TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Survey: 15% of Med Students in the U.K. Have Considered Suicide

Doctors Seek Higher Fees From Health Insurers
Adam Berry—Getty Images A doctor holds a stethoscope on September 5, 2012 in Berlin, Germany.

A new survey of medical students in the UK illustrates complex mental health issues

Before medical students earn their MDs and start the hard work of being doctors, they have to make it through medical school—and that can be a grueling time, according to the results of a new survey published in the journal Student BMJ.

In the survey, which was taken by 1,122 medical students in the UK, 30% said that they had a mental health condition or had been treated for one, during medical school. Of the students who had a mental problem, 80% said they felt a lack of support from their medical schools. About 15% of all the students who took the survey said that they had considered committing suicide at some point during their medical school careers.

MORE: Why The Toxic Treatment Of Doctors Needs To Change

The survey was small and therefore not necessarily representative of all doctors in training in that country; the number of people who completed it represent only about 2% of medical students in the UK, according to the paper. But the answers highlight the stress that some doctors experience. Fierce competition between students and unforgiving exam schedule are some of the reasons that mental health issues are so prevalent, the authors say.

More than 8% of the students in the survey reported using brain-enhancing drugs for academic reasons. “As a postgraduate student studying undergraduate medicine I worry for my younger colleagues,” said one student in the survey. “I am stunned by the amount who take prescription medication during exam time.”

Mental health problems are stigmatized in medicine, and that attitude trickles down from the highest reaches of the medical hierarchy, the survey authors say. TIME’s recent story on the mental health of American physicians shows that the many stresses of medicine only tend to get worse after medical school, and many young training physicians have high levels of depression and anxiety. Up to 400 American physicians die by suicide every year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Administrators are actively trying to figure out how to reduce the stigma associated with asking for or needed help with their mental health. At the University of Cardiff, for instance, students can refer themselves, without consequence, for mental health help, and the referrals have increased fourfold since the program began.

Not everyone who had a mental health issue in medical school felt unsupported, the survey also found. Nearly 60% of students with an issue—but without suicidal thoughts—said they felt well supported by their school. “I couldn’t ask for better support from my medical school,” one student wrote. “I was embarrassed to approach them—but they were great and so understanding.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

A New Theory of Why Neurotics Are Creative

A wandering mind might explain why creative leaders tend to be neurotic.

Adam Perkins is a psychologist and a self-proclaimed neurotic, contemplating things to the point of obsession. He can get anxious about things that might seem mundane to another person. And he’s admittedly quite sensitive.

Perkins also has a new theory, described in a piece published Thursday in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, about why he and many others like him channel their neuroticism into creativity and problem solving. He argues it comes from how certain people daydream.

Neuroticism and creative thinking have long been correlated: some of history’s more exciting minds, from Isaac Asimov to Winston Churchill to Woody Allen, have been famously anxious with a tendency to brood. The trait is also often associated with being risk-averse; neurotic people are often considered “threat sensitive,” a classification that the psychologist Jeffrey Gray first pinpointed while developing a test that predicted a person’s tendency to be neurotic. Gray’s test showed that high scorers on the neuroticism test tended to avoid “dangerous” jobs, preferring occupations that kept them out of harm’s way—hence the association with more analytical jobs, which require creative problem solving, as opposed to physical ones.

But Gray’s analysis seemed simplistic, Perkins says. “Why should having a magnified view of threat make you good at coming up with solutions to difficult problems?” he tells TIME. “It doesn’t add up. On one hand, it’s a clever theory—it shows the difficulty of holding down a dangerous job, for example—but on the other hand, it doesn’t explain why [neurotic people] tend to feel unhappy or why they’re more creative.”

Perkins had an epiphany when he attended co-author Jonathan Smallwood’s lecture on mind wandering. Smallwood, an expert who studies the neuroscience of daydreaming, was describing self-generated thought and its origins in the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that has been linked with memories and recall.

