AuthorDavid Gratzer

Reading of the Week: Should Medical Education Stay in Its Lane? Drs. Zaheer and Berkhout Respond

From the Editor

Should medical education “stay in its lane?”

Two weeks ago, we discussed an essay by the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Stanley Goldfarb who warns that: “Curricula will increasingly focus on climate change, social inequities, gun violence, bias and other progressive causes only tangentially related to treating illness.”

This week, we feature two letters to the editor responding to this essay, both original content for the Reading of the Week, and both from physicians affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Drawing on the medical literature and her life experience, Dr. Juveria Zaheer wonders what makes a medical expert or a physician scientist. “Being a medical expert or a physician scientist isn’t just about learning about biology – it’s about committing to the creation of a society where every life is worth living.”

Looking at medicine and philosophy, Dr. Suze G. Berkhout questions the basic assumptions of Dr. Goldfarb’s argument. “Goldfarb misrepresents the place of values in shaping scientific and medical knowledge.”

2012_canada_highwayoftears_0Staying in Your Lane: Good for Drivers, not Med Ed?

Both letters are thoughtful and worth reading.

DG

 
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Reading of the Week: Postsecondary Students & Mental Illness (CJP), a New Podcast (CAMH), and Bipolar & Social Media (NYT)

From the Editor

Social media. An uncertain job market. Increasing academic demands.

Is life for our postsecondary students harder than ever? And are we seeing a surge in mental health disorders as a result?

In the first selection, we consider a new Canadian Journal of Psychiatry paper on postsecondary education and mental illness. While many have opinions on this topic, the University of Toronto’s Kathryn Wiens and her co-authors seek to add data to the discussion. Drawing on the Canadian Community Health Survey, they find: “The results do not imply the emergence of a mental health crisis among postsecondary students.”

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In the second selection, we look at a new podcast considering technology and education. I interview some accomplished educators, including the University of Toronto’s David Goldbloom. “This is about challenging our own norms, values and expectations as clinicians.”

And in the final selection, we consider a New York Times essay on bipolar and social media. “Facebook snitched our big family secret: Roland, the literary prodigy, the tenderhearted musician, the Ivy League grad, was bipolar.”

DG

 

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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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Reading of the Week: Is Adult Mental Illness More Common? The New Acta Paper; Also, Hill on Cannabis & Neustadter’s Med School Experience

From the Editor

Family physician colleagues talk about how many patients now disclose mental health problems. Our EDs see more patients with mental illness than ever. Antidepressant use has doubled between 2000 and 2015 across OECD countries.

So is mental illness more common than before?

Just last week, a CBC reporter asked me this question. She noted that the rise of businesses offering mindfulness and the proliferation of mental health apps. But as stigma fades and people are more comfortable talking about mental illness, it’s also possible that more people are seeking care, but that there aren’t more people with illness.

depressionintcover0807Mental illness: more commonly discussed, more common?

In our first selection, we consider a new paper from Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. Dirk Richter (of Bern University of Applied Sciences) and his co-authors use a systematic review and meta-analysis to see if adult mental illness is increasing over time. “We conclude that the prevalence increase of adult mental illness is small and we assume that this increase is mainly related to demographic changes.”

In the second selection, we consider a new JAMA review of the evidence – or lack of evidence – for medical use of cannabis. Dr. Kevin P. Hill (of Harvard Medical School) writes: “Insufficient evidence exists for the use of medical cannabis for most conditions for which its use is advocated.”

In the third selection, Yale School of Medicine med student Eli Neustadter discusses a challenging patient and the connection they form. “MB and I also found time to meet weekly in a quiet room with nothing but two chairs, two guitars, and two picks.”

There will be no Readings for the next two weeks. The conversation will continue after Labour Day.

DG

 

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Reading of the Week: PTSD & Treatment – What’s Evidence Based? JAMA Psychiatry’s New Network Meta-analysis

From the Editor

Just over a century ago, Dr. Charles Myers wrote “A Contribution To The Study Of Shell Shock” in The Lancet, the first paper on shell shock. Today, our understanding of PTSD has greatly evolved.

But what’s the most effective treatment for people with PTSD?

This week, we consider the new paper by the University of Basel’s Jasmin Merz and her co-authors. They use a network meta-analysis to determine whether patients do better with medications, psychotherapy, or both; in other words, they attempt to analyze different studies in this area, but not necessarily those that do direct comparisons (that’s my Twitter-length biostatistical summary). They find: “The available evidence is sparse and appears not to support the use of pharmacological therapy as first-line treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder…”

ptsd

We also consider an editorial that runs with the study. Murray B. Stein and Sonya B. Norman, both of University of California San Diego, are critical, commenting that aspects of the study may be “hard to swallow.”

DG

 

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Reading of the Week: Mental Health & the Opinion Pages – Mental Health Reform (Star), ECT (Guardian), and Suicide and “13 Reasons Why” (LA Times)

From the Editor

“Mental health is out of the closet. Now that we’ve opened the door, time for a closer look at what’s been out of sight for so long.”

This week, we consider three selections. They appeared in newspapers in recent days, and discuss mental health topics. The opening quotation – which is from the first essay – applies to all of them; a closer look: calls for more debate about how mental health services are organized, the care that patients are offered, and the way mental illness is portrayed in our culture.

In our first selection, we consider an op ed from Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn. He wonders about improving access to mental health care. In a provocative essay, he mulls the mismatch between the supply and demand of services (particularly psychiatric services). He argues: “We might as well accept that our mental health spending will increase significantly over the years. All the more reason to start reallocating funds wisely now.”

newspapersThree Selections, Three Newspapers

In the second selection, we look at an essay by Dr. Mariam Alexander, an NHS psychiatrist, who discusses ECT. She opens simply: “It might come as quite a surprise to learn that, as a psychiatrist, if I ever had the misfortune to develop severe depression, my treatment of choice would be electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).”

And in our third selection, the University of Toronto’s Dr. Mark Sinyor considers the popular show “13 Reasons Why” and offers a cautionary note about the portrayal of suicide. The LA Times op ed notes that Netflix and others have “the potential to do good in the world when handling sensitive mental health issues.”

Enjoy.

DG

 

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Reading of the Week: Care – At the System Level, At the Individual Level

From the Editor

As stigma fades, there is increasing interest in mental health care. But how can we best help those who need help?

This week, we consider three selections. From an opinion piece written by a politician to a study in a leading journal, there is a common thread: how to improve care, whether at the individual level or at the system level.

In our first selection, we consider a new paper from The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Evgenia Gatov (a senior epidemiologist at ICES) and her co-authors consider trauma in the inpatient population, with a big finding. “In this population-based study of adult psychiatric inpatients in Ontario, Canada, almost one in three individuals reported prior experiences of interpersonal trauma.”

19609_mainInpatient Care: a need for trauma care?

In our second selection, Dr. Adam Philip Stern (of Harvard Medical School) discusses the challenges of being a patient and a psychiatrist. Dr. Stern – ill with cancer – is in psychotherapy. He discusses much, including the value of connectedness.

And, in our third selection, we look at an essay by Boris Johnson (the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) who discusses depression and work. He advocates for tax changes making it easier for companies to help mentally ill employees.

Enjoy.

DG

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