Having a Bad Job Can Be Worse Than None At All

By PSYCH CENTRAL NEWS EDITOR


Although in the current economy being unemployed feels like the worst thing in the world, researchers have found something even worse — being stuck in a bad job.

Australian National University researchers have found that, from a mental health perspective, you may be better off being unemployed rather than being in a bad job.

The work was undertaken by researchers from the Centre for Mental Health Research, led by Liana Leach, Ph.D.

Using data from the 20-year Personality and Total Health (PATH) Through Life Project, the team looked at the mental health effects of being in a “bad job” – a job with low security, high stress and little control. The results, Leach said, were significant.

“Our research had two main findings. First, we found that those in poor quality jobs had poorer mental health than those in good quality work. People who were in a bad job were five times more likely to be categorized as depressed and twice as likely to be categorized as anxious than those in good quality work.

“Second, over time, those who moved from being unemployed into poor quality work actually experienced a greater decline in their mental health than those who remained unemployed,” she said.

The study examined the effect of several adverse work conditions on an individual’s mental health, rather than looking at the effect of specific roles or occupations.

The researchers examined results from a national household survey conducted over seven years of more than 7,000 people living in Australia.

Job quality was graded based on four factors: stress and level of demand, amount of control employees said they had over their work, job security (or potential for a future) and whether or not the pay was fair.

Participants also filled out a mental health questionnaire that assessed symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as positive emotions, such as feelings of happiness and calm.

After taking into account possibly confounding factors that could influence the findings, such as an individual’s age, gender, marital status and level of education, the mental health of unemployed individuals was on par with, or better than, the mental health of those with poor-quality jobs.

Those with the poorest-quality jobs showed a greater drop in mental health over time compared with those who were unemployed.

“In our study, a bad job, or poor quality job, was one where people perceived their job was insecure, perhaps because they were on a short-term contract or casual work, they had high job demands or a heavy workload, and they didn’t have much control over how they managed that workload. They also felt that it would be difficult to gain another similar job, suggesting they felt trapped in their current workplace,” said Leach.

The results indicate that, for employers, one of the keys to happy and mentally healthy employees is to keep an eye on these negative factors and work with staff to find solutions.

Leach said the study suggests it would be best for employers to be open to negotiation with employees about their work conditions – making sure employees have reasonable workloads and some control over how they manage this workload is likely to produce employees with better mental health.

“For their part, employees might like to negotiate with employers to see if they can make their workplace one that benefits their wellbeing and mental health.

“Everybody has moments in their jobs where it’s difficult and you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, but we hope this study helps to improve people’s workplace environments so that we can improve their mental health too,” said Leach.

Source Psych Central

30 Rock & Psychology

By Ted Cascio


The following dialogue takes place right after Liz barges in on a visibly disconcerted Jenna dramatically singing the chorus to Alphaville’s late-eighty’s hit “Forever Young” while applying tape to the sagging and wrinkled regions of her aged face:

Jenna: (singing) Forever young, I wanna be forever young.

Liz: Jenna, stop it. Look it, you claim that you want to be happy, but that’s never going to happen until you are honest about who you are.

Jenna: That’s easy for you to say. I’ve built my career on a certain image, and you have no idea what I go through to maintain it. The work-outs, the lotions, pretending I wasn’t fourth runner-up at the Miss Teen Bicentennial Pageant. And you don’t understand the fear I live with…the fear of people ever seeing the real me.

(Black Light Attack Season 4, Episode 10)

At first, this sounds like sound advice from Liz, and Jenna sounds like her usual absurd self. A typical case of the histrionic, delusional celebrity gone berserk. But I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and argue that Jenna’s problem is actually pretty common, even if we can’t understand her bizarre and peurile coping strategy. In Jenna’s defense, who would seriously claim that manipulating external perceptions is not a job requirement for celebrities, and indeed people from all walks of life? For many (maybe most) people the positivity of their public persona matters much more than its accuracy.

