Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dads can protect kids against effects of mothers' depression

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 21st August, 2007:

New evidence of the powerful long-term effects of a father’s involvement with his children has come in a study of the effects of depression in mothers.

It is a sad fact that chronic depression in a mother leaves children more vulnerable to problems of their own later on. But it has now been shown the father’s involvement with his children can safeguard them against these problems.

Children whose mothers are chronically depressed are at higher risk than other children of becoming depressed themselves, of suffering from anxiety, of behaving aggressively or of being hyperactive.

Just why this is so is not clear. Depression makes the mother emotionally absent and perhaps it is that absence that accounts for these effects.

The good news, though, is that the father can greatly reduce these effects by ensuring that he is closely involved with the children.

All of this may seem obvious yet it’s easier said than done.

A mother’s depression casts a cloud over a family. If a mother is depressed it is easy enough for the father to become a little depressed or upset himself by this and not to have as much time for the children as would otherwise be the case.

However, if the father is aware of how important his involvement is to his children’s long-term future then hopefully he will be able to ensure that they have a parent who is fully emotionally present.

What does that mean? The research, conducted at St Louis University, suggests that involvement means such things as listening to what the children have to say, discussing important family decisions with them, attending school concerts and other similar events and knowing where they are when they are not at home.

So we are not talking about something incredibly complicated to understand. This is not nuclear physics. Yet sometimes these are the very things that a man under the stress of trying to make a living and keep the household running might be tempted to ignore. After all, if you are supporting your family and looking after their basic needs while also trying to help your wife in her depression, you may feel that you are more than sufficiently involved.

But the sort of involvement outlined earlier is what might be regarded as emotional involvement. Attending a school concert is not just about watching your child perform. It’s about the emotional effect of the whole experience for the child and the emotional value to the child of your presence there.

The research was conducted over a number of years with more than 6,500 mothers and children as part of a bigger study. The lead researcher, Jen Jen Chang PhD, had grown up with a depressed sister and had observed how depression had affected the whole family. This got her wondering how a mother’s depression would affect the family and what could be done to alleviate the effects.

She advocates that health professionals ensure that fathers know the importance of their role in relation to the children’s emotional well-being when the mother is depressed.

Her findings back up other studies on the importance of a father’s involvement to a child’s well-being. For instance, Barnardo’s ‘Da’ project in Ballyfermot has found that fathers’ involvement means better social skills for the children , fewer emotional and behavioural difficulties in adolescence, better school performance and less chance of getting into trouble with the law.

Some people already know this instinctively – but others do not realise how very important their emotional involvement is to their children. Fathers were for too long encouraged by society to see themselves as breadwinners alone and perhaps, additionally, as authority figures but not necessarily to see the importance of emotional involvement with their children.

And men who are low in self-esteem or in self-confidence, who perhaps have never been told very many positive things about themselves, may not realise how important they are to their children.

So if we want to boost the future of our children we need to begin by telling fathers just how much they matter. And we shouldn’t assume that they already know.....

(This is the complete post. Ignore "Continue reading" link below.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Want to have fun? Grab a granny!

A nightclub in Dublin has a weekly session for older persons. This has become known locally as "grab a granny night". Now new research suggests that grabbing a granny - or grandad - might just be the way to have some naughty fun.

The research, quoted in this story on, found that most people aged 57 to 85 think of sexuality as an important part of life and that the frequency of sexual activity, for those who are active, declines only slightly from the 50s to the early 70s.

Data from the University of Chicago’s National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), presented in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that many men and women remain sexually active—participating in vaginal intercourse, oral sex and masturbation—well into their 70s and 80s, the story says.

Many of those who were sexually active found ways to remain active, despite worsening health, it says. The proportion of sexually active couples that engage in oral sex, for example, hovered at around 50 percent for those under 75.

