AuthorDavid Gratzer

Reading of the Week: The Resident’s Suicide – a New Paper from NEJM; Also, Help Seeking in Medical Education (JAMA Int Med)

From the Editor

“Bobby became my intern, and I was his senior resident. It was a role I cherished, and I tried to teach him all I could about caring for multiple sick patients simultaneously and navigating the systems, personalities, and politics of a large Manhattan hospital.”

Dr. Richard E. Leiter (of Harvard University) writes these words in a New England Journal of Medicine paper, this week’s first selection. He discusses loss – specifically, the death by suicide of the junior resident he was working with. On Twitter, Dr. Leiter commented that it took him six years to write about this death. Reading over the paper, we can understand why; the essay is deeply personal and moving. It also seeks to be constructive: Dr. Leiter calls for change. “Seeking to improve the lives of others shouldn’t cost our trainees their own.”

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Of course, the NEJM article isn’t just about Bobby; it touches on the culture of medicine. Suicide, while always tragic, is rare in health care; untreated depression and substance problems are too common. In the second selection this week, we consider a paper recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Dr. Erene Stergiopoulos (of the University of Toronto) and her co-authors note the mixed message of medical education: at once encouraging “wellness” but also criticizing time away. “Stigma surrounding depression is deeply embedded in medicine.” Importantly, Dr. Stergiopoulos and her co-authors makes three practical suggestions.

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On a pivot –

Since 2014, the Reading of the Week (ROTW) has been providing summaries and commentary on the latest in the psychiatric literature. Two years ago, we conducted a short survey to get your feedback. We are hoping to get more feedback to improve the Readings further.

We would invite you to join one of our online focus groups to hear your opinions and suggestions for improvement. If you are interested in participating, please email smit.mistry@camh.ca by April 12 with your preferred time slots from the following options – psychiatrists: April 21 at 4 pm or April 22 at 4 pm; residents: April 28 at 4 pm and April 29 at 4 pm. (Note: all times are in EST.) Time commitment: under an hour. If the above time slots do not work for you, please email Smit to arrange an interview time at your convenience, ideally between April 21 and April 30, 2021.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Our Pandemic Reality – How It Affected Our Patients, How It Changed Our Practice, How It Changed Us

From the Editor

A year ago this week, provinces across the country ordered the first lockdown. In the days that followed, I remember driving to the hospital and noting the eerie quiet of the streets with almost no cars or trucks on the morning commute.

Now, a year later, we can ask some questions. How has the pandemic affected our patients? How did it change our practice? How has it changed us?

This week, we have four selections that explore our pandemic reality.

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We begin by focusing on patients. In the first selection, we look at a paper from Annals of Internal Medicine. Dr. Jonathan S. Zipursky (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors consider alcohol sales and ED visits. They find that there was an increase in alcohol sales of 38% at the start of the pandemic. They write: “Higher alcohol sales during the lockdown are worrisome because alcohol consumption can cause poor judgment, medical complications, and immune suppression.”

In the second selection, we consider an editorial from BMJ. Though some have predicated a significant increase in suicide completions, there is little evidence. Still, the authors write: “We must remain vigilant and responsive, sharing evidence early and internationally… in these evolving uncertain times.”

Then we pivot and look at providers. In the third selection, Dr. Daniel Guinart (of Hofstra/Northwell) and his co-authors report on the findings of a survey on telepsychiatry. “In this study, we report highly favorable attitudes toward telepsychiatry in its diverse forms, across a large and wide array of mental health care professionals.”

In the fourth selection, Andrea Frolic (of McMaster University) talks about the pain of the past year. After breaking a toe, she notes about the psychological injuries of our pandemic life. “As a health care leader, I am supposed to be a cheerleader, a silver-lining finder, an opportunity-seeker – a hero, not a human.”

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Some good news: the Reading of the Week was just awarded the Ivan Silver Innovation Award by Continuing Professional Development of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. Many thanks to Drs. Rajeevan Rasasingham and Sanjeev Sockalingam for the nomination.

