Reading of the Week: Cancer & Suicide & Good News – the New Transl Psychiatry Study; Also, AI & Therapy Dropouts, and Bland on Her Father & His D-Day

From the Editor

He was so overwhelmed by the cancer diagnosis that he didn’t eat or sleep for days. “It was my worst nightmare.” My patient isn’t alone in that devastating experience, of course – the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is a major life event. Not surprisingly, the suicide rate is roughly double that of the general population in the United States. But with increasing psychosocial interventions, how has this changed over time?

In the first selection, Qiang Liu (of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences) and his co-authors attempt to answer that question in a new paper for Translational Psychiatry. Drawing on 40 years of data and a major US database, they analyzed the journeys of five million cancer patients, discovering good news. “We revealed a gradual increase in cancer-related suicide rates from 1975 to 1989, followed by a gradual decrease from 1989 to 2013, and a marked decrease from 2013 to 2017.” Indeed, between 2013 and 2017, the rate dropped by 27%. We consider the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, Sakiko Yasukawa (of the Sony Corporation) and her co-authors aimed to reduce dropouts from psychotherapy using AI. In a new paper for BMJ Mental Health, they describe an RCT involving 149 people. “The results suggest that the personalised messages sent by the chatbot helped participants control their pace in attending lessons and improve programme adherence without human guidance.”

Last week marked the anniversary of D-Day with ceremonies, including in Normandy. What was the toll on those who returned home? In the third selection, an essay published in The Globe and Mail, Normanne Bland describes her father and his time in Europe. She writes about him with mixed feelings, coloured by his mental health problems, including PTSD. “I had a complicated relationship with my father. I was proud of his service but I loathed his drinking.”

There will be no Reading next week.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Placebo & Mental Disorders – the New JAMA Psych Study; Also, Children Who Lost a Parent to Overdose, and the Latest in the News

From the Editor 

It’s day three of his hospitalization, and he insists that the medication trial (a low dose of an SSRI) has been transformative. It’s difficult to explain his experience pharmacologically. 

How significant is the placebo response? How much does it vary among mental disorders? These questions aren’t new. In the first selection, Dr. Tom Bschor (of the Technical University of Dresden) and his co-authors tread on a familiar path with a study just published in JAMA Psychiatry. Focusing on nine psychiatric disorders, they examined high-quality RCTs for a systematic review and meta-analysis, finding “significant improvement under placebo treatment for all 9 disorders, but the degree of improvement varied significantly among diagnoses.” We consider the study and its implications.

In the second selection, Christopher M. Jones (of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and his co-authors used US databases to calculate how many children have lost a parent to drug overdoses. The resulting JAMA Psychiatry study is haunting. “We estimated that more than 320 000 US children lost a parent to drug overdose between 2011 and 2021, providing new insight into the multigenerational impacts of the ongoing overdose crisis in the US.”

Finally, we explore the latest news with recent articles from The GuardianThe Globe and Mail, and The New York Times. Among the topics: the mental health struggles of a cancer patient, the beliefs of Marshall Smith, and whether we are talking too much about mental health.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Are Mental Disorders Contagious in Teens? The New JAMA Psych Study; Also, Edibles & Older Adults, and Harmon on Discrimination

From the Editor

People with mental disorders often have family members who have been touched by illness – a genetic tie, well established in the literature. But what about the influence of peer groups? A small body of literature suggests a connection between social circles and diagnosis. How can we understand this? Are mental disorders contagious?

In the first selection, Jussi Alho (of the University of Helsinki) and her co-authors attempt to answer those questions in a new study for JAMA Psychiatry. They did a cohort study, drawing on Finnish databases, and involving more than 700 000 people. They considered individuals who had a classmate diagnosed with a mental disorder in grade 9. “We found an association between having peers diagnosed with a mental disorder during adolescence and an increased risk of receiving a mental disorder diagnosis later in life.” We analyze the study and its implications.

How have cannabis poisonings increased with the legalization of edibles in Canada? In the second selection, a research letter for JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Nathan M. Stall (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors looked at an 8-year period and focused on older adults, finding 2 322 ED visits in Ontario. “The largest increases occurred after edible cannabis became legally available for retail sale, a phenomenon similarly observed in Canadian children.”

And in the third selection, Caroline Payton Harmon, who is a PhD candidate at Rutgers University, describes the people she met in substance use treatment. The essay, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, is personal and notes the contrasts between those of different socioeconomic backgrounds. “The health-care system sees money and sees patients who are not worth the cost of treatment.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: the CANMAT Depression Update – Seven Takeaways & Commentary; Also, Patient Preferences for Televideo Backgrounds

From the Editor

Much has changed in the past eight years. In 2016, singer Olivia Rodrigo was starting high school. Quarterback Tom Brady seemed ageless. And none of us were talking about pandemics. 2016 was also the year when the last Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT) depression guidelines were released. Well, it’s 2024 and the update has just been published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry

How has depression management changed over these past eight years, and how should you adjust your clinical practice? In the first selection, we look at seven takeaways and a commentary.

