‘It was quasi-religious’: the great self-esteem con

In the 1980s, Californian politician John Vasconcellos set up a task force to promote high self-esteem as the answer to all social ills. But was his science based on a lie?

In 2014, a heartwarming letter sent to year 6 pupils at Barrowford primary school in Lancashire went viral. Handed out with their Key Stage 2 exam results, it reassured them: “These tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique… They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister.”

At Barrowford, people learned, teachers were discouraged from issuing punishments, defining a child as “naughty” and raising their voices. The school’s guiding philosophy, said headteacher Rachel Tomlinson, was that kids were to be treated with “unconditional positive regard”.

To get ahead in the 1980s, you had to be ruthless, relentless. You had to believe in yourself

Vasco’s credibility turned on a single fact: that the professors had confirmed his hunch. The only problem? They hadn’t

What had really happened at that meeting? I found the answer on an old audio cassette, hissy and faint

Related: The appeal of narcissists: why do we love people who’d rather love themselves?

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‘I can stop and breathe’: the people taking ketamine for depression

It has a reputation as a party drug, but some patients say it has transformed their lives after no other treatments helped

When depression takes hold of Helen it feels like she is drowning in a pool of water, unable to swim up to the world above. The 36-year-old former nurse has had mental health problems most of her life. No drugs, hospital stays or therapies have been able to help.

Then one day, during yet another spell in hospital, her consultant told her about a psychiatrist treating patients with ketamine. The psychiatrist in question visited her to discuss using the drug. He warned there were no guarantees, but it had helped some patients.

Related: Ketamine could help thousands with severe depression, doctors say

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Ketamine could help thousands with severe depression, doctors say

Psychiatrists hail benefits of ‘transformational’ drug, and call for more trials to explore its potential

Thousands of people with severe depression could obtain urgent relief if experimental treatment using ketamine were made more widely available, medical experts say.

The drug has been championed by doctors and psychiatrists as a potentially life-changing treatment for those with depression who are resistant to medication or suicidally depressed. Medics are calling for more specialists centres and trials to be set up to explore the drug’s potential under controlled conditions.

Related: Royals launch campaign to get Britons talking about mental health

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Am I normal? You asked Google. Here’s the answer | Eleanor Morgan

Every day millions of internet users ask Google life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

“The camera has the power to catch so-called normal people in such a way as to make them look extremely disturbed,” writes Susan Sontag in an essay from 1973 called Freak Show. “The camera chooses oddity, chases it, names it, elects it, frames it, develops it, titles it.” Sontag was talking about photography, but this concept of naming-and-framing is a useful analogy for how we view one another in society at large.

We muscle through life constantly framing the “normality” of others against our own patchwork of knowledge, life experiences, values and opinions. We can’t help it. Yet normality is probably the most subjective concept human beings can ponder.

Related: Is mental illness real? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Jay Watts

Related: Why don’t people like me? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Anouchka Grose

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Reel life: the biographical films bringing joy to people with dementia

My Life Films combine music, photos, clips and interviews to celebrate the lives of those with dementia – and help carers build better patient relationships

Jo throws her arms up in enjoyment, hugs herself, laughs. She has watched the film of her life many times before, but each time it seems fresh, because Jo has dementia.

“One of the joys of this experience is she’s almost seeing it for the first time each time, and that definitely extends its value,” says her son.

Related: How memory apps can help people with dementia tap into their past | Anna Bawden

Related: Awakenings: Hannah Peel on how she harnessed music’s power to cut through dementia

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Risk of psychotic disorders up to five times greater for people from ethnic minorities – UK study

Although psychosis is rare, factors including stress related to migration and discrimination could contribute to increased risk, say researchers

People from ethnic minorities have up to a five times greater risk of psychotic disorders than the white British population, researchers say.

A new study reveals that the trend holds in both urban and rural settings, with first-generation migrants who arrive in the UK in childhood among those at increased risk.

Related: It’s time to tackle mental health inequality among black people

Related: Kwame McKenzie: Being black in Britain is bad for your mental health

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Living in cities ‘puts teens at greater risk of psychotic experiences’

Findings suggest early interventions for adolescents brought up in urban areas could be valuable, researchers say

Teenagers who live in large cities could be at greater risk of having psychotic experiences, according to research examining the impact of urban life on mental health.

The finding ties in with previous studies and suggests that early interventions for young people in deprived urban neighbourhoods could be valuable.

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Why men should keep a journal | Ollie Aplin

Writing down how you are feeling has immense mental and physical health benefits – and men need it most, says Ollie Aplin

History is littered with men who kept journals, from Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Lee to Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson. They couldn’t be more different, yet these men had one thing in common – they found strength and comfort through writing down their thoughts.

Professor James Pennebaker, who specialises in social psychology at the University of Texas, has spent many years looking at how writing down our feelings may boost immune functioning. In Opening Up by Writing it Down, which he co-authored with Joshua Smyth, Pennebaker says expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. He includes findings from hundreds of studies showing the health benefits of expressing emotions, particularly after trauma.

Part of the problem is that when men are depressed, they tend to conceal their feelings

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Female mannequins aren’t just skinny, they’re emaciated

A new study has found that female mannequins, but not male ones, represent extremely underweight women

There have have been several observations in the press and on social media in the past few years that some of the mannequins used to sell women’s fashion represent unrealistic and unhealthy body sizes. But until we started to look into it, the issue had not been researched properly, and the evidence was mostly anecdotal.

Back in 1992, researchers surveyed a handful of mannequins from the 1930s-1960s housed in museums. They concluded that real women of a similar body size would be so thin that they would be unable to menstruate. More than 80 years on, and with women in a very different societal position than previously, you might expect things to have changed.

Is it even humanly possible to be as skinny as this Topshop mannequin? pic.twitter.com/fDJSO88v2L

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‘A little bit OCD’: the downside of mental health awareness | Dean Burnett

People claiming they have serious conditions when they don’t just exacerbates negative stereotypes

It’s mental health awareness week. So that’s good. Well, mostly. There are downsides to increased awareness of mental health, it turns out.

You ever met someone who is needlessly cold or even outright rude to those who deign to engage with them? I used to work with someone like that, and eventually one of his superiors had to call him out on it. I was within earshot, and happened to hear his defence, which was something like “It’s just the way I am. I think I’m on the spectrum.”

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Are you a long-term user of antidepressants? Tell us about your experiences

A growing number of people are being prescribed antidepressants, but little is known about the long-term effects. Have you been on medication for years?

In the past decade there has been a doubling in the number of prescriptions written for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRRIs) – the most common antidepressant. NHS research shows there are now more than 70m prescriptions dispensed in the UK in a year, the “greatest rise” of any drug in the last year.

But while the short-term side effects of taking this medication are well-known, there has been less exploration into the longer-term impact of them. In an article for Guardian Weekend magazine, Aida Edemariam spoke to people who had been taking the drugs for many years. She found that many SSRI users report blunted emotions and an impact on sexual function, with the effect lasting long after people have stopped taking pills.

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‘I don’t know who I am without it’: the truth about long-term antidepressant use

Prescriptions have doubled in a decade, but very little is known about the effect of taking SSRIs for years and years. Is it a lifesaver or a happiness trap?

Sarah never planned to take antidepressants for 14 years. Three years after she began taking them, when she was 21, she went to her GP and asked to stop: 20mg of Seroxat a day had helped her live with anxiety and panic attacks, but she began to feel uncomfortable about being on medication all the time. Her doctor advised her to taper down her medication carefully.

At once, “I was a mess,” she says. “I thought I was losing my mind. My appetite completely went. I lost the best part of two stone. I was anxious constantly. My mouth was dry. It was difficult to sit and be calm.” She became withdrawn, refusing to see friends, and remembers asking her mother to get her a couple of boxes of paracetamol, thinking, “I’m going to have to take all these tablets, because I can’t live like this.”

It’s more reliably predictable that they’re going to get rid of sexual function than get rid of depression

I thought I was losing my mind. I was going to work, but it was difficult to get through the day. My mouth was so dry

I tried to go back to 20mg, but my words became slurry, so the doctor put me back up to 60mg

I would try to come off the pills and felt rubbish again – not more rubbish than before, but the same. So I returned

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How bad parenting can knock 20 years off your life

Heart disease, depression, life expectancy. New research claims that stress exerts a far heavier physical toll than previously understood. The film-maker James Redford talks about how childhood stress can be a killer

There is a scene in James Redford’s new film, Resilience, in which a paediatrician cites a parental misdeed so outmoded as to seem bizarre. “Parents used to smoke in the car with kids in the back and the windows rolled up,” she says, incredulous. How long ago those days now seem; how wise today’s parents are to the dangers of those toxins. Yet every week in her clinic in the Bayview-Hunters Point area of San Francisco, children present with symptoms of a new pollutant – one that is just as damaging. But unlike the smoke-filled car, this new pollutant is invisible, curling undetected around children’s lives and causing lasting damage to their lungs, their hearts, their immune systems.

“Stress,” Redford says. “It is a neurotoxin like lead or mercury poisoning.” He mentions the city of Flint in Michigan, where residents were exposed to lead in drinking water. “And that’s literally what’s going on” with children who are “coming from really stressful environments. We know what environmental toxins are. Well, this is an environmental toxin.” The proliferation of so-called “toxic stress” among children, Redford says, “is a public health crisis”.

This continual exposure to stress wears the body down, and makes you more prone to cardiovascular disease

Related: Is stress bad for your health?

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Should link between dementia and artificial sweeteners be taken with a pinch of salt?

How people’s capacity for forgetfulness and lies may have impacted on research tying stroke and dementia to diet drinks

They were supposed to be the healthy alternative to their sugar-rich siblings. But now lovers of diet colas and other low-calorie drinks have been hit by news that will radically undermine those credentials: a counterintuitive study suggesting a link to stroke and dementia.

The study in the journal Stroke may cause a rethink among those worried about obesity, diabetes or a possible early heart attack from sugar-rich drinks who have been considering making a change. It comes to the alarming conclusion that people polishing off one can a day of artificially sweetened drink are nearly three times as likely to have a stroke or develop dementia.

Related: Stroke and dementia risk linked to artificial sweeteners, study suggests

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What is ECT and how does it work?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has coloured perceptions of electroconvulsive therapy, but the modern reality is different

The public perception of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is rooted in cultural depictions, not least the dramatic scene in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in which Jack Nicholson is held down as the treatment is carried out.

Sylvia Plath’s account in The Bell Jar is hardly less brutal. Describing ECT, administered without general anesthetic, the protagonist says: “With each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.”

Related: Electroconvulsive therapy on the rise again in England

Related: What is ECT and how does it work?

Related: Tea, biscuits and classical music: inside an ECT clinic

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