But I’m committed to developing this program further, not resting on our laurels – in late April, we will be conducting focus groups to better understand what works and what needs improvement. Interested in being involved? Please contact smit.mistry@camh.ca. Time commitment: under one hour.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Tweets for a Good Cause, But Suicide Prevention? Also, Racism in Mental Health (QT), and Rap & Awareness (JAMA Peds)

From the Editor

It’s an incredible campaign. With each passing year, Bell Let’s Talk Day gains more recognition, with many, including the Prime Minister, tweeting for a good cause.

But does the campaign affect suicide? In the first selection, we look at new paper from The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. David Côté (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors study the tweet contents of Bell Let’s Talk Day and suicide completions. “There was no associated change in suicide counts.” We mull the big campaign and the big paper.

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In the second selection, we look at a new podcast that explores race and racism in mental health. In this Quick Takes episode, I’m joined by Drs. Amy Gajaria and Saadia Sediqzadah (both of the University of Toronto). “Racism exists and it exists in the lives of our patients.” The podcast covers some big topics – but it is also practical, with solid clinical advice.

And in the third selection, Alex Kresovich (of the University of North Carolina) and his co-authors wonder about the cultural discussion of mental health. To that end, they review popular rap songs in a JAMA Pediatrics paper. “The findings of this qualitative study suggest that mental health discourse has been increasing during the past 2 decades within the most popular rap music in the US.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Mass Murder & Mental Illness – the New Psych Med Study; Also, Vaccinations in the EU (Lancet Psych), and Domise on MAiD and His Illness

From the Editor

“Mental illness may have been a factor.”

It’s just seven words, but they so often accompany reports of mass murder. And psychosis is mentioned more often than not. The message is clear: mental disorders, particularly psychotic disorders, are highly tied to violence.

In the first selection, we look at a new paper that reviews 120 years worth of mass murder, and distinguishes between gun violence and non-gun violence. Just published in Psychological Medicine, Gary Brucato (of Columbia University) and his co-authors have written an extraordinary paper. They also reach an important conclusion: “These results suggest that policies aimed at preventing mass shootings by focusing on serious mental illness, characterized by psychotic symptoms, may have limited impact.” We look at the big paper.

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In the second selection, from The Lancet Psychiatry, Dr. Livia J. De Picker (of the University of Antwerp) and her co-authors consider European countries and vaccination prioritization, with a focus on mental disorders. “Only four countries (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK) had some form of higher vaccination priority for outpatients with severe mental illness.”

And, in the third selection, writer Andray Domise considers mental illness and medical assistance in dying. In a personal essay for The Globe and Mail, he raises objections. Start here: he would have opted to die when he was unwell. He argues the whole legislative approach is wrong: “This is a country that continues to fail in respecting the humanity of people with disabilities. And rather than find strength of character to improve ourselves, the Canadian government is set to fall back on egregious historical precedent by offering death instead.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Cannabis and Inpatients – the New CJP Paper; Also, Alexander on Her Loss and Her Patient’s (JAMA)

From the Editor

First, there was decriminalization; then, legalization.

How have these major legal shifts influenced the presentation of our patients? In the first selection, we consider a new paper from The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Taylor McGuckin (of the University of Waterloo) and her co-authors look at cannabis use and inpatient care, drawing on databases. “This study identified a significant increase in the proportion of patients who used cannabis within 30 days of their first admission to inpatient psychiatry in Ontario, Canada, between 2009 and 2017, compared to 2007.”

