Tag: Digital Psychiatry

Reading of the Week: CBT for Depression – the Latest Evidence; Also, Digital Mental Health (World Psych) and Dr. Castro-Frenzel on Her Cancer (JAMA)

From the Editor

Cognitive behavioural therapy is widely used for the treatment of depression – but the last significant meta-analysis was published a decade ago. What’s the latest evidence? 

In the first selection, Pim Cuijpers (of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and his co-authors try to answer this question with a new meta-analysis including more than 400 randomized trials with almost 53 000 patients (yes, you read that correctly). In this World Psychiatry paper, they compare the therapy with controls, other therapies, and medications. They write: “We can conclude that CBT is effective in the treatment of depression with a moderate to large effect size, and that its effect is still significant up to 12 months.” We consider the paper and its clinical implications.

Beck: the father of CBT

In the second selection, Dr. John Torous (of Harvard University) and his co-authors look at digital mental health. Despite widespread use of smartphones – perhaps 80% of the world’s population now has access to one – “digital mental health is not transforming care.” In this Editorial for World Psychiatry, they wonder why. They also point a way forward: “Developing a new generation of digital mental health tools/services to support more accessible, effective and equitable care is the true innovation ready to be stoked today by each person who becomes empowered to connect, set up, engage, start/stop, and demand more from mental health technology.”

Finally, in the third selection, Dr. Karla Castro-Frenzel (of the University of Central Florida) writes about a patient with advanced lung cancer. As it turns out, she’s that patient. In this personal essay published in JAMA, she writes about being a doctor and a patient. “My ultimate hope… is that we can create space for illness as well as wellness. In helping our colleagues feel safe and supported when they become patients, we rehumanize our environments and our very selves.”


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Reading of the Week: Health Care Workers’ Mental Health – There’s an App for That; Also, Treating Opioids (BMJ) & Dr. Bhushan on Her Bipolar (LA Times)

From the Editor

With the pandemic dragging on, health care workers report more and more burnout; some complain of depression and anxiety.

What could help? Dr. Sam N. Gnanapragasam (of King’s College London) and his co-authors consider an app designed to provide CBT and mindfulness techniques in a new British Journal of Psychiatry paper. The RCT study involves 16 English sites with over 1000 health care workers. They conclude: “our study suggests that the app was of modest benefit with no adverse effects for a sample of HCWs in England.” We look at the paper.

How to respond to the opioid crisis? In a new analysis paper for BMJ, Dr. Robert A. Kleinman (of the University of Toronto) and his colleagues argue for a different approach to the prescribing of opioid agonist therapy, drawing on the changes made in response to the pandemic. “Embracing a more flexible model of buprenorphine-naloxone dosing would allow better alignment of prescribing practices with the needs and preferences of clients.”

And in the third selection, Dr. Devika Bhushan writes about bipolar disorder for the Los Angeles Times. The essay is very personal: the pediatrician, who serves as California’s acting surgeon general and graduated from Harvard, describes her own experiences. As she notes, during her training, she “had a secret.” Now, however, she speaks openly about her illness. “Today, I live with bipolar disorder as a chronic and manageable health condition.” 


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Reading of the Week: Less & Less – Psychiatrists & Psychotherapy; Also, Transgender Individuals & Care (Psych Services) and Digital Mental Health (ANZJP)

From the Editor

“For much of the 20th century, psychotherapy was viewed as synonymous with psychiatry and was the primary treatment modality employed by outpatient psychiatrists.” 

Daniel Tadmon and Dr. Mark Olfson (both of Columbia University) observe this in a new paper. But times have changed; has the practice of psychiatry moved away from psychotherapy?

This week, there are three selections. The first is a new paper from The American Journal of Psychiatry that looks at psychotherapy provided by US psychiatrists. Drawing on decades of data, Tadmon and Olfson find: “While a small group of psychiatrists (11% – 15%) continued to provide psychotherapy in all patient visits, in the 2010s, about half of psychiatrists did not provide psychotherapy at all, and those who provided psychotherapy in some patient visits came to do so more and more rarely.” We consider the paper and its implications.