Moreover, on close inspection, the specific meaning of Liz’s advice appears vague. In particular, Liz fails to identify who the target of this honesty should be. Honest about who you are to whom? Others? Or yourself?

In recognition of the difficulties inherent in providing insight that is both entirely lucid and extemporaneous, we’ll give Liz (if not the show’s writers) a break here. Regardless of that, research indicates that this distinction she seems to ignore really matters, so we’ll go ahead and try correcting the situation if indeed it needs correcting. We can, with the aid of hindsight, improve on her ill-defined guidance and in the process test whether Jenna’s strategy has something to recommend it after all.

When it comes to “being honest about who you are” (or not) social scientists typically distinguish between self-deception and impression management. A great deal of research has shown that it is common for people to sincerely believe false things about themselves, and as you might expect these bogus beliefs almost always tend toward the enhancement side of the ledger. For example, most people believe that they are above average on a number of positive personal qualities such as intelligence, but of course, it’s impossible for most people to be above average. This is considered evidence for widespread self-deception, though this better-than-average-effect represents but one example of the many documented forms of deceptive self-enhancement, or what we’ll call self-deception for short. (If you’re inclined to doubt the ubiquity of self-deception, please read Taylor and Brown’s 1988 article entitled “Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health.”)

Impression management is a little bit different and perhaps less complicated. It is simply the tendency to describe oneself favorably to others, or to otherwise favorably bias people’s perceptions of oneself. Unlike self-deception, this sort of activity may not involve delusion of any kind. In its most innocent form, one simply attempts to put his or her “best foot forward.” The full spectrum of impression management includes emphasizing, exaggerating, or inventing positive qualities or actions, plus minimizing, concealing, or denying negative qualities or actions. But even at its most deceitful, we can do impression management while maintaining accurate beliefs about ourselves.

At the very least, Jenna was engaging in impression management, and possibly self-deception as well. Let’s now examine Liz’s guidance in light of these two possibilities.

As far as self-deception is concerned, the facts are to a certain extent hostile to Liz. Self-deceit is not only pervasive but, contrary to common sense, healthy. It appears that self-deception is positively associated with many good things, among them higher self-esteem, greater work engagement and productivity, positive mood, enhanced social relationships, and better and faster coping with adverse events. All of these outcomes are regarded as hallmarks of mental health and major contributors to life-long happiness. And, truth be told, there is clear evidence that depressed people, rather than holding overly negative self-views, in fact view themselves with a much higher degree of accuracy than those who are mentally healthy.

Yet, this topic continues to be vigorously debated in the psychological literature. Frankly, my opinion is that the side attempting to make the case against self-deception has set forth less rigorous and less abundant evidence in its favor. However, there is at least one important qualification on the self-deception as mentally healthy perspective that helps to vindicate Liz, if only in part. There are thankfully natural limits on how much self-deception you can practice before it begins to become disadvantageous; detrimental to all the positive outcomes it can, when practiced in moderation, sustain. A little bit of self-deception is good, but a lot is bad. This is what we in the scientific community refer to as theoptimal margin of illusion, an idiom introduced by the inimitable Baumeister (1989).

Clearly, Jenna is hardly if ever operating within this best possible margin. Granting that, Liz’s advice does indeed reclaim some validity. But she may have thought to include in her recommendation that in becoming more honest about whom she is, Jenna should not necessarily become completely honest. However implausible it seems, research clearly suggests that adopting totally unbiased self-perceptions is neither a good idea for Jenna, nor for people in the real world.

Alright, so what about impression management? If Liz was not referring to self-deception, but instead suggesting that Jenna should merely stop trying so hard to manage other people’s perceptions of her, that’s a horse of a different color. One important consideration here is that impression management requires effort to sustain, especially if you are attempting to forge an image that departs in great measure from your natural disposition. Effort spent in this pursuit is effort that could be used to pursue other, potentially more worthy goals. From this perspective, Liz’s advice should get your approving nod. Then again, the effort associated with impression management could be worth it after all, depending on how well (i.e., how seamlessly) it is practiced. Let’s face it, people who try to seem likeable often succeed in actually being more likeable. To the extent that impression management, practiced in moderation and in good faith, helps to improve one’s social relationships, it can be considered adaptive, even if its undertaking requires lots of effort.