“He started describing how people whose minds wander are better at things like creativity, delaying gratification and planning. He also talked about the way that daydreamers’ minds wander when they’re feeling kind of blue,” Perkins says. “And my ears perked up.”

Smallwood had run a series of tests on volunteers, where he’d put them through an MRI scanner with no instructions. Naturally, the volunteers began daydreaming. Those with negative thoughts would display greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. “If you have a high level of activity in this particular brain area, then your mind wandering tends to be threat-related,” he says.

That’s what happens in the brains of neurotic people when their minds wander.

And of course, no surprise, the longer one dwells on a problem, unwilling to let it go, the more likely they are to come up with a solution—making that a potential upside to neurotic daydreaming.

“There’s costs and benefits to being a neurotic,” Perkins says. “What’s interesting is that you can be neurotic and have a creative benefit, but we still don’t understand it.”

TIME Sex/Relationships

Couples Who Do This Together Are Happier

A study shows that giggling in tandem is a good indicator the relationship's going to last.

Study after study has shown that laughing is good for the soul. But now we know something else: sharing giggles with a romantic partner keeps the lovey-dovey feelings going, according to a study published in the journal Personal Relationships.

Laura Kurtz, a social psychologist from the University of North Carolina, has long been fascinated by the idea of shared laughter in romantic relationships. “We can all think of a time when we were laughing and the person next to us just sat there totally silent,” she says. “All of a sudden that one moment takes a nosedive. We wonder why the other person isn’t laughing, what’s wrong with them, or maybe what’s wrong with us, and what might that mean for our relationship.”

Kurtz set out to figure out the laugh-love connection by collecting 77 heterosexual pairs (154 people total) who had been in a relationship for an average of 4 years. She and her team did video recordings of them recalling how they first met. Meanwhile, her team counted instances of spontaneous laughing, measured when the couple laughed together as well as how long that instant lasted. Each couple also completed a survey about their relational closeness.

“In general, couples who laugh more together tend to have higher-quality relationships,” she says. “We can refer to shared laughter as an indicator of greater relationship quality.”

It seems common sense that people who laugh together are likely happier couples, and that happier couples would have a longer, healthier, more vital relationship—but the role that laughter plays isn’t often center stage. “Despite how intuitive this distinction may seem, there’s very little research out there on laughter’s relational influence within a social context,” Kurtz says. “Most of the existing work documents laughter’s relevance to individual outcomes or neglects to take the surrounding social context into account.”

Kurtz noted that some gender patterns emerged that have been reported by previous studies. “Women laughed more than males,” she notes. “And men’s laughs are more contagious: When men laugh, they are 1.73 times more likely to make their partner laugh.”

There’s also evidence that laughing together is a supportive activity. “Participants who laughed more with their partners during a recorded conversation in the lab tended to also report feeling closer to and more supported by their partners,” she says. On the flip side, awkward chuckles, stunted grins and fake guffaws all are flags that there may be something amiss.

This harkens back to a classic psychological experiment conducted in 1992, where 52 couples were recorded telling their personal, shared histories. The team noted whether the couples were positive and effusive or were more withdrawn and tired in telling these stories, then checked in with the couples three years later. They saw a correlation in how couples told stories about their past and the success of their partnership: the more giddy the couple was about a story, the more likely they remained together; the less enthusiastic the couple was, the more likely the couple’s partnership had crumbled.

While there are cultural differences in laughter display—Kurtz says that Eastern cultures tend to display appreciation with close-mouthed smiles, not the heartier, toothy laughs that are more Western—there’s no question that laughter is important. “Moments of shared laughter are potent for a relationship,” she says. “They bring a couple closer together.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Women in Male-Dominated Jobs Have More Stress

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Illustration by Sydney Rae Hass for TIME

"Token" women at work have less healthy cortisol patterns

Women working in jobs dominated by men have high levels of interpersonal stress that could harm their health, shows a new study presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting.

