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Reading of the Week: The Best of 2021

From the Editor

Welcome 2022.

It’s a Reading of the Week tradition that we begin the New Year by reviewing the best of the past year; so, this week, we look back at 2021.

2020 to 2021

As with past annual reviews, I’ve organized papers into different categories – though there is one common thread: all the papers are clinically relevant and practical. And, yes, there is a person of the year. Spoiler alert: he was fond of bow ties and thinking outside the box.

And an observation about 2021: the quality of scholarship was very high. I’ve picked ten papers – but it would have been possible to pick scores more. Psychiatry continues to grow more sophisticated with each passing year.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Is ECT Really Safe? The New Lancet Psychiatry Paper; Also, Antrim on His ECT (New Yorker)

From the Editor

Is it safe?

The first treatment of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was administered in 1938. Yet decades later, people still debate the safety of this treatment; a study found that one in five patients reported fear of death as a major concern. (And, yes, so many of our patients have seen that movie.)

In our first selection, we consider a new and important paper on this topic, just published in The Lancet Psychiatry. Dr. Tyler S. Kaster (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors attempt to answer the safety question by comparing those who received ECT with those who didn’t in the context of depression and inpatient care. “In this population-based study of more than 5000 admissions involving electroconvulsive therapy for inpatients with depression, the rate of serious medical events within 30 days was very low among those exposed to electroconvulsive therapy and a closely matched unexposed group (0.5 events per person-year vs 0.33 events per person-year), with those who received electroconvulsive therapy having a numerically lower risk of medical complications.” We look at the big study, with an eye on clinical implications.

ect-1945ECT machine (cira 1950)

In the other selection, we look at a new essay from The New Yorker. Writer Donald Antrim – an accomplished novelist and a MacArthur fellow – discusses his depression, his suicidal thoughts, and his decision to opt for ECT. He notes that after treatment: “I felt something that seemed brand new in my life, a sense of calm, even happiness.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: ECT & Equity (CJP); also, COVID and Mental Health Surveys (Policy Options) and Farrell on Witnessing the Pandemic (Nation)

From the Editor

Who has better access to care?

This week, we have three selections. The first is a paper about inpatient ECT – an important topic. And the study – just published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry – has interesting findings, including that ECT is not particularly commonly performed (for just 1 out of 10 inpatients with depression). But this new paper by Dr. Tyler S. Kaster (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors also touches on the larger issue of equity. We consider it – and the questions the study raises.

ect-maching

The second selection is an essay from Policy Options. Drs. Scott Patten (of the University of Calgary) and Stan Kutcher (of Dalhousie University) bemoan the state of mental health data during the pandemic. “There has been a disturbing acceptance of trivial and often misrepresented information, delivered from sub-optimal surveys and problematic interpretation of results.”

Finally, we consider an essay by Dr. Colleen M. Farrell (of Cornell University). She discusses COVID-19 – she is working in the ICU of a major New York City hospital during the pandemic – but also ties to the larger issues of public health, advocacy, and the role of medicine. “As I tend to my patients in the Covid ICU, I struggle to process reality. The attending physicians who are my teachers have few answers; this disease is new to all of us.”

Please note that there will be no Reading next week.

DG

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