All-in-all, the conclusion here is similar to the one we reached for self-deception. The advisability of impression management hinges on the degree of departure between our normal disposition and the persona we are attempting to convey outwardly. The greater the degree of departure, the more effort required to maintain the pretense, and the more likely our janissary maneuvers are to be detected. So, just as there appears to be an optimal margin of illusion, we can imagine that there is also an optimal margin of management. Do too much, and you’ll compromise worthy goals and/or potentially earn the unsavory label “phony.” Do it moderately and do it well, and you stand to reap maximum social rewards while expending minimal effort.

Once again, Jenna exceeds the optimal margin, so in that sense Liz’s advice could be the right advice so long as it doesn’t prompt Jenna to wander too far off the impression management reservation. Everything considered the ideal corrective measure for Jenna (or anyone else acting similarly) would be to temper, rather than completely eliminate her self-deceptive tendencies along with her impression-obsession.

Source Psychology Today

Why the Recession May Trigger More Depression Among Men

By ALICE PARK


It’s a well-established fact that women are at higher risk for depression than men, but that may soon change, says a psychiatrist at Emory University.

When Dr. Boadie Dunlop began recruiting subjects for a depression study, he enlisted the help of local sports radio shows, and was surprised by the tremendous response he received — from men. “We were really impressed with the number of men coming in with depression related to employment or marital conflict,” says Dunlop.

That led to discussions about the many social and cultural changes occurring in gender roles that may put men at increasingly higher risk of developing depression, which Dunlop outlines in an editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The most recent recession brought some of those issues to a head, he says, as downsizing and higher unemployment highlighted the death of manufacturing and labor-intensive jobs, which have traditionally been held by men. About 75% of the jobs lost in the downturn belonged to men. Innovations in technology, as well as outsourcing to countries where manual labor is less expensive, are shrinking this sector, forcing more men than women out of work. With men culturally shouldering the role of primary breadwinner for their families, unemployment hits men particularly hard, as their self-esteem, an important factor in depression risk, is often contingent on their role as provider.

At the same time, on a more psychological level, societal norms about the male image are changing, shifting away from males as the stoic breadwinner to a more realistic model of a member of a family who is just as prone to emotional and psychological stress as any other member. This change is making it easier, albeit only slightly, for men to talk about conditions such as depression, and may lead to a bump in incidence as more men start to feel comfortable talking openly about the mental illness.

Traditionally, women have had up to twice the risk of developing depression over their lifetime as men, and the reasons are both biological and social. Biologically, differences between genders in hormone metabolism account for some of the susceptibility to depression; culturally, the higher rates of childhood abuse among girls is also a factor in enhancing rates of depression among women. As adults, women have also been confronted with societal barriers to professional self-fulfillment that have had a negative impact on their self-image and self-esteem. But as more men either share or relinquish their role as primary earner in households, they may feel the same threat to their sense of self as women historically have. In addition, as more men take on child-rearing responsibilities, they may feel inadequate and overwhelmed, fertile ground for depression.

“Men are going to be taking on these roles, some by choice and some will have it forced on them,” says Dunlop. “How well will they be able to adapt, and how well we are able to help them if they have troubles with those roles?”

Socially, he says, despite many high profile cases of men admitting to depression, such as Mike Wallace and John Cleese, it’s still difficult for most men to acknowledge feeling overwhelmed and out of control. “To be depressed, to feel overwhelmed and not motivated to do things, are signs that have had the stigma attached to them of mental weakness,” says Dunlop. “And men traditionally have felt that they should just overcome them and snap out of it.”

Acknowledging that men are facing some profound economic and societal changes that could negatively affect their self-esteem is the first step that could help more health-care providers address the issue, he says. For family practitioners or other non-mental health specialists, simply asking about how their male patients are coping with the economic downturn, and whether the financial crisis has caused any changes in his family, is a good start. “A general inquiry about how you are getting by can open the door to how his role has changed, and whether he is finding things tough going,” says Dunlop.