So there you go - yet another reason for welcoming the onset of old age.....
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Monday, August 20, 2007

Loneliness is bad for your health

One of my great fears used to be that I would end up living in a room on my own with no-one to talk to for days on end. Fortunately for me, it looks as though it won't work out that way. However, I think that many men and women experience loneliness and isolation.

There is a good deal of research which suggests that loneliness is not just emotionally painful - it's bad for people's physical health too. A study, reported here on provides further evidence. Researchers found higher levels of the stress hormone epinephrine in the urine of lonely people than in that of others.

They also found that the sleep of lonely people is of poorer quality and therefore they lose out on some of its restorative effects.

Lonely people feel more helpless and threatened when faced with challenges and are less likely to look for help, they found.

Loneliness has also been linked in many studies to dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. There is more on that here.....

The latest study, by Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo, was originally reported in the August 2007 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Breast implants: higher suicide rate suggests cosmetic surgery not the answer to life's ills

If cosmetic surgery brought happiness, I guess we'd all be doing it. But evidence that this is far from the case comes in a disturbing new study of Swedish women reported in this story on Women with breast implants are three times more likely to commit suicide or to die from drug or alcohol-related causes than other women, a new study has indicated, says the story.

Researchers at the International Epidemiology Institute in Maryland and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, in a detailed follow-up of an earlier study, looked at data on 3,527 Swedish women who underwent cosmetic breast implantation from 1965 to 1994 at an average age of 32.

After an average 18.7 years of follow-up, there were 175 deaths among the women with implants. This was a 30% higher than the expected all-cause mortality rate.

Suicide was three times more common among women with implants than the rate in the general population. Deaths related to mental disorders were also higher among women with breast implants

Does this mean, I wonder, that these women had looked to breast implants to resolve life's normal problems and that they despaired when their problems returned? Or were breast implants just one of many options they had tried unsuccessfully?

It suggests to me that women or men who are thinking of plastic surgery should see it as something they use to deal with a specific physical issue but not as something that will resolve wider problems.....

Middle aged men are miserable gits

Yes, it's official: middle age is less fun than being a teenager or an older person. Men in their late 30s and early 40s are the least satisfied members of society, according to a survey, says this story from the BBC.

They are even more dissatisfied than teenagers and the elderly, a study for the British government found.

More than 3,600 people were asked to score their wellbeing on a scale of one to 10 as part of a survey for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Men, who rated their youthful happiness as 7.3, plunged into an early mid-life crisis with those aged 35-44 reporting satisfaction levels at 6.8.

Oh, lighten up guys - after all, you've still got old age to look forward to. Heh, heh.....

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Weak" Premier League stars let women run the show, Roy Keane complains

Sunderland manager Roy Keane (right) has given a right old handbagging to footballers who let the WAGS - Wives and Girlfriends - order them about, according to this story in the Irish Independent.

Keane expressed his disdain for players he tried and failed to sign this summer because either the footballer or his wife or girlfriend wanted to go to London instead of the north-east of England.

"I find it a bit of a surprise that geography seems to play such a big part, or that players let their wives decide. I think it is weak. Weak," Keane said of the process of recruiting footballers.

"We have had a player this summer who didn't even ring us back because his wife wanted to move to London.

"He didn't even have the courtesy to pick the phone up to us. And shopping was mentioned. It might astonish many people, but it is true.

"If someone doesn't want to come to Sunderland then all well and good. But if they don't want to come to Sunderland because their wife wants to go shopping in London, then it is a sad state of affairs," said Keane.

"Greed will always be a part of the game and that will never change. This side of it, with the Women running the show, concerns me and worries me.

"Maybe it shouldn't really, because the players I am talking about are soft anyway."

Er, right so.....

