Tagrelapse

Reading of the Week: Should Patients Quit Antidepressants? The New NEJM Paper; Also, the NYT Obit on Dr. Paula Clayton

From the Editor

“Can I stop my antidepressants now?”

Patients often ask that question after feeling better. Studies have looked at relapse for people with depression who go off their medications, of course, but overwhelmingly such work has focused on patients recruited from specialty care (who are, perhaps, more ill).

In the first selection, we consider a new paper from The New England Journal of Medicine by Gemma Lewis (of University College) et al. The patients have been recruited from English family practices. The study is well designed and thoughtful, adding nicely to the literature. The chief finding? “Those who were assigned to stop their medication had a higher risk of relapse of depression by 52 weeks than those who were assigned to maintain their current therapy.” We consider the big paper and its clinical implications.

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In the second selection, drawing from the pages of The New York Times, reporter Clay Risen writes about the life of Dr. Paula J. Clayton. This psychiatrist, who passed in September, was an accomplished researcher: “Dr. Clayton was part of a generation of clinical psychiatrists who, in the decades after World War II, revolutionized their field by applying medical rigor to the diagnosis of mental illness.” In later years, she was a strong advocate for those with mental illness.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Zen vs Zoloft for Relapse Prevention – the New JAMA Psych Paper; Also, Grossman-Kahn on Her Patient’s Cause (NEJM)

From the Editor

He feels better and he wants to go off medications, what should you recommend?

Patients raise this question often in depression management. For some, antidepressants are rich in side effects; others simply dislike the idea of long-term medications. For years, the response was simple: outline the risks of going off medications. Depression guidelines, after all, mention the need for continued antidepressants, especially for those who have had multiple past episodes. But, more recently, several papers have suggested that certain psychotherapies reduce the risk of relapse and can rival antidepressants.

But, until now, there hasn’t been a good meta-analysis. This week, in our first selection, we consider a new JAMA Psychiatry paper. Josefien J. F. Breedvelt (of the University of Amsterdam) and co-authors do an individual data meta-analysis comparing antidepressants and psychotherapies for relapse prevention – Zen versus Zoloft, if you will. They write: “The sequential delivery of a psychological intervention during and/or after tapering may be an effective relapse prevention strategy instead of long-term use of antidepressants.” We consider the big paper and its clinical implications.

Pills spill out of a prescription pill bottle on a graduated gray background. The negative space created by the gray background provides ample room for text and copy.

And in the second selection, Dr. Rebecca Grossman-Kahn (of the University of Minnesota) writes about a patient encounter in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd. Noting his manic episode, she wonders about larger questions, including diagnosis and coercion. This resident of psychiatry writes: “Training has taught me to recognize the signs of mania and psychosis. But nothing prepared me to ask courageous protesters to put their crucial work for change on hold due to mental illness.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Can We Predict Relapse in Depression? The Judd et al. Paper from The American Journal of Psychiatry

From the Editor

Is he going to get sick again?

It’s a question that we often ask when a patient overcomes depression and happily leaves our office. For many patients, depression is a chronic illness – and so, remission is followed by relapse. Is it possible to predict patients with depression who are in remission but at risk of relapse?

Can we predict a future relapse – or is this an exercise in fortune-telling?

This week’s Reading is a paper from The American Journal of Psychiatry. Drawing on a long-term study, they look at the pattern of acute illness, remission, and relapse. Using statistical analyses, the authors seek to find a way of predicting relapse.

Spoiler alert: they do.

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Reading of the Week: Zen or Zoloft? Mindfulness vs. Meds for Relapse Prevention in Depression

Depression typically has a relapsing and recurrent course. Without ongoing treatment, individuals with recurrent depression have a high risk of repeated depressive relapses or recurrences throughout their life with rates of relapse or recurrence typically in the range 50–80%.

So begins this week’s Reading (which is attached). As is so often the case, the journal writing is understated.

50-80%. Wow.

Having been in practice for some years, many stories come to mind when considering this statistic.

Here’s one: a young woman with a challenging childhood who pulled her life together, kept an unplanned pregnancy, and then tried to do everything right for herself and her daughter. In her late 20s, she fell into a deep depression, attempted suicide, and had a long admission. And, after work on the inpatient unit and in the outpatient department, she returned to her life: free of symptoms, working full time, raising her daughter. Feeling well, she stopped her citalopram, and became sick again (and with an employer keen on her termination because – and this sounds like a 19th century novel – “she told me I look dead on the outside”).

It’s easy to say that she should have stayed on her medications. But many of our patients don’t. The reasons vary – the side effects are too strong, the concept of medications is unappealing, etc. – but the end result is so often the same.

What then are non-medication options for maintenance in patients with depression? This week’s Reading offers an interesting answer: mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

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