Being aware of the cultural and economic shifts that may make men vulnerable to depression may also end up addressing an important question in mental health circles — how much of the greater vulnerability among women is due to biology, and how much to the sociocultural environment in which they live? If men and women continue to show divergent rates of depression even as gender roles become equalized — as more women become providers and more men take child-rearing responsibility — then it’s likely that nature may trump nurture with respect to depression. But if the rates start to match up, then, says Dunlop, it could suggest that our environment plays a more dominant role in triggering the mental illness. And that, in turn, suggests that there may be things we can do to address it. “If men are taking on different roles, they may need help in learning how to do it,” he says. Providing that help could lead to lowering their rates of depression.

Source Healthland

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Offer Many Mental Health Benefits

By Roger Walsh, PhD, M.D.


Lifestyle changes – such as getting more exercise, time in nature, or helping others – can be as effective as drugs or counseling to treat an array of mental illnesses, according to a new paper published by the American Psychological Association.

Multiple mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, can be treated with certain lifestyle changes as successfully as diseases such as diabetes and obesity, according to Roger Walsh, M.D., PhD. of the University of California, Irvine’s College of Medicine. Walsh reviewed research on the effects of what he calls “therapeutic lifestyle changes,” or TLCs, including exercise, nutrition and diet, relationships, recreation, relaxation and stress management, religious or spiritual involvement, spending time in nature, and service to others. His paper was published in American Psychologist, APA’s flagship journal.

Walsh reviewed research on TLCs’ effectiveness and advantages, as well as the psychological costs of spending too much time in front of the TV or computer screen, not getting outdoors enough, and becoming socially isolated. He concludes that “Lifestyle changes can offer significant therapeutic advantages for patients, therapists, and societies, yet are insufficiently appreciated, taught or utilized,” The paper describes TLCs as effective, inexpensive and often enjoyable, with fewer side effects and complications than medications. “In the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical and public health,” Walsh said.

According to research reviewed in the paper, the many often unrecognized TLC benefits include:

  • Exercise not only helps people feel better by reducing anxiety and depression. It can help children do better in school, improve cognitive performance in adults, reduce age-related memory loss in the elderly, and increase new neuron formation in the brain.
  • Diets rich in vegetables, fruits and fish may help school performance in children, maintain cognitive functions in adults, as well as reduce symptoms in affective and schizophrenic disorders.
  • Spending time in nature can promote cognitive functions and overall well-being.
  • Good relationships can reduce health risks ranging from the common cold to strokes as well as multiple mental illnesses, and can enhance psychological well-being dramatically.
  • Recreation and fun can reduce defensiveness and foster social skills.
  • Relaxation and stress management can treat a variety of anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorders.
  • Meditation has many benefits. It can improve empathy, sensitivity and emotional stability, reduce stress and burnout, and enhance cognitive function and even brain size.
  • Religious and spiritual involvement that focuses on love and forgiveness can reduce anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and foster well-being.
  • Contribution and service, or altruism, can enhance joy and generosity by producing a “helper’s high.” Altruism also benefits both physical and mental health, and perhaps even extends lifespan. A major exception the paper notes is “caretaker burnout experienced by overwhelmed family members caring for a demented spouse or parent.”

Difficulties associated with using TLCs are the sustained effort they require, and “a passive expectation that healing comes from an outside authority or a pill,” according to Walsh. He also noted that people today must contend with a daily barrage of psychologically sophisticated advertisements promoting unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating fast food. “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want, but you can certainly ruin your life and health trying” lamented Walsh.

For therapists, the study recommends learning more about the benefits of TLCs, and devoting more time to foster patients’ TLCs.

The paper recognizes that encouraging widespread adoption of therapeutic lifestyles by the public is likely to require wide-scale measures encompassing educational, mental, and public health systems, as well as political leadership.

Source Medical News Today

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