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chris Tarrant hit me when I was trying to kick him, complains estranged wife

According to TV host Chris Tarrant's estranged wife Ingrid (right, with rabbit), he "belted me in the face" when she asked him if he was having an affair (he was). This occurred when, as the Sun put it, "Ingrid shaped to kick him." "TREMBLING Ingrid Tarrant told last night how her fragile marriage finally shattered when TV host husband Chris PUNCHED her in the face," is how the Sun opened the story. But it's an opening which ignores the fact that she was trying to kick him at the time. What do I think? I think he should have avoided the kick rather than lashing out at her - and it seems from her account that he went beyond simply defending himself. What I'm questioning is the portrayal of Tarrant as a wife beater when they were both engaging in physical violence at the time and neither of them has a history of physical abuse.....

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Life expectancy of Irish men increases, new statistics show

Men in Ireland are narrowing the survival gap with women, says this story on on new statistics from the Central Statistics Office..

The figures show that the life expectancy of males has increased to 80 years, while women can still look forward to three years more, the story says.

Statistics on people aged 65 in 2001-2003 show that men can expect to live another 15.4 years on average, with women likely to live another 18.7 years.

Ageing in Ireland, the latest set of figures from the Central Statistics Office, shows that about 11% of the Irish population was aged 65 or over last year, a total of 467,900 individuals.

The CSO says that the old dependency rate (the number of older people, presumed to be retired, against younger people in the workforce) could increase by as much as 16% in 2006 to 25% in 2026 for Ireland, and from 25% to 37% for the EU. That means there would be one elderly person in Ireland for every four people aged between 15 and 64.

Men aged 65 & over in Ireland had a much higher rate of employment than the EU average, 14% compared to 7%. The difference for women was less marked (4% compared to EU rate of 3%).

The types of work older people do are quite different. Nearly half the men aged 65 & over (49%) who were employed worked in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, compared to 13% of women. But the proportion of older working women who are employed in the health sector was 23%, compared to only 2% of men…..

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

We will never escape from this says retired teacher whose husband downloaded child pornography

When a retired teacher's husband was found by the police to have downloaded child pornography, the consequences were immediate and devastating, according to this extraordinary article in the Observer. Both were arrested (she was innocent, he later admitted his guilt) and that very day she had to agree to resign all her part-time teaching jobs. Their adult children had to agree not to let the couple be alone with their grandchildren again.

Two years later his trial has still not occurred. She fears what will happen when his activities become known through the trial publicity - stones through the window, being shunned in the shops, having to move.

They have been receiving emotional help from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a charity which aims to protect children by working with people who have engaged in child abuse or are in danger of doing so. The Foundation also runs the Stop It Now! UK & Ireland campaign for the same purpose. The campaign is based on the Stop It Now! campaign in the United States.

But read that Observer article. It's unforgettable.....

No condoms please, we're British

A third of Britons find talking with a new partner about condoms so embarrassing it puts them off using one at all, a survey has suggested, says this story from the BBC.

Yet a third of the 2,169 adults polled by the Family Planning Association (FPA) said they regretted not using a condom with a new partner in the past, it says.

The charity said despite living in a highly sexualised society, talking about condoms is still taboo to many.

And recent figures show sexually transmitted infections are rising.....

Brocolli and cauliflower cut prostate cancer risk

Eating broccoli and cauliflower regularly reduces the risk of prostate cancer, say US researchers, according to this story from the BBC.

A study of 1,300 men found they were better than any other vegetable at protecting against aggressive tumours, it says.

Writing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the researchers said broccoli and cauliflower were known to contain anti-cancer compounds.

Experts advised the best way to reduce cancer risk was to eat a balanced diet, including lots of fruit and vegetables.....

Monday, August 6, 2007

Accused fathers - but not strangers - face gender bias from men and women, study suggests

People are more likely to judge a father guilty than a mother in child sex abuse cases, research reported in this story from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest suggests. However, the same gender bias wasn't found to apply when the suspect was a stranger to the alleged victim.

