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Reading of the Week: COVID & Mental Health (NEJM); also, Helping Health Workers (CMAJ) and Caring Contact for the Elderly (Globe)

From the Editor

This week’s Reading – like the last few – focuses on the latest in the literature on COVID and mental health care with three selections. As life with the pandemic continues, more and more journals have published about it, with some discussing the implications for mental health services.

In the first selection, we consider a paper on mental health services and the pandemic. In a NEJM paper, Drs. Betty Pfefferbaum (of University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center) and Carol S. North (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center) argue for an integrated and measured approach. In responding to COVID, they advocate that: “already stretched health care providers have an important role in monitoring psychosocial needs and delivering psychosocial support to their patients, health care providers, and the public – activities that should be integrated into general pandemic health care.”

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How can we help health workers? In the second selection, we consider a new CMAJ paper by Dr. Peter E. Wu (of the University of Toronto)and co-authors. They write: “Taking care of ourselves is vital so that we may continue to take care of others.”

Finally, in the third selection, we look at a news article from The Globe and Mail. Reporter Erin Anderssen describes how “caring contacts,” a psychiatric intervention, is used by volunteers to connect with the elderly. “The spontaneous initiatives expanding now are prompted more by what we instinctively know: Human contact motivated purely by compassion is essential to our well-being.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Insomnia and Its Treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a multicomponent treatment package that usually includes stimulus control, sleep restriction, and cognitive therapy and has emerged as the most prominent nonpharmacologic treatment for chronic insomnia. Previous meta-analyses have found that CBT-I improves sleep parameters and sleep quality at post treatment and follow-up for adults and older adults. Most of these studies selected individuals with primary insomnia, excluding patients with co-morbid psychiatric and medical conditions. However, patients with insomnia who present to internists and primary care physicians are likely to report comorbid conditions associated with the sleep disturbance. Furthermore, insomnia was previously conceptualized as a symptom arising from the comorbid disorder and treatment was targeted at the underlying disorder. However, accumulating evidence indicates that insomnia can have a distinct and independent trajectory from the comorbid disorder, thus indicating a need for separate treatment from the comorbid condition.

So begins this week’s Reading, which considers CBT-I for people with insomnia. Here’s a quick summary: big study, big journal – and big relevance to your patients.

This week’s Reading: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia Comorbid With Psychiatric and Medical Conditions: A Meta-analysis” by Jade Q. Wu et al. was just published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Find the paper here.

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Wu et al. consider a very common problem: insomnia. Many patients – whether they have mental health issues or physical health issues – struggle with insomnia. Boston University health economist Austin Frakt has written about his insomnia for The New York Times. He notes that he decided to receive treatment when:

One weekend afternoon a couple of years ago, while turning a page of the book I was reading to my daughters, I fell asleep. Continue reading