research news

College students experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness at peak levels

College students experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness at peak levels

A survey by a Boston University researcher of nearly 33,000 college students across the country reveals the prevalence of depression and anxiety in young people continues to increase, now reaching its highest levels, a sign of the mounting stress factors due to the coronavirus pandemic, political unrest, and systemic racism and inequality.

Real life support ranked better than social media for improving mental health

Social media may make it easier for people to engage online, but it does not provide certain benefits of real-life human interactions, according to Michigan State University researcher.

“Problematic social media use has been associated with depression, anxiety and social isolation, and having a good social support system helps insulate people from negative mental health,” said Dar Meshi, an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at MSU. “We wanted to compare the differences between real-life support and support provided over social media to see if the support provided over social media could have beneficial effects.” The research was published online April 29 in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

While social media support did not negatively impact mental health, it did not positively affect it either.

“Only real-life social support was linked to better overall mental health,” Meshi said. “Typical interactions over social media are limited. We theorize that they don’t allow for more substantial connection, which may be needed to provide the type of support that protects against negative mental health.”

Meshi and Morgan Ellithorpe, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Delaware and a co-author on this paper, conducted a survey of 403 university students to identify how problematic their social media use was and their degree of social support in real-life and on social media. The survey also measured depression, anxiety and social isolation, the researchers could see how the students’ social media use and social support related to their mental health.

Problematic social media use is not a recognized addictive disorder, but there are similarities in the symptoms of someone with a substance use disorder and a person displaying excessive social media use. Examples include preoccupation with social media and signs of withdrawal, such as irritability, when prevented from using social media.

“It appears that the more excessive one’s social media use is, the less social support that person gets in real life, which leads to poor mental health,” Ellithorpe said. From these results researchers encourage people who are using too much social media to reach out to people in real life for social support.

Read this article on Science Daily: Michigan State University. “Need to vent? Turn to real-life support, not social media: Research finds social support provided over social media does not improve mental health for excessive social media users.” sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/05/210503104605.htm.


Dr. Jenny Holland, PsyD

Dr. Holland is a psychotherapist practicing in Santa Rosa California, providing cutting edge, integrative and evidence-based mental health care, proven effective with depression and anxiety, life transitions; pregnancy, parenting, ageing, loss, and caring for a parent or loved one during a health crisis or decline.

In-person and Online Video Counseling Services are now available. Short-term sessions, single sessions or ongoing support to meet your needs. Contact Dr. Holland to schedule an appointment at 707-479-2946.

Family well-being at risk during pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, many families found themselves suddenly isolated together at home. A year later, new research has linked this period with a variety of large, detrimental effects on individuals’ and families’ well-being and functioning. A study — led by Penn State researchers — found that in the first months of the pandemic, parents reported that their children were experiencing much higher levels of “internalizing” problems like depression and anxiety, and “externalizing” problems such as disruptive and aggressive behavior, than before the pandemic. Parents also reported that they themselves were experiencing much higher levels of depression and lower levels of coparenting quality with their partners.

Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development give insight into just how devastating periods of family and social stress can be for parents and children, and how important a good coparenting relationship can be for family well-being. “Stress in general — whether daily hassles or acute, crisis-driven stress — typically leads to greater conflict and hostility in family relationships,” Feinberg said. “If parents can support each other in these situations, the evidence from past research indicates that they will be able to be more patient and more supportive with their children, rather than becoming more harsh and angry.”

Feinberg added that understanding what can help parents maintain positive parenting practices, such as a positive coparenting relationship, is key for helping protect children during future crises — whether those crises are pandemics, economic shocks or natural disasters. While cross-sectional studies have suggested there has been a negative impact of the pandemic on families, the researchers said this study is one of the first to measure just how much these factors have changed within families before and after the pandemic hit.