In the study by Monica McCoy of Converse College and Jennifer Gray of the University of Wyoming, 256 adults read a 6-page fictional account of a court case involving the alleged serious sexual assault of a ten-year-old girl. All participants read an identical account but for one exception, the BPS report says – the suspect was described as either the alleged victim's father, mother, a female stranger or a male stranger.

Both male and female participants were significantly more likely to find a father guilty than a mother (47 per cent of fathers vs. 24 per cent of mothers were judged guilty), but this gender bias didn't extend to suspects who were unrelated to the victim. Overall, the female participants were no more likely to return a guilty verdict than the male participants, but they did tend to rate the victim as more believable and the defendant as less believable.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Irishwomen to dominate top professions in five years

Women will make up the majority of business, financial and legal professionals by 2012, according to a new report which also forecasts that more than two out of five managers throughout the whole workforce will be women by that time, says this story by Laura Slattery in The Irish Times.

The study published by Fás and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) says women will continue to acquire educational qualifications at a faster rate than men and will increase their share of employment in professional and managerial occupations faster than they will in other job areas, the story says.

One exception to the trend is that the proportion of women entering science and engineering professions is not expected to change.

The ESRI's forecasts, which are based on 860 job categories across 20 sectors, predict that the participation of women in the workforce will increase from 41.8 per cent in 2005 to more than 44 per cent by 2012.

About 44 per cent of managers will be female by this time.

But ESRI economist Dr Pete Lunn, one of the authors of the report, said the increasing proportion of women in managerial roles "doesn't necessarily mean that women will be smashing through the glass ceiling in the boardroom".

From a female perspective, the Irish report seems to take a more optimistic viewpoint an OECD forecast earlier this year.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Queer as old folk

(I wrote this review for the TVScope column in The Irish Times, 31st July 2007):

Queer as Old Folk, Channel 4, Thursday, 11:05 pm

Alan is 73 and about to marry his partner Jimmy. They’ve been together for 43 years. When they met, gay relationships were still illegal in Britain. Alan tearfully recalls the many gay friends he lost to suicide in the 1950s because of legal and social repression. Alan himself never hid the fact that he was gay.

Clive, on the other hand, now aged 57 (and why the Channel 4 thinks it is appropriate to classify a 57-year-old as “old folk” I have no idea) only came out to his wife and son two years ago. Now, he’s making up for lost time. Alan and Jimmy have been monogamous since they met. Clive claims to have had sex with almost a thousand men in the past two years.

Roger is in his 60s. He is a retired headmaster and he lives with a former pupil, Ian, who is 25 years old. Ian works as a stripper. While Roger hid his sexuality from the public, his wife knew for many years that he was gay and accepted the fact.

This program was part of Channel 4’s “40 Years Out” series which commemorates the legalisation of homosexual relationships in Britain in 1967.

In the programme, Clive chats to his teenage son about how he is going off to Southend for a threesome. Not the sort of thing most 17 year-olds hear from Dad but Clive’s son is unfazed by it all.

Ian’s mother accepts his relationship with the much older Roger and even comes along to one of her son’s strip shows.

But it’s not all one big party for gay people. Alan points out that many people of all ages are still hiding their sexuality from everybody else. An older gay couple stay away from Alan and Jimmy’s wedding because one of the partners is still hiding his sexuality from his wife.

Unsurprisingly, since he doesn’t bother with safe sex, Clive gets a sexually transmitted disease. Since it is not HIV he’s fairly relaxed about it. So relaxed that though he only has to stop having sex for five days to allow the antibiotics to work, he goes off on the evening of his diagnosis and has sex without telling his partner about the infection. Telling, he explained later, “could have spoilt it”.

You could not imagine Alan taking such a cavalier approach to other people’s health in a million years. When he was growing up, his mother told him never to let anyone kiss him on the lips because he could get a disease. So the day of his marriage to Jimmy is actually the first time that he let him kiss him on the lips. He does remark though, with a wicked twinkle in his eye, that his mother neglected to tell them about other things you can do with your lips.

Enough said.