Sorry Freud: most psychiatrists don’t practice psychotherapy

In the second selection, Dr. June Sing Hong Lam and his co-authors consider the mental health experiences of transgender individuals. In a Psychiatric Services paper, they draw on administrative databases focusing on both ED visits and hospitalizations. They conclude: “This study found that transgender individuals presenting for acute mental health care were more likely to experience marginalization than cisgender individuals and to present to acute care with different diagnostic patterns.”

Finally, in the third selection, Dr. Aswin Ratheesh and Mario Alvarez-Jimenez (both of the University of Melbourne) consider digital mental health and the post-pandemic world. In the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, they write about various problems (for instance, with digital privacy). Still, they see much potential: “Effective digital tools, especially when blended and responsive can radically improve the availability of mental health care in our corner of resource-rich, yet manpower-poor world.”

Please note that there will be no Reading next week.


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Reading of the Week: Plant-based Medicines – What’s the Evidence? Also, Wearables, New Technologies & Mental Health Care (Quick Takes)

From the Editor

Kava. Ginkgo. St John’s wort.

These plant-based medicines (or phytoceuticals) have gained popularity in recent years. Patients ask about them; in some pharmacies, they are now sold prominently and side by side with other products; celebrities talk up their helpfulness. Plant-based medicines are having a moment.

But what’s the evidence? In the first selection, Jerome Sarris (of the Western Sydney University) and his co-authors consider phytoceuticals for psychiatric disorders in a new Canadian Journal of Psychiatry paper. They draw on meta-analyses of RCTs reporting on the efficacy and effectiveness of these medicines. What did they find? “This ‘meta-synthesis’ of the data from 9 meta-analyses showed positive findings for a variety of plant-based medicines in a range of psychiatric disorders, albeit limited by the quality of source data.” We consider the big paper and its clinical implications.

6900b40570a828ff1775d282eb2605e6St. John’s wort – pretty flower, but evidenced?

In this week’s second selection, we look at wearables and new technologies. Dr. John Torous (of Harvard University) joins me for a Quick Takes podcast interview. We discuss their potential for mental health care including how data captured on devices (especially data related to sleep and exercise) can potentially improve care – and overall health. “Could we be using the step count on a patient’s phone for mental health? Could we transform GPS into something like studying green space to learn about its impact on mental health?” And, yes, we do talk about Star Wars.


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Reading of the Week: High Tech and Low Tech Opportunities for Mental Health Care

From the Editor

Social media. Bots. VR.

When I applied to psychiatry residency programs in my last year of medical school at the University of Manitoba, none of these were mentioned when we talked about mental health care. But technology is changing our world. We are seeing a digital boom in mental health care – or is it really a digital mirage?

In the first selection, we move past the big rhetoric with a thoughtful paper by Dr. John Torous (of Harvard University) and his co-authors. In World Psychiatry, they review the literature and make insightful comments about the potential and reality of digital mental health care. “It now seems inevitable that digital technologies will change the face of mental health research and treatment.” We discuss the paper and its implications.


Woebot: Too cool to be clinical?

If the first selection considers cutting-edge technology for bettering patient care, the second is very different. Dr. Thomas E. Smith (of Columbia University) and his co-authors study “the strength of associations between scheduling aftercare appointments during routine psychiatric inpatient discharge planning and postdischarge follow-up care varied by level of patient engagement in outpatient psychiatric care before hospital admission” in a paper for Psychiatric Services. Spoiler alert: there are no chatbots mentioned. “Discharge planning activities, such as scheduling follow-up appointments, increase the likelihood of patients successfully transitioning to outpatient care, regardless of their level of engagement in care prior to psychiatric inpatient admission.”


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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.”


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.


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Reading of the Week: Rurality and Suicide (CJP); Also, COVID and Digital Practice (Quick Takes) and Haughton & Bromberg on Policing (Tor Star)

From the Editor

At times, it seems that we understand little about suicide.

That statement is vast, sweeping – and painfully true for us clinicians who aspire to do better with very blunt instruments. This week, we have three selections; the first is a systematic review and meta-analysis focused on suicide. In a new Canadian Journal of Psychiatry paper, Rebecca Barry (of the University of Toronto) and her co-authors consider the potential link between suicide and rurality. Spoiler alert: they find a connection, at least for men. What are the implications for practice and policy?