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How do our biases affect the care we provide? In a moving and personal essay, Karen Alexander (of Thomas Jefferson University) discusses the loss of her baby. She thinks about another time, when a patient of hers was in a similar situation, and she mulls her own views and biases. “The weeping woman was always much more than someone who was grieving, but I never really knew her as a person until I mourned the loss of my own child.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Lithium vs. Newer Meds for Bipolar – What’s Best? Also, Nudging Vaccines and Beale on Her Illness Experience & Being a Doctor (BMJ)

From the Editor

In the past, lithium had a large role – in the treatment of bipolar, yes, and before that, as a general remedy for a variety of conditions. Indeed, lithium could be found in various things, including pop (see the picture of the ad for 7 Up below). But times have changed. Lithium prescriptions are less common, and bipolar management increasingly involves other medications. (And, no, 7 Up doesn’t contain that salt anymore.)

How does lithium compare to these medications for people with bipolar? Dr. Jens Bohlken (of the University of Leipzig) and his co-authors do a retrospective study drawing on a national database from Germany. “When treatment failure was defined as discontinuing medication or the add-on of a mood stabilizer, or antipsychotic, antidepressant, or benzodiazepine, lithium appears to be more successful as monotherapy maintenance treatment than olanzapine, citalopram, quetiapine, valproate, and venlafaxine.” We look at the big study, and mull its implications on this side of the Atlantic.

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Can we nudge people to vaccinate? As the world works to get more shots in arms, Dr. Mitesh Patel (of the University of Pennsylvania) argues that behavioural economics will be important. In Nature, he writes that we have a golden opportunity to learn from the vaccine roll-out: “Each institution should report its vaccination efforts and performance, and conduct rapid experiments on how best to encourage people to get their vaccines – especially their second doses.”

Finally, some physicians have commented that being touched by illness has helped them become better doctors. Dr. Chloe Beale, a British psychiatrist, agrees to disagree in a blog for BMJ. “I can’t give the expected, tidy narrative of emerging stronger for having my illness.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Cannabis, Cannabis, Cannabis – With Papers from Psychological Medicine, Psychiatric Services, and Annals of Internal Medicine

From the Editor

“It’s the only thing that works.”

So many of our patients swear by cannabis. It has become a popular choice for everything from anxiety to chronic pain. And though the literature is relatively young, now we know more about cannabis than before. This week, we focus on three new papers.

The first selection is a paper by Dr. Emmet Power (of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and his co-authors from Psychological Medicine. Does frequent and dependent cannabis use in youth affect IQ? Doing a systematic review and meta-analysis, they find seven papers. They conclude: “We found that young people who use cannabis frequently or dependently by age 18 have declined in IQ at follow up and this may be due to a decline in verbal IQ.”

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In the second selection, we consider a new paper from Psychiatric Services. Dr. Corneliu N. Stanciu (of Dartmouth College) and his co-authors did a systematic review of cannabis for several disorders. “With only eight very small studies, insufficient evidence was found for efficacy of CBD and THC to manage affective disorders, anxiety disorders, or PTSD.”

Finally, in the third selection, we look at a paper from Annals of Internal Medicine. Drs. Arthur Robin Williams (of Columbia University) and Kevin P. Hill (of Harvard University) pose 15 questions about cannabis and answer them. The authors are practical and thoughtful. The clinical bottom line: “Millions more adults now meet criteria for cannabis use disorder in a given year, and all clinicians, not just mental health professionals, have vital roles in improving clinical management, from screening and diagnosis to overseeing treatment plans.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: The New AJP on Alcohol & Subjective Response; Also, Remembering Philip Seeman (Globe) and Sharma on His Godmother

From the Editor

My patient could recognize the damage done by alcohol. The lost friendships. The failed marriage. The firing of her job of 15 years. And yet, she was still puzzled. “How did I get into this mess?”

In a new American Journal of Psychiatry paper, Andrea King (of the University of Chicago) and her co-authors explore the draw of alcohol with a major new study that measures the subjective response to alcohol challenges at five and ten year follow ups. “Initial stimulant and rewarding effects of alcohol predicted heavy alcohol use, and the magnitude of these positive subjective effects increased over a 10-year period in those who developed alcohol use disorder compared with those who did not develop the disorder.” We discuss this big paper.

