Welcoming Elin Lindsäter

We are happy to announce that Elin Lindsäter starts a post doc today in our group. She is a psychologist and PhD and has extensive experience working with and researching stress and exhaustion. Our group is now expanding into this field, supported by a grant from the Swedish Research Council. Welcome Elin!

Elin Lindsäter | Medarbetare

Half-time seminar: Long Long Chen

Today Long Long Chen, psychiatrist and PhD student in our group, passed his half-time control towards his PhD with flying colors. Diana Djurfeldt is his main supervisor, with Cynthia Bulik and Christian Rück co-supervising. The titel of his PhD project is “Advances in studying OCD – from next-generation sequencing to deep brain stimulation”. The advisory board, Lisa Ekselius, Uppsala University, Björn Andersson and Rochellys Diaz Heijtz, KI provided very valuable feedback.

Long-Long, master of Zoom.

New pre-print: effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on psychiatric patients

In a recent pre-print from our team, we report findings from an outreach initiative at our psychiatric clinic. Our objectives were to evaluate the physical and mental well-being, subjective mental health, and need for updated psychiatric management plans in patients with severe mental illness during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients who had not been in touch with their outpatient clinic between April 9 and April 23, 2020 were contacted via telephone. From the abstract:

Main Outcomes and Measures: Self-rated physical, respiratory and psychiatric symptoms according to a semi-structured interview. Subjective mental health rated on a scale from 0-100.

Results: Patients (n = 1071) were on average 45 years old (SD = 16.9), of which 570 (53%) were female. Neurodevelopmental disorders, psychotic disorders, and bipolar disorder were the most common diagnostic categories. The majority of respondents reported no respiratory symptoms (86%), and few reported light (10%) or severe (4%) respiratory symptoms. Similarly, most patients reported no worsening in psychiatric symptoms (81%). For those who reported a worsening of psychiatric symptoms (19%), the psychiatric management plans that were already in place were deemed appropriate in most cases (16.5%), whereas 22 patients (2.5%) reported a worsening of psychiatric symptoms that warranted an earlier or immediate follow-up by their psychiatric clinic. Patients rated their subjective mental health on a 0-100 scale as 70.5 [95% CI 69 – 71.9] on average (n = 841). Response rates to the questions of the structured assessment varied from 79% – 82%.

Conclusions and Relevance: The majority of patients reported no respiratory symptoms, no change in psychiatric symptoms and a rather high subjective well-being. Patients in psychiatric care with a mental health care plan experienced stability in the management of their psychiatric symptoms and general well-being, and only a minority were in need of acute support during the early pandemic phase in Stockholm, Sweden.

You can read the pre-print in full here: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.10.20229039v1

Empirically defining treatment response and remission in body dysmorphic disorder using a short self-report instrument

The most recent publication from our lab features an empirical evaluation of the Appearance Anxiety Inventory (AAI) to determine treatment response after cognitive behaviour therapy for body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), as well as remission from BDD. The AAI is frequently used in clinical practice and is self-reported by patients, making it an easily available tool. The article was published last week in Behavior Therapy and is available for free.

In the article, we found that a ≥40% reduction on the AAI from pre-treatment to post-treatment was the best cut-off for treatment response, and that an AAI score of ≤13 was the best cut-off for full or partial remission from BDD. We conclude that the AAI can be a useful tool to complement clinician assessments in treatment evaluation.

Figure 1. Optimal cut-offs for treatment response
Figure 2. Optimal cut-offs for remission

Welcoming John Wallert

We are happy to announce that John Wallert just has started a full-time post doc in our group. He is a psychologist who just received his PhD from Uppsala University. You can read his dissertation here. His expertise in predictive and causal modeling, including machine learning methods, will now be a welcome addition to our team where he will be involved on projects trying to forecast who improves after treatment.

Willkommen zu OCD-NET!