In the second selection, we consider a new podcast discussing our digital future. I talk with Dr. Jay Shore (of the University of Colorado), who chairs the APA’s Telepsychiatry Committee. We discuss the virtualization of mental health services, and contemplate a future of hybrid care. And, yes, he has tips on how to avoid “Zoom fatigue.”

In the third selection, activists Asante Haughton and Rachel Bromberg discuss alternatives to police responding to mental health crises, seeing a dedicated team tasked with “on-the-spot risk assessments, de-escalation, and safety planning for clients in crisis” and more. “By taking on these important tasks, this team will enable Toronto policing resources to be more effectively directed toward solving crimes, rather than providing social services.”


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Reading of the Week: COVID & Mental Health Access in China (AJP); also, Transformational Care (EBMH) and Psych Wards (New Yorker)

From the Editor

What’s the latest in the literature on COVID and mental health? This week, we focus again on the pandemic with three selections.

In the first, we consider a paper on mental health services at a Chinese hospital during the pandemic. In this American Journal of Psychiatry study, Dr. Junying Zhou (of Sichuan University) and co-authors report on a survey of existing and new outpatients, finding major problems with access. Among the findings: one in five found that their mental health had deteriorated due to a lack of access to care. The authors advocate further study to “ameliorate the negative impact of viral outbreaks in the general public, especially among those vulnerable patients with mental problems.”


Will COVID change health care once the virus has burned out? In the second selection, we consider a new EBMH editorial by Dr. Katharine Smith (of Oxford University) and her co-authors. They write: “In order to reappraise effectively our new ways of working, both in the immediate management of issues during the pandemic and also during the longer-term aftermath, we need fast-track implementation of evidence-based medicine techniques in mental health to supply the best evidence to clinicians on specific questions in real time.”

Finally, in the third selection, we look at an essay from The New Yorker. Reporter Masha Gessen argues that psychiatric wards are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. Gessen speaks to several doctors who offer a similar if haunting story: “how a lack of testing, P.P.E., and seclusion protocols were making a difficult task – maintaining the safety of a highly vulnerable population and their care workers during a pandemic – virtually impossible.”


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Reading of the Week: Cutting-Edge Care – Esketamine for Depression (NEJM), Digital Psychiatry for Suicide Prevention (JAMA Psych), Asylums for All (AJP)

From the Editor

This time of year, many doctors take to social media to offer advice to young colleagues as they start their specialty training (#TipsForNewDocs). Generally, the tweets give solid suggestions on everything from the importance of mentorship to doing regular exercise. For those new grads beginning psychiatry training, I offer: read more, the field is evolving. Since I started my psychiatry residency 19 years ago this month, we have seen new antidepressants placed into the drug cabinets of our patients, mental-health apps populate their smart phones, and clinical guidelines enter our practices, helping us better manage their mental illness.

This week’s Reading focuses on cutting-edge care, and there is plenty to read.

In our first selection, we consider a new paper from The New England Journal of Medicine. Written by Dr. Jean Kim and four other FDA officials, the authors discuss esketamine for depression. “The drug represents an important addition to the treatment options for patients with treatment-resistant depression.”

nasal-spray-sEsketamine: from club drug to depression care

In our second selection, Dr. John Torous (of Harvard Medical School) and Rheeda Walker (of the University of Houston) consider digital psychiatry and suicide prevention, reviewing the field with cautious optimism. The paper opens with a single sentence that puts these efforts in perspective: “Because the rates of suicide attempts and deaths have recently increased to 50-year highs,new solutions are needed.”

And, in our third selection, we look at a not-so-new editorial from The American Journal of Insanity that calls for better treatment of the poor.




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Open for Business: Chatbots, E-therapies, and the Future of Psychiatry

While not offering a solution for every patient in every circumstance, digital psychiatry may even be attractive to a subset of patients who would prefer a digital interaction to a human one, whether for financial and other pragmatic considerations (e.g., a single parent of 3 children, on public assistance, for whom getting to an office appointment is a major logistical problem and even financial hardship) or for more psychological and interpersonal reasons (e.g., someone with autism spectrum disorder for whom the lack of human connection with a chatbot may be helpful).

I’ve just edited an “in review” series for The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry considering digital psychiatry.

With my colleague Dr. David Goldbloom, I’ve co-written an editorial to open the series.


You can find our paper (which is open access) here:


The Andersson et al. paper is here:


The Vaidyam et al. paper is here: