Raj Persaud in conversation - the podcasts
Sleep problems explained. The psychiatry of sleep problems

How to get a good nights sleep without pills?

Dr Raj Persaud in conversation with Dr Jeremy Beider. Problems sleeping are one of the commonest difficulties that doctors in the UK deal with - possibly leading to massive over-prescribing of hypnotic drugs which can be highly addictive. What are the non-pharmacological ways of achieving a good nights sleep? Raj Persaud in conversation with Jeremy Beider who was presenting on this topic at the Annual International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists at the Barbican.

Jeremy Beider is a consultant in adult psychiatry in West London Mental Health Trust and holds a MSc in Behavioural Sleep Medicine from Glasgow University.

He has Clinical experience at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Sleep Disorders unit and the National Neuropsychopharmacology Clinic UK

If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk

As a Dream Predicts Lottery Win, and Malaysian Airlines Passenger Posts Eerily Prophetic Picture - Can Dream and Visions Foretell the Future?

 

RAJ PERSAUD AND PETER BRUGGEN

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/lottery-dream_b_5605068.html

 

The UK press has reported that a judge recently ordered a restaurant owner to split half of a million pound lottery prize with his waiter, because of a dream foretelling the future.

The boss of a Turkish restaurant in York, England, bought the winning lottery ticket following a vivid dream experienced by his superstitious employee, predicting the win.

Judge Mark Gosnell's ruling followed a protracted legal dispute between the two men as to whom the prize money belonged to. The Judge's final decision, that the jackpot had to be split by the boss with his waiter, partly turned on a premonition.

It is reported that the waiter dreamt that he was holding a large bundle of cash and standing in front of him was his boss. Being a strong believer in the power of such visions, the dreamer interpreted this to mean that he and his boss would scoop the lottery.

The following day the waiter apparently "pestered" his boss for hours, before the restaurant owner finally agreed to enter the EuroMllions draw.

The judge examined CCTV footage from the restaurant which showed the two men filling in the winning ticket, and ruled in the waiter's favour, accepting the dream explanation was "plausible".

While anecdotal reports of dreams predicting the future abound, Parapsychologists are interested in scientifically testing whether foretelling the future might be possible.

For example, a paper entitled, 'An ostensible precognition of the Arab surprise attack on the Day of Atonement, 1973', published in 1986 by Gilad Livneh, in the 'Journal of the Society for Psychical Research', presented just such a compelling case. A letter to Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, was discussed in which a woman reports her vision about an Arab attack, two weeks before the actual event took place.

While accurate prophecy was a plausible explanation, however, the author also conceded that chance coincidence could not be ruled out, due to the inconsistency of certain details between the dream, and the actual event itself.

Caroline Watt, Natalie Ashley, Jack Gillett, Megan Halewood and Rebecca Hanson from the Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, have just published one of the most recent systematic studies on prophetic dreams.

These authors report surveys showing that around one quarter of the population believes in the ability to foretell the future, while about one third report 'precognitive' experiences (precognitive means literally fore-knowing).

The authors also point out the scientific and public importance should some dreams indeed turn out to be reliably prophetic. For example, if such precognitive dreams contain trustworthy information, it might be possible to warn of forthcoming disasters, or even to prevent them from occurring.

This has particular resonance right now given a Dutch passenger feared dead, is recently reported to have posted a photo of the Malaysian Airlines Jet he was boarding, destined to crash in the Ukraine, with the message: "if we disappear, this is what the plane looks like".

Caroline Watt, Rebecca Hanson and colleagues point out that following the Aberfan disaster the British Premonitions Bureau was set up in London, and in the USA the Central Premonitions Registry was established. Both appear to have faltered partly due to an insufficient number of predictions that could be related to specific incidents.

Linking an incident which has now happened with a prior dream could merely be a tendency to see patterns facilitated by the benefit of hindsight.

In another past study reported by the authors of the latest research, participants were asked to document their dreams upon awakening, and then to mail a copy to the researcher. The dreamers were asked to notify the investigator if they noticed any events occurring that corresponded to their dreams. In one series, it was judged that only two out of 265 dreams (over an 8-week period) appeared 'moderately' prophetic.

Caroline Watt, Rebecca Hanson and colleagues' current paper, entitled 'Psychological factors in precognitive dream experiences: The role of paranormal belief, selective recall and propensity to find correspondences', investigated the part of selective recall in prophetic dream experiences. Participants read two diaries, one purporting to be a dream diary, and one claiming to be a diary of incidents in the dreamer's life. The events either confirmed or disconfirmed the reported visions.

A significantly greater number of confirmed than disconfirmed dream-event pairs were recalled by participants taking part in the experiment, possibly indicating a human tendency to see connections over unconnected happenings.

The authors argue that their research, published in the 'International Journal of Dream Research' in April 2014, explain the seeming coincidence between dreams and events that can be interpreted as prophetic.

Two possible psychological mechanisms - selective recall and propensity to find correspondences seem to lead us to experience many more dreams apparently foretelling the future, than may genuinely exist.