Melancholia (from the Wellcome Library)

In this week’s other selection, Dr. Nathan Houchens (of the University of Michigan) and his co-authors consider telemedicine video backgrounds in a new research letter from JAMA Network Open. They asked patients to rate different backgrounds and in various medical circumstances; they report on survey results of more than 1 200 patients. “In this study, two-thirds of participants preferred a traditional health care setting background for video visits with any physician type, with physician office displaying diplomas rated highest.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Adolescent Experience with Illness – the World Psych Paper; Also, the CANMAT Depression Update and a Letter to the Editor

From the Editor

I’m separated from everyone else.

These are the words of a young patient with depression. We often use diagnoses and lists of symptoms to understand patients. But how do patients themselves understand their illness? In the first selection, Dr. Paolo Fusar-Poli (of King’s College London) and his co-authors attempt to answer that question with a “bottom-up” approach. In a new World Psychiatry paper, they describe the experiences of adolescents with mental disorders. “The study was co-designed, co-conducted and co-written by junior experts by experience – representing different genders, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and continents – and academics, refining an earlier method developed by our group to investigate the lived experience of psychosis and depression.” We examine the paper and its implications.

Childhood depression by Marc-Anthony Macon

Much has changed over the past eight years – who was talking about pandemics in 2016? Last week, the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT) released its first major depression update in eight years. So how has depression management changed? In the second selection, Dr. Raymond Lam (of the University of British Columbia), the co-first author, discusses the update in a Quick Takes podcast interview. “They really are the most widely used guidelines in the world.” 

And in the third selection, in a letter to the editor, Nick Kerman (of the University of Toronto) writes about the recent homelessness paper from JAMA Psychiatry, summarized in a Reading earlier this month. He notes the striking finding: 26% meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder. “Could it really be 1 in 4 or is there something else that could explain the finding?”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Cannabis & Cardiac Health – the New JAHA Study; Also, Burnout & Outcomes, and Dr. Mary Seeman on Scaling Down

From the Editor

Our patients increasingly use cannabis, and we worry about the impact on their mental health. But what about the impact on their physical health?

In the first selection, Abra M. Jeffers (of Harvard University) and her co-authors consider cannabis and cardiac health. In a new paper for the Journal of the American Heart Association, they analyzed cardiac outcomes, drawing on survey data and involving more than 400 000 participants, some of whom used cannabis. “Cannabis use is associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes, with heavier use (more days per month) associated with higher odds of adverse outcomes.” We review the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, Nina A. Sayer (of the University of Minneapolis) and her co-authors look at burnout in a new paper for JAMA Network Open. In a cohort study involving 165 therapists and almost 1 300 patients, they note a connection between provider burnout and PTSD outcomes. “These findings suggest that interventions to reduce therapist burnout might also result in more patients experiencing clinically meaningful improvement…”

Dr. Mary Seeman (of the University of Toronto), who died in late April, had a storied career as a psychiatrist. She had major roles, including the Tapscott Chair in Schizophrenia at the University of Toronto. In a 2003 paper for The American Journal of Psychiatry, she reflects on her work with a patient. This essay – the third selection this week – notes the decades-long connection between doctor and patient. “Her faith in me keeps me coming into work each morning, often tired and achy, sometimes trying unsuccessfully to remember the comforting word I want to be able to say.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: The Homeless – Who Are They? How Can We Help Them? Also, Shannon Jones on Her Son & His Homelessness

From the Editor

For much of her admission, she was disorganized and, at times, agitated. But when the medications started to work, Tanya talked about her years of homelessness and the stresses of finding a warm place to stay on a cold night, which often involved sleeping on buses – and “that’s not easy, I’m almost elderly.” 

This week, we take a closer look at homelessness and mental illness.

In the first selection, Richard Barry (of the University of Calgary) and his co-authors describe a systematic review and meta-analysis of mental disorders and homelessness for JAMA Psychiatry. They included 85 studies involving more than 48 000 people globally. “The findings demonstrate that most people experiencing homelessness have mental health disorders.” We explore the paper and its implications.

Street art in Quebec City

In the second selection, Nick Kerman and Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos (both of the University of Toronto) examine different aspects of homelessness. In a comprehensive review for Nature Mental Health, they analyze the origins of the problem in high-income nations: focusing on deinstitutionalization. They also point to a way forward, noting the successes of Housing First and other interventions. “Homelessness among people with mental illness is a prevalent and persisting problem.”

And in the third selection, Shannon Jones writes about her son, who was homeless, in a deeply personal essay for The Washington Post. She discusses his childhood and the trips they took as a family. Also, she describes his illness and his death. “There are an estimated 600,000 homeless people in America, 75,000 of them in Los Angeles County. The number who die each year is increasing, with drug overdoses the leading cause. And every one of them has a story.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Visual Hallucinations & Outcomes – the New Schizophrenia Study; Also, Opioid Deaths in Canada and Dr. Roy Perlis on Antidepressants

From the Editor

Last week, I met a person who had deeply unsettling auditory hallucinations. I asked him the questions that we all ask: When did the voices start? How many voices do you hear? Do the voices tell you to do things? In contrast, while we know that people with psychotic illnesses can have visual hallucinations, we rarely inquire about them and if we do, it’s in a perfunctory manner, as I did with him. Clinicians aren’t the only ones to gloss over visual hallucinations; they tend to be under-researched, especially with regard to long-term outcomes.