According to the researchers, previous research has found that periods of financial stress, such as the Great Depression and the 2008 recession, have led to higher levels of parent stress, mental health problems and interparental conflict, which can all lead to more harsh, and even abusive, parenting. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Feinberg said it led to not only financial stress within families, but also problems related to being isolated together, issues managing work and childcare, and general fear related to the sudden health threat that was poorly understood.

For the study, the researchers used data from 129 families, which included 122 mothers and 84 fathers, with an average of 2.3 children per family. The parents answered an online questionnaire that asked them about their depressive symptoms, anxiety, the quality of their relationship with their coparent, and externalizing and internalizing behavior they observed in their children, among other measures. Because the participants were part of a longer study measuring these factors over prior years, the researchers already had data on these parents and children from before the pandemic.

The researchers found that parents were 2.4 times more likely to report “clinically significant” high levels of depression after the pandemic hit than before. They were also 2.5 times and 4 times more likely to report externalizing and internalizing problems, respectively, in their children at levels high enough that professional help might be needed. Feinberg said that while it makes sense that families would experience these difficulties, he was shocked at the magnitude of the declines in well-being.

“The size of these changes are considered very large in our field and are rarely seen,” Feinberg said. “We saw not just overall shifts, but greater numbers of parents and children who were in the clinical range for depression and behavior problems, which means they were likely struggling with a diagnosable disorder and would benefit from treatment.” Feinberg put the size of the declines in parent and child well-being in perspective by pointing out that the increase in parents’ levels of depressive symptoms in the first months of the pandemic was about twice as large as the average benefit of antidepressants.

The researchers said that as the risk of future pandemics and natural disasters increases with the effects of climate change, so will the likelihood of families facing stressful conditions again in the future. “Getting ready for these types of crises could include helping families prepare — not just by stocking up on supplies, but also by improving family resiliency and psychological coping resources,” Feinberg said. “In my view, that means providing the kinds of family prevention programs we’ve been developing and testing at the Prevention Research Center for the past 20 years.”

Read this article on ScienceDaily: Penn State. “COVID-19 pandemic may have increased mental health issues within families.”


Dr. Jenny Holland, PsyD

Dr. Holland is a psychotherapist practicing in Santa Rosa California, providing cutting edge, integrative and evidence-based mental health care, proven effective with depression and anxiety, life transitions; pregnancy, parenting, ageing, loss, and caring for a parent or loved one during a health crisis or decline.

In-person and Online Video Counseling Services are now available. Short-term sessions, single sessions or ongoing support to meet your needs. Contact Dr. Holland to schedule an appointment at 707-479-2946.

Study examines benefits of social connectedness

New study seeks to understand how much we feel connected to others we have never met and how that predicts people’s sense of selfless concern for the well-being of others.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people who recognize the connections they share with others are more likely to wear a mask, follow health guidelines and help people, even at a potential cost to themselves, a new University of Washington study shows. Indeed, an identification with all humanity, as opposed to identification with a geographic area like a country or town, predicts whether someone will engage in “prosocial” behaviors particular to the pandemic, such as donating their own masks to a hospital or coming to the aid of a sick person.

The study, published March 10 in PLOS ONE, is drawn from about 2,500 responses, from more than 80 countries, to an online, international study launched last April. Researchers say the findings could have implications for public health messaging during the pandemic: Appealing to individuals’ deep sense of connectedness to others could, for example, encourage some people to get vaccinated, wear masks or follow other public health guidelines.

“We want to understand to what extent people feel connected with and identify with all humanity, and how that can be used to explain the individual differences in how people respond during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said author Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, a postdoctoral researcher at the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, or I-LABS, who co-led the study with postdoctoral researcher Nigini Oliveira at the Paul G. Allen School for Computer Science and Engineering.

In psychology, “identification with all humanity” is a belief that can be measured and utilized in predicting behavior or informing policy or decision-making. Last spring, as governments around the world were imposing pandemic restrictions, a multidisciplinary team of UW researchers came together to study the implications of how people would respond to pandemic-related ethical dilemmas, and how those responses might be associated with various psychological beliefs.