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Dr. Philip Seeman had an extraordinary career with major achievements. Some argue that he should have shared the Nobel prize. He died on 9 January 2021 at his home. The Globe obituary is our second selection. Dr. Seeman was a generous mentor of many young scientists, and a husband, father, and grandfather. And his work was impactful: Dr. Seeman’s interest in dopamine helped change the way we practice today.

And in our final selection, we look at a new essay by Dr. Gaurav Sharma, a resident of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. The disaster of Ontario’s long term care homes has made many headlines. For this young doctor, the problems are close to home, affecting his godmother. He writes about her life and her downward turn. “In my training as a psychiatry resident, a basic principle I’ve learned is that every mental health crisis has its triggers. In Lucy’s case, the crisis that led to her hospitalization was prompted by a precarious housing situation.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Yoga vs CBT – What’s Best for Anxiety? (JAMA Psych) Also, COVID & Mental Health (Lancet Psych) and Whitley on Cannabis Stigma (Van Sun)

From the Editor

Anxiety disorders are common, and often disabling to our patients. While treatments have improved, there is unmet need – and the desire to find new, scalable interventions. Increasingly, our patients look to different types of treatments, like yoga. But is trendy effective? Is yoga the not-so-new intervention we need?

Dr. Naomi M. Simon (of New York University) and her co-authors look at the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder with a sophisticated study. They compare yoga and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) against a psychological control condition, and against each other. So how do the treatments compare? “Kundalini yoga can reduce anxiety for adults with generalized anxiety disorder, but study results support CBT remaining first-line treatment.” We look at the big study and its big implications.

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What have we learned about COVID-19 and mental health? In the second selection, we consider a new editorial from The Lancet Psychiatry. Mulling the state of the literature after almost a year of the pandemic, they write: “The good news is that by October, 2020, mental health was top of the charts in terms of published papers and preprints on the effects of COVID-19. The bad news is that the quantity of papers is not matched by quality.”

And in our final selection, we consider an essay by Rob Whitley (of McGill University). He notes that 27% of Canadians had used cannabis in the last year, about half of them for medical reasons. He worries about the stigma around medical cannabis and champions more public education. “This can help create a climate of acceptance and inclusion for the growing number of Canadians with mental illness who use cannabis to improve their well-being.”

On another note: in a past Reading, we featured an essay by Toronto filmmaker Rebeccah Love who wrote about her mental illness. Her new film, “Parlour Love,” has its premiere this Saturday at 7 pm EST through Zoom. In this short, powerful film, she draws from her own experiences of bipolar mania and psychosis, and paints a portrait of a woman in crisis. RSVP – palmpremiere@gmail.com.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Alcohol Use, ED Visits & Mortality – the New CMAJ Paper; Also, Dr. Lawrence on Diagnoses and Her Diagnosis (Guardian)

From the Editor:

“He’s here again.”

The staff would roll their eyes. Harold was back. Many of us had encountered him – a person with alcohol use disorder who frequently came to the emergency department of the hospital where I did my internship year. He would usually get a sandwich and a lecture. But what are the outcomes for people like him? And what could be done?

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In the first selection, we consider a new CMAJ paper. Dr. Jennifer Hulme (of the University of Toronto) and her co-authors study outcomes for those presenting to Ontario EDs for alcohol-related reasons. The major finding: “The all-cause 1-year mortality rate was 5.4% overall.” We review the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, we look at a new essay by Dr. Rebecca Lawrence from The Guardian. The UK psychiatrist, who has written about her experiences as a mental health patient, notes the challenges of psychiatric diagnoses. “There are many words in the field of mental illness that have been discarded and are now viewed as stigmatising and inappropriate – words such as ‘cretin’, or ‘lunatic’, or ‘mental’. It’s interesting to consider whether our current crop of acceptable words will end up in that category, and it’s salutary to know that many probably will.”

DG

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