TagCOVID-19

Reading of the Week: How Has Mental Health Changed Over COVID? Also, Goldbloom on Practice & the Pandemic (Globe) and a Reader Responds to Psilocybin

From the Editor

Even our language has changed. Last winter, we didn’t think about lockdowns and the term social distancing was confined to sociology textbooks. The world is different.

And in our new reality, we can ask: How has the pandemic affected mental health? While there have been many small surveys (and much speculation), until now we have lacked a major, large scale survey.

This week, we look at a new paper from The Lancet Psychiatry. Matthias Pierce (of the University of Manchester) and his co-authors draw on the UK Household Longitudinal Study – a large, national survey that offers us pandemic and pre-pandemic data. The good news: “Between April and October 2020, the mental health of most UK adults remained resilient or returned to pre-pandemic levels…” but they also found that one in nine people in the UK “had deteriorating or consistently poor mental health.” We consider the big study and discuss resilience with an essay by Dr. Richard A. Friedman (of Cornell University).

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In the second selection, we consider an essay by Dr. David Goldbloom (of the University of Toronto) on how the pandemic has changed psychiatry. He focuses on the biggest change: that is, the embrace of virtual care. He begins: “We are all telepsychiatrists now…” He notes the advantages and disadvantages of the transformation. While some providers express ambivalence, he writes: “What counts, ultimately, is what helps our patients.”

Finally, a reader responds to our take on The New England Journal of Medicine paper on psilocybin. Dr. Craig P. Stewart (of Western University) writes: “One area I did not see mentioned in the psilocybin paper review was a discussion of confirmation bias, which I believe also should be mentioned to contextualize the results.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: A Therapy for Pandemic Loneliness? Also, Getting Digital Psychiatry Right (Lancet Psych) and the History of Vaccines (NEJM)

From the Editor

I saw an older patient in the emergency room recently. He described feeling overwhelmed. Fearful of the pandemic, he explained that he had rarely left his apartment since it began. “I’m so isolated.”

Many find themselves in a similar situation. What could help? In a new JAMA Psychiatry paper, Maninder K. Kahlon (of The University of Texas at Austin) and co-authors describe a focused intervention involving laypeople doing an empathy-focused program by phone. Do the calls work? They found it reduced loneliness, anxiety, and depression. They note the potential: “The use of lay callers, deliberate but brief approach on training, and the use of ubiquitous telephones made the approach easily deployable and scalable.”

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In an editorial, The Lancet Psychiatry considers our digital moment. Though they note the trendiness of the idea of digital psychiatry, they urge us to push: “Come 2 years or 20, we want to stop talking about digital psychiatry’s potential for improving public mental health and start marking its clear clinical progress.”

Finally, in our third selection, we look at a new paper from The New England Journal of Medicine. Drs. Angela Desmond and Paul A. Offit (both of the University of Pennsylvania) consider the history of vaccines, and look ahead: “With the recent authorization of mRNA vaccines, we have entered the fifth era of vaccinology.”

Please note that there will be no Reading next week.

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On a pivot –

Since 2014, the Reading of the Week 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 feedback again to improve the Readings.

We would like to invite you to join one of our online focus groups to hear your opinions and suggestions. 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, preferably 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: 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: 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: 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: Vaccines, Vaccine Hesitation & Mental Illness, with Papers from JAMA Psychiatry and NEJM, and More

From the Editor:

It’s here. Less than a year after COVID-19 arrived in North America, two vaccines have been created, approved, and given (at least to some).

In the coming months, as the supply improves, people – including our patients – will have the opportunity to get a vaccine. But what are the challenges? First, some will hesitate. In a recent essay, Dr. Nadia Alam notes that: “Vaccine hesitancy is a significant issue with only 57.5% of Canadians saying they are very likely to be vaccinated for COVID-19.” And special populations will present further challenges – such as those with major mental illness.

This week, we focus on vaccinations with two papers and an article.

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In the first selection, drawing from JAMA Psychiatry, we consider a paper by Dr. Nicola Warren (of the University of Queensland) and her co-authors. They note the challenges of reaching people with serious mental illness – just one in four get a flu vaccine. “It is vital to commence planning and development of appropriate policies to ensure rapid delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.”