Researchers designed an online study, providing different scenarios based in social psychology and game theory, for participants to consider. The team then made the study available in English and five other languages on the virtual lab LabintheWild, which co-author Katharina Reinecke, an associate professor in the Allen School, created for conducting behavioral studies with people around the world.

The scenarios presented participants with situations that could arise during the pandemic and asked people to what extent they would:

  • Follow the list of World Health Organization health guidelines (which mostly focused on social distancing and hygiene when the study was run between mid-April to mid-June)
  • Donate masks of their family’s to a hospital short on masks
  • Drive a person exhibiting obvious symptoms of COVID-19 to the hospital
  • Go to a grocery store to buy food for a neighboring family
  • Call an ambulance and wait with a sick person for it to arrive

In addition to demographic details and information about their local pandemic restrictions, such as stay-at-home orders, participants were asked questions to get at the psychology behind their responses: about their own felt identification with their local community, their nation and humanity, in general. For instance, participants were asked, “How much would you say you care (feel upset, want to help) when bad things happen to people all over the world?”

Researchers found that an identification with “all humanity” significantly predicted answers to the five scenarios, well above identifying with country or community, and after controlling for other variables such as gender, age or education level. Its effect was stronger than any other factor, said Barragan, and popped out as a highly significant predictor of people’s tendency to want to help others.

The authors noted that identifying with one’s country, in fact, came in a distant third, behind identification with humanity in general and one’s local community. Strong feelings toward one’s nation, nationalism, can lead to behavior and policies that favor some groups of people over others.

“There is variability in how people respond to the social aspects of the pandemic. Our research reveals that a crucial aspect of one’s world view — how much people feel connected to others they have never met — predicts people’s cooperation with public health measures and the altruism they feel toward others during the pandemic,” said co-author Andrew Meltzoff, who is co-director of I-LABS and holds the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Endowed Chair in psychology.

Since last spring, of course, much has changed. More than 2.5 million people worldwide have died of COVID-19, vaccines are being administered, and guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, especially regarding masks, has evolved. If a new survey was launched today, Barragan said, the research group would like to include scenarios tuned to the current demands of the pandemic and the way it challenges us to care for others even while we maintain physical distancing.

For COVID-19 and future humanitarian crises, the ethical dilemmas presented in the study can offer insight into what propels people to help, which can, in turn, inform policy and outreach.

“While it is true that many people don’t seem to be exhibiting helpful behaviors during this pandemic, what our study shows is that there are specific characteristics that predict who is especially likely to engage in such behavior,” Barragan said. “Future work could help people to feel a stronger connection to others, and this could promote more helpful behavior during pandemics.”


Read this article on Science Daily: University of Washington. “Helpful behavior during pandemic tied to recognizing common humanity.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/03/210310204202.htm.


Cognitive behavioral therapy shown to improve job opportunities

If depression is making it more difficult for some unemployed people to land a job, one type of therapy may help, research suggests. In a new study, 41% of unemployed or underemployed people undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) found a new job or went from part- to full-time work by the end of the 16-week treatment for depression.Those who had a job but found it difficult to focus on and accomplish work tasks because of depression said the treatment helped to significantly reduce these problems.

“For the most part, researchers have focused on showing that therapy relieves symptoms of depression,” said Daniel Strunk, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. “But reducing symptoms isn’t the only goal people have when they start CBT. Many are hoping to find a job or improve their productivity at their current job. Here we found that therapy can help people achieve these goals, as well.”

This study involved 126 people who participated in a 16-week course of CBT at the Ohio State Depression Treatment and Research Clinic. CBT teaches coping skills that help patients counteract and modify their negative beliefs, Strunk said. “It works on the idea that people with depression invariably hold these overly negative views of themselves and their futures,” he said. “For example, if an unemployed patient doesn’t get one job they interviewed for, they may think ‘no one is ever going to hire me.'”

In this study, 27 patients were seeking to improve their employment status (land a job or go from part- to full-time) at the beginning of treatment. Eleven of them (41%) had succeeded by the end of the 16 weeks.