The OCD-NET platform is now also available in German! Together with our colleagues Elisabeth Kohls and Christine Rummel-Kluge at the University of Leipzig, we have worked on a German version of the treatment and will evaluate its effectiveness in future studies. The collaboration so far has been fully remote and it is our ambition to launch the treatment as soon as possible given the challenges to provide face-to-face treatments during the current pandemic.

The OCD-NET platform is also available in Portuguese, English and Swedish, and a Japanese version is underway!

New grant!

We are very happy to announce that the Swedish research council for health, working life and welfare (Forte) has awarded Volen Ivanov with a grant of 3 100 000 SEK for the project ”Joining Forces: A coordinated multidisciplinary approach to evidence-based care for hoarding disorder in the community”. We look forward to continue developing treatments for hoarding disorder by coordinating the efforts of mental health care and the social services in Stockholm.

Audrey Tyrka – The Psychiatric-Metabolic Syndrome

Stockholm Psychiatry Lectures 2019-11-04

Professor Tyrka is interested in the intersection of environment and biology, and how adverse experiences can affect the development of children. Early stress has been identified as a mechanism in both psychiatric and other medical conditions (such as metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease). It has also been associated with premature death, both due to natural and unnatural causes.

What are the mechanisms responsible for this relationship? One such mechanism is through the hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA-axis) which activates the stress-response by releasing glucocorticoids, affecting many regulatory systems in the body. Another proposed mechanism is through the telomere/telomerase maintenance system. The telomeres are located at the end of chromosomes, and preserve the stability of replication in new cells. Their length is reduced over time, and older individuals have shorter telomeres than younger individuals. Telomere shortening is associated with a variety of negative health consequences, and recent research has found that psychosocial stress is associated with shorter telomeres. In Dr Tyrka’s own work, the findings point to an association between childhood maltreatment and shorter telomere length.

Mitochondria are present in virtually every cell, but are particularly common in structures with high energy demand such as the brain and heart. They are involved in energy production, stress response, immune function, and cell signalling. Furthermore, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) also contains genes relevant for the regulation of glucocorticoids. Childhood maltreatment is in this case associated with higher numbers of copy numbers in the mtDNA, suggesting a compensatory mechanism.

In a recent, large scale study of maltreatment in children, Dr Tyrka’s group are studying children at 3-5 years of age. They are therefore able to compare children who have been maltreated within the last 6 months to children with no signs of maltreatment. This can overcome biases related to retrospective studies in adults. The number of traumatic life events and maltreatment were associated with telomere length and mtDNA copy numbers, but it should be noted that the maltreated children had longer telomeres than the control group! Internalising behaviours (depression and anxiety) were also associated with telomere length and mtDNA copy numbers. The same children are now being studied 6 years later, at age 9-11, and data collection is ongoing.

The effects of adverse childhood experiences are not limited to impact on biological systems, but also affect psychosocial and educational functioning. Executive functioning, attachment, self efficacy, attention, memory, and behavioral control are just a few examples where a large body of research has demonstrated detrimental effects. Having an even wider scope, there are also additional societal effects such as homelessness and crime.

You can read more about Professor Tyrka’s research at their lab website and Twitter account. A video of the lecture will appear on the Stockholm Psychiatry Lectures youtube channel.

New publication: Adapted CBT for individuals with OCD and ASD

We have just published an article in Autism, “Adapted cognitive behavior therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder with co-occurring autism spectrum disorder: A clinical effectiveness study”. The article is available for free for a limited amount of time!

Adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often experience mental health problems such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, individuals with ASD are typically excluded from research on the treatment of OCD. Previous research has also shown that individuals with ASD benefit less from standard cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) compared to individuals without ASD. This means that little is known about how well CBT works for individuals with ASD and co-occurring OCD, and which adaptations are needed to improve the outcomes of CBT. Adapted CBT for individuals with OCD and ASD has been developed by researchers in the United Kingdom and has shown promising results in previous studies. In this study, 19 adults with OCD and ASD received adapted CBT at a specialist outpatient OCD clinic in Stockholm, Sweden. The treatment was partially effective: OCD symptoms decreased after treatment, but few participants were completely symptom free. The limitations of the study are, for example, that there was no measurement of therapist adherence to the treatment protocol, and that adapted CBT was not compared to another treatment. The need for further development and refinement of CBT for adults with OCD and ASD is discussed.


