How Can Psychologists Help Men and Boys?

463536557Five people were wounded overnight in shootings on Chicago’s West and South sides, according to a report in this morning’s Chicago Tribune. It’s a headline that appears almost daily in my city, and the victims, all men age 16 to 32, are among the most disadvantaged in the city – and frankly, in the country. Perhaps more importantly, this violence, and the stress and trauma that it leads to, is taking a serious toll on the health of men and boys in poor, urban communities throughout our nation, according to presenters at a symposium today.

At the session, members of APA’s working group on health disparities in boys and men discussed reasons why this population and other underserved groups of men have some of the worst health outcomes in the country.

Working group chair Wizdom Hammond, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pointed to several psychosocial factors that contribute to these health disparities, including a need among men to endorse and demonstrate traditional traits of masculinity, including toughness, self-reliance, confidence and aggression.

“It’s likely that the strains and conflicts associated with trying to live up to this masculine ideal is at least partly responsible for producing the kinds of health disadvantages we’re seeing,” Hammond said.

The researchers explained that, compared to women, males are more likely to take health behavioral risks, delay preventive health screenings and care-seeking for health problems, minimize their physical and mental health symptoms and signs of distress and have higher rates of substance abuse. These behaviors are even more widespread among men of low socioeconomic status, those who are ethnic and racial minorities, those who are gay or bisexual, and those who have been incarcerated.

Particularly when it comes to mental health, men and boys are socialized very early not to talk about their emotions around traumatic experiences, said presenter Waldo Johnson, PhD, of the University of Chicago.

“Therefore, they tend to suffer in silence,” he said.

The group is now finalizing an evidence-based report and a series of best practices and recommendations on the topic, for dissemination to psychologists and other health providers. One thing is clear, Johnson said:

“Any prevention or treatment program for this population must account for the unique circumstances of men and boys.”

APA President: Break Down the Silos and Focus on the Public Good

In 2012, when Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, was elected APA’s 2014 president, the APA Monitor on Psychology ran an article announcing the news and providing readers with information on Kaslow’s education, experience and presidential priorities. Her mother, Florence Kaslow, PhD, shared the article with her brother, who called Nadine and told her there was a mistake in the article.

“He said, ‘It says you’re a scientist, but you don’t wear a white coat or work in a lab,” Kaslow recalled during her presidential address Saturday at the APA Convention. “He shared with me how the world views STEM science.”

To improve the public’s understanding of the scientific basis of psychology and promote the applications of psychological science to daily living, Kaslow called on fellow psychologists to band together to advocate for psychology’s recognition as a STEM discipline, and to take part in collaborative work with other STEM disciplines. She pointed to the field’s increasing leadership role in the integrated-care movement as one way to partner with other scientists around a common goal.

“It’s critically important that we take down the silos throughout our profession as well as with other disciplines, to ensure that our activities are focused on the public good,” said Kaslow, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

Despite some of the field’s ongoing challenges, the future of psychology is bright and full of opportunities, she told attendees: “The work that we do is intrinsic to understanding and improving the human condition around the world.”

How Can Psychologists Help Reduce Health Disparities in America?

80377215It doesn’t seem to make sense: Black American women with college degrees have higher infant mortality rates than the most disadvantaged and uneducated women of every other race and ethnicity, with the exception of American Indians. This is just one of several sobering facts revealed at a Thursday APA convention symposium titled “Disentagling Race/Ethnicity and SES – Implications for Understanding and Reducing Health Disparities.”

Presenter David Williams, PhD, of Harvard University explained that these striking racial disparities often occur because health is affected not only by their current socio-economic status (SES), but also by exposure to adversity over their entire lives.

“Those African American college-educated women are more likely to be the first generation to attend college, they’re more likely to be born poor and of low birth weight, with less access to nutrition and medical care,” Williams said.

Psychologists have a key role to play in developing interventions to mitigate the negative effects of race and SES on health, said APA President Norman B. Anderson, PhD. In particular, he pointed to the success of some family-based training programs in improving biological, behavioral and cognitive outcomes among children from minority and low SES households. He also shared information on APA’s ongoing work to address health disparities, including the 2012 Summit on Obesity in African American Women and Girls and the association’s newly formed working group on stress and health disparities.

Once a Cheater …

… always a cheater, or so the saying goes. At a Thursday symposium reviewing new research on unmarried couples and families, University of Denver psychology graduate student Kayla Knopp confirmed that people who cheat on their partners in one relationship are three-and-a-half times more likely to report cheating again in their next relationship.

In the study with 484 unmarried 18-to-34-year-olds, Knopp also found that people who were cheated on in the past are also more likely to be cheated on again.

179085943The past also seems to predict the future when it comes to physical and psychological aggression in relationships: Respondents who reported lots of yelling, shouting, pushing and shoving in one relationship were three times more likely to engage in the same behaviors in their next relationship — even after controlling for their partners’ aggression in both relationships. And people who reported being the victims of aggression in a previous relationship were five times more likely to report being victims again in their next relationship.

“We like to think that we can learn from our experiences and our mistakes, especially when it comes to love,” Knopp said. But as this study shows, that is likely not the case. More research is need to help develop clinical interventions to help people learn from their past experiences and making better relationship choices, Knopp said.

College Students with ADHD More Likely to be Anxious, Depressed

479706173College students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety than students without ADHD, according to preliminary findings from the first year of a five-year NIMH funded longitudinal study, presented this morning at APA’s Annual Convention.

Researchers examined data from more than 450 college freshman with and without ADHD at three universities and found that:

  • Students with ADHD report much higher levels of depression and anxiety — near 30 percent — compared with students without the disorder, whose numbers are closer to 5 percent for depression and anxiety.
  • Those with ADHD are also more likely to have lower grade-point averages than the comparison group, perhaps due to poorer organizational skills and fewer academic coping strategies.
  • Students with ADHD were much more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, including having multiple sexual partners and unprotected sexual intercourse.

With an increasing number of students with ADHD attending college, addressing these disparities isn’t just a challenge for the nation’s higher education system – it’s a psychosocial problem with major public health ramifications, said Arthur Anastopoulos, PhD, the study’s lead investigator and a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

“I don’t think getting extra time on tests or doling out stimulant prescriptions is going to fix this,” Anastopoulous said. “We have to get the message out to parents that they need to start actively preparing their high school children to take more ownership of the disorder and the responsibilities that they will be faced with in college.”