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U.S. News Archive
July 01 - July 06, 2000





This page contains news for the period July 01, 2000 through July 06, 2000.


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Thursday, July 6, 2000

Nature and nurture affect children after divorce

A story published today by Reuters health reports that researchers have come one step closer to sorting out the ongoing debate over nature versus nurture--at least when it comes to how divorce affects children.

According to a report in the July issue of Developmental Psychology, genetics is more likely to affect academic achievement and social adjustment after divorce. Environmental factors, which can include how a child is nurtured, appear to influence behavioral problems and drug use.

The story says that until recently, researchers have assumed that the well-known effects of divorce on children were purely a result of environmental factors--the financial strains, single parenthood and changes in the parents' relationships that come with divorce.

Dr. Thomas G. O'Connor from the Institute of Psychiatry in London, UK, and colleagues studied nearly 400 biological and adoptive families over 12 years to examine whether genetics affected children's self-esteem, social skills, academic achievement, emotional health, and the chances of drug use after divorce.

Researchers can examine the influence of both genetics and environment in looking at biological families. The behavior of children who are adopted cannot be attributed to the family genes.

The study found that children in biological families who had been through divorce by the child's 12th birthday were more likely to exhibit behavior problems including aggression, delinquency, depression, anxiety and withdrawal than children whose parents were not divorced. These children's schoolwork and social lives tended to suffer more, and they were more likely to use drugs earlier.

Like the children of biological parents, adopted children of divorce had more behavior problems and used drugs earlier. Significantly, though, there were no differences in academic achievement and social skills, the study found.

Because the effect of divorce on children in the adopted and biological families was different, there is reason to suspect some genetic component in determining how children cope with divorce, O'Connor's group suggests.


Monday, July 3, 2000

Arkansas Governor considers ways to reduce marital splits

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says the government has a vested interest in preserving marriages because the results of divorce can cost the state money. Huckabee and his policy director are considering some things the state might do to reduce divorces.

Among the possibilities are:

State tax credits for couples who agree to premarital counseling;
Encouraging churches to adopt policies requiring a certain amount of premarital counseling before a marriage can be performed in the church;
Enactment of a “covenant-marriage” law that allows couples to sign marriage contracts permitting divorce only in cases of abuse, abandonment, adultery, imprisonment of a spouse or a lengthy separation.

But leaders of the state legislature said Monday they are not sure if the state has a role to play in the divorce issue.

House Speaker-designate Shane Broadway says providing tax credits to couples attending premarital counseling would be difficult. He says the state would first have to determine what type of counseling would qualify couples for the tax credit. State Senator Mike Beebe, the president pro-tem of the state Senate, agreed.


Saturday, July 1, 2000

Young, white single moms are closest to nervous breakdowns

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that about a third of Americans say that at one poi

nt or another in time they felt on the verge of a nervous breakdown or had a mental health problem, according to a study released Sunday that examines perceptions of psychological health over four decades.

But young white single mothers were the ones most likely to feel close to the edge.

"There's been a real change in both Americans' attitudes toward acknowledging mental health problems and in their willingness to talk to people about it," said Ralph Swindle Jr., lead author of the study, which appears in the July issue of American Psychologist.

In 1996, more than 26 percent of adults surveyed said they had felt an impending nervous breakdown, up from 19 percent in 1957, he said.

In addition, another 7 percent said they had experienced a mental health problem, a question not asked in the earlier survey. Most of those questioned related mental illness to more serious psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

Participants in the 1996 study saw a nervous breakdown as related to stress, depression and anxiety.

"The way the general population uses the term 'nervous breakdown' is a mental collapse," said co-author Bernice Pescosolido, also at Indiana University. "They were talking about getting to a point in their lives where they couldn't carry on."

Those most likely to say they had anticipated a nervous breakdown were young, white single mothers with low incomes and no involvement with organized religion, the researchers said.

As the percentage of Americans reporting a feeling of impending breakdown has increased over the last four decades, the cause of those feelings and the way they're dealt with has also changed.

In the 1957 survey, most people said health problems had caused them to feel close to a breakdown. But in 1996, the most frequently cited causes were relationship problems, including divorce, separation and other marital strains.

While 44 percent of people with these feelings in 1957 sought medical help, only 18 percent did so in 1996. People instead turned to non-medical health professionals like psychologists, social workers and counselors - about 18 percent saw them in 1996 compared to less than 1 percent in 1957.

Recent studies have found an estimated 50 million Americans suffer some form of mental illness during their lives.

The nervous breakdown survey questioned 1,444 American adults from March to May 1996 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.





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