These explain the discrepancy between the dearth of scientific support for prophetic dreams, compared with the rather frequently reported experience in the general population, of having dreamed about a seemingly unpredictable future event.

Psychologists Gergo Hadlaczky and Joakim Westerlund from Stockholm University have published a study in 2011 which argues that how surprised you are by coincidences could predict how likely you are to end up believing in phenomena such as parapsychology and the supernatural.

The study entitled 'Sensitivity to coincidences and paranormal belief' and published in the journal, 'Perceptual and Motor Skills' exposed participants to artificial coincidences, who were asked to provide remarkability ratings. Those who were more surprised, when experiencing coincidences, tend towards higher paranormal belief (beliefs such as in telepathy etc).

The most obvious explanation for many coincidences is 'just chance'. Tending to be more surprised by coincidence suggests a tendency to reject the 'it's just chance' account. For example, there will be some who put it down to just chance that two Malaysian Airlines Jets should suffer catastrophe in a short space of time. Others will be much more surprised.

It's possible that a tendency to be more shocked by coincidence simply betrays poor probability reasoning. But it could also have positive survival value in an evolutionary sense. Being more paranoid may mean seeing patterns in what others assume are random events.

Being more astonished by coincidence, could have made you more vigilant for threat in our ancestral environment, more paranoid, and therefore more able to detect and defend against predators in our ancestral past. We could be genetically wired up to be surprised by coincidence.

But paranoia and surprise by chance is only helpful if it leads to an actual action that then produces a positive outcome. The passenger reported to have posted the prophetic internet message about the Malaysian Airlines Jet due to be flying over Ukraine, apparently still did board the plane.

The recent lottery-winner case appears an excellent example of a kind of quasi-scientific proof that dreams can foretell the future, because the person who had the dream then engaged in an action the next day as a direct result - persuading his boss to buy a lottery ticket.

Yet if the waiter in the most recent legal judgement ruling was so convinced by his prophetic dream - why did he not take more precautions to safeguard his claim to the win?

Why did he not foresee that sharing the ticket purchase with his boss was going to lead to a protracted legal battle?

Depending on how you interpret it, this could become an example of how dreams or visions don't really predict the future.

 

This podcast has been made on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK) by Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk

 

For more general podcasts visit: www.rcpsych.ac.uk/discoverpsychiatry/podcasts.aspx


The science of hearing voices

Raj Persaud in conversation with Professor Peter Woodruff. Professor Peter Woodruff from Sheffield University and Raj Persaud discuss the latest neuroscience research on hearing voices or auditory hallucinations with Raj Persaud - the conversation was recorded at the Annual Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists at the Barbican. The latest neuroscience developments appear to hold out the prospect of innovative new non-drug related therapies.

 

Professor Peter W R Woodruff MBBS PhD MRCP FRCPsych

Professor and Head of Academic Clinical Psychiatry
Director of the Sheffield Cognition and Neuroimaging Laboratory (SCANLab)
Deputy head of the Section of Neuroscience

  • 1 July 1999 – present: Professor and Head of Academic Clinical Psychiatry, University of Sheffield & Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist, Sheffield Care Trust (from 1 July 1999)
  • 1997- 1999: Senior Lecturer in Psychiatric Neuroimaging University of Manchester
    Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist, Mental Health Services of Salford.
  • 1995 – 1997: British Telecom Research Fellow in Functional MRI, Institute of Psychiatry London
    Senior Lecturer in Psychiatric Neuroimaging/Hon Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychiatric Intensive Care, Maudsley Hospital London
  • 1994 – 1995: Fulbright Fellow in Functional MRI, Harvard Medical School & Massachusetts General Hospital USA
  • If you are interested in further information on CPD Online or wish to earn CPD credit points, please visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists CPD Online website for further information at www.psychiatrycpd.co.uk

A related article which may be of interest originally published in The Huffington Post:

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/washington-shooting-naval-yard_b_3960983.html

 

 

Could Psychiatrists Have Prevented the Washington Naval Yard Shootings?

 

Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen

 

As reports began to appear of the disturbed background of Aaron Alexis, the media seems to have universally decided that mass shootings are readily explained by severe mental illness.

 

The assumption is that as psychiatric disorder is so obviously linked to violence, there should be no surprise that the Washington Naval Yard killings involved someone with a mentally troubled history.

 

New research finds that media reporting of mass murder, such as this most recent tragedy, leads to more negative public attitudes to the mentally ill. This in turn may contribute to a pessimistic stereotyped image for psychiatric problems and services. As a result, people who suffer symptoms, as it appears Aaron Alexis could have, may not access treatment which possibly prevents these atrocities.

 

 

A vicious cycle is thus created, ironically perpetuated by media coverage. Is it possible the reporting is part of the cause of such senseless violence? Not because this encourages one sub-type of mass killers - 'infamy seekers' (which it may do) but also as it may discourage early psychiatric intervention?

 

 

Emma McGinty, Daniel Webster and Colleen Barry, from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore recently found that reading a news story about a mass shooting, heightened negative attitudes toward sufferers from mental illness.