In a New England Journal of Medicine paper, Dr. Joshua A. Barocas (of the Boston University School of Medicine) thinks about the needs of those with substance use disorders. “Officials devising vaccination strategies and allocation plans would be wise to do so from the perspective of the virus, rather than that of stigmatizing personal beliefs.”

How to speak to our patients? In the final selection, we look at a short piece by Dr. Joshua C. Morganstein (of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences).  His advice is very practical, and emphasizes that we should tailor our approach not by diagnosis but by patient interest in the vaccination. He also urges us to be careful in our choice of language: “Health care professionals are trained to use complex medical terminology, though more understandable and down-to-earth language often serves to enhance trust and build rapport.”

DG
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Reading of the Week: More COVID, More Mental Health Problems? Also, e-Cigarette Use (CJP) and Pappas on Her Olympics & Her Depression (NYT)

From the Editor

Will there be a pandemic after the pandemic? Some have wondered about the mental health consequences of COVID-19 – speculating that, in the future, there will be significant mental health problems. In a recent JAMA paper, Simon et al. argued: “The magnitude of this [mental health] second wave is likely to overwhelm the already frayed mental health system, leading to access problems, particularly for the most vulnerable persons.” (That paper was discussed in a past Reading.)

In the first selection, we consider a new paper from Lancet Psychiatry. Kuan-Yu Pan (of Vrije Universiteit) and co-authors did a survey of people with psychiatric disorders, as well as people without. “We did not find evidence that there was a strong increase in symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic in those with a higher burden of disorders. In fact, changes in scores from before to during the pandemic indicated increasing symptom levels in people without mental health disorders, whereas changes of symptom levels were minimal or even negative in individuals with the most severe and chronic mental health disorders.” Should we be reassured by the Pan et al. study?

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In the second selection, we consider a research letter from Dr. Scott B. Patten (of the University of Calgary) and his co-authors. Drawing on survey data, they describe the pattern of use of e-cigarettes, noting that they were originally intended for harm reduction. “In 2017, 15.5% of e-cigarette users reported that they had never smoked, suggesting a de novo pattern of substance use. By 2019, this proportion had more than doubled to 36.7%.”

Finally, in the third selection, Olympian Alexi Pappas speaks about her mental health in a New York Times opinion video. The comments are very personal, and touch on her illness and recovery. “After the Olympics, I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. And it nearly cost me my life. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Please note that there will be no Reading for the next two weeks. Enjoy the holidays. And if you are looking for a last-minute gift for, perhaps, Hanukkah or Christmas or a way to thank co-workers after a tough year, consider CAMH’s Pet Therapy Calendar, available for just $15 (with the promotion code). Proceeds go to a good cause: the CAMH Volunteer Resources Pet Therapy Program. The calendar is beautifully done, and features great dogs, including Toulouse (my BFF). Here’s the link: https://store-camh.myshopify.com/products/pvol-cal.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Are Those with Mental Illness at More Risk of COVID? Also, a Podcast on Apps (QT) and Horton on Advocacy & Doctors (Macleans)

From the Editor

Are people with mental illness more likely to contract COVID-19? Are they at greater risk of dying?

With the pandemic in its eighth month, we think we have answers to these questions, but data is lacking. In the first selection, we consider a new paper, just published in World Psychiatry. QuanQiu Wang (of Case Western Reserve) and her co-authors analyzed a nation‐wide database of electronic health records of 61 million American patients, aiming to assess the impact of mental illness. “These findings identify individuals with a recent diagnosis of a mental disorder as being at increased risk for COVID‐19 infection, which is further exacerbated among African Americans and women, and as having a higher frequency of some adverse outcomes of the infection.”

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In the second selection, we consider a new podcast discussing digital tools. I talk with Dr. John Torous (of Harvard University). We discuss apps and mental health. And, yes, he has tips on how to pick apps for your patients and their families.

Finally, in the third selection, we look at a new essay by Dr. Jillian Horton (of the University of Manitoba). Should doctors “stay in their lanes?” She argues against the idea, championing a new activism. “So, to my brothers and sisters in medicine: forget about staying in our lane. This is our call to flood the freeways. We cannot stay parked in neutral. There is no more time.”

Please note: there will be no Reading next week.

DG

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