for your mood, however. The BHF – which is encouraging the public to empty their wardrobes and donate items to its stores – says 32% of the people in its survey felt liberated after chucking out their clutter. 

It’s often the case that your outer world reflects your inner one. So if you’re overwhelmed by clutter, it could be that certain feelings are keeping you stuck in the past.

Two final stats from the BHF survey that are of interest: 33% hold onto things that remind them of happier times. But 25% are happy to dump their clutter after a relationship break-up, showing they’re ready to move on.

Praise kids for what they do – not who they are – to build self-esteem

'Person praise' can make a child feel shame when she does something wrong. (pic: istockphoto.com/Discovod

‘Person praise’ can make a child feel shame when she does something wrong. (pic: istockphoto.com/Discovod

You might think that praising a child with low self-esteem for his or her personal qualities might build their confidence and self-worth. But a study shows that giving this type of praise can backfire, and children can feel shame when they don’t succeed at something.

It’s better to praise the behaviour rather than the person. That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Instead of saying ‘you’re great’, tell a child ‘you did a good job’. Being specific about what exactly they did well also helps to build self-esteem. And when they do fail at something, it feels like a temporary setback rather than an utter failure for which they are to blame. The study distinguishes between ‘person praise’ and ‘process praise’. Person praise puts the focus on the self, and therefore the child will blame himself if something goes wrong.

“Adults may feel that praising children for their inherent qualities helps combat low self-esteem, but it might convey to children that they are valued as a person only when they succeed,” says Eddie Brummelman, lead researcher at Utrecht University. “When children subsequently fail, they may infer they are unworthy.”

Shame is an incredibly difficult emotion to come to terms with as an adult coming to therapy. This study gives an interesting insight into the seeds of some of that shame in adulthood. And may spur parents to give a different sort of praise in future.

Supporting Self-Injury Awareness Day 2013

siad-wristbands-200Self-harm happens in secret. It’s a coping mechanism to relieve emotional pain and stress.  A person who self harms may cut, bruise, pick, bite or stab. They may abuse alcohol or drugs, or by inhaling or swallowing substances that are toxic to the body.

Self-harm brings a physical sensation that temporarily relieves the numbness a person feels because of their trauma, their depression, their low self-esteem, or perhaps because of the pressure they feel to be perfect. There can be any number of reasons why people self harm.

People from all walks of life can find themselves self-harming and sometimes don’t know how to stop. That’s why I’m supporting Self-Injury Awareness Day 2013 (SIAD). Because there is a way out and there is a way to stop. Self-harm doesn’t have to stay in the shadows. It’s a cry for help. And SIAD is helping to break that silence.

Check out LifeSigns for more information and ways to get help that don’t involve hurting yourself.

Why it’s time to talk about miscarriage

miscarriage association

Blue letters in The Miscarriage Association’s campaign show the randomness of miscarriage.

If you’ve been through a miscarriage, you know how terrified and powerless you can feel. To lose a precious baby, no matter how many weeks’ pregnant you are, can be devastating. And it all feels so random. You may be asking: why me?

That randomness has been highlighted in a campaign by The Miscarriage Association to get people talking about miscarriage. The charity has left blue envelopes scattered around, addressed ‘to anyone’, to show just how random miscarriage can be. An estimated one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. And 79% receive no support afterwards.

The Miscarriage Association is encouraging people to open up about their miscarriage. So often, the sympathy of family and friends can wane after you lose a baby, or they feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it. The person who has miscarried can feel very isolated and alone. They can feel a failure. Talking to someone who understands can help to carry and share that sadness and heal some of the pain.

The words of Anna Raeburn, Patron of The Miscarriage Association, are very touching: Apart from loss, the most painful aspects of miscarriage are failure and grief. If you can talk about your feelings and be met with patient sympathy, you can heal.”

The Miscarriage Association’s helpline is 01924 200799, open Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm.

anima counselling also offers support and psychotherapy to people affected by miscarriage. Email info@animacounselling.co.uk to arrange an initial chat.