 

 

The study entitled 'Effects of News Media Messages About Mass Shootings on Attitudes Toward Persons With Serious Mental Illness and Public Support for Gun Control Policies', involved a national sample of almost two thousand participants. Their findings suggest public perception is that serious mental illness, more than access to guns, accounts for mass shootings.

 

 

The study, recently published in the 'American Journal of Psychiatry', concludes that in the aftermath of mass shootings, the barrage of news stories describing the shooter with psychiatric symptoms, his history, and his actions during the shooting might raise public support for gun control policies. But such coverage also contributes to negative attitudes toward the mentally ill.

 

 

The authors go on to point out that pessimistic public attitudes are linked to poor treatment rates among persons with serious mental health conditions.

 

 

But if there were better psychiatric services, and if the taboo surrounding mental illness was less, so more people accessed better treatment earlier, would it make a difference to these tragic shootings? Could psychiatric interventions prevent these atrocities in the future?

 

 

'The American Journal of Psychiatry' was partly prompted by the Johns Hopkins media effects study, to wrestle with the question of how psychiatrists could make a difference to the apparently rising incidence of mass killing incidents.

 

 

Psychiatrists Richard Friedman and Robert Michels, were in fact responding to the Newtown Connecticut school shooting, at the time of their editorial. Yet their comments anticipate the likelihood that such tragedies would recur soon.

 

 

They did indeed, when Aaron Alexis recently killed 12 people in the Washington Naval Yard.

 

 

The media reports suggested the navy contractor was wrestling with mental illness. He appears to have been hearing voices and complained he was being followed by people using a microwave machine to send vibrations through his body.

 

 

Doctors Friedman and Michels agree that mass killings attract the kind of blanket media coverage which can create misleading impressions. For example, the attention they attract distracts from the fact mass killings are very rare. Friedman and Michels point out that in 2011, mass killings accounted for only 0.13% of all homicides in the United States.

 

 

Friedman and Michels believe the conundrum the public find most difficult to grasp is that although mass murderers probably suffer more mental illness than other killers, the mentally ill as a group actually pose relatively little risk of violence.

 

 

For example, their editorial entitled 'How Should the Psychiatric Profession Respond to the Recent Mass Killings?' quotes that only 4% of violence generally can be attributed to persons with mental illness. The prevalence of violence amongst those with serious mental illness throughout their lifetime is 16%, as compared with 7% among people without.

 

 

Alcohol and drug abuse are far more likely to produce aggression. Those who abuse alcohol or drugs but have no other mental disorder, are nearly seven times as likely as those without substance abuse, to commit violence.

 

 

One possibility is that improving mental health services might make a difference; Aaron Alexis appears to have fallen through the net of treatment.

 

 

But, remarkably, should a psychiatrist have been able to evaluate this man before the shootings, suffering though he appeared to be from hearing voices and delusions, it's not clear he could have been easily detained involuntarily by current mental health legislation. The law, both in the USA and the UK, supports doctors in seeking involuntary admission to hospital, only if they can convince the authorities that a patient is an immediate danger to himself or others.

 

 

Perhaps in the wake of these recent shootings, involuntary mental health legislation and practice should be loosened from 'imminent danger', to a 'reasonable likelihood of violent behaviour'.

 

 

But Friedman and Michels argue that lowering the threshold for involuntary treatment could discourage consulting doctors. People could become more wary of being candid or seeking help voluntarily.

 

Heightened fears of being committed to an institution against their will, might mean some of most unwell patients would be driven further away from the mental health system.

 

 

Mental illness is very treatable, and sufferers can and do return to productive well-being with the right healing, implemented early enough. Yet the fear of being 'locked away' forever in an asylum continues to stigmatise the system.

 

 

As psychiatrists, when we hear these tragic stories of what mental disturbance lay behind a mass shooting, we have a further concern. It is that sufferers from these severe psychiatric symptoms, over and over again, were not receiving adequate treatment.

 

 

The media clouds the key lesson to be learnt, which is that it's neglected and untreated mental illness, not psychiatric disorder alone, which is involved.

 

 

If the truth was more widely understood, about how effective modern treatment of psychiatric problems can be, particularly if dispensed by properly trained professionals, then it is possible that these incidents could indeed become rarer. Clinics might then attract adequate public funding, and even better clinicians, which would all help services become ever more effective.

 

 

Some may possibly argue that even the best mental health system would likely have little impact on deterring mass killings, as some of these killers largely avoid psychiatric treatment - but for the others - and those who might be influenced by friends and relatives observing something amiss, we still believe there could be a worthwhile impact.

 

 

If the USA is not going to embrace tougher gun control, as it appears reluctant to, then it may well be even more imperative they develop absolutely excellent mental health services.

 

In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting tragedy, this might just be our only hope.

 

 

Raj Persaud is joint podcast editor for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and also now has a free app on iTunes and google play store entitled 'Raj Persaud in conversation', which includes a lot of free information on the latest research findings in mental health, plus interviews with top experts from around the world.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rajpersaud.android.rajpersaud

 

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-raj-persaud-in-conversation/id927466223?mt=8


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