Indiana University Bloomington researchers looked at daily stress hormone patterns from more than 440 women in a large U.S. survey who worked in jobs where at least 85% of the workforce were men. In academic terms, a woman is considered an “occupational token” when 15% of colleagues in her occupation are women. That definition included jobs like construction supervisors, engineers, painters and groundskeepers.

MORE: Here’s Why Work Email Puts You In A Nasty Mood

Prior evidence shows that women in male-dominated jobs often experience stressors like social isolation, sexual harassment and low levels of support in the workplace. The researchers thought that stressors like these could impact patterns of the stress hormone cortisol, which fluctuate throughout the day but take an irregular pattern in people exposed to high consistent levels of stress, the authors say. In the study, they found that the “token” women had less healthy cortisol profiles compared to women who worked in jobs with a more even gender split.

MORE: Why Failure Hits Girls So Hard

“Men in occupations with 85% or more men do not evidence the same dysregulated cortisol profiles that we see in women in the same occupations,” says study author Cate Taylor, an assistant professor of sociology and gender studies at Indiana University Bloomington.

Cortisol is also particularly sensitive to social stressors and not as much to physical stressors, the authors say, which adds to the evidence that at least some of the irregularity in cortisol profiles is linked to negative workplace social climates that women face.

TIME global health

Over 46 Million People Now Have Dementia Worldwide

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Dementia is often caused by Alzheimer's Disease

More than 46 million people around the world suffer from dementia, according to a report released Tuesday.

The World Alzheimer Report, published by Alzheimer’s Disease International and King’s College London, says the number of people affected by dementia has increased quickly from the 35 million estimated in 2009, and researchers warn that number could double in the next 20 years.

Dementia is a collective term for progressive, degenerative brain syndromes affecting cognitive functions. Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia.

The report also noted that 58% of all people with dementia reside in developing countries. By 2050, 68% of those with dementia will be located in low and middle income countries, where services are limited and populations are aging quickly.

There is no cure for dementia.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Graphic Shows What Stress Does to Your Body

Americans need to relax.

Over 40% of people in the U.S. say they are not doing enough to manage their stress, and the consequences of that could lead to all sorts of health-related problems. A recent study published in the journal Neuron showed people who are stressed have more difficulty with self-control and are more likely to choose to eat unhealthy food. If you’re like many Americans, you often be stressed about work and money, but there are good reasons to take time out of your day to relax. Here’s some examples of how stress affects your entire body.

Heather Jones

Read next: How To Calm Your Monkey Mind and Get Things Done

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Violent Video Games Are Linked to Aggression, Study Says

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But there's not enough evidence to suggest they are linked to criminal behavior

Violent video games are linked to more aggressive behaviors among players, according to a new review of research.

The debate over whether violent video games are linked to violent behavior has long been contentious. Some argue there is little evidence connecting the two, while others say that lots of exposure over time causes young people to react more aggressively compared to kids who do not play video games. Now the American Psychological Association (APA) has joined the debate, arguing in a research review that playing violent games is linked to aggression, but that there’s insufficient evidence to link the games to actual criminal violence.

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In a report published Aug. 13, an APA task force reviewed more than 100 studies on violent video game use published between 2005 and 2013. They concluded that playing video games can increase aggressive behavior and thoughts, while lessening empathy and sensitivity toward aggression. The task force also concluded that although some studies suggested links to criminal violence and neurological changes, there wasn’t enough evidence to determine a connection.

“Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence,” said task force chair Mark Appelbaum in a statement. “However, the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field.”

The APA says that there’s no single factor that can drive someone toward violence or aggression, but that violent video games could be classified as one risk factor. The agency is calling upon the video game industry to increase parental controls over violence exposure in the games.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Here’s Why People Believe In Conspiracy Theories

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UFO sightings. Hoaxed moon landings. Reptiles who rule the world.

What, in the name of our alleged lizard overlords, convinces a person to believe in conspiracy theories?

According to a pair of new studies published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, conspiracy theorists—and there are a lot more of them than you may think—tend to have one thing in common: they feel a lack of control over their lives.

