TagNEJM

Reading of the Week: Three Essays on Mental Illness

From the Editor

As stigma fades, we are as a society talking more and more about mental illness. And we are also writing more on the topic.

This week, the Reading features three essays that ask three provocative questions. Does naloxone access save lives? What’s it like to be depressed and in medical school? How do involuntary commitment laws affect the families of those with mental illness?

These essays are very different in part because they reflect very different perspectives on our collective experience with mental illness: the perspectives of providers, patients, and families.

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Enjoy.

DG Continue reading

Reading of the Week: Early Psychosis Intervention – Lifesaver? The New Anderson Paper from the AJP; Also, Michael Weinstein’s Burnout

From the Editor

The argument is simple: intervene early and outcomes will ultimately be better.

For people with psychosis, early intervention programs have been tried for more than two decades. In our first selection, we look at a new American Journal of Psychiatry paper considering early psychosis intervention and outcomes. This paper is particularly interesting because it draws on the real-world experience – and 17 years worth of data. (Bonus: the data is Canadian.) The lead author, Western University’s Prof. Kelly K. Anderson, looks at several outcomes.

She and her co-authors conclude that patients had faster access to psychiatrists and used EDs less. More importantly: early intervention was a lifesaver, with the rate of death being four times lower than those who didn’t use the program.

caa58b79-155d-451f-6734f0c9af79d4c2Does Franklin’s comment about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure apply to first episode psychosis?

And in our other selection, Dr. Michael Weinstein writes about his career as a trauma surgeon – and his depression. “I have learned that many of us suffer in silence, fearing the stigma associated with mental illness,” he observes in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Please note that there will be no Readings for the next two weeks.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Prazosin for PTSD & Nightmares – No Better Than Placebo? The New NEJM Paper

From the Editor

It’s like the script of a movie: a doctor seeks a treatment for the nightmares so common in vets with PTSD. He finds an old blood pressure medication that seems to work. Then, after years of use and with some money from a not-for-profit, he does the definitive study, landing a big paper in one of the biggest psychiatric journals.

Dr. Murray Raskind had explained his interest in prazosin simply – he theorized that if he calms the brains of veterans, they would have fewer nightmares. To that end, he sought a medication that would block norepinephrine and found just one antihypertensive that did that, and crossed the blood-brain barrier. And so began a 20-year interest in an old antihypertensive.

But is there a twist in the plot? A new study just published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests yes. “This 26-week trial involving military veterans with chronic PTSD failed to show a benefit of prazosin over placebo in reducing the frequency and intensity of trauma-related nightmares.”

And, by the way, the lead author of this study is Murray Raskind.

New pill, same old problem?

In this week’s Reading, we consider the Raskind et al. study. We also consider the accompanying Editorial that calls the results: “surprising and disappointing.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Breaking the Stigma – Dr. Adam B. Hill on his Depression and Addiction

From the Editor

“My name is Adam. I am a human being, a husband, a father, a pediatric palliative care physician, and an associate residency director. I have a history of depression and suicidal ideation and am a recovering alcoholic.”

So begins this week’s selection, which is an essay written with remarkable candor and honesty.

1docDiscussing what we should discuss

In this Reading, Dr. Adam Hill writes in The New England Journal of Medicine about his struggle with mental illness.

It is moving and important.

DG Continue reading

Reading of the Week: The NEJM on “Our Struggle to Care for People with Serious Mental Illness”

From the Editor

What can we do for those with severe mental illness?

Homelessness: can we do better?

This week, we look at a series of excellent essays that have run on mental illness in The New England Journal of Medicine. They are well written and insightful. We particularly focus on the first of the three essays, which considers treatment and rights.

DG Continue reading

Reading of the Week: Do the Meds Work? Peter Kramer’s Essay, and More

From the Editor

Do the pills really work?

It’s a question that we clinicians are repeatedly asked. Antidepressants are widely prescribed, but often doubted – by our patients and by people in general.

This week, we look at an essay penned by Dr. Peter Kramer, an American psychiatrist. Dr. Kramer, you may recall, made a name for himself two decades ago by extolling the super-therapeutic powers of Prozac. Today, he has a more modest goal: explaining the role of antidepressants in the treatment of depression.

Then, looking to The New England Journal of Medicine, we consider a paper that discusses the rise and, perhaps, fall of randomized controlled trials as the “gold standard” of medical research.

DG Continue reading

Reading of the Week: The Good Life of Oliver Sacks, and More

From the Editor

Is the incidence of dementia falling?

What makes a good clinician?

This week, I’ve selected two Readings. We open with a NEJM paper suggesting a big trend: a decline in the incidence of dementia. That paper obviously has major implications for public policy. We then move on to a big and eloquent essay on a famous doctor, Oliver Sacks.

There isn’t much connecting these selections – except that both were suggested by readers, and they both raise big questions.

Enjoy.

DG Continue reading

Reading of the Week: A Father Mourns His Son, and More

Note from the Editor

In most Readings of the Week, a paper or essay is selected and then discussed in the commentary.

This week, we try something a bit different: a few pieces are selected and briefly discussed. We can cover more ground this way, and consider some pieces that may not have warranted a “full” Reading, but are still worthy of consideration.

DG

 

Selection 1: “How to Help Save the Mentally Ill From Themselves”

Norman J. Ornstein, The New York Times, 17 November 2015

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My older son, Matthew Ornstein, died at age 34 on Jan. 3 from carbon monoxide poisoning. It was accidental — he fell asleep in a tent with a propane lantern — but his death was shaped by a lack of judgment driven by a 10-year struggle with mental illness.

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Reading of the Week: NEJM and Smoking Cessation

More than 50 years after the release of the first Surgeon General’s report on the harmful effects of smoking, national policies, behavioral programs, and pharmacologic approaches have helped reduce smoking rates in the United States. However, the need for new approaches is clear because smoking remains the leading cause of preventable illness and death.

So begins a big paper from The New England Journal with a simple aim: getting people to butt out. It raises two important questions: If we are serious about promoting smoking cessation, are we willing to put ‘our money where our mouth is’ – literally? And how could we do this?

“Randomized Trial of Four Financial-Incentive Programs for Smoking Cessation” by Dr. Scott D. Halpern et al. is this week’s Reading; it has just been published.

Though other papers have been written on this topic, the Halpern et al. paper is clever and interesting – and the results are surprising.

And, don’t tell the editors of The New England Journal of Medicine: the results are also disappointing. Continue reading

Reading of the Week: The Kids are Alright – The New England Journal of Medicine and Childhood Mental Health Disorders

The rate of severe mental illness among children and adolescents has dropped substantially in the past generation, researchers reported Wednesday, in an analysis that defies public perceptions of trends in youngsters’ mental health.

So begins The New York Times’ front-section coverage of a big paper in a big journal with a big result.

This paper, just published by The New England Journal of Medicine, considers the rate and treatment of childhood mental health impairment. In contrast to other surveys, this paper didn’t find a rise in the rate of mental illness. (Contrast this finding with the comment of a former president of the American Psychiatric Association that such illnesses are “an epidemic hidden in plain view” – that is, obviously there but underreported historically.)

Explains the lead author, Dr. Mark Olfson:

The finding is robust and real and challenges the prevailing stereotype that young people are somehow more vulnerable to mental problems.

Dr. Mark Olfson

How common is mental impairment among children and adolescents? How has this changed in recent years? How are patients being treated? Are we prescribing more than in the past? Olfson et al. seek answers to these important questions in “Trends in Mental Health Care among Children and Adolescents” – this week’s Reading. Continue reading