TagThe New York Times

Reading of the Week: Alcohol – with Papers from Lancet Oncology and CJP, and Coverage from NYT

From the Editor

This week, we focus on alcohol, with two papers and a news article. Obviously, alcohol isn’t new – distilling probably started in the 13th century – but the three selections offer fresh and important information that is clinically relevant.

In the first selection, we consider the link to cancer. In a new Lancet Oncology paper, Harriet Rumgay (of the International Agency for Research on Cancer) and her co-authors conduct a population-based study. “Globally, about 741 000, or 4.1%, of all new cases of cancer in 2020 were attributable to alcohol consumption.” We review the big paper and mull its clinical implications.

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In the second selection, Dr. Daniel Myran (of the University of Ottawa) and his co-authors look at ED visits due to alcohol. Drawing on administrative data, they write: “We found that that current patterns and temporal trends in ED visits due to alcohol show large disparities between urban and rural regions of Canada and by socioeconomic status.”

And in the third selection, reporter Anahad O’Connor writes about alcohol use disorder for The New York Times. In this highly readable article, he focuses on the struggles of a retired manager: “But this past winter, with the stress of the pandemic increasingly weighing on him, he found himself craving beer every morning, drinking in his car and polishing off two liters of Scotch a week.” O’Connor writes about several resources that may be helpful to patients and their families.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Suicide and Schizophrenia – Across Life Span; Also, Transgender-Inclusive Care (QT), and the NYT on Chatbots

From the Editor

This week, we have three selections.

In the first, we consider suicide and schizophrenia. In a new JAMA Psychiatry paper, Dr. Mark Olfson (of Columbia University) and his co-authors do a cohort study across life-span, tapping a massive database. They find: “the risk of suicide was higher compared with the general US population and was highest among those aged 18 to 34 years and lowest among those 65 years and older.” The authors see clear clinical implications: “These findings suggest that suicide prevention efforts for individuals with schizophrenia should include a focus on younger adults with suicidal symptoms and substance use disorders.”

In the second selection, we consider transgender-inclusive care, looking at a new Quick Takes podcast. Drs. June Lam and Alex Abramovich (both of the University of Toronto) comment on caring for members of this population. “Trans individuals are medically underserved and experience, poor mental health outcomes, high rates of disease burden – compared to cisgender individuals.”

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Finally, in our third selection from The New York Times, reporter Karen Brown writes about chatbots for psychotherapy, focusing on Woebot. The writer quotes psychologist Alison Darcy about the potential of these conversational agents: “If we can deliver some of the things that the human can deliver, then we actually can create something that’s truly scalable, that has the capability to reduce the incidence of suffering in the population.”

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: Substance Problem, Quality of Care Problem? Also, Interventional Psychiatry (CJP) and an Underused Addiction Treatment (NYT)

From the Editor

In terms of depression treatment, do people with substance use problems get worse care than those without?

The answer should be a resounding no. In the first selection, we consider a new paper, just published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, which suggests otherwise. Lara N. Coughlin  (of the University of Michigan) and her co-authors draw on Veterans Affairs data involving more than 53,000 patients. “In this large national sample, we found that patients with comorbid depression and substance use disorders receive lower quality care than those with depression but without substance use disorders.”

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In the second selection, we consider a Canadian Journal of Psychiatry research letter. Dr. Peter Giacobbe (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors surveyed senior residents, asking about their familiarity and comfort with first line recommendations for the treatment of depression. Spoiler alert: just one in four felt that they had achieved competency in ECT.

Finally, in the third selection, we look at a new essay by journalist Abby Goodnough. With many Americans (and Canadians) struggling with substance problems, she writes about contingency management – that is, rewarding substance users with cash and prizes for sobriety. The concept has evidence in the literature, but lacks political support. She quotes a patient: “Even just to stop at McDonald’s when you have that little bit of extra money, to get a hamburger and a fries when you’re hungry. That was really big to me.”