In the first selection, Isabel Kreis (of the University of Oslo) and her co-authors look at outcomes and visual hallucinations in an impressive, new study published in Schizophrenia. They report on 184 people from Norway with first-episode psychosis, followed for ten years, with a focus on visual hallucinations and functionality, suicide attempts, and childhood trauma. “These findings highlight the relevance of assessing visual hallucinations and monitoring their development over time.” We consider the paper and its implications.

In the second selection from CMAJ, Shaleesa Ledlie (of the University of Toronto) and her co-authors report on opioid-related deaths in Canada. They drew from a national database and looked at several years of data, including over the start of the pandemic. “Across Canada, the burden of premature opioid-related deaths doubled between 2019 and 2021, representing more than one-quarter of deaths among younger adults.”

And in the third selection, Dr. Roy Perlis (of Harvard University) argues that the time has come for over-the-counter antidepressants in a STAT essay. He notes that many people with depression are untreated and that increasing the availability of these medications would be helpful. “With part of the solution hiding in plain sight, it’s time to do everything possible to give Americans another way to get treatment.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Preventing Postpartum Depression in Pakistan – the New Nature Med Study; Also, Deaths of Despair and ChatGPT & Abstracts

From the Editor

Imagine that you are asked to design a program to prevent depression in a population at risk. Would you hire psychiatrists? Look to nurses? Tap the expertise of psychologists? All three?

In the first selection from Nature Medicine, Pamela J. Surkan (of Johns Hopkins University) and her co-authors describe a study that focused on prevention. As they worked in Pakistan – a nation with few mental health providers by Western standards – they chose to train lay people, teaching them to deliver CBT. In their single-blind, randomized controlled trial, 1 200 women who were pregnant and had anxiety (but not depression) were given enhanced usual care or CBT. “We found reductions of 81% and 74% in the odds of postnatal MDE and of moderate-to-severe anxiety…” We discuss the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, Joseph Friedman and Dr. Helena Hansen (both of the University of California, Los Angeles) look at deaths of despair in the United States in a research letter for JAMA Psychiatry. Their work builds on the idea that some deaths are related to the hopelessness of a person’s social or economic circumstance; past publications focused largely on White Americans. Friedman and Hansen drew on more than two decades of data, including ethnicity, from a US database, finding a different pattern and that: “Rising inequalities in deaths of despair among American Indian, Alaska Native and Black individuals were largely attributable to disproportionate early mortality from drug- and alcohol-related causes…”

A recent survey finds that psychiatrists see AI as potentially helpful with paperwork and diagnosing patients. But could AI help you keep up with the literature? In the third selection from Annals of Family Medicine, Dr. Joel Hake (of the University of Kansas) and his co-authors used ChatGPT to produce short summaries of studies, then evaluated their quality, accuracy, and bias. “We suggest that ChatGPT can help family physicians accelerate review of the scientific literature.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: tDCS for Depression – the New JAMA Psych Paper; Also, Psychiatrists & AI and Dr. Daniel Gorman on Charlatan Syndrome

From the Editor

In her autobiography, psychiatrist Linda Gask writes about her struggles with depression and the moment she realized that she was better: she started to hear the birds chirping again. For many of our patients, the songs of the birds remain elusive. Antidepressants work but some patients don’t respond, and others are cool to the idea of medication management. CBT is effective but difficult to access. What about Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) – an intervention that could be done at home?

Dr. Lucas Borrione (of the University of São Paulo) and his co-authors try to answer that question in a new JAMA Psychiatry paper. They report on a randomized clinical trial including 210 Brazilian adults with a major depressive episode who were offered tDCS and a digital intervention; the study featured two sham interventions. “The findings indicate that unsupervised home use tDCS should not be currently recommended in clinical practice.” We consider the paper and its clinical implications.

Would tDCS have helped?

Artificial intelligence is having a moment. Not surprisingly, many are seeing the possibilities for mental health care, from better therapy to reduced paperwork. In the second selection, from Psychiatry Research, Charlotte Blease (of Uppsala University) and her co-authors report on the findings of a survey of 138 psychiatrists with both qualitative and quantitative data. “The foremost interest was around the potential of these tools to assist psychiatrists with documentation.”

And in the third selection, Dr. Daniel Gorman (of the University of Toronto) writes about the struggles of taking a child to Disney World in JAMA. Any parent – or aunt or cousin or older sib – can relate. But Dr. Gorman notes the particular challenges that he faces: he’s a child psychiatrist. “Sometimes I fantasize about sharing with parents my doubts about parenting strategies, but the risks always seem too great – the risk of discrediting myself and my profession and the risk of robbing parents of agency and hope.”

DG

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