Jan-Willem van Prooijen, associate professor in social and organizational psychology at VU University Amsterdam, has been studying conspiracy theories and those who believe them for six years. “When I started this research, one of the things that I really found astonishing was how many people believe in certain conspiracy theories,” he says.

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Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters. Past research suggests that if people feel they don’t have control over a situation, they’ll try to make sense of it and find out what happened. “The sense-making leads them to connect dots that aren’t necessarily connected in reality,” van Prooijen says.

He and his team showed that the opposite is also true: feeling a sense of control is protective against believing conspiracy theories. In one of the studies, they split 119 people into two groups and told one group to write down times when they were totally in control; the other group was told to jot down a time when they didn’t feel in control. (This gave one group a powerful feeling, while the other felt helpless.)

The researchers then surveyed their attitudes on a building project in Amsterdam that accidentally destroyed the foundations of many houses, and which many people believed was a conspiracy of the city council. But those who had been primed to feel in control were less likely to believe the government was up to something evil. “We found that if you give people a feeling of control, then they are less inclined to believe those conspiracy theories,” he says. “Giving people a sense of control can make them less suspicious over governmental operations.

MORE: What The Jade Helm 15 Conspiracy Theory Reveals About Americans

The Dutch, of course, aren’t the only believers. The second experiment looked at survey data from a nationally representative sample of Americans conducted in the last months of 1999 leading up to Y2K. “The more that people feared the millennium bug in 1999, the more likely they were inclined to believe in other conspiracy theories, ranging from Kennedy to the government hiding evidence of the existence of UFOs,” van Prooijen says. The best predictor of believing in one conspiracy, he says, is believing in another.

This finding backs up data from another group last year, which found that 37% of surveyed Americans believe that the FDA is deliberately preventing the public from accessing natural cures for cancer because they’re beholden to drug companies.

These beliefs can be very hard to change, but giving people a feeling of control could help dispel some conspiratorial beliefs, the new research suggests—a finding that could prove useful worldwide. “There are no doubt cultural variables influencing it,” van Prooijen says. “But the essence of conspiracy theorizing is, I think, universal in human beings. People have a natural tendency to be suspicious of groups that are powerful and potentially hostile.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Why Do I Blush So Much?

You Asked Why Do I Blush
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Blame the company you keep and the color of your skin, among other factors.

Human beings are the only animals that blush. And try as we might, there’s no simple way to suppress it. In fact, trying to hold back a blush is a pretty good way to intensify it, says Dr. Corine Dijk, a clinical psychologist at the University of Amsterdam.

When you feel self-aware or embarrassed, your nervous system sends a signal to muscles in your face instructing them to relax, Dijk says. That relaxing allows small veins in your skin to dilate, which in turn causes blood to pool and your cheeks to redden. (Dijk says blushing shouldn’t be confused with the “flushing” some people experience when angry, which results from a different physiological mechanism.)

If you’re fair skinned, your blush will be more visible than if you had darker skin, says Dr. Peter Drummond, a social scientist and blush researcher at Australia’s Murdoch University. Some hormonal or anatomical quirks—stuff that’s just part of your unique internal architecture and chemistry—could also make you more or less likely to blush, he adds.

But social discomfort really brings on the blushing. Times of embarrassment, guilt or self-consciousness—or some combination of all three—are when your cheeks produce their mortifying rosettes. So if you’re the type who’s quick to feel embarrassed or self-conscious, you’re probably the type who blushes a lot, says Dr. Marije aan het Rot, a behavioral scientist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Research suggests certain situations are likely to amp up those blush-inducing emotions, aan het Rot says. If you feel inferior to the people around you—either socially or professionally—you may be quick to feel self-conscious (and quick to blush.) People with social phobias often blush at higher rates than those more comfortable in public, aan het Rot adds. Like so many confounding psychological conditions, fearing a thing—in this case, a blush—makes the thing more likely to happen.