“It is hard to say exactly how good this success rate is since we don’t know how many would have gotten jobs without the treatment,” Strunk said. “But the findings were encouraging and suggest that the CBT is having an impact.”

CBT had a clear impact for those who had jobs and reported at the beginning of the treatment that depression was hurting their effectiveness.

“Working patients reported at the end of treatment that they were much more successful at concentrating and accomplishing tasks at their jobs,” he said. Findings showed that one way CBT had this effect was by reducing patients’ “negative cognitive style,” or the extent to which patients view negative events in overly pessimistic ways, according to Strunk.

“CBT helps patients overcome these views by teaching them that the experience of depression is not their fault and that they can take steps to improve their concentration and accomplish work more successfully even when experiencing depressive symptoms,” Strunk said.

Read this article on Science Daily: Ohio State University. “Depressed and out of work? Therapy may help you find a job: Treatment also helps workers be more effective, study finds.” ScienceDaily www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210222164224.htm.


Dr. Jenny Holland PsyD

Dr. Jenny Holland, PsyD

Dr. Holland is a psychotherapist practicing in Santa Rosa California, providing cutting edge, integrative and evidence-based mental health care, proven effective with depression and anxiety, life transitions; pregnancy, parenting, ageing, loss, and caring for a parent or loved one during a health crisis or decline.

Teletherapy – Online Video Counseling Services — Short-term sessions, single sessions or ongoing support. Contact Dr. Holland to schedule an appointment at 707-479-2946.

You are entitled to a stress nap!

Napping to relieve stress

Restful sleep helps to boost positive emotions

New research finds that after a night of shorter sleep, people react more emotionally to stressful events the next day -- and they don't find as much joy in the good things. The study, led by health psychologist Nancy Sin, looks at how sleep affects our reaction to both stressful and positive events in daily life.

"When people experience something positive, such as getting a hug or spending time in nature, they typically feel happier that day," says Nancy Sin, assistant professor in UBC's department of psychology. "But we found that when a person sleeps less than their usual amount, they don't have as much of a boost in positive emotions from their positive events."

People also reported a number of stressful events in their daily lives, including arguments, social tensions, work and family stress, and being discriminated against. When people slept less than usual, they responded to these stressful events with a greater loss of positive emotions. This has important health implications: previous research by Sin and others shows that being unable to maintain positive emotions in the face of stress puts people at risk of inflammation and even an earlier death.

Using daily diary data from a national U.S. sample of almost 2,000 people, Sin analyzed sleep duration and how people responded to negative and positive situations the next day. The participants reported on their experiences and the amount of sleep they had the previous night in daily telephone interviews over eight days.

"The recommended guideline for a good night's sleep is at least seven hours, yet one in three adults don't meet this standard," says Sin. "A large body of research has shown that inadequate sleep increases the risk for mental disorders, chronic health conditions, and premature death. My study adds to this evidence by showing that even minor night-to-night fluctuations in sleep duration can have consequences in how people respond to events in their daily lives."

Chronic health conditions -- such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer -- are prevalent among adults, especially as we grow older. Past research suggests that people with health conditions are more reactive when faced with stressful situations, possibly due to wear-and-tear of the physiological stress systems.

"We were also interested in whether adults with chronic health conditions might gain an even larger benefit from sleep than healthy adults," says Sin. "For those with chronic health conditions, we found that longer sleep -- compared to one's usual sleep duration -- led to better responses to positive experiences on the following day."

Sin hopes that by making sleep a priority, people can have a better quality of life and protect their long-term health.


Story Source: Read this article on Science Daily --> https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/09/200915121310.htm


Dr. Holland specializes in working with individuals with depression and/or anxiety, those who have experienced trauma, chronic illnesses or conditions associated with aging as well as identity issues.

Teletherapy Available - Short-term sessions, single sessions or ongoing support.

Contact Dr. Holland for more information and for help, or call 707-479-2946 to schedule a telehealth video therapy session.