Note: there will be no Reading next week.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Should Police Respond to Mental Health Crises? Also, Apps & College Students (Psych Services) and the Life of DJ Jaffe (NYT)

From the Editor

Another tragedy, another headline.

And there have been too many. The stories differ, but there is a common thread: mental illness and a crisis, a 911 call, death. Can we do better?

In the first selection, we consider a new essay by Dr. Sally Satel (of Yale University). Dr. Satel, a psychiatrist, notes recent tragic outcomes with mental health crises. “Nationwide, a person with a psychotic illness is 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than a person without such a condition.” She wonders about an alternative to police responses.

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In the second selection, we look at apps and college students. In a Psychiatric Services paper, Jennifer Melcher and John Torous (of Harvard Medical School) review the recommendations of mental health apps of several university counselling programs. They conclude: “the findings indicated that many counseling centers are suggesting apps that are inaccessible, outdated, potentially dangerous, and without research backing.”

Finally, in our third selection, we consider The New York Times obituary for D.J. Jaffe – the title is a good summary of his life: “Ad Man Turned Mental Health Crusader.” Jaffe, whose sister-in-law has major mental illness, was a strong advocate of various mental health causes, with his influence felt on state and national legislation.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Perceived Helpfulness of Depression Treatment – the New JAMA Psych Paper; Also, Friedman on Boredom & the Pandemic (NYT)

From the Editor

How helpful do people find treatment for depression?

This question is broad but new work (drawing on WHO surveys) ambitiously attempts to answer it across different countries, including some that are low income.

In the first selection, we consider a paper from JAMA Psychiatry. Meredith G. Harris (of The University of Queensland) and her co-authors report on WHO data. The good news? Many people do find treatment for depression helpful. The bad news? Many providers are needed for people to believe that they had received helpful treatment.

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In the second selection, we look at a new essay by Dr. Richard A. Friedman (of Weill Cornell Medical College). Writing in The New York Times, he discusses the pandemic and the possibility of “a mental health epidemic of depression and anxiety.” Dr. Friedman argues that we are seeing mass boredom, not a rise in disorders like depression. While he can’t fully rule out that the pandemic will bring about an increase in mental health problems, he writes: “let’s not medicalize everyday stress.”

DG
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Reading of the Week: Depression Outcomes: What Matters to Patients (Lancet Psych)? Also, NYT on Mental Health Apps and Startup Culture

From the Editor

“US Food and Drug Administration accepts only three outcome measures as primary endpoints in phase 3 studies to support an indication for major depressive disorder: the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale, or the Children’s Depression Rating Scale.”

The editors of The Lancet Psychiatry make this point in in the August issue of that journal. Their concern: the FDA view is very narrow and confined to these three scales.

In the first selection, we look at a new paper from The Lancet Psychiatry. Dr. Astrid Chevance (of the Center for Epidemiology and Statistics Paris Sorbonne) and her co-authors consider depression outcomes. To understand different perspectives, they draw on three groups: providers, patients, and caregivers. For the record, the resulting paper is fascinating and includes outcome measures that aren’t captured by these three scales. We consider the paper and the editorial that runs with it.

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In the second selection – also on the topic of depression – Kashmir Hill and Aaron Krolik report for The New York Times on a popular therapy app. They note that Talkspace has good marketing and a growing client base. But should you recommend the app to your patients?

DG

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Reading of the Week: Can Light Therapy Help with Bipolar Depression? Also, the Racism of COVID (BJP) & Gottlieb on the Toilet as the New Couch (NYT)

From the Editor

After his manic episode, the first patient I treated with bipolar disorder was low in mood for months, able to get out of bed, but not able to work. I remember him sitting in my office talking about feeling overwhelmed. For many people with bipolar disorder, the depressive episodes are long and debilitating. And for us clinicians, these episodes are difficult to treat. (I remember feeling overwhelmed, too.)

Can light therapy help?