Research also suggests being the subject of scrutiny, even if you have no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed, is enough to launch a rosy reaction. Prolonged eye contact alone can be a blush trigger, Drummond’s experiments have shown.

On the other hand, feeling unconcerned or uninterested in what other people think of you tends to lower the likelihood you’ll blush, Dijk says. While tough to study, it’s possible that by raising your own social or professional status—or by strengthening your disregard for what others think of you—you may blush less often.

However interesting (or discouraging) all of this may be, none of it explains why people turn red when shamed or embarrassed. What utility does your blush serve, and why did we develop the ability to blush in the first place?

There are theories, but not answers. It’s possible that, like a built-in polygraph, your blush is an involuntary admission of wrongdoing. “When you blush, others know that your emotional experience is true and sincere,” Dijk says. That may sound unappealing, but it has its benefits. “When people blush in an embarrassing or shameful situation, they are more likely to be seen by others as likable and trustworthy than if they had not blushed,” aan het Rot says.

In this way, blushing may have developed as a way for humans to better communicate sincere regret or contrition. It’s also possible your blush is just a byproduct of your body’s attempts to cool your brain when blood rushes to your head in embarrassing situations.

What isn’t in doubt is that pretty much everyone views their own blushing as an undesirable habit—though maybe we shouldn’t. Blushers are, in many situations, viewed “favorably,” aan het Rot says.

Keep that in mind, and you may just blush less as a result.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Yoga Is Just As Safe As Other Exercise, Study Finds

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

A large new study chips away at the myth that yoga is dangerous

If you’ve ever searched for an excuse not to do yoga, you likely have one article at the ready: “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” published by the New York Times in 2012. After reading descriptions of injuries like torn Achilles tendons, degenerated hip sockets and sudden stroke, you’d be inclined to think swearing off yoga was the healthier choice.

But is it? Dr. Holger Cramer, director of yoga research at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, points out that the article “reported on some cases, but it was not systematical,” he says. But since no meta-analysis—a systematic review of other studies—yet existed on yoga injuries, Cramer decided to do one himself. His new study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that yoga was just as safe as exercise

MORE: You Asked: Is Hot Yoga Good For You?

For his analysis, Cramer looked only at randomized controlled trials—considered the highest quality clinical trial. Studies qualified if they compared any kind of yoga with no treatment, usual care or an active treatment, and if they reported on adverse events like injuries. In the end, 94 studies—which looked at a total of 8,430 people—made the cut.

“The risk of getting injured or experiencing other adverse events is the same in yoga as with other exercise,” Cramer says.

Only 2% of people who did yoga experienced any adverse events, and some of those who did already had severe diseases. The study didn’t look at the types of injuries, but other data suggests that the most common kinds of injuries are musculoskeletal, like back pain, Cramer says. Other adverse events include aggravation of glaucoma in patients with the disease, especially in headstand or shoulder stand poses.

Serious yoga injuries are rare, these findings suggest; they bolster survey data last year that found less than 1% of yoga practitioners in the U.S. stopped because of an injury. Much more common than injuries are the benefits, find Cramer’s other meta-analyses.

“We have really high-quality studies showing that yoga is effective for chronic low back pain in the short and long term,” he says. Other good evidence shows that yoga can ease depression and psychological distress in breast cancer patients, he says, and that yoga may be effective in lowering high blood pressure in people with hypertension and reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors in the general population and people at high risk. Of lesser quality, he says, are the data on yoga for diseases like multiple sclerosis or schizophrenia.

MORE: Yoga Helps With Depression and Anxiety

Cramer was surprised at the high number of randomized controlled trials about yoga, but says that more yoga studies should report adverse events (or a lack of them) to strengthen the evidence base. “If you look at a practice that involves physical activity and breathing techniques, you always also have to look on the safety side.”

But the current research, this study shows, reveals that the dangers of yoga are small. “Generally I’d say there are a lot of conditions where it’s more beneficial than risky,” Cramer says.

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