Full article citation: Flygare, O., Andersson, E., Ringberg, H., Hellstadius, A.-C., Edbacken, J., Enander, J., … Rück, C. (2019). Adapted cognitive behavior therapy for obsessive–compulsive disorder with co-occurring autism spectrum disorder: A clinical effectiveness study: Autism. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361319856974

The future of psychiatry

Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm Psychiatry Lectures arranged the event The future of psychiatry yesterday, with lectures, discussions, and a poster session. A special guest at the event was Dr Joshua Gordon, the director of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the United States, which is the federal agency that funds research into mental health.

Ole Petter Ottersen – Sweden and Karolinska Institutet on the global arena

The first speaker was Ole Petter Ottersen, president of Karolinska Institutet. He mentioned how psychiatric disorders account for an increasing part of the global burden of disease. Sweden has a unique opportunity to advance research on psychiatric disorders, since the national registers and twin registry are well developed. He also pointed out that Karolinska Institutet needs a cohesive strategy for mental health across the university, as well as outreach to the public and important decision makers. Ottersen emphasised that Karolinska Institutet should strive to improve health not only in Sweden but also on a global level, because the challenge is global.

Nitya Jayaram-Lindström – Milestones achieved and future directions of CPF

Nitya Jayaram-Lindström is the head of Center for Psychiatry Research (CPF), the unit for clinical psychiatry research in Stockholm. She gave examples of the successful implementation of internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy, which is now offered both within child and adolescent psychiatry as well as adult psychiatry. Importantly, the interventions offered are evidence-based and have been evaluated in randomised controlled trials prior to implementation. Among the future directions for CPF and psychiatric research at large are efforts to prevent or intervene early, to broaden the scope of care (for example physical activity, adaptive treatment strategies in a stepped-care model), viewing psychiatric disorders through a life-span perspective, and combining research data with information on the lived experiences of individuals with mental illnesses.

Joshua Gordon – Challenges and opportunities in mental health research

Dr Joshua Gordon is the director of NIMH and was the keynote speaker of the event. He gave his view on the challenges and opportunities in mental health research.


A longstanding challenge in psychiatry is the use of symptoms to classify mental illness. This means that overlap between diagnoses and high rates of comorbidity is the norm rather than the exception. Differences between conditions become vague and there is lots of variation within diagnoses as well.

Another issue is the lack of useful biomarkers in psychiatry. There are no biomarkers–a biological process that can be reliably observed and measured–that reliably give us prognostic, diagnostic, or predictive information for mental illnesses. There is a lot of research underway to try to identify biomarkers, but so far none have become useful in everyday clinical practice.

Dr Gordon also mentioned that our treatments fail to help a substantial minority of patients with mental illness. We have come a long way with psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy and pharmacological treatments such as antidepressant medications, but we still have a “one size fits all” approach that fails to help everyone.


Modern neuroscience has given us new tools to identify and control the neural circuits involved in mental illnesses, and Dr Gordon sees this as one of the major opportunities going forward. For example, we can use the new tools to find new clues about which processes in the brain are involved in mental illness. These processes are potential biomarkers and can be used to develop novel treatments.

The rapid development of research in psychiatric genetics also gives us pointers to brain regions and biological processes of interest.

Another opportunity comes from the field of computational psychiatry. The goal of computational psychiatry is to develop mathematical models of how the brain works. Using the increased computational power and new statistical techniques, we can make use of the information gained from brain scans and other assessments in new ways. For example, machine learning algorithms are able to detect patterns across many different types of data that would be hard or impossible for researchers to detect themselves.

After the presentations there was time for questions from the audience, as well as a poster session where members of CPF presented their research in three categories: clinical, translational, and epidemiology. There was also time to chat with friends and colleagues!