The first selection seeks to answer that question. Light therapy, after all, has shown its utility in depression, including for those with a seasonal pattern to their lows. But bipolar depression? In a new Canadian Journal of Psychiatry paper, Dr. Raymond W. Lam (of UBC) and his co-authors do a systematic review and meta-analysis. They included seven papers. “This meta-analysis of RCTs found positive but nonconclusive evidence that light therapy is efficacious and well tolerated as adjunctive treatment for depressive episodes in patients with BD.”

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Is the virus racist? In the second selection, we look at a provocative paper from The British Journal of Psychiatry written by Drs. Anuj Kapilashrami and Kamaldeep Bhui (both of Queen Mary University of London). Considering how COVID-19 affects certain groups more than others, they also note that mental illness is more common among minorities, and they argue that: “societal structures and disadvantage generate and can escalate inequalities in crises.” They offer a word of caution: “What is surprising is it takes a crisis to highlight these inequalities and for us to take note, only to revert to the status quo once the crisis is over. ”

Finally, we consider an essay from The New York Times. Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist, discusses her practice in a world of pandemic. “Suddenly, her sobs were drowned out by a loud whooshing sound.” She wonders if the toilet is the new couch.

DG

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Reading of the Week: COVID & Suicide (JAMA Psych); also, Digital Mental Health (JMIR) and Solomon on COVID & Depression (NYT)

From the Editor

Will suicide rates rise with COVID? How will mental health care delivery change? Are we overlooking the most vulnerable?

This week’s Reading will focus on the latest in the literature on the COVID and mental health care, with three selections.

In the first, we consider a paper on COVID and suicide. In a JAMA Psychiatry paper, Mark A. Reger (of University of Washington) and his co-authors consider the impact of the global emergency on suicide. They are practical, and explain that there are clear opportunities for suicide prevention. In responding to COVID, they call for a “comprehensive approach that considers multiple US public health priorities, including suicide prevention.”

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What is the role of digital mental health during and after this pandemic? In the second selection, we consider a new JMIR Mental Health paper. Dr. John Torous (of Harvard University) and his co-authors note the greater use of telemental health, apps, and other forms of e-mental health care. They write: “The COVID-19 crisis and global pandemic may be the defining moment for digital mental health, but what that definition will be remains unknown.”

Finally, in the third selection, we look at an essay by Andrew Solomon. The Pulitzer Prize-finalist author discusses pandemic and mental health, worrying that those in need may be overlooked. “When everyone else is experiencing depression and anxiety, real, clinical mental illness can get erased.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Exposure to COVID & Mental Health (JAMA Netw Open); Also, the Psych Impact of Quarantine (Lancet) and Inspiring Docs (NYT)

From the Editor

We read often about the physical health effects of COVID. But how does this pandemic affect mental health?

This week’s Reading has three selections, with two focused on this question.

In the first selection, we consider the psychological effects of COVID on health care workers. In a new JAMA Network Open paper, Jianbo Lai (of Zhejiang University School of Medicine) and co-authors look at mental health outcomes and the factors associated with them in China. “Among Chinese health care workers exposed to COVID-19, women, nurses, those in Wuhan, and front-line health care workers have a high risk of developing unfavorable mental health outcomes and may need psychological support or interventions.”

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During this pandemic, many Canadians are self-isolating; in the coming weeks, many could be quarantined. In the second selection, we consider a new Lancet paper on quarantine and its psychological impact. Samantha K. Brooks (of King’s College London) and her co-authors write: “Given the developing situation with coronavirus, policy makers urgently need evidence synthesis to produce guidance for the public. In circumstances such as these, rapid reviews are recommended by WHO.”

Finally, in the third selection, we look at a NYT essay by Dr. Donald Berwick (of Harvard Medical School). He discusses the way health care providers have risen to the challenge of COVID. “We are witnessing professionalism in its highest form, skilled people putting the interests of those they serve above their own interests.”

DG

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