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Harvard Mental Health Letter: October 2011

Articles in this issue:

Autism spectrum disorders revisited


Several studies raise new questions about cause and prevention.

The conventional wisdom has always been that the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) develop mostly because of genetic rather than environmental factors. Indeed, the ASDs are usually considered among the most "heritable" psychiatric disorders, with studies in twins suggesting that genetic factors account for at least 90% of the risk of developing an ASD — much more than the genetic risk of depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric conditions.

Now the largest population study in twins so far has turned the accepted wisdom on its head by suggesting that environmental factors may ...

Natural supplements for mental health


Some complementary and alternative therapies may be worth trying.

Even the best available medical treatments don't work for everyone. Seeking other sources of relief, roughly four in 10 Americans — and as many as half of those with psychiatric disorders — use herbal supplements and other types of complementary or alternative medicines (CAM) in any given year.

Recognizing how widespread such "alternative" medicines have become, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Psychiatry convened a one-day conference on the topic. What follows is a quick review of safe — and often effective — natural therapies used for a variety ...

Mind over matter

Practicing mindfulness techniques can help ease stress.

Traffic jams. Job woes. Visits from the in-laws. Life is full of stress, and more often than not, people feel it physically as well as mentally.

Although the stress response begins in the brain, it is a full-body phenomenon. When someone encounters a threat — real or imagined — the brain triggers a cascade of stress hormones. The heart pounds, muscles tense, and breathing quickens.

One of the best ways to counter stress is to pay attention to what is going on. That may sound counterintuitive, but paying attention is the first step ...

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In Brief: Study tests electronic messages as a way to improve depression care

Electronic communication with patients may help improve the treatment of depression.

In Brief: More evidence that varenicline harms the heart

An analysis of studies lends additional insight to the evidence that using Chantix to quit smoking increases the risk of a cardiovascular event.

Commentary: Dr. Aaron T. Beck's enduring impact on mental health

Few individuals have had as great an impact on psychiatry as Dr. Aaron T. Beck, who is often referred to as the father of cognitive therapy (CT). In 2011, Dr. Beck celebrated his 90th birthday. As such, this seems like an ideal time to reflect on his many contributions over the years.

In the 1950s, when Dr. Beck was beginning his career in psychiatry, psychoanalytic theory dominated the field. Psychoanalysis recognizes that the relationships and circumstances of early life continue to affect people as adults, and that human behavior results from unconscious as well as conscious or rational motives. Psychoanalysts ...

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