MonthSeptember 2019

Reading of the Week: Should Medical Education Stay in Its Lane? Goldfarb Argues Yes; Also, Problems in Youth (BJP) & Medical Memoirs (Lancet Psych)

From the Editor

What’s the best way of training future doctors?

Medical education has changed much over the years – schools across the country embraced the McMaster model, then cooled to it; efforts have been made to revisit core curriculum topics and add in more timely ones.

In the first selection, the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Stanley Goldfarb – a former associate dean of curriculum at the Perelman School of Medicine – bemoans the state of medical education. Controversially, he argues in The Wall Street Journal: “Curricula will increasingly focus on climate change, social inequities, gun violence, bias and other progressive causes only tangentially related to treating illness.”

Is he right? We discuss the essay and responses to the essay.

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In the next selection, we look at a new British Journal of Psychiatry paper. Drawing on a large dataset, the University College London’s Jessica Deighton and her co-authors study the rate of psychiatric problems among youths. “Findings reported here indicate the scale of mental health problems in children across many schools in England is much higher than previous estimates…”

And in the third selection, Dr. Linda Gask, a British psychiatrist, considers autobiographies written by physicians. “These stories can, in turn, inspire, impress, inform, engage, and even shock through the sharing of personal conflict and confessions…”

DG

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Reading of the Week: PTSD – More Common in High-Income Countries? The New BJP Open Paper; Also, the Trauma of 911 & Torrey on His Sister

From the Editor

Is there more PTSD in countries like Norway and Canada?

The question seems odd since we typically don’t associate major mental illness with affluence (though, of course, not everyone in an affluent society is affluent). Yet there is a literature suggesting that high-income countries may have more PTSD.

This week, we look at a new paper on the topic. The University of Oslo’s Trond Heir and co-authors consider PTSD in Norway. Drawing on a survey, they find significant rates of PTSD, higher than found in low-income countries. “A possible explanation may be that high expectations for a risk-free life or a happy life can lead to a low threshold for perceiving adverse events as life-threatening or as violating integrity.”

norway-aurlands-fjordenNorway: High incomes, universal health care, many fiords, and more PTSD?

In the next selection and continuing on the topic of PTSD, New York Times reporter James Barron writes about the other victims of September 11 – those who survived, but have struggled with PTSD. As a Long Island clinician notes: “So many suffer in silence. It’s 18 years later, and to some it’s pretty new.”

And in the third selection, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist and accomplished researcher, considers his career. He notes that his sister’s psychosis pushed him to choose psychiatry, though he had originally planned to be a family doc.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Can Machine Learning Improve Psychotherapy? The New JAMA Psychiatry Paper; Also, Santa Ono on His Mental Illness

From the Editor

“Compared with treatment of physical conditions, the quality of care of mental health disorders remains poor, and the rate of improvement in treatment is slow. Outcomes for many mental disorders have stagnated or even declined since the original treatments were developed.”

Are there two sentences more disappointing to read? One in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem this year – and yet we have basic problems with quality (and access).

Could AI and machine learning help?

In the first selection, we consider a new JAMA Psychiatry paper which opens with the two sentences above. The University of Cambridge’s Michael P. Ewbankand his co-authors don’t simply bemoan the status quo but seek to change it – they “developed a method of objectively quantifying psychotherapy using a deep learning approach to automatically categorize therapist utterances from approximately 90  000 hours of [internet-delivered CBT]…” In other words, by breaking therapy down into a couple of dozen techniques and then employing machine learning, they attempt to match techniques with outcomes (patient improvement and engagement), with an eye on finding what works and what doesn’t. And, yes, you read that right: they drew on 90 000 hours of therapy. They show: “factors specific to CBT, as well as factors common to most psychotherapies, are associated with increased odds of reliable improvement in patient symptoms.”

machinelearninginmarketing-1621x1000Can computers (and machine learning) improve human therapy?

In the second selection, we consider the comments of University of British Columbia President Santa Ono about school and the stresses of school. Ono speaks about his own struggle with depression. “I’ve been there at the abyss.”

DG

 

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Reading of the Week: Behavioural Economics & Mental Illness – the New JAMA Psychiatry Paper; Also, the Strange History of Lithium

From the Editor

Can we nudge people to better choices? Economists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have all considered this idea. Though early work looked at pensions and finance, more recent studies in behavioural economics have considered topics in health care, like helping smokers quit.

This week, we open with a new paper that considers the concept of delay discounting in people with major mental illness. “Delay discounting” is a clunky term for the value that people place on rewards over time. Take two individuals, Paul and Peter, offered the same deal: they can be given $100 today or $200 in three months – Paul wants the $100 now while Peter is willing to wait for the bigger reward of $200. Paul, then, has more delay discounting than Peter.

Existing literature shows delayed discounting for people who have addiction and ADHD diagnoses. But what about others with mental disorders? McMaster University’s Michael Amlung and his co-authors study delay discounting by doing a meta-analysis, pulling data from 43 studies involving eight psychiatric disorders in this new JAMA Psychiatry paper. “To our knowledge, this meta-analysis is the first quantitative synthesis of delay discounting findings in psychiatric disorders, except ADHD and addictive disorders. This meta-analysis provides relatively strong evidence that delay discounting is a transdiagnostic process in psychiatric disorders.”

4-nudge_elephantBehavioural economics (and nudging): different for those with mental disorders

In our second selection, we consider a longer essay on lithium for bipolar and its first champion. The University of Groningen’s Douwe Draaisma, a professor of the history of psychology, writes about urine, guinea pigs, and the beginning of the psychopharmacological era.

DG

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